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Popular Superstitions, and the Truths Contained Therein With an Account of Mesmerism

Popular Superstitions, and the Truths Contained Therein
With an Account of Mesmerism
Author: Mayo Herbert
Title: Popular Superstitions, and the Truths Contained Therein With an Account of Mesmerism
Release Date: 2018-10-30
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Transcriber’s Notes

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variationsin hyphenation have been standardised but all other spelling andpunctuation remains unchanged.

The cover was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.













In the following Letters I have endeavoured to exhibit in theirtrue light the singular natural phenomena of which old superstitionand modern charlatanism in turn availed themselves—to indicate theirlaws, and to develop their theory. The subject is so important that Imight well have approached it in a severer guise. But, slight as thisperformance may appear, I profess to have employed upon it the keenestand most patient efforts of reflection of which I am capable. And asto its tone at the commencement, and the prominence given to popularand trivial topics, I candidly avow that, without some such artifice, Idoubt whether I should have found a publisher of repute to publish, ora circle of readers to read, my lucubrations.

“Cosi all’ egro fanciul porgiamo aspersi
Di soave licor gli orli del vaso;
Succhi amari ingannato intanto ei beve,
E dall’ inganno suo vita riceve.”

It was in the winter of 1846 that the original sevenLetters were written, of which the present fourteen arethe third and expanded reprint. The hour had come forivsuccessfully assailing certain already shaking prejudicesof the reading public. The Selbstschau of Zschokke,and the researches of Von Reichenbach, were in the handsof the literary and philosophic. The seer-gift of theformer (see Letter IV.) had established the fact that onemind can enter into direct though one-sided communionwith another. The undenied Od-force of the latter (seeLetter I.) is evidently the same influence with that, thefirst crude announcement of which, by Mesmer, hadscared the world into disbelief. It had now becomepossible to explain ghostly warnings, and popular prophecies,the wonders of natural trance, and of animalmagnetism, without having recourse to a single unprovenprinciple. I therefore made the attempt; other more efficientlabourers have co-operated in the same object; andpublic opinion is no longer hostile to this class of inquiries.

Bad Weilbach, near Mayence,
1st August, 1851.



LETTER I. The Divining-Rod.—Description of, and modeof using the same—Mr. Fairholm’s statement—M. deTristan’s statement—Account of Von Reichenbach’s Od-force—TheAuthor’s own observations,9
LETTER II. Vampyrism.—Tale exemplifying the superstition—TheVampyr state of the body in the grave—Variousinstances of death-trance—The risk of premature intermentconsidered—The Vampyr visit, 30
LETTER III. Unreal Ghosts.—Law of sensorial illusions—Casesof Nicolai, Schwedenborg, Joan of Arc—Fetches—Churchyardghosts, 53
LETTER IV. True Ghosts.—The apparitions themselvesalways sensorial illusions—The truth of their communicationsaccounted for—Zschokke’s seer-gift described,to show the possibility of direct mentalcommunication—Second-sight—The true relation of themind to the living body, 70
LETTER V. Trance.—Distinction of esoneural and exoneuralmental phenomena—Abnormal relation of the mindand nervous system possible—Insanity—Sleep—Essentialnature of trance—Its alliance with spasmodic seizures—Generalcharacters of trance—Enumeration ofkinds, 86vi
LETTER VI. Trance-Sleep.—The phenomena of trancedivided into those of trance-sleep, and those of trance-waking—Trance-sleeppresents three forms; Trance-wakingtwo. The three forms of trance sleep described;viz., death-trance, trance-coma, simple or initiatorytrance, 98
LETTER VII. Half-waking Trance, or Somnambulism.—Thesame thing with ordinary sleep-walking—Its characteristicfeature, the acting of a dream—Cases, and disquisition, 106
LETTER VIII. Trance-waking.—Instances of its spontaneousoccurrence in the form of catalepsy—Analysis ofcatalepsy—its three elements: double consciousness, orpure waking-trance; the spasmodic seizure; the newmental powers displayed—Cases exemplifying catalepsy—Othercases unattended with spasm, but of spontaneousoccurrence, in which new mental powers weremanifested—Oracles of antiquity—Animal instinct—Intuition, 116
LETTER IX. Religious Delusions.—The seizures givingrise to them shown to have been forms of trance broughton by fanatical excitement—The Cevennes—Scenes atthe tomb of the Abbé Paris—Revivals in America—TheEcstatica of Caldaro—Three forms of imputed demoniacalpossession—Witchcraft; its marvels, and the solution, 136
LETTER X. Mesmerism.—Use of chloroform—History ofMesmer—The true nature and extent of his discovery—Itsapplications to medicine and surgery—Variousviieffects produced by mesmeric manipulations—Hystericseizures—St. Veitz’s dance—Nervous paralysis—Catochus—Initiatorytrance—The order in which the highertrance-phenomena are afterwards generally drawn out, 153
LETTER XI. Supplemental.—Abnormal neuro-psychical relation—Cautionsnecessary in receiving trance communications—Trance-visiting—Mesmerisingat a distance,and by the will—Mesmeric diagnosis and treatmentof disease—Prevision—Ultra-vital vision, 175
LETTER XII. The Odometer or Divining-Ring.—Howcome upon by the author—His first experiments—Thephenomena an objective proof of the reality of the Od-force, 209
LETTER XIII. The Solution.—Examination of the genuinenessof the phenomena—Od-motions produced by bodiesin their most inert state—Analysis of the forces whichoriginate them—Od-motions connected with electrical,magnetic, chemical, crystalline, and vital influences—Theiranalysis, 219
Postscript. —Further analysis of Od-motions—Proof of theirgenuineness—Explanation of their immediate cause, 242
LETTER XIV. Hypnotism. Trance-Umbra.—Mr. Braid’sdiscovery—Trance-faculties manifested in the wakingstate—Self-induced waking clairvoyance—Conclusion, 248



The Divining Rod.—Description of and mode of using the same—Mr.Fairholm’s statement—M. de Tristan’s statement—Accountof Von Reichenbach’s Od force—The Author’s own observations.

Dear Archy,—As a resource in the solitary eveningsof commencing winter, it occurred to me to look into thelong-neglected lore of the marvellous, the mystical, thesupernatural. I remembered the deep awe with whichI had listened, many a year ago, to tales of seers, ghosts,vampyrs, and all the dark brood of night. And I thoughtit would be infinitely agreeable to thrill again with mysteriousterrors, to start in my chair at the closing of adistant door, to raise my eyes with uneasy apprehensiontowards the mirror opposite, and to feel my skin creepthrough the sensible “afflatus” of an invisible presence.I entered, accordingly, upon a very promising course ofappalling reading. But, a-lack and well-a-day! a changehad come over me since the good old times when fancy,with fear and superstition behind her, would creep ontiptoe to catch a shuddering glimpse of Kobbold, Fay,or incubus. Vain were all my efforts to revive thepleasant horrors of earlier years: it was as if I had10planned going to a play to enjoy again the full gusto ofscenic illusion, and, through absence of mind, was attendinga morning rehearsal only; when, instead of what Ihad anticipated, great-coats, hats, umbrellas, and ordinarymen and women, masks, tinsel, trap-doors, pulleys,and a world of intricate machinery, lit by a partial gleamof sunshine, had met my view. The enchantment wasno longer there—the spell was broken.

Yet, on second thoughts, the daylight scene was worthcontemplating. A new object, of stronger interest, suggesteditself. I might examine and learn the mechanismof the illusions which had failed to furnish me the projectedentertainment. In the books I had looked into,I discerned a clue to the explanation of many wonderfulstories, which I could hitherto only seriously meet bydisbelief. I saw that phenomena, which before had appearedisolated, depended upon a common principle, itselfallied with a variety of other singular facts and observations,which wanted only to be placed in philosophicaljuxtaposition to be recognised as belonging to science.So I determined to employ the leisure before me upon aninquiry into the amount of truth in popular superstitions,certain that, if the attempt were not premature, thelabour would be well repaid. There must be a realfoundation for the belief of ages. There can be no prevalentdelusion without a corresponding truth. Thevisionary promises of alchemy foreshadowed the solidperformances of modern chemistry, as the debased worshipof the Egyptians implied the existence of a properobject of worship.

Among the immortal productions of the ScottishShakspeare—you smile, but that phrase contains thetrue belief, not a popular delusion; for the spirit of the11poet lives not in the form of his works, but in his creativepower and vivid intuitions of nature; and the form evenis often nearer than you think:—but this excursivenesswill never do; so, to begin again.

Among the novels of Scott—I intended to say—there isnot one more wins upon us than the Antiquary. Nowherehas the great author more gently and indulgently, neverwith happier humour, portrayed the mixed web of strengthand infirmity in human character; never, besides, withmore facile power evoked pathos and terror, and disportedhimself amid the sublimity and beauty of nature. Yet,gentle as is his mood, he misses not the opportunity—albeit,in general, he displays an honest leaning towardsold superstitions—mercilessly to crush one of the humblest.Do you remember the Priory of St. Ruth, andthe summer-party made to visit it, and the preparationsfor the subsequent rogueries of Dousterswivel in thetale of Martin Waldeck, and the discovery of a springof water by means of the divining rod?

I am inclined, do you know, to dispute the verdict ofthe novelist on this occasion, and to take the part of thecharlatan against the author of his being; as far, at least,as regards the genuineness of the art the said charlatanthen and there affected to practise. There exists, in fact,strong evidence to show that, in competent hands, thedivining rod really does what is pretended of it. Thisevidence I propose to put before you in the presentletter. But, as the subject may be entirely new to you,I had best begin by describing what is meant by a diviningrod, and in what the imputed jugglery consists.

Then you are to learn that, in mining districts, a superstitionprevails among the people that some are borngifted with an occult power of detecting the proximity of12veins of metal, and of underground currents of water.In Cornwall, they hold that about one in forty possessesthis faculty. The mode of exercising it is very simple.They cut a hazel twig, just below where it forks. Havingstripped the leaves off, they cut each branch to somethingmore than a foot in length, leaving the stump three incheslong. This implement is the divining rod. The hazelis selected for the purpose, because it branches moresymmetrically than its neighbours. The hazel-fork is tobe held by the branches, one in either hand, the stumpor point projecting straight forwards. The arms of theexperimenter hang by his sides; but the elbows beingbent at a right angle, the fore-arms are advanced horizontally;the hands are held eight to ten inches apart;the knuckles down, and the thumbs outwards. The endsof the branches of the divining fork appear between theroots of the thumbs and fore-fingers.

The operator, thus armed, walks over the ground heintends exploring, in the full expectation that, if he possessesthe mystic gift, as soon as he passes over a veinof metal, or an underground spring, the hazel-fork willbegin to move spontaneously in his hands, rising or fallingas the case may be.

You are possibly amused at my gravely stating, as afact, an event so unlikely. It is, indeed, natural thatyou should suppose the whole a juggle, and think theseemingly spontaneous motion of the divining fork to bereally communicated to it by the hands of the conjurer—bya sleight, in fact, which he puts in practice whenhe believes that he is walking over a hidden water-course,or wishes you to believe that there is a vein of metalnear. Well, I thought as you do the greater part of mylife; and probably the likeliest way of combating your13skepticism, will be to tell you how my own conversiontook place.

In the summer of 1843 I dwelt under the same roofwith a Scottish gentleman, well informed, of a seriousturn of mind, fully endowed with the national allowanceof shrewdness and caution. I saw a good deal of him;and one day, by chance, this subject of the divining rodwas mentioned. He told me, that at one time his curiosityhaving been raised upon the subject, he had takenpains to ascertain what there is in it. With this objectin view he had obtained an introduction

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