THE ACCOUNTS OF BELIEVERS
One is repeatedly faced with a story of the marvellous and invited to explain it away or believe in the supernatural. My favourite way of dealing with such a proposition is to borrow a pack of cards, invite the story-teller to take a card, and, without letting me see it, to think of it whilst holding my hand. After a silent pause I name the card and may be told, ‘of course that’s a trick’, and on assuring my friends that the spirits have told me the name of the card I am called a scoffer; somehow a pack of cards is not spiritual enough.
Some stories are hard to explain without full evidence, and here is one of them: A friend assured me that in _Raymond_ was an account of how one of Sir Oliver Lodge’s family went to London to visit a medium, and how after she had started some others of the family met in Birmingham, and, calling up the spirit of Raymond, asked him to say ‘Honolulu’ at the London séance. Sure enough at the London séance held on the same day ‘Honolulu’ came into the spirit talk. This account is substantially correct (see pp. 271 _et seq._) and the incident is inexplicable so far; Sir Oliver Lodge says of the episode:–
‘1. It establishes a reality about the home sittings.
2. It so entirely eliminates anything of the nature of collusion, conscious or unconscious.
3. The whole circumstances of the test make it an exceedingly good one.’
Then, after suggesting Telepathy as an explanation, he writes: ‘I venture to say there is no normal explanation, since in my judgement chance is out of the question.’
If the information had stopped at this no explanation on natural lines would be possible, but so painfully honest is Sir Oliver that in the same book he supplies full material for such an explanation. At a London séance on December 20th, 1915, with the same medium there occurs the following:–
(Question): ‘What used he to sing?’
(Answer): ‘Hello-Hullolo, sounds like Hullulu-Hullulo, something about “Hottentot,” but he is going back a long way he thinks.’
On April 11th, 1916, a song of Raymond’s is found with the words written in pencil:–
‘Any little flower from a tulip to a rose If you’ll be Mrs. John James Brown Of Hon-o-lu-la-lu-la town.’
This song is fitted to the medium’s revelations as given above, and the next point of interest is whether the medium is informed of her success. This we are not told, but we find on page 95 that when another medium had hit the mark, with a sentence now interpreted as a warning of the death of Raymond before it took place, Sir Oliver wrote to the daughter of the medium: ‘The reference to the Poet and Faunus in your mother’s last script is quite intelligible, and a good classical allusion; you might tell the communicator sometime if there is opportunity.’
Plainly he is desirous of letting his mediums know when they succeed and it is fair to suggest that the Hullulu medium found she had hit the mark, the interpretation of the gibberish being ‘Honolulu’, though Hottentot failed to score. A medium will always follow up a lucky shot and it needs not even an appeal to chance to explain the repetition of the word at the next sitting, after the verification, which was on May 26th (the date of the simultaneous test), the following being the words used:–
(The medium says): ‘You could play.’
(N. M. L. asks): ‘Play what?’
(The medium): ‘Not a game, a music.’
(N. M. L.): ‘I’m afraid I can’t, Raymond.’
(Feda (_sotto voce_): ‘She can’t do that’): ‘He wanted to know whether you could play Hulu-Honolulu.’
One of the strongest ‘evidential’ stories in the book being thus explicable without calling upon the supernatural, any others lose their value even if no explanation can be based on the available facts; but apart from this explanation the choice of the test word throws a light upon the little group tilting the table at Birmingham. With the whole dictionary and all geography from which to choose, they selected a sound which had occurred in a former revelation and therefore had a chance of repetition. If in his laboratory days Sir Oliver examined a substance for the presence of arsenic, he would first test his reagents for the presence of that metal lest they might contain a trace of it and vitiate the experiment. In this test the experimenters did what was equivalent to selecting an arsenic-contaminated test-tube to use in an analysis for that substance.