Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/207

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195
MODERN MIRACLES.

with the growth and development of anthropology and ethnopsychology. Missionaries, tourists, government ofiBcials, and the most eminent English, French, German, and Italian scientists, who have witnessed these exhibitions in India and other Oriental countries, all agree as to the genuineness of the phenomena, although no one has yet been able to give a satisfactory explanation of them. If we accept the argumentum ex consensu gentium as valid, the evidence is overwhelming and the proof complete.

Indeed, one need not go so far away in search of such manifestations. The so-called Choreutæ (dancers) of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Flagellants of a later period, and similar fanatical sects, are not to be considered in this connection, since their object was to inflict pain upon themselves, the physical suffering being regarded as a sacrament or efficient means of grace. There is, however, quite a remarkable resemblance between the marvelous feats of Arabian and Indian fakirs and those performed by Jansenist convulsionaries in the last century (17301762) at the grave of their ascetic saint, Francis of Paris, in the suburban church of St. Medardus, the genuineness of which is not denied by their bitter enemies, the Jesuits, and is even admitted by such scrutinizing skeptics as Hume and Diderot. These religious enthusiasts maltreated their bodies much in the same way as the fakirs and with like impunity, and regarded such actions as contributing to their spiritual growth and perfection. It was a sort of homœopathic treatment, the principle of similia similibus applied to the cure of souls, whose infirmities were indicated by bodily symptoms and required vigorous remedies. Thus, an oppression of the chest, which had a pathological significance in relation to the spirit, pointed to the therapeutic necessity of beating it with the greatest violence; if the convulsionary had a sense of burning heat, he exposed himself to the flames; an acute and boring pain in the mouth, neck, eye, or any other organ required a dagger to be thrust into the afflicted part, but, strangely enough, no force could make the sharpest instrument enter the flesh or inflict a wound. If we are to accept autoptic testimony, given by shrewd observers, who would have been glad to expose any imposture, these enthusiasts could eat the most injurious things, swallow poisons, and lie for hours in the fire, like salamanders, without singeing a hair or having any smell of burning on their persons.

Doubtless, as Charcot, Lombroso, Mendel, and other scientists suggest, hypnotism may furnish a partial solution of this physiological and psychological puzzle; but hypnotism, although recognized as a fact, still remains a mystery, and differs from a miracle only in being attributed to natural instead of supernatural causes. It is well known that, in obedience to hypnotic suggestion, persons will eat the most unpalatable and even disgusting substances as