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British National Association of Spiritualists

Unfortunately, the first council also numbered several avowed spiritualists, notably the medium Stainton Moses; and the society’s birthplace was in the rooms of the British National Association of Spiritualists. These two facts created a wide-spread suspicion that the society was actually nothing more than an adjunct to the spiritual movement. Nor was confidence wholly restored by the hasty withdrawal of the spiritual representatives as soon as they learned that strictly scientific methods of inquiry were to prevail; or by the accession, as honorary members, of national figures like W. E. Gladstone, John Ruskin, Lord Tennyson, A. R. Wallace, Sir William Crookes, and G. F. Watts.

To the scientific as well as the popular consciousness, the society was little better than an assemblage of cranks, with strangely fantastic notions, and only too likely to lose its mental balance and help ignorant and superstitious people to lose theirs.

Conscious, however, of the really serious and important nature of their enterprise, and cheered by Gladstone’s comforting assurance that no investigation of greater moment to mankind could be made, the members of the society applied themselves zealously to the business that had brought them together.

Stainton Moses Spiritualist
Stainton Moses Spiritualist
Madam Blavatsky
Madam Blavatsky

Sensibly enough, they adopted the principle of specialization and division of labour. While one group carried on experiments designed to prove or disprove the telepathic hypothesis, another engaged in a systematic examination of the alleged facts of clairvoyance.

A third, in its turn, under the skilful guidance of Gurney, investigated the phenomena of the hypnotic trance, with results unexpectedly beneficial to medical science. A special committee was also appointed to collect and sift evidence as to the reality of apparitions and hauntings, making whenever possible personal examinations of the seers of the visions and the places of their occurrence.

Finally, there were various subcommittees of inquiry into the physical phenomena of spiritualism, the knockings, table turnings, production of spirit forms, and similar marvels of the Dunglas Home type of “medium.” (Gladstone’s words were “Metaphysical (paranormal) research is the most important work which is being done in the world by far the most important.”).

From the outset, these subcommittees demonstrated the value of metaphysical (paranormal) research, as a protection to the interests of society, by exposing, one after another, the fraudulent character of the pretended intermediaries between the seen and the unseen world.

In this region of inquiry no one was more successful than a recruit from distant Australia, by name Richard Hodgson. Hodgson, unlike Sidgwick and Myers and many others of his associates, had not engaged in metaphysical (paranormal) research from the hope that the truths of the Bible might thereby be demonstrated.

His motive was that of the detective eager to unravel mysteries. From his boyhood he had had a singular fondness for solving tricks and puzzles of all sorts; and when, in 1878, he came to England to complete his education at Cambridge, he naturally gravitated into the company of Sidgwick, Myers, and Gurney, as men busied in an undertaking that appealed to his detective instinct.

He was radically different from them in temperament and point of view not at all mystical, full of animal spirits, fond of all manner of sports, and interested in occult subjects only so far as they furnished working material for his nimble and inquiring mind.

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