The process of this evolution is easy to understand. The earlier mediums adopted the doctrines of Swedenborg, with certain amendments which seemed to them to be more in accord with reason and Divine justice. Those who followed, in turn adopted the main ideas of their predecessors, with amendments of their own. Each writer in succession amended the work of his predecessors in those respects in which it seemed to him to be imperfect, and each one had authority from the spirit-world which sanctioned the amendment. And thus the system grows in magnitude and perfection, and will continue to grow as long as men believe themselves to be inspired by extramundane intelligences.
Now, the noteworthy facts connected with this evolutionary process are, first, that all believe that they obtain their authority for every statement of fact and every new idea direct from the spirits of the dead; and secondly, that every man who evolves a new idea, or is possessed of an old one, can easily have it confirmed by consulting a spirit medium, providing the proper suggestion is made to said medium. And this is true of all classes and ranks of mediums, from the common table-tipper to the Oriental ecstatic. If the medium is possessed of ideas of his own, and no outside suggestion is made, he will obtain information from the spirit world in exact accordance with his ideas. The same is true of all trance-seers, by whatever means the trance is brought about. Thus, Cahagnet, the French mesmerist, who devoted his life to mesmerizing subjects for the sole purpose of ascertaining what was going on in heaven, once mesmerized a French peasant, and directed him to visit the abode of the blest. This he promptly did, and reported that he saw a great white throne, surrounded by a great throng of people, all dressed in the most gorgeous apparel.
On the throne was seated a man who was much larger than any of the rest, and who was further distinguished by the superior cut, make, fit, and material of his clothes. The peasant was sure that he had seen the Almighty, and so reported. It is obvious that he had simply seen a vision representing a peasant's idea of heaven. Cahagnet assured him that he must be mistaken, and quoted Bible authority to show that God himself has said, "There shall no man see me, and live." This was convincing to the simple-minded peasant, and Cahagnet advised him, the next time he was entranced, to ascertain if it was not a conclave of leading spirits that he saw, who were assembled for some purpose connected with the internal economy of heaven. Accordingly, he made inquiries the next time he was entranced, and ascertained that Cahagnet was right. It is clear that Cahagnet did not understand the law of suggestion, or his book would never have been written. It is scarcely necessary to remark that his book obtained a wide circulation, was translated into several languages, and constituted a standard mesmeric text-book for many years.
I have said that the same law of suggestion governs all trance-seers. This is obviously true. If it is a law, it is universal in its application. Yet Orientalists tell us that their visions are veridical, "because," they say, "they are objective visions." This, of course, is merely begging the question. They hold that the visions and other communications obtained by Western spiritists are mere "subjective hallucinations." It is noteworthy that the distinction which they make between the two kinds of visions is this: those visions which accord with their views are "objective;" those which do not are "subjective." It is a very easy and comforting distinction, but it forcibly reminds one of the old definition of orthodoxy as distinguished from heterodoxy: "Orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is your doxy." The Oriental adepts claim that they have learned much more of the laws of nature than is dreamed of in Occidental philosophy. Doubtless they have, if half the stories we hear of them are true. They have learned to produce phenomena which far transcend anything done by our spirit mediums. Moreover, they have learned the true source of the power, and they do not ascribe it to spirits of the dead.
Said one of them, in my hearing: " I have often been asked the question, ' What is an adept?' An adept is a spirit medium who knows that the power to produce his phenomena resides within himself, and who possesses the intelligence and power to control and direct it." This is the exact truth in a nutshell. But because the adepts have acquired the knowledge of the laws which govern the production of phenomena, and are able to apply them, it does not follow that they are able to set any law of nature at defiance, or that they can claim exemption from the operation of a universal law of our existence. We find in the Western world that the law of suggestion controls all subjective phenomena, of whatever name or nature, and we are slow to believe that Eastern people are exempt from the operations of the same law. If they are, the burden of proof rests upon them to demonstrate it. Thus far it has not been demonstrated.
The literature of mysticism of all ages of the world and of all nations is full of accounts of the visions of ecstatics. The one noteworthy fact that is observable in all is that each one sees and hears that which he expects to see or hear. The details may be unexpected, and the whole may transcend his objective conceptions, but none controvert their preconceived ideas. Catholic ecstatics will see Catholic visions, and Protestants will see Protestant visions. In short, whatever may be the belief or the philosophy of the ecstatic, confirmation of that belief will be found in his visions of, or his communications from, the other world. The history of the Catholic Church abounds in accounts of wonderful visions seen by nuns and other religious devotees of that faith. One noteworthy fact constantly reappears in that connection, which is, that they nearly always become entranced after long contemplation of the image of the Saviour or of the Virgin Mary. This fact is interesting from a purely scientific standpoint. The physical attitude which they assume in contemplation of the crucifix is the one most conducive to the induction of the hypnotic condition.
The significance of this observation will be at once apparent when we remember that Dr. Braid demonstrated that fixed gazing upon an object held in such a position as to cause the eyes to be strained upward is the easiest way to induce the hypnotic condition. The attitude, both physical and mental, of prayer, is therefore the one most favorable to the induction of the hypnotic or trance condition on the one hand, and, on the other, to the production of the visions which accord with the faith and expectancy of the individual.
The fact that the physical attitude assumed in prayer has a tendency to induce the subjective condition, will account for many of the well-recognized effects of earnest supplication of Divine favor. That calm tranquillity of mind which follows the prayer of faith may be attributed, in part at least, to the physical condition resulting from partial hypnosis. The objective faculties are held in abeyance, the nerves are tranquillized, and that part of " God in us "holds communion and is harmonized with its Divine source. Thus it is that long and earnest prayer for the restoration of health is often followed by marvellous results, especially when it is inspired by perfect faith in the promises of the Master. The fact that faith constitutes a strong suggestion to the subjective mind, which in turn controls the condition of the body, does not militate against the idea of Divine agency in the result. It is the Divine essence within us which produces the effect, and it operates in strict accordance with Divine law. It confirms and explains that which Christ taught so earnestly and so persistently, namely, that we must have faith, or our prayers will avail nothing.
That he understood the principle involved, goes without saying; but it was not yet time to give it to the world, for the world was not prepared to receive it. "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now," were his words, uttered during his last interview with his disciples previous to his crucifixion. His was the "dispensation of faith." The promised "dispensation of knowledge" has not yet been inaugurated; when it is, the wisdom which he taught will be better understood, for it will then be known that the doctrines which he enunciated regarding his power over disease, and the conditions of immortality, were but statements in strict accordance with scientific facts.