The Signs of the Times
Lucifer, October, 1887
It is intensely interesting to follow season after season the rapid evolution and change of public thought in the direction of the mystical. The educated mind is most undeniably attempting to free itself from the heavy fetters of materialism. The ugly caterpillar is writhing in the agonies of death, under the powerful efforts of the psychic butterfly to escape from its science-built prison, and every day brings some new glad tidings of one or more such mental births to light.
As the New York Path truly remarks in its September issue [p. 186], when “Theosophical and kindred topics . . . are made the texts for novels,” and, we may add, scientific essays and brochures, “the implication is that interest in them has become diffused through social ranks.” That kind of literature is “paradoxically proof that Occultism has passed beyond the region of careless amusement and entered that of serious inquiry.” The reader has but to throw a retrospective glance at the publications of the last few years to find that such topics as Mysticism, Magic, Sorcery, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Mesmerism, or, as it is now called, Hypnotism, all the various branches in short of the Occult side of nature, are becoming predominant in every kind of literature. They visibly increase in proportion to the efforts made to discredit the movements in the cause of truth, and strangle enquiry—whether on the field of theosophy or spiritualism—by trying to besmear their most prominent heralds, pioneers and defenders, with tar and feathers.
The key-note for mystic and theosophic literature was F. Marion Crawford’s Mr. Isaacs. It was followed by his Zoroaster. Then followed The Romance of Two Worlds, by Marie Corelli; R. Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; A Fallen Idol, by F. Anstey; King Solomon’s Mines and the thrice famous She by Henry Rider Haggard; Affinities and The Brother of the Shadow, by Mrs. Campbell-Praed; Edmund Downey’s House of Tears, and many others less noticeable. And now there comes a fresh outburst in Florence Marryat’s A Daughter of the Tropics, and F. C. Philips’ The Strange Adventures of Lucy Smith. It is unnecessary to mention in detail the literature produced by avowed theosophists and occultists, some of whose works are very remarkable, while others are positively scientific, such as S. L. MacGregor Mathers’ The Kabbalah Unveiled, and Dr. F. Hartmann’s Paracelsus; Magic, White and Black, etc. We have also to note the fact that theosophy has now crossed the Channel, and is making its way into French literature. La France publishes a strange romance by Ch. Chincholle, pregnant with theosophy, occultism and mesmerism, and called “La Grande Prêtresse,” while La Revue politique et littéraire (19 Feb., 1887, et seq.) contained over the signature of Th. Bentzon, a novel called “Émancipée,” wherein esoteric doctrines and adepts are mentioned in conjunction with the names of well-known theosophists. A sign of the times!
Literature—especially in countries free from government censorship—is the public heart and pulse. Besides the glaring fact that were there no demand there would be no supply, current literature is produced only to please, and is therefore evidently the mirror which faithfully reflects the state of the public mind. True, conservative editors, and their submissive correspondents and reporters, still go on slashing occasionally in print the fair faces of mystic spiritualism and theosophy, and some of them are still found, from time to time, indulging in a brutal personal attack. But they do no harm on the whole, except perhaps to their own editorial reputations, as such editors can never be suspected of an exuberance of culture and good taste after certain ungentlemanly personal attacks. They do good on the contrary. For, while the theosophists and spiritualists so attacked, may view the Billingsgate poured upon them in a true Socratean spirit, and console themselves with the knowledge that none of the epithets used can possibly apply to them, on the other hand, too much abuse and vilification generally ends by awakening the public sympathy for the victim, in the right-minded and the impartial, at any rate.
In England people seem to like fair play on the whole. It is not bashiboozook-like actions, the doughty deeds of those who delight in mutilating the slain and the wounded, that can find sympathy for any great length of time with the public. If—as maintained by our lay enemies and repeated by some naïf and too sanguine missionary organs—Spiritualism and Theosophy are “dead as a door nail” (sic, vide American Christian periodicals),—aye, “dead and buried,” why, in such case, good Christian fathers, not leave the dead at rest till “Judgment Day”? And if they are not, then editors—the profane as well as the clerical—why should you still fear? Do not show yourselves such cowards if you have the truth on your side Magna est veritas et prevalebit, and “murder will out,” as it always has, sooner or later. Open your columns to free and fearless discussion, and do as the theosophical periodicals have ever done, and as Lucifer is now preparing to do. The “bright Son of the morning” fears no light. He courts it, and is prepared to publish any inimical contributions (couched, of course, in decent language), however much at variance with his theosophical views. He is determined to give a fair hearing in any and every case, to both contending parties and allow things and thoughts to be judged on their respective merits. For why, or what should one dread when fact and truth are one’s only aim? Du choc des opinions jaillit la vérité was said by a French philosopher. If Theosophy and Spiritualism are no better than “gigantic frauds and will-o’-the-wisps of the age” why such expensive crusades against both? And if they are not, why should Agnostics and searchers after truth in general, help bigoted and narrow-minded materialists, sectarians and dogmatists to hide our light under a bushel by mere brutal force and usurped authority? It is easy to surprise the good faith of the fair-minded. Still easier to discredit that, which by its intrinsic strangeness, is already unpopular and could hardly be credited in its palmiest days. “We welcome no supposition so eagerly as one which accords with and intensifies our own prejudices says, in Don Gesualdo, a popular author. Therefore, facts become often cunningly concocted “frauds,” and self-evident, glaring lies are accepted as gospel truths at the first breeze of Don Basilio’s Calumnia, by those to whose hard-crusted preconceptions such slander is like heavenly dew.
But, beloved enemies, “the light of Lucifer” may, after all, dispel some of the surrounding darkness. The mighty roaring voice of denunciation, so welcome to those whose little spites and hates and mental stagnation in the grasp of the social respectability it panders to, may yet be silenced by the voice of truth—“the still small voice”—whose destiny it ever was to first preach in the desert. That cold and artificial light which still seems to shine so dazzlingly over the alleged iniquities of professional mediums and the supposed sins of commission and omission of non-professional experimentalists, of free and independent theosophists, may yet be extinguished at the height of all its glory. For it is not quite the perpetual lamp of the alchemist philosopher. Still less is it that “light which never shone on sea or land,” that ray of divine intuition, the spark which glimmers latent in the spiritual, never-erring perceptions of man and woman, and which is now awakening—for its time is at hand. A few years more, and the Aladdin’s lamp, which called forth the ministering genius thereof, who, making three salutes to the public, proceeded forthwith to devour mediums and theosophists, like a juggler who swallows swords at a village fair, will get out of order. Its light, over which the anti-theosophists are crowing victory to this day, shall get dim. And then, perhaps, it will be discovered that what was claimed as a direct ray from the source of eternal truth was no better than a penny rush-light, in whose deceitful smoke and soot people got hypnotized, and saw everything upside down. It will be found that the hideous monsters of fraud and imposture had no existence outside the murky and dizzied brains of the Aladdins on their journey of discovery. And that, finally, the good people who listened to them, had been all the time seeing sights and hearing things under unconscious and mutual suggestion.
This is a scientific explanation, and requires no black magicians or dugpas at work; for “suggestion” as now practised by the sorcerers of science is—dugpaship itself, pur sang. No Eastern “adept of the left hand” can do more mischief by his infernal art than a grave hypnotiser of the Faculty of Medicine, a disciple of Charcot, or of any other scientific light of the first magnitude. In Paris, as in St. Petersburg, crimes have been committed under “suggestion.” Divorces have occurred, and husbands have nearly killed their wives and their supposed correspondents, owing to tricks played on innocent and respectable women, who have thus had their fair name and all their future life blasted for ever. A son, under such influence, broke open the desk of an avaricious father, who caught him in the act, and nearly shot him in a fit of rage. One of the keys of Occultism is in the hands of science—cold, heartless, materialistic, and crassly ignorant of the other truly psychic side of the phenomenon: hence, powerless to draw a line of demarcation between the physiological and the purely spiritual effects of the disease inoculated, and unable to prevent future results and consequences of which it has no knowledge, and over which it has, therefore, no control.
We find in Le Lotus of September, 1887, the following:
A French paper, the Paris, for August 12th, contains a long and excellent article by G. Montorgueil, entitled, “The Accursed Sciences,” from which we extract the following passage, since we are, unfortunately, unable to quote the whole:—
“Some months ago, already, in I forget what case, the question of ‘suggestion’ was raised and taken account of by the judges. We shall certainly see people in the dock accused of occult malpractices. But how will the prosecution go to work? What arguments will it bring to bear? The crime by ‘suggestion’ is the ideal of a crime without proof. In such a case the gravest charges will never be more than presumptions, and fugitive presumptions. On what fragile scaffolding of suspicions will the charge rest? No examination, but a moral one, will be possible. We shall have to resign ourselves to hearing the Solicitor-general say to the accused: ’Accused, it appears from a perquisition made into your brain, etc.’
“Ah, the poor jurymen! it is they who are to be pitied. Taking their task to heart, they already have the greatest difficulty in separating the true from the false, even in rough and ready cases, the facts of which are obvious, all the details of which are tangible and the responsibilities clear. And we are going to ask them on their soul and conscience to decide questions of black magic! Verily their reason will not hold out through the fortnight; it will give way before that and sink into thaumaturgy.
“We move fast. The strange trials for sorcery will blossom anew; somnambules who were merely grotesque will appear in a tragic light; the coffee grounds, which so far only risked the police court, will hear their sentence at the assizes. The evil eye will figure among criminal offences. These last years of the 19th century will have seen us step from progress to progress, till we reach at last this judicial enormity: a second Laubardemont prosecuting another Urbain Grandier.”
Serious, scientific, and political papers are full of earnest discussions on the subject. A St. Petersburg “Daily” has a long feuilleton on the “Bearing of Hypnotic Suggestions upon Criminal Law.” “Cases of Hypnotism with criminal motives have of late begun to increase in an ever progressing ratio,” it tells its readers. And it is not the only newspaper, nor is Russia the only country where the same tale is told. Careful investigations and researches have been made by distinguished lawyers and medical authorities. Data have been assiduously collected and have revealed that the curious phenomenon—which sceptics have hitherto derided, and young people have included among their evening petits jeux innocents,—is a new and terrible danger to state and society.
Two facts have now become patent to law and science:—
(I.) That, in the perceptions of the hypnotised subject, the visionary representations called forth by “suggestion,” become real existing actualities, and the subject being, for the moment, the automatic executor of the will of the hypnotiser; and—
(II.) That the great majority of persons experimented upon, is subject to hypnotic suggestion.
Thus Liébeault found only sixty subjects intractable out of the seven hundred he experimented upon; and Bernheim, out of 1,014 subjects, failed with only twenty-six. The field for the natural-born jadoo-wala (sorcery-mongers), is vast indeed! Evil has acquired a play-ground on which it may now exercise its sway upon many a generation of unconscious victims. For crimes undreamt of in the waking state, and felonies of the blackest dye, are now invited and encouraged by the new “accursed science.” The real perpetrators of these deeds of darkness may now remain for ever hidden from the vengeance of human justice. The hand which executes the criminal suggestion is only that of an irresponsible automaton, whose memory preserves no trace of it, and who, moreover, is a witness who can easily be disposed of by compulsory suicide—again under “suggestion.” What better means than these could be offered to the fiends of lust and revenge, to those dark Powers—called human passions—ever on the lookout to break the universal commandment: “Thou shalt not steal, nor murder, nor lust after thy neighbour’s wife?” Liébeault suggested to a young girl that she should poison herself with prussic acid, and she swallowed the supposed drug without one moment’s hesitation; Dr. J. Liégeois suggested to a young woman that she owed him 5,000 francs, and the subject forthwith signed a cheque for the amount. Bernheim suggested to another hysterical girl a long and complicated vision with regard to a criminal case. Two days after, although the hypnotiser had not exercised any new pressure upon her in the interim, she repeated distinctly the whole suggested story to a lawyer sent to her for the purpose. Had her evidence been seriously accepted, it would have brought the accused to the guillotine.
These cases present two dark and terrible aspects. From the moral standpoint, such processes and suggestions leave an indelible stain upon the purity of the subject’s nature. Even the innocent mind of a ten year old child can thus be inoculated with vice, the poison-germ of which will develop in his subsequent life.
On the judicial aspect it is needless to enter in great detail. Suffice to say that it is this characteristic feature of the hypnotic state—the absolute surrender of will and self-consciousness to the hypnotiser—which possesses such importance, from its bearing upon crime, in the eyes of legal authorities. For if the hypnotiser has the subject entirely at his beck and call, so that he can cause him to commit any crime, acting, so to say, invisibly within him, then what are not the terrible “judicial mistakes” to be expected? What wonder then, that the jurisprudence of one country after the other has taken alarm, and is devising, one after the other, measures for repressing the exercise of hypnotism! In Denmark it has just been forbidden. Scientists have experimented upon sensitives with so much success that a hypnotised victim has been jeered and hooted through the streets on his way to commit a crime, which he would have completed unconsciously, had not the victim been warned beforehand by the hypnotiser.
In Brussels a recent and sad case is well-known to all. A young girl of good family was seduced while in a hypnotised state by a man who had first subjected her to his influence at a social gathering. She only realised her condition a few months later, when her relatives, who divined the criminal, forced her seducer to make the only possible reparation—that of marrying his victim.
The French Academy has just been debating the question:—how far a hypnotised subject, from a mere victim, can become a regular tool of crime. Of course, no jurist or legislator can remain indifferent to this question; and it was averred that the crimes committed under suggestion are so unprecedented that some of them can hardly be brought within the scope of the law. Hence the prudent legal prohibition, just adopted in France, which enacts that no person, save those legally qualified to exercise the medical profession, shall hypnotise any other person. Even the physician who enjoys such legal right is permitted to hypnotise a person only in the presence of another qualified medical man, and with the written permission of the subject. Public séances of hypnotism are forbidden, and they are strictly confined to medical cliniques and laboratories. Those who break this law are liable to a heavy fine and imprisonment.
But the keynote has been struck, and many are the ways in which this black art may be used—laws notwithstanding. That it will be so used, the vile passions inherent in human nature are sufficient guarantee.
Many and strange will be the romances yet enacted; for truth is often stranger than fiction, and what is thought fiction is still more often truth.
No wonder then that occult literature is growing with every day. Occultism and sorcery are in the air, with no true philosophical knowledge to guide the experimenters and thus check evil results. “Works of fiction,” the various novels and romances are called. “Fiction” in the arrangement of their characters and the adventures of their heroes and heroines—admitted. Not so, as to the facts presented. These are no fictions, but true presentiments of what lies in the bosom of the future, and much of which is already born—nay corroborated by scientific experiments. Signs of the times! Close of a psychic cycle! The time for phenomena with, or through mediums, whether professional or otherwise, is gone by. It was the early season of the blossoming, of the era mentioned even in the Bible;1 the tree of Occultism is now preparing for “fruiting,” and the Spirit of the Occult is awakening in the blood of the new generations. If the old men only “dream dreams,” the young ones see already visions,2 and—record them in novels and works of fiction. Woe to the ignorant and the unprepared, and those who listen to the sirens of materialistic science! For indeed, indeed, many will be the unconscious crimes committed, and many will be the victims who will innocently suffer death by hanging and decapitation at the hands of the righteous judges and the too innocent jurymen, both alike ignorant of the fiendish power of “Suggestion.”
1. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel, 2:28).
2. It is curious to note that Mr. R. Louis Stevenson, one of the most powerful of our imaginative writers, stated recently to a reporter that he is in the habit of constructing the plots of his tales in dreams, and among others that of Dr. Jekyll. “I dreamed,” he continued, “the story of ‘Olalla ’ . . . and I have at the present moment two unwritten stories which I have likewise dreamed. . . . Even when fast asleep I know that it is I who am inventing.” . . . But who knows whether the idea of “invention” is not also “a dream”!