Dreams of a Spirit-Seer/Part 1/Chapter 2

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Gross reason which cleaves to the bodily senses has, I trust, by this time become so accustomed to higher and abstract conceptions that now it can see spiritual figures, devoid of corporeal clothing, in that dusk in which the faint light of metaphysics renders visible the kingdom of shadows. We will venture therefore upon the dangerous road, since we have endured such laborious preparation for it.

Ibant sub nocte per umbras
Perque domos Ditis vacuas et inania regna.

The characteristics of the dead matter which fills the universe are stability and inertia; it further possesses solidity, expansion, and form, and its manifestations, resulting from all these three causes, admit of physical explanations, which, at the same time, are mathematical, and, collectively, are called mechanical. But let us direct our attention to the kind of beings which contain the cause of life in the universe—those which therefore neither add to the mass and extent of lifeless matter, nor are influenced by it according to the laws of contact and collision, but which rather, by inner activity, move themselves and dead matter as well—and we shall find ourselves convinced, if not with the distinctness of demonstration, still with the presentiment of well applied reason, that immaterial beings exist. Their peculiar laws of operation we may call “spiritual,” or, in so far as bodies are the medium of their operation in the material world, “organic.” As these immaterial beings are self-active principles, consequently, substances and natures existing by themselves, the conclusion which suggests itself first is, that, immediately united with each other, they might form, perhaps, a great whole which might be called the immaterial world (mundus intelligibilis). For what reason could render the assertion probable that such beings of similar nature could communicate only by means of other beings (corporeal) of dissimilar nature? This latter supposition would really be much more mysterious than the first.

This immaterial world, therefore, can be regarded as a whole existing by itself, and its parts, as being in mutual conjunction and intercourse without the instrumentality of anything corporeal. The relation by means of things corporeal is consequently to be regarded as accidental; it can belong only to a few; yea, where we meet with it, it does not hinder even those very immaterial beings, while acting upon one another through matter, from standing also in their special universal relationship, so that at any time they may exercise upon one another mutual influences by virtue of the laws of their immaterial existence. Their relation by means of matter is thus accidental, and is due to a special divine institution, while their direct relation is natural and insoluble.11

By combining in this way all principles of life in the whole of nature, as so many ‘incorporeal substances, communicating with each other, partly also united with matter, we conceive of the immaterial world as a great whole, an immeasurable but unknown gradation of beings and active natures by which alone the dead matter of the corporeal world is endued with life. But to which members of nature life is extended, and which those degrees of it are which are next to utter lifelessness, can, perhaps, never be made out with certainty.12 Hylozoism imputes life to everything; materialism, carefully considered, kills everything. Maupertuis attributed to the organic particles of the nutriment of all animals the lowest degree of life, other philosophers see in them nothing else but dead masses which serve only to augment the lever-apparatus of animal machines.13 The undoubted characteristic of life in that which appeals to our external senses is, I may say, the free movement which shows that it is arbitrary, but the conclusion is not certain that, wherever this characteristic is not found, there is no degree of life.14 Boerhave says somewhere: The animal is a plant which has its roots in the stomach (inside). Another might, perhaps, play without censure with these conceptions by saying: The plant is an animal which has its stomach in the root (outside). The plants, therefore, may lack the organs of arbitrary movement, and thus the external characteristics of life. These are necessary to the animals, because a being which has the instruments of nourishment inside must be able to move about according to its needs; but a being where these are outside and planted in the nourishing element, is already sufficiently maintained by external forces. Such a being contains indeed a principle of inner life in the fact of vegetation, yet it does not need an organic apparatus for external free activity. I do not propose to use any of these considerations as evidence, for, aside from the fact that I could say very little in favour of such conjectures, they have the ridicule of fashion against them, as being dusty antiquated fancies. The ancients, namely, thought that they could assume three kinds of life, the vegetable, the animal, and the reasonable. In uniting in man the three immaterial principles of those kinds of life, they very likely erred; but so far as they distributed the three principles among the three kinds of growing beings which propagate their kind, they indeed said something undemonstrable, but not, on that account, unreasonable, especially not in the judgment of one who considers the close relation of the polyps and other zoophytes with the plants, or who takes into account the special life belonging to the separated parts of some animals, irritability—that quality of the fibres of an animal body and of some plants, so well demonstrated, and, at the same time, so inexplicable. But, after all, the appeal to immaterial principles is a subterfuge of bad philosophy. Explanations of that kind should be avoided as much as possible, so that those causes of the world’s phenomena which rest on the laws of motion of matter alone, and which solely and alone are capable of being conceived, may be recognized in their full extent.15 Nevertheless, I am convinced that Stahl, who likes to explain animal processes organically, is often nearer to the truth than Hofmann, Boerhave, and others, who leave immaterial forces out of their plan and keep to mechanical reasons. Yet these follow thereby a more philosophical method, which sometimes perhaps fails, but oftener proves right, and which alone can be applied to advantage in science. For the influence of beings of incorporeal nature can only be said to exist, but it can never be shown how it proceeds, nor how far its efficiency extends.16

The immaterial then would primarily comprise all created intelligences. Some of these are combined with matter, thus forming a person, and some not. It further comprises the sensating subjects in all kinds of animals, and finally all the principles of life wherever in nature they may be found, although such life may not make itself evident by the external characteristics of arbitrary movement. All these immaterial natures, I say, whether they exercise their influences in the corporeal world or not, and all the rational beings who are, accidentally, in an animal state, here on earth or on other terrestrial bodies, while they may be vivifying gross matter now or in future, or may have done so in the past, nevertheless form, according to these conceptions, a communion in conformity with their nature.17 And this communion would not rest upon the conditions by which the relations of bodies are limited, but distance in space and time,18 which forms in the visible world the great cleft severing all communion, would disappear. We should, therefore, have to regard the human soul as being conjoined in its present life with two worlds at the same time, of which it clearly perceives only the material world, in so far as it is conjoined with a body, and thus forms a personal unit.19 But as a member of the spiritual world it receives and gives out the pure influences of immaterial natures, so that, as soon as the accidental conjunction has ceased, only that communion remains which at all times it has with spiritual natures.[1] 20

It begins to be a real trouble for me, always to use the cautious language of reason. Why should I, too, not be allowed to talk in academical style? This exempts the writer as well as the reader from thinking, which, after all, sooner or later must lead only to annoying indecision. Thus “it is as good as demonstrated,” or, to be explicit, “it could easily be proved,” or still better, “it will be proved” I don’t know where or when, that the human soul also in this life forms an indissoluble communion with all immaterial natures of the spirit-world, that, alternately, it acts upon and receives impressions from that world of which nevertheless it is not conscious while it is still man and as long as everything is in proper condition.23 On the other hand it is probable that the spiritual natures on their side can have no immediate conscious sensation of the corporeal world,24 because they are not conjoined with any part of matter which could make them aware of their place in the material world-whole, nor have they elaborate organs for entering into the mutual relations of beings of spacial extent. But they can, probably, flow into the souls of men as into beings of their own nature, and it is likely that they are actually at all times in mutual intercourse with them, yet, in such a way that those conceptions which the soul entertains as a being dependent on the corporeal world cannot be communicated to the other purely spiritual beings; nor can .the conceptions of these latter, being conceptions of immaterial things, be transferred into the consciousness of men, at least not as long as these conceptions preserve their peculiar quality, for the components of the two sets of ideas are of different kind.

It would be beautiful if such a systematic constitution of the spirit-world, as we conceive it, could be determined, or only with some probability supposed, not merely from the conception of spiritual being in general, which is altogether too hypothetical, but from an actual and universally conceded observation. Therefore I venture upon the indulgence of the reader and insert here an attempt at something of this kind which, although somewhat out of my way, and far enough removed from evidence, still seems to give occasion for not unpleasant surmises.

Among the forces which move the human heart, some of the most powerful seem to lie outside of it. They consequently are not mere means to selfishness and private interest, which would be an aim lying inside of man himself, but they incline our emotions to place the focus in which they combine, outside of us, in other rational beings. Thence arises a struggle between two forces, the proprium which refers everything to itself, and the public spirit by which the mind is driven or drawn towards others outside of itself.25 I do not dwell upon that instinct which causes us to depend so much and so universally upon the judgment of others, to consider outside approbation or applause requisite to a good opinion of ourselves. Sometimes a mistaken conception of honour comes up in this matter, but nevertheless there is even in the most unselfish and open natures a secret leaning to compare with the judgment of others what we have by ourselves recognized to be good and true, so as to make both concordant; on the other hand there is an inclination to stop, so to speak, each human soul on its way to knowledge, when it seems to go another path than that upon which we have entered. All this comes, perhaps, from our perception of the dependence of our own judgment upon the common sense of man, and it becomes a reason for ascribing to the whole of thinking beings a sort of unity of reason.

But I pass over this otherwise not unimportant consideration, and, for the present, take up another which, as far as our purpose is concerned, is more obvious and pertinent. When we consider our needs in relation to our environment, we cannot do it without experiencing a certain sensation of restraint and limitation which lets us know that a foreign will, as it were, is active in us, and that our own liking is subject to the condition of external consent. A secret power compels us to adapt our intentions to the welfare of others, or to this foreign will, although this is often done unwillingly, and conflicts strongly with our selfish inclination. The point to which the lines of direction of our impulses converge, is thus not only in ourselves, but there are besides powers moving us in the will of others outside of ourselves. Hence arise the moral impulses which often carry us away to the discomfiture of selfishness, the strong law of duty, and the weaker one of benevolence. Both of these wring from us many a sacrifice, and although selfish inclinations now and then preponderate over both, these still never fail to assert their reality in human nature. Thus we recognize that, in our most secret motives, we are dependent upon the rule of the will of all, and thence arises in the community of all thinking beings a moral unity, and a systematic constitution according to purely spiritual laws.26 If we want to call the fact that we feel forced to adapt our will to the will of all, the sense of morality, we thereby describe only a manifestation of that which actually takes place in us, without settling upon its causes. Thus Newton called the established law that all particles of matter have the tendency to approach each other, gravitation, because he did not want to have his mathematical demonstrations mixed up with possible philosophical disputes over the causes of gravitation. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to treat gravitation as the true effect of a general interaction of matter, and therefore gave to it also the name of attraction.27 Should it not be possible to conceive the phenomenon of moral impulses in the mutual relations of thinking creatures as the consequence of an actual force, consisting in the fact that spiritual natures flow into each other? The sense of morality then would be the sensation of this dependence of the individual will upon the will of all, and would be a consequence of the natural and universal interaction whereby the immaterial world attains its unity, namely, by conforming itself to a system of spiritual perfection, according to the laws of this sense of morality, which would constitute its mode of cohesion. If we grant to these thoughts so much probability as to make it worth while to measure them by their consequences, we shall be drawn by their charm, perhaps unconsciously, into being partial to them. For in this case there seem to disappear most of the irregularities which otherwise, owing to the contradiction between the moral and physical relations of men here on earth, strike us as being so strange. The moral quality of our actions can, according to the order of nature, never be fully worked out in the bodily life of men, but it can be so worked out in the spirit-world, according to spiritual laws.28 The true purposes, the secret motives of many endeavours, fruitless by impotency, the victory over self, or the occasional hidden treachery in apparently good actions, are mostly lost as to their physical effect in the bodily state, but in the immaterial world they would have to be regarded as fruitful causes, and, consequently, according to spiritual laws and on account of the connection between the individual will and the will of all, they would mutually produce and receive effects appropriate to the moral quality of free will. For just because the morality of an action concerns the inner state of the spirit, it naturally can only in the immediate communion of spirits have, an effect adequate to its full morality. Thus it would happen that man’s soul would already in this life have to take its place among the spiritual substances of the universe according to its moral state, just as, according to the laws of motion, the matter of the universe arranges itself into an order conformable to its material forces.[2] When finally through death the communion of the soul with the body-world is abolished, life in the other world would be only a natural continuation of such connections as were formed with it already in this life, and all the consequences of the morality exercised here we would find there in the effects which a being standing in indissoluble communion with the whole spirit-world would have already achieved, according to spiritual laws.30 Present and future would be, as it were, out of one piece and constitute a continuous whole, even according to the order of nature. This latter circumstance is of especial importance. For in a speculation based merely upon reasoning there is a great difficulty if, in removing the inconvenience which follows from the incomplete harmony of morality and its consequences in this world, we have to resort to an extraordinary idea of the divine will. For, though our judgment of it might, according to our conceptions, be probable, a strong suspicion would remain that the weak conceptions of our understanding were applied to the Highest perhaps very erroneously. For it is incumbent upon man to judge of the divine will only from the harmony which he actually perceives in the world, or which, by the rule of analogy, according to the order of nature,31 he may suppose to be in it; he is not entitled to imagine new and arbitrary arrangements in the present or future world, according to some scheme of his own wisdom which he prescribes to the divine will.

We now turn our consideration again into the former path, and approach the aim which we have set before ourselves. If the facts of the spirit-world be such as we have stated, and the share of our soul in it be truly pictured in the sketch just made, then scarcely anything appears more strange than that communion with spirits is not quite a common and ordinary thing; and what is extraordinary about it is rather the scarcity of apparitions than their possibility. This difficulty is tolerably easy to remove and already has been partly removed. For the conception which the soul of man has of itself as of a spirit, which, moreover, it has obtained through contemplation of the immaterial, i.e., by observing itself in its relation to beings of similar nature, this conception is entirely different from that where its consciousness conceives itself as a man, by means of an image originated in the impression of corporeal organs and conceived of in relation to none but corporeal things. It is, therefore, indeed one subject, which is thus at the same time a member of the visible and of the invisible world, but not one and the same person; for, on account of their different quality, the conceptions of the one world are not ideas associated with those of the other world, thus, what I think as spirit, is not remembered by me as man, and, conversely, my state as man does not at all enter into the conception of myself as a spirit. Moreover, my ideas of the spirit-world may be ever so clear and perspicuous,[3] still that would not suffice to make me, as a man, conscious of that world; and so, however clear an idea one may, by reasoning, derive of himself, i.e., of his soul, as a spirit, still, this idea is with no man an object of actual sight and experience.

This difference, however, in the nature of spiritual ideas and those belonging to the body-life of man must not be considered so great an obstacle as to remove all possibility of becoming, sometimes, conscious of the influences of the spirit-world even in this life. For spiritual ideas can pass over into the personal consciousness of man, indeed, not immediately, but still in such a way that, according to the law of the association of ideas, they stir up those pictures which are related to them and awake analogous ideas of our senses. These, it is true, would not be spiritual conceptions themselves, but yet their symbols.32 For, after all, it is one and the same substance which is a member both of this world and the other, and both kinds of ideas belong to the same subject and are connected with each other. How this is possible can be made intelligible by considering how our higher conceptions of reason, which approach the spiritual pretty closely, ordinarily assume, as it were, a bodily garment to make themselves clear.33 Thence it is that the moral qualities of deity are represented by the ideas of anger, jealousy, mercifulness, revenge,34 &c.; for the same reason poets personify the virtues, vices, and other qualities of human nature, though this is done in such a way that the true idea of the meaning shines through; in the same way the geometrician represents time by a line, although time and space have comformity only by relation and therefore agree, indeed, according to analogy, but never according to quality. This is the reason why the idea of divine eternity assumes even with philosophers the appearance of infinite time,35 be they never so careful not to mix them up; and one great cause why mathematicians are generally loath to admit the monads of Leibnitz may be that they cannot help but imagine these monads as little masses. Thus it is not improbable that spiritual sensations can pass over into consciousness if they act upon correlated ideas of the senses. In such a way ideas which are communicated by spiritual influx, would clothe themselves with the signs of that language which man uses for his other purposes. Thus the sensation of the presence of a spirit becomes converted into the picture of the human figure; the order and beauty of the immaterial world into fantasies which, under other circumstances, give pleasure to our senses in this life,36 &c.

Nevertheless this kind of apparition cannot be a common and ordinary thing but can occur only with persons whose organs[4] have an unusual sensitiveness for intensifying, by harmonious motion, according to the inner state of the soul, the pictures of the imagination, to a higher degree than is usually the case, and should be the case, with healthy persons. Such abnormal persons would be confronted, in certain moments, with the appearance of many objects as if they were outside of themselves. They would think that spiritual natures present with them were affecting their bodily senses, while yet this is only a delusion of the imagination, occurring, however, in such a way that its cause is a true spiritual influence, not, indeed, perceivable immediately, but revealing itself to consciousness by correlated pictures of the imagination which assume the appearance of sensations.

Conceptions derived from education and all sorts of fancies that have crept into the mind would exercise their influence here, where delusion is mingled with truth, a real spiritual sensation being, indeed, the foundation, but converted into phantoms of sensuous things. It will further be admitted that the power to thus develop the impressions of the spirit-world into the clear perception of this world can hardly be of any use, because in such a process the spiritual sensation becomes necessarily so closely interwoven with the fancies of the imagination that it cannot be possible to distinguish the truth from the gross surrounding delusions. Such a state would likewise indicate a disease, because it presupposes an altered balance of the nerves, which are put into unnatural motion merely by the activity of purely spiritual sensations of the soul. Finally, it would not be at all strange to find the spirit-seer to be at the same time a dreamer, at least in regard to the mental pictures which he makes of his visions; because ideas, unknown to him by their very nature and incompatible with those of his bodily state, crowd in and drag into external sensation badly adjusted pictures, creating thereby wild chimeras and curiously distorted figures, which float in trailing garments before the senses, deceiving them in spite of the fact that such chimeras may be based upon a true spiritual influence.37

Now we need no longer be at a loss to give apparently rational causes for the stories about apparitions which so often cross the path of philosophers, as well as to account for all sorts of influences from spirits of which the rumour goes here and there.38 Departed souls and pure spirits can indeed never be present to our external senses, nor communicate with matter in any other way than by acting upon the spirit of man, who belongs with them to one great republic. The spirits must act in such a way that the ideas which they call up in man’s mind clothe themselves in corresponding pictures according to the law of imagination, thus causing any objects which fit into the picture to appear as if they were outside of him. This deception can affect any one of the senses, and, however mixed it may be with incongruous fancies, it should not keep one from supposing spiritual influences in it. I should encroach upon the penetration of the reader if I should stop to apply this mode of explanation. For metaphysical hypotheses are possessed of such an immense flexibility that one must be very awkward not to be able to adapt this one to any story he hears even before investigating its truthfulness, which is in many cases impossible, and in still more is impolite to the narrator.

But if we balance against each other the advantages and disadvantages which might accrue to a person organized not only for the visible world, but also, to a certain degree, for the invisible (if ever there was such a person), such a gift would seem to be like that with which Juno honoured Teiresias, making him blind so that she might impart to him the gift of prophesying. For, judging from the propositions above made, the knowledge of the other world can be obtained here only by losing some of that intelligence which is necessary for this present world. I am not sure if even certain philosophers can be freed entirely from such a hard condition, when they turn their metaphysical telescopes upon such far-off regions and tell us of miraculous things. At least I do not grudge them their discoveries. But I am afraid that some man of sound sense but little polish might intimate to them what the coachman answered to Tycho Brahe, when, one night, the latter suggested to the man he might drive the shortest way by directing his course according to the stars: “My dear master, you may be an expert as to the sky, but here on earth you are a fool.”39


  1. If one speaks of heaven as the seat of the happy, common conception likes to place it above, high up in the immeasurable universe. But one does not consider that our earth, viewed from those regions, must also appear as one of the stars of heaven, and that the inhabitants of other worlds, with as good reason, may point to us and say, “See there the dwelling-place of eternal joys, a heavenly abode, prepared to receive us some day.”21 For a queer illusion makes the high flight which hope takes, always to be connected with the idea of rising physically, without considering that however high we may have risen, we have to descend again to land eventually in another world. According to the ideas just mentioned, heaven would be properly the spirit-world, or, perhaps, the happy part of it, and this we would have to seek neither above nor below, because such an immaterial whole must be conceived of, not according to the further or nearer distances of corporeal things, but according to the spiritual connections of its parts with each other. Its members, at least, are conscious of themselves only according to such relations.22
  2. The interactions of man and the spirit-world, taking place by means of morality, according to the laws of spiritual influences, might be defined in such a way that thence a closer association of a good or a bad soul with good or evil spirits respectively would naturally arise, and thus the evil spirits would, from themselves, associate with that part of the spiritual republic that is in accordance with their moral quality, undergoing all the consequences which thence might follow according to the order of nature.29
  3. This may be elucidated by a certain double personality which belongs to the soul even in this life. Certain philosophers think that, without fear of the least objection, they can refer to the state of sound sleep when they want to prove the reality of obscure ideas, since nothing can be said about that state with certainty, except that, in the waking state, we do not remember any of the ideas which we might have had in sound sleep. From this fact, however, follows only this much, that the ideas were not clearly represented while we were waking up, but not that they were obscure also while we slept. I rather suppose that ideas in sleep may be clearer and broader than even the clearest in the waking state. This is to be expected of such an active being as the soul when the external senses are so completely at rest. For man, at such times, is not sensible of his body. When he wakes up his body is not associated with the ideas of his sleep, so that it cannot be a means of recalling this former state of thought to consciousness in such a way as to make it appear to belong to one and the same person. A confirmation of my idea of sound sleep is found in the activity of some who walk in their sleep, and who, in such a state, betray more intelligence than usual, although in waking up they do not remember anything. Dreams, however, i.e., the ideas which one remembers in waking up, do not belong here. For then man does not wholly sleep, he perceives to a certain degree clearly, and weaves the actions of his spirit into the impressions of the external senses. He therefore remembers them in part afterwards, but finds in them only wild and absurd chimeras, since ideas of phantasy and of external sensation are intermingled in them.
  4. I do not mean by this the organs of external sensation, but the sensory of the soul, as it is called, i.e., that part of the brain the motion of which, according to the opinion of philosophers, is wont to accompany the various images and ideas of the soul when thinking.