Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/30

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16
POLTERGEIST


some of the minor phenomena. - He could not explain them, and gave the best character to the Nonconformist mother of the child with whom the events were associated. No trickery was discovered.-The

phenomena are frequently connected with a person, often a child, suffering from nervous malady or recent nervous shock. No such person appears in the Alresford, Willington, Epworth and Tedworth cases, and it is not stated that Eliza Rose at Worksop was subjected to a medical examination. In a curious case, given by Mrs Crewe, in The Night Side of N atnre, the young person was the daughter of a Captain Molesworth. Her own health was bad, and she had been depressed by the death of a sister. Captain Molesworth occupied a semi-detached villa at Trinity, near Edinburgh; his landlord lived next door. The phenomena set in: the captain bored holes in the wall to discover a cause in trickery, and his landlord brought a suit against him in the sherilf's court at Edinburgh. The papers are preserved, but the writer found that to discover them would be a herculean labour. He saw, .however, a number of documents in the office of a firm of solicitors employed in the case. They proved the fact of the lawsuit but threw no other light on the matter. We often find that the phenomena occur after a nervous shock to the person who may be called the medium. The shock is frequently consequent on a threat from a supposed witch or wizard.” This was the case at Cideville in 1850-18 51. (See an abstract of the documents of the trial, Proceedings S.P.R. xviii. 454-463. The entire report was sent to the writer.) In 1901 there was a case at Great Grimsby; the usual flying of stones and other objects occurred. The woman of the house had been threatened by a witch, after that the poltergeist developed. No explanation was forthcoming. In Proc. S.P.R. xvii. 320 the Rev. Mr Deanley gives a curious parallel case with detection of imposture. In Miss O'Neal's Devonshire Idylls is an excellent account of the phenomena which occurred after a Devonshire girl of the best character, well known to Miss O'Neal, had been threatened by a witch. In the famous instance of Christian Shaw of Bargarran (1697) the child had been thrice formally cursed by a woman, who prayed to God that her soul “ might be hurled through hell.” Christian fell into a state which puzzled the medical faculty (especially when she floated in the air), and doubtless she herself caused, in an hysterical state, many phenomena which, however, were not precisely poltergeistish. A very marked set of phenomena, in the way of movements of objects, recently occurred in the Hudson Bay territory, after a half-breed girl had received a nervous shock from a flash of lightning that struck near her. Heavy weights automatically “ tobogganed, ” as Red Indian spectators said, and there were the usual rappings in tent and Wigwam. If we accept trickery as the sufficient explanation, the uniformity of tricks played by hysterical patients is very singular. Still more singular is a long series, continued through several years, of the same occurrences where no hysterical patient is known to exist. In a very curious example, a carpenter's shop being the scene, there was concerned nobody of an hysterical temperament, no young boy or girl, and there was no explanation (Proc. S .P.R. vii. 383-394). The events went on during six weeks. An excellent case of hysterical fraud by a girl in France is given by Dr Grasset, professor of clinical medicine at Montpellier (Proc. S.P.R. xviii. 464-480). But in this instance, though things were found in unusual places, nobody over eight years old saw them flying about; yet all concerned were deeply superstitious. On the whole, while fraud, especially hysterical fraud, is a vera causa in some cases of poltergeist, it is not certain that the explanation tits'all cases, and it is certain that detection of fraud has often been falsely asserted, as at Tedworth and Willington. No good chronic case, as at Alresford, Epworth, Spraiton <Bovet's Pandaernonium), Willington, and in other classical instances, has been for months sedulously observed by sceptics. In short-lived cases, as at Worksop, science appears on the scene long enough after date to make the theory of exaggeration of memory plausible. If we ask science to explain how the more remarkable occurrences could be produced by a girl ex hypo these half-withed, the reply is that the occurrences never occurred, they were only “described as occurring” by untrained observers with “ patent double magnifying” memories; and with a capacity for being hallucinated in a uniform way all the world over. Yet great quantities of crockery and furniture were broken, before the eyes of observers, in a house near Ballarmina, in North Ireland, in:January 1907. The experiment of exhibiting a girl who can break all the crockery without being detected, in the presence of a doctor and a policeman, and who can, at the same time, induce the spectators to believe that the flying objects waver, swerve and “ wobble, ” has notibeen attempted.

An obvious difficulty in the search for authentic information is the circumstance that the poor and imperfectly educated are much more numerous than the well-to-do and well educated. It is therefore certain that most of the disturbances will occur in the houses of the poor and ill educated, and that their evidence will be rejected as insuhicient. When an excellent case occurs in a palace, and is reported by the margravine of Bayreuth, sister of Frederick the Great, in her M ernoirs, the objection is that her narrative was written long after the events. When we have contemporary journals and letters, or sworn evidence, as in the affairs of Sir Philip Francis, Cideville and Willington, criticism can probably find some other good reasons for setting these testimonies aside. It is certain that the royal, the rich and the well-educated observers tell, in many cases, precisely the same sort of stories about poltergeist phenomena as do the poor and the imperfectly instructed.

On the theory that there exist “ mysterbus agencies ” which now and then produce the phenomena, we may ask what these agencies can possibly be? But no answer worthy of consideration has ever been given to this question. The usual reply is that some unknown but intelligent force is disengaged from the personality of the apparent medium. This apparent medium need not be present; he or she may be far away. The Highlanders attribute many poltergeist phenomena, inexplicable noises, sounds of Viewless feet that pass, and so forth, to tdradh, an influence exerted unconsciously by unduly strong Wishes on the part of a person at a distance. The phrase falbh air fdrsaing (“ going uncontrolled ”) is also used (Campbell, Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Scottish Highlands, 1902, pp. 144-147). The present writer is well acquainted with cases attributed to tdradh, in a house where he has often been a guest. They excite no alarm, their cause being well understood. We may call this kind of thing telethoryby, a racket produced from a distance. A very marked case in Illinois would have been attributed in the Highlands to the tdradh of the late owner of the house, a dipsomaniac in another state. On his death the disturbances ceased (first-hand evidence from the disturbed lady of the house, May 1907). It may be worth while to note that the phenomena are often regarded as death-warnings by popular belief. The early incidents at the Wesleys' house were thought to indicate the death of a kinsman; or to announce the approaching decease of Mr Wesley pero, who at first saw and heard nothing unusual. At Worksop the doctor was called in, because the phenomena were guessed to be “ warnings ” of the death of a sick child of the house. The writer has first-hand evidence from a lady and her son (afterwards a priest) of very singular movements of untouched objects in their presence, which did coincide with the death of a relation at a distance. BIBLIOGRAPHY.-The literature of the subject is profuse, but scattered. For modern instances the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research may be consulted, especially an essay by F. W. H. Myers, vii. 146'198, also iv. 29-38; with the essay by Podmore, already quoted. Books like Dale Owen's Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, and Fresnoy's Recueil des dissertations sur les apparitions, are stronger in the quantity of anecdotes than in the quality of evidence. A. Lang's Book of Dreams and Ghosts, contains outlandish and Celtic examples, and Telfair's (Telt'er's) A True Relation of an Apparition (1694~1696) shows unusual regard for securing signed evidence. Kiesewetter's Geschichte des neueren Occultismus and Graham Dalyell's Darker Superstitions of Scotland, with any collections of trials for witchcraft.