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Mystical Experiences

( Originally Published 1918 )

HITHERTO we have been dealing with experiences more or less evidential, and certainly referable to the senses of the percipient, though perhaps to some extent supernormal. I mean that the phantasms seen, e.g., by Mr. Grey, though supposedly seen with his eyes, may really have been due to some inner perception of a not understood kind, externalized merely by force of habit in a familiar form. The sense of sight is perhaps the most importantly active in ordinary life, for, if it is less continuously so than that of touch, it is incomparably more useful; and it seems likely that with most people a supernormal perception, if strong enough, will externalize itself as a visual hallucination. The facts support such a hypothesis.

But there are other experiences, not sensory ones, which come within the range of our present discussion, because they suggest, though in a non-objective and non-evidential way, the existence of a spiritual world beyond the present one. As in the out-of-the-body cases already quoted, the mystical experiences are unanimous in affirming that this spiritual world is a great advance on our present state. It is the next rung on the ladder of evolution. Books such as the late Professor William James's "Varieties of Religious Experience" may be referred to for a large collection and full discussion. Here I must be content with a few isolated in-stances bearing out the earlier quoted experience of Mr. Huntley (pp. 71-7) . The first was sent me by an old friend of mine, who took notes of his wife's talk while she was regaining consciousness after an anaesthetic.

"Beatrice is babbling the wildest stuff just now. I've written some of it down; it might interest you.

" `What a long, long way! I didn't know it was so far. I'm so sick. Nasty man, Dr. MacKinnon; just stupid. Ether is the devil's own invention. He made it. Nobody else could. Why doesn't God give the devil ether? It is real heaven beyond, though. I'm glad I've been—had the experience. Why does God keep us here? Nasty little world! Beyond, we are all one, with no single entities. Here we've all our individual little pains and nastiness. Well, well, well! I know more now, and it is something to know a better world awaits us.' Here she wept copiously and said, referring to the tears, `Why don't you use these to water your plants with? How one's identity gets lost—merged in one common whole ! Oh, why did I come back? What a world beyond! ... "

This is very reminiscent of a case of anaesthetic revelation quoted by James, which gave the experient an unshakable certainty and sustained him throughout the remainder of his life. Apparently such experiences sometimes bring such a sense of enlargement that the feeling of personality—the old personality, at least—is lost; but there is clearly such a feeling of joy and more abundant life that the change is not annihilation of the ego, but the gain of a larger Self by release from the old limitations. The pupa has momentarily fluttered its wings in the sunlight and has seen the wider horizons.

Tennyson describes his own occasional trance states, hypnotically induced by repeating his own name, in "The Ancient Sage," and the experience was similar to these anaesthetic revelations.

Not that anaesthetics always bring them. In my own two experiences I had nothing revelational. In one I remember nothing; in the other I retained a sort of consciousness, but knew nothing except first a sliding-back sensation as if I slid backwards out of my body as I went off, then a soaring through inter-stellar space with a booming in my ears, then a distant report which I interpreted as two planets colliding (though it was probably an extra big tooth being drawn), then a drop down into my body. It was a curious and novel and mildly pleasant experience, but with nothing specially revelational about it. The sense of personality was lessened, and I had no fear or self-consciousness; but, on the other hand, I had no feeling of inner enlargement, but only of greater external freedom of movement. Evidently I am not of the right build for revelations.

The next case gives the experience of a more promising subject, and is rather exceptionally interesting. The narrator is well educated and a very good witness, and, moreover, her experience tends to support survival of an enlarged personality rather than an absorption or personality-annihilation.

"My own conviction of the undying life of the soul, and so of what we call a future life, is not founded on the sort of evidence required by those who seek for belief in it from communication with the departed. I believe in the fact of this communication, but I arrived otherwise at the conviction.

"I was brought up in the Evangelical school of Christianity, and in a very strictly Puritanical fashion, but I discarded the theology when grown up (in fact, began to question even in the nursery), and with the theology the certainty of future life went overboard. But I did not cease to think it probable. I must always, too, have had a mystical tinge, though knowing nothing of the subject of mysticism. I have read a great deal of science and philosophy, but, oddly enough, I did not know anything of mysticism, not even exactly what is the content of the word as used now, till after the experience I have to relate, which happened in 1909.

"For nearly fifteen years I had been acquainted with a man who was related to my husband, and in whom I recognized so much greatness of mind and character that I used to think him the only really great man I had ever known, though I have known many good and fine men. It was said of him, by one who had known him from childhood, that `nothing mean could exist in his presence.' He was very generous-minded, and always elicited the best from the people he met. He was very learned and very modest. I knew him under various conditions—unmarried, married, and a widower with stepchildren—always with increasing admiration and a 'very great respect, and also increasing friendship—not an intimate friend-ship exactly, yet I suppose it was potentially more intimate than actually. He died at about sixty, and I saw more of him during his last illness, or rather, perhaps, saw him more intimately, than ever before, and realized more than ever before the depth of the feeling that I had for him, the extraordinary light and beauty his personality shed around it; and I realized also that I was able to give him the sort of understanding and mental sympathy that lightened the heavy burden of illness and suffering—that, in fact, the kinship was felt on both sides. I have long felt sure that the kin-ship of souls will cause them to `gravitate' to each other in the next life, as `Raymond' says they do.

"I have to describe this friendship in its kind and quality, otherwise what follows would hardly be comprehensible.

"In May, 1909, I heard suddenly of his death ; it was a great shock, though hardly unexpected—yet we hadn't expected it then, as he always said when writing that he was better. `Nobody could help loving him,' my husband said most truly; and several people said it was the greatest privilege of their lives to have known him.

"I got through the duties of that afternoon in a state of mingled grief and exaltation; and when at last I was able to get away alone, and think, I realized that, for the first time in my life, it mattered supremely to me whether death was the end or not.

"In Masefield's poem, `The Widow of the Bye Street,' the widow says, `All the great things of life are quickly done.' I little knew at that moment what great things I stood upon the brink of in the next few minutes.

"I faced the question: `Am I to tear him from my soul, and to think of him as a memory only, or as living still?' But there thought seemed to stop. It seemed that he was part of me, and if I was alive he could not be dead. And then I became aware of depths existing in my own nature that I knew not of, had not experienced before. I reached down, or up, to that in myself which is undying, indestructible, and it was linked to another indestructible soul with enduring links. I felt that self of mine to be eternal, self-existent, and death but an incident passing across it, as a cloud may drift over the sun. Then I began to reflect on how much love there must have been in his nature, that he should be so much beloved by all. And suddenly something happened—and with a shudder of awe I saw Love, as the Divine origin of all things, revealed to me, a secret, ever-flowing river of Being. It was a flash of mystic insight, and from that moment everything was transformed. I felt I had reached Reality, I had Found.

"All my life I had been seeking, and the quest had been rendered doubly difficult for me because, as children and young people, we (a large family of nine) were brought up very reserved, intellectually rather forced, but emotionally quite untrained—a very attached family, but reserved in the expression of feelings. The result of this was that for long the pre-eminence of love in the cosmic whole was hidden from me; yet love was always singularly attractive because, I suppose, we had been starved of the manifestation of it when young. However, it had the result that I lavished on my children what I wished I had had myself.

"With the Divine depth thus revealed to me the depths of my own soul were in communion. Divine Love, transformed and transforming, was the life-blood of my soul; it seemed to flood my whole being, breaking down barriers and melting hardness, purging and renewing and filling me with more love for my fellow-creatures than I had felt before, though always interested in them and seeking to help them. In the days and weeks that followed I lived in great stress and strain, for, while my ordinary life went on, fresh spiritual knowledge poured in upon me. It seemed to me to be the new birth of which Christ spoke. I had, as it were, been thrust into the spiritual world, and knew by direct sight and experience. It was a new point of view, as if one viewed life from above and within, in a new spirit. Some things I had known before intellectually or intuitively yet took a new meaning, and were experienced instead of only known. I cannot recall much in detail of that strange time, but it was one of extraordinary happiness in spite of my grief—sorrow was transmuted into joy. Afterwards, when I began to read and hear about mysticism, I found I knew what the mystics know, and could recognize by a small sign whether any person or writer had any mystical experience. I understood how hard Christ had tried to show man how to live this spiritual life which He lived-I understood the nature of the life of Love.

"Besides all the spiritual excitement, I suffered some distress for a time because, though I knew pretty well just what I had meant to my friend, I was not so sure that he realized how much he had meant to me. After a few days, perhaps within a fortnight of his death, I awoke as usual, early, about four o'clock in the morning; but that day, instead of feeling, as my first feeling on waking, the realization of loss, I awoke intensely happy. This awakening was very gradual, and as I came out of sleep I was sure that I had been with him, and that he had assured me that death is not entire separation, but that in the depths of one's nature there is still communion. As I became further awake some beautiful words said themselves in my mind, as if they had been put there for me to find. After this experience I felt perfectly con-tent, relieved from all uneasiness. This awakening was not out of a dream. My dreams are just dreams. Two or three times after this I awoke with words in my mind. Once they were these: `The heart cannot imagine nor the mind conceive the beautiful things that are coming.' Those three last words I was not sure of—they seemed to be the meaning, yet I was not sure I did not supply them as I became more awake. I have also had the curious experience of having my mind, as it were, divided into two parts, one which was in a condition of vision, and the other looking on; and the one which had vision could also say things which were a surprise to the one which was audience.

"To return to the mystical revelation. I seemed to see Life whole—I mean the spiritual life, but this earthly life also as the creation of the spirit. I saw how the life of the spirit has its own nature, which it lives freely, and that there are profound spiritual laws (and in this I use the word law as we do when we speak of natural law), and the nature of the life of the spirit is the inverse of the natural life, for its nature is to give freely, while natural creatures want to take and to get. And afterwards, by brooding over the Life, I could come to know fresh knowledge about it. It was thus that I came to see that there is in every man a Christ seed from which the real spiritual man is to grow. I arrived at this before I read it in books. So when I read in `Raymond' that `there is a little of Christ in everyone,' it was more evidential to me than what is usually called evidential. I read all poets who have the inner knowledge, particularly Shelley's `Adonais' and some of Swinburne. But still the main impulse and the guiding and enlightening came from within, and presently it urged me in a definite way. I had got very tired, and fortunately was able in July to get away alone for a fortnight. During this time I became conscious of an imperative, intuitive something urging me on to make a sacrifice. I knew it must be done. This intimate knowledge is very strange, but it is quite convincing. I have never doubted any of the revelations of that time, and they were always confirmed by their agreement with the teachings of Christ and of great saints and mystics. The conviction that possessed me was that in the love of the spirit—the real, enduring, pure love—there is not, and never can be, any selfish desire. Love is not perfect till it can resign. All desire to appropriate must be purged from it; until this state had been achieved there could be no peace.

"But in the achievement there came a wonderful peace and a freedom that could come in no other way. Long afterwards I came, across `Theologia Germanica,' and the thesis of that wonderful book is that `the I, the me, the mine, and the like' must be abandoned before we can make our will one with the Divine Will. Later I came to see that only when we have abandoned everything, everything is ours. I am telling you these things to show how true and how wonderful the inner guidance was.

"For some months I went on trying to live in the spiritual plane, feeling the greater reality of it, and the temporary and comparatively unreal nature of our lives here. But it wouldn't do. I became perplexed and worried and strained, and about Easter-time the next year I found I must do what I have read since that others in like case have had to do-I had to `let go' and come to earth again. I found I couldn't live my earth life properly if my interest was centred on another plane. I am sure I was right. I have learned since that what we have to do here is to use the material as a vehicle for the spiritual, but we have to be immersed in the things of this world sufficiently to be thoroughly interested in our life here. But I had acquired a sense of certainty and of freedom and of power. I felt different, and I saw that my friends noticed a difference and that I could give them something that I couldn't give before. In some ways it made life more difficult. One had a higher ideal and standard, and one wished life to be better. It would be easier if everybody else felt the same. I have much sympathy with St. Paul when he says, `How to do that which I would I find not, for what I would not, that I do.' But I find also comfort in the way he did: `It is not I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.' I wanted to make others understand and feel what I felt, but I found that the experience is not one that anyone can command—it is a gift. I can't command it myself. I suppose that if I had doubted my own intuition or rebelled against the sorrow I couldn't have had it.

"You see now that my belief in a life continuing after death, and my idea of it, rest on this experience, and I criticize the various accounts received largely by their content. I don't know anything about what you might call the `natural history' of that life, its bodily conditions ; but when I read, as I read in one account, `there is no compulsion here,' I am sure it is true, for freedom is the essence of the life of the spirit, both here and there; a spirit is not forced, but goes where it can, and is what it can and as it can be, according to its state, which also it can gradually alter. Love transcends all law— l ame seul ne connait point de loi'—though, being free, it will obey law if it sees good to do so.

"'Love,' says Swinburne, 'that binds on all men's feet or chains or wings.' It is two different kinds of love that bind chains and wings. The love that can bind or be bound is not the supreme love.

"I do not think there is anything more to tell, or, rather, that I can or need tell. I hope I haven't conveyed the idea that I feel myself to be infallible! I ought to explain that my consciousness and self-consciousness must have been full of material for such a revelation of reality, for I knew a great deal of the Bible, particularly the gospels and some of the epistles, by heart, so there was the mental furniture ready to be converted into something more real. There is a difference between experienced knowledge and acquired knowledge, and that difference is what I felt and saw. There is something about spiritual knowledge as it has appeared to me intuitionally which I find it hard to describe. I am not much endowed with mathematical ability, but I know, and can see in those who are, how mathematical knowledge is a thing seen in its relationships; it is a direct knowledge from which, when you have it, you can infer further results. Well, spiritual knowledge seems to me to have the same sort of quality. You see, and you can infer. What you can't do is to describe, unless you are a poet. When I try to put it into words it always seems so poor and so flat. It loses quality. You see it when you are raised above your usual self, and one's words seem unfitted to convey it. A nightingale's song, and bluebells with the sun shining through them, conveyed to me one spring day what heaven is like, better than any description."

(Mrs.) R. E. WELDON.

This is an echo of much that is in all mystical writings, even such as those of Richard Jefferies and Walt Whitman. Jefferies continually exhorts us to "think outside and beyond our present circle of ideas," and Whitman assures us that though "Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first, be not discouraged, keep on. There are divine things well envelop'd. I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can express." 2 And "I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least ; nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself." Pythagoras, similarly feeling the larger self, said: "The ancient theologists and priests testify that the soul is conjoined to the body through a certain punishment, and that it is buried in this body as in a sepulchre." So the dead are not dead but released :

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd,
And goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.

From our present point of view it is certainly different from and luckier for some of us than what was supposed by last century's orthodoxy. Whitman was a prophet, and his insight is now being confirmed by collection and examination of such facts as those presented in this volume.

One other matter of detail remains to be mentioned, because there seems to be uncertainty about it, and because my own experience seems to traverse many statements which I have seen about it.

Although it may truly be said that there is no necessary connexion between morality and psychic powers, and that a medium or sensitive may be of only moderate character or even worse, I think there is something to be said in qualification. The facts seem to indicate, in my opinion, that there is a connexion. It is perhaps least marked in physical phenomena, which often are manifested in the presence of not very advanced mediums, though even here we must not be too sweeping, for against Eusapia we have to set Stainton Moses, Home, and Miss Goligher, and other non-professional mediums mentioned, for example, by Sir William Barrett in his book, "On the Threshold of the Unseen"; and, indeed, Eusapia perhaps offended by her manners rather than her morals, and one cannot expect much of either from a Neapolitan peasant. But in the less physical branches of mediumship I incline to think that, on the whole, psychic power goes with spiritual elevation. This latter may not show itself in traditional ways, as of church-going or pious language. It may be tinctured with minor defects, such as a rather childlike vanity; it was so in Home and with some mediums I have met, though not in the one I know best, who is entirely and remarkably free from it. But, even if so tinctured, the spiritual quality remains. There is an unselfishness and kindheartedness and unworldliness. They may be ignorant, as, indeed, they usually are; but they are good people.

Similarly with the non-professional sensitives whose spontaneous experiences I have been quoting. The result of correspondence with them has been to impress me with the fact of their elevation of character. They differ in education and many other things, but they are alike in goodness and spirituality. And this bears out the opinion of F. W. H. Myers that psychic faculties represent a forward step in evolution, not a reversion as some philosophers have thought. We are growing towards the light; the veil is thinning; some of us now see through in gleams, and a few with a certain amount of steadiness, as in the mystical cases quoted at the end of my series; and in due time perhaps all the race of spirits who have sojourned enmattered on this planet will have risen beyond the necessity of further education in this low plane, and will live in that higher order which is now being perceived by our highest souls—those peaks which catch the sunrise first.

This is admittedly speculation, and speculation is a thing I am not fond of. But in this case it is based on a fair amount of carefully studied fact, and may perhaps be therefore al-lowed the name of scientific inference. It is, of course, no new thing; it is in the Bibles of all the religions. But truth has to be re-stated in every period, in the new language, and harmonious with new facts, outer and inner. Science is discovering the spiritual world which it temporarily denied through short-sighted concentration on the material aspect of things. It is now learning that the Real is in the Unseen.



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