( Originally Published 1918 )
IT was thought by F. W. H. Myers that, when a particularly stressful and emotional event occurs, some impression is made on the etherial or "metetherial" environment, and that this persists and can be perceived, when conditions are favourable, by people with psychical sensitiveness, and that this may account for some stories of re-enacted murder scenes and other haunts, in which it seems unreasonable to sup-pose that the original actors are still concerned —for, however it may be with the murderer, we see no reason for his innocent victim to be re-enacting the painful scene. This "imprint" theory fits in with the facts observed in connexion with the use of rapport-objects in mediumship, though the exact modus of the phenomenon is still unknown; it may be that the rapport-object puts the medium in telepathic touch with its owner, and that, the place of a murder-scene puts a sensitive in telepathic touch with the mind of the murderer—dead or alive—who, as punishment, is still remorsefully re-acting his deed. We do not know, but the facts certainly indicate that super-normal perception of unknown facts is possible by reason of a sensitive being in a certain place.
There is a curious story of this sort in George Fox's "Journal," though it may be that Fox had known the facts and had forgotten them, his "subliminal" thus being the real source:
"As I was walking along," says he, "with several friends, I lifted up my head, and I saw three steeple-houses, and they struck at my life. I asked them what place that was, and they said Lichfield. Immediately the word of the Lord came to me, that I must go thither... . Then I walked on about a mile, and as soon as I was within the city the word of the Lord came to me again, saying, `Cry, Woe unto the bloody city of Lichfield.' So I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice, `Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield.' It being market day, I went into the market-place, and to and fro in the several parts of it, and. made stands, crying as before, `Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield.' And no one laid hands on me; but, as I went thus crying through the streets, there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the market-place appeared like a pool of blood. After this a deep consideration came upon me: why, or for what reason, I should be sent to cry against that city, and call it the bloody city. For though the Parliament had the Minster one while, and the King another, and much blood had been shed in the town during the wars between them, yet that was no more than had befallen many other places. But afterwards I came to understand that in the Emperor Diocletian's time a thousand Christians were martyred in Lichfield. So I was to go, with-out my shoes, through the channel of their blood and into the pool of their blood in the market-place, that I might raise up the memorial of the blood of those martyrs which had been shed above a thousand years before." ("Journal, p. 57.)
There is a rather similar case in Herodotus ("History," I. chapter clxvii.) , in which, however, the place seemed to cause only twitching, as with dowsers when water-divining, but apparently causing it in animals as well as in human beings:
"The Carthaginians and Tyrrhenians, who had got into their hands many more than the Phocaeans from among the crews of the forty vessels that were destroyed, landed their captives upon the coast after the fight, and stoned them all to death. Afterwards, when sheep, or oxen, or even men of the district of Agylla passed by the spot where the murdered Phocaeans lay, their bodies became distorted, or they were seized with palsy, or they lost the use of some of their limbs."
But sometimes the locality seems to yield not only an influence but also impressions conveying definite information. Sir A. Conan Doyle once told a story of a curious experience of his own, which is of this type.
Walking over the Gemmi Pass, in Switzer land, he was struck with the suitability of the lonely Schwarenbach Inn for a story of mystery and crime. He proceeded to invent one. He pictured the murder of a son by his own father, the needy innkeeper, who had resolved to kill and rob the first lonely stranger, and who did not recognize his victim till too late. Arrived at the hotel at Leukerbad, Sir Arthur picked up a volume of Maupassant's short stories, and found that not only had the French author been to the Schwarenbach before him, but that he had written a story about it practically identical with the one he had just been concocting! And, as Mr. Francis Gribble has pointed out,' neither novelist was imagining anything new, for their plot is the plot of Werner's tragedy, "The Twenty-fourth of February," which is based on a real occurrence at the Schwarenbach Inn,. The thing had actually happened there!
Perhaps Maupassant and Sir Arthur had read and forgotten Werner's tragedy but had retained it subliminally. That is the orthodox psychical-research hypothesis, and may be the true explanation of this curious bit of history. But it is also possible that the more unorthodox and more picturesque theory may be the true one. A tragedy did take place at the Schwarenbach Inn; the psychical reverberation of the event still lingered there; the delicate sensitivity of two literary artists picked up these vibrations, and their minds reconstructed the scenes and circumstances of the tragedy. If they had had still more of the psychic faculty had been genuine "sensitives"—they might have actually seen the murder as a hallucinatory vision.
But these cases merge into actual communication from discarnate minds, and it is difficult to decide where to draw the line between a haunt due to impressions on the metetherial environment, and one due to the actual agency of some discarnate person. There is probably a continuous gradation from no-consciousness to full consciousness at the spot; for in many haunts and apparitions there is an aimlessness about the proceedings which seems to indicate that the spirit it not quite all there. But in the next original case to be quoted there was a definite enough aim, and it seems reasonable to suppose that the old gentleman was there. The narrative is so orthodox a ghost story that I was naturally disinclined to take it seriously; but further correspondence with the people concerned has resulted in a weakening of my scepticism. Unfortunately, the case is remote in time, and cannot be made very evidential.
"I was sitting one night, alone, trimming a hat for myself for Sunday wear, and was hurrying to get it done before twelve o'clock, as it was Saturday night. As the clock struck twelve the front door opened, then the parlour door, and a man entered and sat down in a chair opposite to me. He was rather short, very thin, dressed in black, extremely pale face, and hands with very long and thin fingers. He had a high silk hat on his head, and in one hand he held an old-fashioned, large silver snuff-box. He gazed across at me and said three times, slowly and distinctly, I've come to tell you.' He then vanished, and I noted that the door was shut as before.
"All the family were out at the time. When they returned I told them—very much terrified —what I had seen. No one believed me, and they treated the affair with ridicule or indifference.
"About two years afterwards a friend of the family—a Mr. Drake—was there on a visit, and my mother, having no spare room, made up a bed for him on the sofa in the room downstairs where I had seen the apparition. Precisely at twelve o'clock he rushed upstairs into the first bedroom he came to, in a state of great fright, and told a story exactly like what I have just recounted of my own experience.
"This impressed my parents and led them to attach importance to my statements of two years before. Consequently they at once decided to leave the house.
"Mr. Drake was then about thirty years of age. He had not been told anything about my previous vision. The house had no reputation of being haunted.
"A few years after we left, the house was pulled down. Underneath it—I think underneath the floor of the room in which the apparition was seen—was found a skeleton which corresponded to the form of the man seen by Mr. Drake and myself. Close to the skeleton was the brim of a high silk hat, and in one hand was a silver snuff-box which was found to contain certain deeds.
"My age at the time was thirteen. I was not timid or nervous, but was, on the contrary, an average girl, full of fun; and my mind at the time was occupied in thinking about going out to various places of amusement and enjoying myself. I was not thinking of ghosts or anything of the kind."
I have been informed of the exact location of the house in question, which was in a busy Northern manufacturing town. I have also received confirmation from the narrator's sister.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to obtain definite confirmation from the second percipient, Mr. Drake. I have communicated with him, and he does not deny that the thing happened, but he declines to say anything about it. I suspect that it is a matter of religious scruples. He is a Roman Catholic, and probably his director tells him that it was the devil and that he had better not talk about it.
There is a story very similar to the foregoing in a letter of Pliny the Younger—a clever and accomplished lawyer of the first century of our era, and a man who usually avoids these subjects in his writings, inclining generally to the fashionable non-religiousness of his cultivated contemporaries.
He relates that there was a haunted house at Athens which no one would live in because of the terrific noises at night, accompanied by the apparition of an old man with fetters on his hands and feet. At length, however, the philosopher Athenodorus came to Athens, and evidently being something of a psychical researcher—or, like Hadrian, curiositatum omnium explorator (a searcher-out of all strange things), as Tertullian called him,—he boldly took the house, attracted rather than repelled by its evil repute. On the first evening in his new abode he settled to his reading and writing, concentrating his mind on his work in order that expectancy should not stimulate his imagination to idle terrors. But the noises began, nevertheless. Athenodorus went on reading. The noises increased and seemed to reach the threshold of his chamber, He looked behind him and saw the apparition, which made signs to him, apparently beckoning.
Athenodorus rather unkindly ignored the poor spectre, and turned again to his books. But the old man came and stood over him, shaking his fettered hands—perhaps making mesmeric passes. The philosopher gave in, got a light, and followed the figure, which led him to a spot in the courtyard and then vanished. Athenodorus marked the place, and next day had it dug up. Human bones were found with fetters on them. These were properly buried elsewhere, and the haunting ceased.
Pliny says : "I believe the word of those who affirm all this." And Pliny knew what constitutes evidence, being an advocate; so it seems likely that he had some fairly good testimony. Probably he was influenced to some extent by two incidents which came within his own knowledge—two of his men-servants, one of them "by no means illiterate," on different occasions dreaming of visitants cutting their (the servants') hair, and waking to find them-selves shorn and the hair around them on the floor. Pliny read an omen of safety into this. Many of his friends had suffered judicial murder under the tyranny of Domitian, and, as it turned out, an accusation was lodged against Pliny himself, and only Domitian's death saved him. "It may therefore be conjectured," he says, "since it is customary for persons under any public accusation to let their hair grow, this cutting off the hair of my servants was a sign I should escape the imminent' danger that threatened me."
However, without further details we can-not rely much on a story of that kind. Perhaps the slaves had an attack of somnambulistic barberism!