THE EVOLUTION OF THE MEDIUM
After meeting my first medium I came away with the feeling that he was a rather artful liar; but now, whilst retaining that opinion, I am ready to admit that perhaps his lying was not a product of his consciousness. I know nothing of his history, but he was accepted by intelligent people as honest and respectable; moreover, records of spiritualism contain so many examples of people whose belief in their own supernatural powers must be accepted as real in spite of manifest deceit, that we must again fall back upon dissociation to explain their state of mind.
I shall assume the existence of three groups just as in connection with hysteria, and classify mediums, clairvoyants, water-diviners and other producers of the supernatural into–
1. The deceiver pure and simple.
2. The deceiver who has repressed the consciousness of deceit and become a Dissociate.
3. The subject who has never been conscious of deceit, but, led astray by his unconscious, has deceived himself from the beginning and finished as a Dissociate.
To place any performer in the proper group is again a matter of judgement. Having a small repertory of tricks, including water-divining and a few manifestations with a pack of cards, I have sometimes put myself in the first group with temporary success.
The development of a case of the second group is probably not a phenomenon that has ever been continuously observed, but Robert Browning has formed such an excellent conception of it in _Mr. Sludge, the Medium_, that his description bears comparison with my theory of the development of some hysterics. David Sludge is a house-servant and his master is pictured discussing high finance with his guests when the boy breaks in, saying, ‘Sir, I’ve a five-dollar note.’ The scorn of the guests is immediate:–‘He stole it, then; shove him out’. And David is given the swift kick of ignominy.
* * * * *
‘But,’ says the poet,
‘Let the same lad hear you talk as grand Of signs and wonders, the invisible world. If he break in with “Sir, I saw a ghost!” Ah, the ways change!’
Browning leaves us to imagine the boy’s motive; perhaps his was just a boyish trick inspired by a desire for notoriety of which he himself was scarcely conscious, but, like the unfortunate hysteric who meets credulity, David is led on to produce more manifestations.
‘And, David, (is not that your Christian name?) Of all things, should this happen twice–it may– Be sure while fresh in mind, you let us know!’
‘”… came raps! While a light whisked” … “Shaped somewhat like a star? Well, like some sort of stars, ma’am.” “So we thought! And any voice? Not yet? Try hard, next time, If you can’t hear a voice; we think you may.”
* * * * *
‘So David holds the circle, rules the roast, Narrates the vision, peeps in the glass ball, Sets-to the spirit-writing, hears the raps, As the case may be.’
Then begins his conflict; like the patient who successfully feigns symptoms, he finds withdrawal difficult:–
‘You’d prove firmer in his place? You’d find the courage–that first flurry over, That mild bit of romancing-work at end, … To interpose with “It gets serious, this; Must stop here. Sir, I saw no ghost at all. Inform your friends I made–well, fools of them, And found you ready-made. I’ve lived in clover These three weeks: take it out in kicks of me!” I doubt it. Ask your conscience!’
Says poor David:–
‘There’s something in real truth (explain who can) One casts a wistful eye at.’
Now he faces the same dilemma that the developing hysteric has to meet, and as the hysteric reaches a false salvation by the repression of the knowledge of deceit so does David:–
‘Why, when I cheat, Mean to cheat, do cheat, and am caught in the act, Are you, or, rather, am I sure o’ the fact? Well then I’m not sure! I may be, perhaps, Free as a babe from cheating: how it began, My gift … no matter; what ’tis got to be In the end now, that’s the question; answer that! Had I seen, perhaps, what hand was holding mine, Leading me whither, I had died of fright.’
Nor does the poet omit the development of Receptivity:–
‘I’m eyes, ears, mouth of me, one gaze and gape, Nothing eludes me, everything’s a hint, Handle and help.’
At the last the youth, once an innocent jester, pours a stream of half-believed lies upon the man who, having caught him in his fraud, lets him go with a chance to start life afresh.
Browning does not carry the idea of repression as far as I do, Sludge producing clouds of rationalisations to cover his inconsistencies. The idea of dissociation does not present itself, but the whole picture can be taken to represent the evolution of many mediums with their mixture of belief and deception.