Stanislas de Guaita and Spiritualism
Following his reservations about the use of animal magnetism and hypnosis Stanislas de Guaita turned his attention to Spiritualism, which is more logically called Spiritism in France. With his somewhat jaundiced aristocratic eye he considered its contacts to be, at best primitive and useless, and at worst parasitic and harmful. This despite its following by some respected writers such as Allan Kardec and the distinguished astronomer Camille Flammarion.
He did not deny that it was possible to establish relations with superior intelligences, but believed that such contacts could be safely pursued only in a hierarchical context, using procedures that only initiation could confer, and that the problem with spiritualists was that they lacked reliable discernment of the identity and nature of their contacts.
Contemporary popular spiritualism caught the public imagination in America in 1848 and by 1853 had successfully crossed the Atlantic. Not that there was anything particularly new about it, he said. It had been practised in various forms in ancient times, as in Chinese ancestor worship, and even in the classical period – mensae divinatoriae, (divinatory tables) – were mentioned by Tertullian.
Once established in Europe it was not long before phenomena became increasingly sensational. Tables not only tilted under the impress of hands but moved without physical contact. Other objects, from chairs to musical instruments, soon joined in the show. And when all this began to seem commonplace there was further diversion into self writing pencils and chalks, luminous hands and eventually complete phantoms.
The common denominator in all of this was the presence of a medium, one who could act as a link between the planes, as a consequence – in Stanislas de Guaita’s view – of a pathological condition, an incontinence of vitality that energised the phenomena.
Disembodied hands appeared, which might be luminous or flesh coloured, their shape clearly seen but becoming cloudy around the area of the wrist. They were palpable, and those who touched them described them as being like skin gloves filled with warm air. No bones could be felt, and if they were firmly grasped they became a vague mass of problematic substance that gave way under further pressure.
That these exteriorisations emanated from the medium was suggested by the fact that the more they increased, the more depleted the medium became. To the point that if, to replenish a sudden loss of nervous force, the medium grasped the hands of another, (preferably a young person in good health), the one so seized would experience a sensation of languor, perhaps accompanied by shivering, when in contact with the parlour vampire.
The room temperature might also drop by several degrees and cold draughts blow at the precise moment that any major phenomena took place.
There was also the phenomenon of ‘repercussion’. If any apparition was struck by a physical object, the medium might physically suffer a counterpart of the injury.
De Guaita cites the case of a public séance in New York recounted to him by an eye witness, when a spectator drew a hand gun and shot a phantom. There was an immediately cry of distress from the medium, who fell unconscious to the floor, chest marked with a deep bruise, and who afterwards lay between life and death for more than a month. Yet he had not been struck by the bullet, which was found in the wall opposite to where he had been located.
This could be likened to the case of the shepherd Thorel, whose face was covered in scratches from the sword blows struck the day before on his astral form. And on another occasion when two slugs from a small calibre pistol for shooting sparrows had been fired by the curé Tirel in the direction of a ghostly commotion, the young boy who was the only one able to see the astral form of the shepherd, declared it had been struck twice in the face. And two equivalent bruises were indeed later to be seen on Thorel’s physical face.
Stanislas de Guaita goes on to point out that there are mediums of different kinds apart from materialising ones and in particular cites those he describes as ‘incarnatory’ mediums, who offer up their bodies for other beings to take over. He has, he says, witnessed strange and stupefying scenes, when, in a few seconds the medium was transformed in posture, voice, looks, and gestures, in a sudden metamorphosis of the whole person.
His graphic account suggests that he himself was the amazed witness on such an occasion, leaving him to wonder if he had been deceived by some inner impersonator, whether human, elemental or larval, when this equivocal being, using him as a kind of ‘psychic mirror’, had reflected the image of his friend stored in the depths of his memory. That is to say, reflecting the contents of his own soul back to him!
There is room for endless speculation in all of this, but it seems likely that some form of telepathic communication plays a part. In my own experience, such an explanation cannot be discounted in any form of psychism – with the pooled consciousness of all participants forming a kind of group mind that can tap into individual and group memories or assumptions.
After beginning to drift into speculations on the possible abuse of psychical contacts, each seedier than the last, Stanislas de Guaita suddenly breaks off to conclude with an account of an experiment in telepathic communication.
STATEMENT relating three instances of MENTAL SUGGESTION obtained by Messieurs Liébeault (Antoine) and de Guaita (Stanislas) at the residence of Dr. Liébeault, 4, rue de Bellevue (Nancy).
We, the undersigned, Liébeault (Antoine), doctor of medicine, and de Guaita (Stanislas) man of letters, both currently living at Nancy, attest and certify having obtained the results that follow.
Mlle Louise L..., put into a magnetic sleep, was informed that she would have to reply to a question put to her mentally without the use of any word or sign.
Dr. Liébeault, his hand pressed to the forehead of the subject, collected his thoughts for an instant, concentrating his attention on the question:- “When will you be cured?” which was his intention. The lips of the somnambule suddenly moved: “Soon”, she murmured distinctly.
She was then asked to repeat, before all persons present, the question she had intuitively perceived. She repeated it, in the same words that the question had been formulated in the mind of the experimenter.
This first experiment, undertaken by Dr. Liébeault at the instigation of Mr. De Guaita, was thus plainly successful. A second test gave less rigorous results, but perhaps more curious.
Mr. de Guaita, being put in rapport with the magnetised, mentally posed another question:- “Will you come back next week?” “Perhaps,” was the subject’s reply; but invited to tell everyone present what the mental question was, replied “You asked me if you would come back next week.”
This confusion, over a word in the sentence, is very significant, it seems, in that the young lady had erred through reading the mind of the magnetiser.
So that no indicative phrase be pronounced, even in a low voice, Dr. Liébeault wrote on a piece of paper: - “Mademoiselle, on waking, see your black hat changed into a red one.”
The note was passed in advance to all witnesses, then Messrs. Liébeault and de Guaita, in silence, placed a hand on the forehead of the subject while mentally formulating the agreed sentence. Then the young lady, told that she would see something unusual in the room, was awakened.
Without hesitation she looked at her hat and with a great burst of laughter cried “That’s not my hat,” and did not want it. It had just the same shape, but the situation became rather embarrassing, as it was necessary she take her own...
But at last, “What do you think is different about it?”
“You know very well. You’ve got eyes as well as me!”
It was a long time before she agreed to say what was different about her hat.
“You are teasing me...”
Pressed with more questions she finally said,: “You can see very well that it‘s red!”
As she still refused to take it, to put an end to the hallucination, they persuaded her that it would return to its original colour. The doctor blew on it, and in her eyes it became her own again, and she agreed to take it.
These are the facts that we certify have obtained together, in confirmation of which we have signed the present statement.
Dr. A.A.Liébeault – Stanislas de Guaita – Nancy, June 9th 1886.
It goes without saying, added Stanislas, that Dr Liébeault, extremely sceptical on the matter of thought transference, did not agree on the success of any other experiment.