[Notes on a Review of Mr. Chevillard’s Researches into Spiritism]
Theosophist, July, 1882
Review Selections by Marcel Rouher (translated by H.P.B.) | Notes by H.P.B.
Experimental Studies on Certain Nervous Phenomena, and a Rational Solution of the Spiritistic Problem, by M. A. Chevillard, Professor at the School of Fine Arts of Paris.
The above is the title of a scientific work, an interesting review of which, by Mr. Marcel Rouher, we translate from our excellent contemporary, La Chaine Magnetique (Paris) for March. Dr. Chevillard seems to have investigated very carefully the phenomena of spirit rapping, and to base his conclusions upon experimental research. The readers of this magazine, and especially the Fellows of our Society, will remember that we have always maintained that the mediumistic rapping is produced by a correlation of vital force, emitted from the person of the rapper, with the potential energy of the ether (akaśa). This theory seems to be fully corroborated by the discoveries of Professor Chevillard.
The third edition of Professor Chevillard’s work opens with a very precise, but rather too brief, summary of the question of Animal Magnetism. As it would prove quite insufficient for those of our readers who have no clear idea of the nature of magnetic phenomena, our article is intended to show better the co-existing relations between Spiritism and Magnetism. . . .
No man of science before M. Chevillard had deemed worthy of his attention the facts incorrectly terms “Spiritualistic or spiritist facts.”1
1. Incorrect.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
The incipient phenomenon of every spiritual circle is the following:—Several persons place themselves around a table, and lay on it the palms of their hands. After a certain time—usually very short—one begins to hear snapping sounds, due to the unequal expansion of the fibres of the wood, under the natural heat of the hands.2
2. Doubtful.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
After that, regular and very distinct strokes, or rather rappings, are heard. They are very peculiar, their sound being analogous to that which is emitted by the electric sparks, or, again, to the detonation of small quantities of iodide nitrate. . . .
After that, a person may begin to offer questions . . . One of the sitters, pointing with a pencil to an alphabet which lies upon the table, at each rap, the letter so indicated is written down . . .
Such raps are usually attributed by the Spiritists to the agency of departed spirits. M. Chevillard observed from the first, however, that the medium, that is to say, the person who pretends (?) to be inspired, does not lose sight of the alphabet;3 and that, moroever, the messages are always in agreement with the degree of education, the intelligence, and the character of the medium. This brought naturally to his mind Buffon’s remark: Le style c’est l’homme [“The style is the man”], and the further suspicion that whether consciously or unconsciously, it was the medium alone, who was the author of the replies.4 . . .
3. In Professor Hare’s experiments and others, the medium did not see the alphabet.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
4. This is incorrect—as a sweeping assertion.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
Further on, the author very able demonstrates that these throbs and knocking are caused by an integration of the nervous vibratory motion in a mechanical shock, and that the vibrations of the table are no other than the vibrations of the radiant neuric force emitted by the nervous ejaculations of the sickly medium.5 . . .
5. One of the best and most intelligent mediums in the world once told us that she never knew a medium, who could be called perfectly healthy, each usually having a scrofulous, phthisical, or other blood taint.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
M. Chevillar exposes further on some of the tricks—unfortunately too often practised in “spirit circles,”—such as the orange trick (?), the spirit photography, luminous phantoms, etc. He then cites some of the so-called supernatural facts, which he immediately explains by the suggestion of transmission of thought (a very common phenomenon in magnetism)6 by the unconscious magnetic action of the believer upon the medium . . .
6. But all the same, a most wonderful one.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
The longings of pregnant women, and the appearance of stigmata7 have no other cause than an integration of nervous fluid brought on by a fixed idea (ideé fixe). . . .
7. Mysterious marks or wounds and other things which sometimes appear on the bodies of religious ecstatics. See Isis Unveiled, Vol. II., Chapter on “Teratology.”—Ed. [H.P.B.]
We have just mentioned that the character of the work under review is pre-eminently conscientious and sincere. We cannot neglect adding, moreover, that it is the first, and even the only one, of its nature that has a truly scientific form.8 . . .
8. Not quite correct. Mr. Rouher should read Gerry Fairfield’s Ten Years with Spiritual Mediums.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
This book throws a profound and unexpected light on the much-complicated question of animal magnetism; it overthrows altogether the pernicious theories of Spiritism.9 Let us hope, that it will stop the—unfortunately so widespread—belief in superstitious ideas altogether. . . .
9. This is news. Hitherto we had believed La Chaine Magnetique a half Spiritistic journal?—Ed. [H.P.B.]
To conclude, the author has happily come out victorious in the eternal struggle of progress with conservatism and bad faith. . . .
We hope that in his next edition M. Chevillard will give his attention to some of these delicate experiments [i.e. those of Crookes], and will not fail to mention a few others that have been made since.10
10. In his famous investigation of the mediumship of William Eddy, Colonel Olcott invented several scientific tests, which have been since generally adopted.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
Let us add, that it is among such phenomena of radiation to a distance, that we have to class the (supernatural) facts cited by Augustine, Tertulian, Laharpe, in his Histoire des Voyages, Jacolliot, the erudite traveller, etc.11
11. See Jacolliot’s Seances with the “Fakir” Govinda Swami, published in Psychic Notes, of Calcutta.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
It appears that at last a committee has been appointed, and that the Academy of Sciences (at Paris) has decided that Animal Magnetism should be studied—seriously this time. We cannot better conclude the present work than by expressing the general wish that the Academy may also make a thorough inquiry into Spiritism.12
12. And, let us hope, be more honest in reporting results than was the celebrated Committee of 1779.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
According to M. Chevillard’s estimates, there are in Paris 40,000 Spiritists; at Lyons, 25,000 . . . [at] Russia 500,00013, and an immense number in India and Africa.
13. We would like to learn whence the author gets his authorities for this last assertion?—Ed. [H.P.B.]
Independently of its scientific aspect, the question is, then, as may be easily inferred, one of the highest interest from a purely humanitarian stand-point.14
14. We only know Dr. Chevillard’s work through Mr. Rouher’s review, and so are not in a position to express an independent opinion as to its merits. But we see no mention in the above article about that most striking of all the mediumistic phenomena, “materialization”—the apparition of moving, and often speaking, forms believed to be those of dead persons. Nor is there any indication that either author or reviewer has ever seen the projection of the “double” or Mayavi rupa, of a living man. A vast unexplored field invites the researches of the European men of science, and we trust that the announced intention of the great French Academy to take up the work, may not end in promises. Anyhow, our Asiatic readers now see that Occult Science is beginning to have from Western biologists the attention it deserves.—Ed. [H.P.B.]