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- The Making of Religion - 30/68 -


It is just worth while to notice cases in which the rod acts like those of the Melanesians, Africans, and other savages. A Mr. Thomas Welton published an English translation of 'La Verge de Jacob' (Lyon, 1693). In 1651 he asked his servant to bring into the garden 'a stick that stood behind the parlour door. In great terror she brought it to the garden, her hand firmly clutched on it, nor could she let it go.' When Mrs. Welton took the stick, 'it drew her with very considerable velocity to nearly the centre of the garden,' where a well was found. Mr. Welton is not likely to have known of the lately published savage examples. The coincidence with the African and Melanesian cases is, therefore, probably undesigned.

Again, in 1694, the rod was used by le Pere Menestrier and others, just as it is by savages, to indicate by its movements answers to all sorts of questions. Experiments of this kind have not been made by Professor Barrett, and other modern inquirers, except by M. Richet, as a mode of detecting automatic action. But it would be just as sensible to use the twig as to use planchette or any other 'autoscopic' apparatus. If these elicit knowledge unconsciously present to the mind, mere water-finding ought not to be the sole province of the rod. In the same class as these rods is the forked twig which, in China, is held at each end by two persons, and made to write in the sand. The little apparatus called _planchette_, or the other, the _ouija_, is of course, consciously or unconsciously, pushed by the performers. In the case of the twig, as held by water-seekers, the difficulty of consciously moving it so as to escape close observation is considerable.

In the case of the _ouija_ (a little tripod, which, under the operators' hands, runs about a table inscribed with letters at which it points), I have known curious successes to be achieved by amateurs. Thus, in the house of a lady who owned an old _chateau_ in another county, the _ouija_, operated on by two ladies known to myself, wrote a number of details about a visit paid to the _chateau_ for a certain purpose by Mary Stuart. That visit, and its object, a purely personal one, are unknown to history, and the _chateau_ is not spoken of in Mr. Hay Fleming's careful, but unavoidably incomplete, itinerary of the Queen's residence in Scotland. After the communication had been made, the owner of the _chateau_ explained that she was already acquainted with the circumstances described, as she had recently read them in documents in her charter chest, where they remain.

Of course, the belief we extend to such narratives is entirely conditioned by our knowledge of the personal character of the performers. The point here is merely the civilised and savage practice of _automatism_, the apparent eliciting of knowledge not otherwise accessible, by the movements of a stick, or a bit of wood. These movements, made without conscious exertion or direction, seem, to savage philosophy, to be caused by in-dwelling spirits, the sources of Fetishism.

These examples, then, demonstrating unconscious movement of objects by the operators, make it clear that movements even of touched objects, may be attributed, by some civilised and by savage amateurs, to 'spirits.' The objects so moved may, by savages, be regarded in some cases as fetishes, and their movements may have helped to originate the belief that spirits can inhabit inanimate objects. When objects apparently quite untouched become volatile, the mystery is deeper. This apparent animation and frolicsome behaviour of inanimate objects is reported all through history, and attested by immense quantities of evidence of every degree. It would be tedious to give a full account of the antiquity and diffusion of reports about such occurrences. We find them among Neo-Platonists, in the English and Continental Middle Ages, among Eskimo, Hurons, Algonkins, Tartars, Zulus, Malays, Nasquapees, Maoris, in witch trials, in ancient Peru (immediately after the Spanish Conquest), in China, in modern Russia, in New England (1680), all through the career of modern spiritualism, in Hayti (where they are attributed to 'Obeah'), and, sporadically, everywhere.[12]

Among all these cases, we must dismiss whatever the modern paid medium does in the dark. The only thing to be done with the ethnographic and modern accounts of such marvels is to 'file them for reference.' If a spontaneous example occurs, under proper inspection, we can then compare our old tales. Professor James says: 'Their mutual resemblances suggest a natural type, and I confess that till these records, or others like them, are positively explained away, I cannot feel (in spite of such vast amounts of detected frauds) as if the case of physical mediumship itself, as a freak of nature, were definitely closed.... So long as the stories multiply in various lands, and so few are positively explained away, it is bad method to ignore them.'[13] Here they are not ignored, because, whatever the cause or causes of the phenomena, they would buttress, if they did not originate, the savage belief in spirits tenanting inanimate matter, whence came Fetishism. As to facts, we cannot, of course, 'explain away' events of this kind, which we know only through report. A conjurer cannot explain a trick merely from a description, especially a description by a non-conjurer. But, as a rule, nothing so much leads to doubt on this theme as the 'explanation' given--except, of course, in the case of 'dark seances' got up and prepared by paid mediums. We know, sometimes, how the 'explanation' arose.

Thus, the house of a certain M. Zoller, a lawyer and member of the Swiss Federal Council, a house at Stans, in Unterwalden, was made simply uninhabitable in 1860-1862. The disturbances, including movements of objects, were of a truly odious description, and occurred in full daylight. M. Zoller, deeply attached to his home, which had many interesting associations with the part his family played in the struggle against revolutionary France, was obliged to abandon the place. He had made every conceivable sort of research, and had called in the local police and _savants_, to no purpose.

But the affair was explained away thus: While the phenomena could still be concealed from public curiosity, a client called to see M. Zoller, who was out. The client, therefore, remained in the drawing-room. Loud and heavy blows resounded through the room. The client, as it chanced, had once felt the effects of an electric battery, for some medical reason, apparently. M. Zoller writes: 'My eldest son was present at the time, and, when my client asked whether there was such a thing as an electrical machine in the house (the family having been enjoined to keep the disturbances as secret as possible), he allowed S. to think that there was.' Consequently, the phenomena were set down to M. Zoller's singular idea of making his house untenantable with an 'electric machine'--which he did not possess.[14] A number of the most respected citizens, including the Superintendent of Police, and the chief magistrate for law, published a statement that neither Zoller, nor any of his family, nor any of themselves, produced or could have produced the phenomena witnessed by them in August 1862. This declaration they put forth in the 'Schwytzer Zeitung,' October 5, 1863.[15] No electric machine known to mortals could have produced the vast variety of alleged effects, none was ever found; and as M. Zoller changed his servants without escaping his tribulations, they can hardly be blamed for what, _prima facie_, it seems that they could not possibly do. However, 'electricity,' like Mesopotamia, is 'a blessed word.'[16]

My own position in this matter of 'physical phenomena' is, I hope, clear. They interest me, for my present purpose, as being, whatever their real nature and origin, things which would suggest to a savage his theory of Fetishism. 'An inanimate object may be tenanted by a spirit, as is proved by its extraordinary movements.' Thus the early thinker might reason, and go on to revere the object. It is to be wished that competent observers would pay more attention to such savage practices as crystal-gazing and automatism as illustrated by the sticks of the Melanesians, Zulus, and Yaos. Our scanty information we pick up out of stray allusions, but it has the advantage of being uncontaminated by theory, the European spectator not knowing the wide range of such practices and their value in experimental psychology.

We have now finished our study of the less normal and usual phenomena, which gave rise to belief in separable, self-existing, conscious, and powerful souls. We have shown that the supernormal factors which, when reflected on, probably supported this belief, are represented in civilised as well as in savage life, while as to their existence among the founders of religion we can historically know nothing at all. If we may infer from certain considerations, the supernormal experiences were possibly more prevalent among the remote ancestors of known savage races than among their modern descendants. We have suggested that clairvoyance, thought transference, and telepathy cannot be dismissed as mere fables, by a cautious inquirer, while even the far more obscure stories of 'physical manifestations' are but poorly explained away by those who cannot explain them.[17] Again, these faculties have presented--in the acquisition of otherwise unattainable knowledge, in coincidental hallucinations, and in other ways--just the kind of facts on which the savage doctrine of souls might be based, or by which it might be buttressed. Thus, while the actuality of the supernormal facts and faculties remains at least an open question, the prevalent theory of Materialism cannot be admitted as dogmatically certain in its present shape. No more than any other theory, nay, less than some other theories, can it account for the psychical facts which, at the lowest, we may not honestly leave out of the reckoning.

We have therefore no more to say about the supernormal aspects of the origins of religion. We are henceforth concerned with matters of verifiable belief and practice. We have to ask whether, when once the doctrine of souls was conceived by early men, it took precisely the course of development usually indicated by anthropological science.

[Footnote 1: Darwin, _Journal_, p. 458; Tylor, _Prim. Cult_. ii. 152. The spoon was not untouched.]

[Footnote 2: Rowley, _Universities' Mission_, p. 217.]

[Footnote 3: _Africana_, vol. i. p. 161.]

[Footnote 4: In the author's _Custom and Myth_, 'The Divining Rod.']

[Footnote 5: Codrington's _Melanesia_, p. 210.]

[Footnote 6: Op. cit. pp. 229-325.]

[Footnote 7: _Prim. Cult_. vol. i. p. 125.]

[Footnote 8: Callaway, _Amazulu_, p. 330.]

[Footnote 9: Callaway, _Amazulu_, p. 368.]

[Footnote 10: _The So-called Divining-Rod_, S.P.R. 1897.]

[Footnote 11: See especially _The Waterford Experiments_, p. 106.]

[Footnote 12: Authorities and examples are collected in the author's _Cock Lane and Common Sense_.]

[Footnote 13: _Proceedings_, xii. 7, 8.]

[Footnote 14: _Personal Narrative_, by M. Zoller. Hanke, Zurich, 1863.]

[Footnote 15: Daumer, _Reich des Wundersamen_, Regensburg, 1872, pp. 265, 266.]

[Footnote 16: A criticism of modern explanations of the phenomena here touched upon will be found in Appendix B.]

[Footnote 17: See Appendix B.]


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