Just as any one believing all actions to be the result of fully conscious motives may regard the hysteric as a simple fraud, so he may dismiss the medium and the clairvoyant in the same easy way and consider the matter settled. But we find men in positions which lend authority not only vouching for the honesty of the medium but sometimes taking an active part in the production of the phenomena for which the explanation of fraud is regarded as sufficient; as a result this explanation fails to convince and we meet many people who believe there must be ‘something in it’. So there is: there is the same graduated series, from the simple cheat to the complete Dissociate, that we saw in the consideration of hysteria, but in addition there is a fervent desire to believe, and the Dissociate, instead of being regarded as a victim of disease, is treated as a person gifted with supernatural powers.
Let me describe my first experience of a medium. Friends had told me of his gifts and had met my incredulity with ‘How do you explain this?’ followed by some story of supernatural revelation. I could not explain, but accepted an invitation to meet the miracle-worker and, perhaps, be converted. His method of demonstrating communication with the spirit world was to sit in a meditative attitude with one hand before his eyes, whilst watching between his slightly separated fingers the assembled believers so as to note the effect of his revelations, which were apparently presented to him by the spirits in two forms. Descriptions of the spirit world came through freely, one might call them fluent but incoherent, whilst revelations such as my friends had promised came in a halting and uncertain trickle. The enthusiastic accounts had not prepared me for such a poor show. I had pictured him saying something like–‘Your grandmother’s name was Georgina; she died at the age of seventy-two, after an illness lasting three days; she was a good horsewoman and disliked Mr. Gladstone’. Instead of this the procedure was: ‘I hear a name, is it George? (No bite)–Georgina? (a look of intelligence)–you have a friend named Georgina–a young girl–no, not a young girl, she was older, a relative, yes, a relative’–and so on. Finally Georgina is discovered to be a grandmother of one of those present, and is described sufficiently well to be recognised as the grandmother on the father’s side, though, curiously, Georgina was the name of the maternal grandmother. What could be more convincing? Of course spirit communication is difficult and such a mistake only proves the genuineness of the article; but the description of the grandmother was built up on certain characteristics of the father, who was present, and the source was obvious to any one not blinded by the desire to believe.
One incident shows that the medium had received some education in the superficial signs of disease. An elderly lady with a rather puffy face, which had raised in me a suspicion of kidney disease, was told by him: ‘It is strange, but I _must_ tell you for your own sake. You have trouble with your kidneys.’ He was wrong and so was I, but if events had proved us right the credit would have been his.
Then my turn came and the spirits told about my own disposition, which I had unfortunately revealed by a single observation before the real business began, and the exulting glances of the audience told me the first score had gone to the medium. Then more intimate stuff came through; names were presented and I nibbled at one: ‘Yes, I know him’, with a stress on the ‘I’. More revelations–he was my enemy (here a nod from me), I had suspected it for a long time, but right would conquer, and I must not fear. Then a relative came into the play, and a look of sadness drew forth the surprising news that she was dead but her spirit was watching over me. Next came the phrase, heard once before in the séance, ‘I see a far-off land’, and the believers brightened up again. Quick came the news, ‘You have been abroad,’ and I couldn’t deny it.
Thus the game went on; when a hint could be picked up it was used at once or later, to be cast back as a spirit revelation. As the game developed I gave hints in plenty, whilst my friends showed their joy at seeing a sceptic receive convincing proofs of the spirit powers.
The séance being ended, my first task was to persuade the believers that the revelations vouchsafed to me bore little relation to the truth; ‘But you said they were true.’ ‘Yes, and they were not.’ ‘Then you were really telling lies.’ ‘Yes, and he believed them and so did the spirits.’ ‘Well, of course, if you deceive the spirits like that how can you expect the truth in return?’ So the rationalisations went on and the logic-tight compartments were protected from injury.