I wonder how Mr. Carrington explains the failure of previous observers to detect the trickery? The man’s apparent honesty of course helped, but the Herd Instinct was also at work and converts would be unlikely to criticise when a few reputable people had expressed their belief. Certain card-tricks are safer from detection by a large audience than by a small one. If three people are present and one thinks he detects the trick he may speak, for he is only in a minority of one to two; but if five out of fifteen detect it, each one, feeling he is in a minority of one to fourteen, is over-ruled by his sense of insignificance and remains silent accordingly. It is easier to sway a crowd than to persuade an individual.
Let me make it clear that I do not merely compare the medium with the hysteric, I regard them as identical except in those cases where the medium is a conscious deceiver. The attitude of the believers in the honesty of the medium is the same as that of the sympathising friends of the hysteric patient, and it is often as difficult and thankless a task to explain the patient’s condition to his or her friends as it is to save the credulous from falling a prey to the fortune-teller. But such difference as there may be is in favour of the unfortunate hysteric, who is the victim of forces that are too powerful to be resisted without help and who often anxiously desires recovery.
I have seen in a man suffering from war-strain the spontaneous development of what would be accepted as clairvoyance; the identity of his performance with that of the medium is of great importance. The patient was in that condition of dissociation or partial hypnosis into which these men easily pass, and was apparently ‘seeing’ some of the horrors he had experienced. As a rule such revivals of war episodes can be relied upon as a true reproduction of actual events, but in this case there were inconsistencies in the story. For example, describing how Uhlans drove their lances into Belgian babies, he said: ‘If I had my revolver I’d let them have it,’ but gave no indication of what he, a British soldier, was doing unarmed and under such circumstances. Moreover, though the account was given with due emphasis, there was a lack of the emotion characteristic of the revival of actual horrors.
Then a break came in the story, and he went on to describe a tragedy which had recently roused public interest. He saw the murderer walking with his victim, described how she handed over certain articles to him, and then how the man shot her and hurried off.
All this was graphically related as if he were actually witnessing the tragedy, and as I listened I realised how any one ignorant of the workings of a disordered mind would feel compelled to believe in the reality of clairvoyance and might be impelled to act upon the belief, for the description of the murder, if true, could only have been derived from something like second-sight.
The cause at work in producing these fantasies was fairly clear. The man had seen three years of fighting, and had resolutely tried to forget all that he had passed through; he had the usual symptoms of ‘shell-shock’, and in addition complained bitterly of being haunted by dreams of murder. I know not what particular happening had so impressed him, but in his unconscious were the memories of many horrors which, refused admission to his consciousness, insisted on manifesting themselves by dreams and waking fears.
Every horrible thing he read or heard was joined on to his dissociated stream of memories and emotions, to be reproduced in dreams and fantasies.
In his imaginings there was a mixture of truth and fancy; the figure of the murderer, for example, proved to be associated in his mind with the figure of an officer who was present at a time of great emotional strain, and the articles handed over by the victim were identical with articles familiar to the patient and of emotional importance to him. The other reproductions proved to be of incidents which had been related to him and to which he had given an intimate personal interest whilst elaborating them; his own experiences were more deeply repressed.
His condition was identical with that of the honest medium–whether Stainton Moses or more recently advertised seers–but fortunately his friends recognised the true nature of his disorder and, instead of cultivating it as a ‘gift’, took steps to have it treated as a disease.
In the description of mediums we often find hints of hysterical symptoms. Sir Oliver Lodge tells of the sighings and writhings of one of his performers, but it is not often that a definite diagnosis is made as in the following extract:–