[On “Curious Mediumistic Phenomena”]
Theosophist, January, 1883
Selections from J.D. Buck’s Letter to the Editor, titled: “Curious Mediumistic Phenomena” | Note and Reply by H.P.B.
. . . Fortified by the outlines of occult philosophy, for I had been able to get no more, I attended his [a “good medium”] seances, and sat quietly through the “materializations.” Half a score of forms would walk out of an evening: men, women and children. The “cabinet” was a curtain stretched across the corner of the room. I have frequently seen this curtain held aloft by one of these forms so that the medium could be distinctly seen sitting, apparently asleep, in his chair. Again one of these female figures dressed in white would walk half across the room in good light, then turn and re-enter the curtain. A figure recognized as Epes Sargent, and always nodding the name, and smiling at the recognition, has repeatedly come out at the edge of the curtain, taken down a slate, covered both sides with a written message, signed his name in full, and then, holding still the slate, de-materialise in full view till only the head remained, apparently resting on the floor, and then dropping the slate disappear altogether. After I had atteneded one of two of these seances the medium’s “control” said to me one evening: “Doctor, this is not what you want; you do not need this sort of a thing. I must talk with you privately.” He certainly read both my thoughts and wishes. Opportunity was presently granted me; the medium coming to my office and alone with me entering a private apartment, where heat once became entranced. Voice, features, everything seemed changed. Said the control: Good afternoon, Doctor! I am pleased to meet thee: I am a living man. My name is Adam McCougal; I lived in the South when on earth, and died in 1812. I shall be glad to give you any proof in my power of my identity. He spoke of Mr. Sargent and other deceased who had materialised as being present. I have had many such conversations, received many answers to questions and great satisfaction from this “control,” this “Old Judge,” as we cal him, who is as real to me as any one in the form. Now, I understand you to say, that in such cases the intelligence is absolutely the medium’s own;1 and I commenced my investigation on this hypothesis; yet every fact so far, to the best of my judgment, falls on the other side of the equation. In the reference in the “Occult World,” to Mr. Eglinton’s control this identity of the power manifested with the medium is apparently contradicted, and they are directed to work with the Brothers. But the strangest part of my story is to come, and I must be brief as possible. In a dark room in the presence of many witnesses, on paper marked for identification, sometimes in the space of thirteen minutes, (never so far as I know occupying more than half an hour) while entranced, this medium draws free-hand life-sized portraits of persons living or dead for years, whom he never saw. These portraits are not doubt, but of finest quality as works of art. The drawing is done with crayons, the stippling equal to a steel engraving, and in a portrait of myself, made at the close of a series of sittings with a select “class,” every hair of the beard seems drawn separately. One of my wife was drawn, two weeks ago, in a bed-chamber of my own house, only my wife, children, and one friend present. My wife being just convalescent from a severe illness was dressed in a wrapper. The room was totally dark, and yet, in the space of half an hour, there was produced a perfect likeness of my wife wearing a silk dress and laces she had not had on for months, and which, she says, the medium never saw. The medium in his natural state cannot draw at all, and knows nothing of art; and when awaking from his trance in the above instance did not know he had a picture, and came near ruining it with his sooty hands. At the beginning of one of these sittings the “Old Judge” takes control, and presently retires for the artist whom he says is the veritable Titian, and certainly his work is such as to hardly do him discredit. We are, moreover, informed by the “old judge” that this work will presently be done in oil colors though in the dark as now, full life-sized figures and large composite pictures by which the grandest truths shall be taught to the world; for this object alone has the grand old artist who worked many a century on earth returned after three hundred years, with his pencil.
I truth you will pardon my long letter, because, my desire to let you know, that here in America is a phase of occultism not unworthy of the attention of even the “Sons of Light.” What difference is there between the “old judge” as here represented, and the Astral Soul of the Brothers as seen at distances from their physical body, except that the latter has the physical body to which to return.
J. D. Buck, M.D., F.T.S.
Dean of Pulte Medical College.
Cincinnati, Sept, 1882.
Editors Note: What might be said in answer to our correspondent is much; what we have time to say is little. The more so, since his reading in mesmeric and other branches of the literature of psychology, in connection with his profession, must have shown him that the waking medium’s ignorance of art is no conclusive proof that in the somnambulic state, however induced, he might not draw and paint very skilfully. As for the merit of his pictures being so great as to make them equal to Titian’s, of course none but a connoisseur would be competent to pronounce upon. The fact of their being executed in total darkness has little or no significance, since the somnambulist works with closed or sightless eyes, and equally well in the dark as in the light. If our friend will consult Dr. James Esdaile’s “Natural and Mesmeric Clairvoyance” (London, 1852, H. Balliere) he will find quoted from the great French “Encyclopedia,” the interesting case of a young ecclesiastic, reported by the Archbishop of Bordeaux, who in the dead of night and in perfect darkness wrote sermons and music; from the report of a Committee of the Philosophical Society of Lausanne, a similar one; and others, from other sources. In Sir B. Brodie’s “Psychological Inquiries,” Macnish’s “The Philosophy of Sleep,” Abercrombie’s “Intellectual Powers,” Braid’s “Neurypnology; or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep,” not to mention later writers, are also found many examples of the exaltation of the mental and psychic powers in the somnambulic state. Some of these are quite sufficient to warrant our holding in reserve all opinions respecting the “Old Judge” and “Titian” of the Cincinnati medium. This, in fact, has been our issue with the Spiritualists from the beginning of our Theosophical movement. Our position is that in logic as in science we must always proceed from the Known to the Unknown; must first eliminate every alternative theory of the mediumistic phenomena, before we concede that they are of necessity attributable to “spiritual” agencies. Western psychology is confessedly as yet but in the elementary and tentative stage, and for that very reason we maintain that the proofs of the existence of adepts of psychological science in the ancient schools of Asiatic mysticism should be carefully and frankly examined.
1. Our brother is mistaken, what we say is, that no “spirit” can tell, do, or know anything that is absolutely unknown to either the medium or one of the sitters. Some “shells” have a dim intelligence of their own.