LIFE AND DEATH: PROGRESS AND RETROGRESSION
[April 28, 1876.--The following message relates to a case
in which the personal identity of the communicating spirit was established by
very strong evidence. Among many such this seems to me to stand out prominently,
and, making all allowance for willingness and ability to deceive, I find it
impossible to understand how so coherent and complete a series of proofs can be
explained away by any theory of personation or self- deception. The messages
relate to the death, under melancholy circumstances, of a friend whom I had
known intimately all his life. A sitting at Mr Hudson's had resulted in his
image appearing on the photographic plate, and I have since seen and known the
presence of the spirit about me continually. When the photograph was taken I was
entranced, and the name of the spirit was given to me, another spirit at the
same time describing the position in which the figure had placed itself. The
development of the plate showed this description to be correct, and I have no
difficulty in recognising a bad image or simulacrum of my friend who had
been specially brought before my mind before going to Hudson's. There was
another and more striking point connected with this matter which I cannot print:
it must suffice that I state that identity, both of external form and of mental
characteristics, is distinctly made out to my mind.
The first message I received respecting this photograph
related to the method of its production. It was said that a spirit who just then
was very active about me had directed Hudson's invisible operators. The
shroud-like drapery which characterises all Hudson's pictures was described as
an expedient for saving time and power: the head being fully formed, the rest
"sketched in," as one might say. There were a number of these spiritual
operators who did the mere mechanical work of partial materialisation as they
had learned to do it. Hence there is a family likeness in all the pictures
produced by a particular photographer.
The whole manifestation was described as being contrary
to the wish of IMPERATOR, who "did not wish that I should be brought again
within the physical phase of manifestation." "It was only when we found that we
could not prevent that we aided."
The spirit had been in my company: there had been
special reasons for his being attracted that day, and so it was easier to
produce his image than that of any other spirit: though I went with two friends
in the hope of securing some evidence for them and not for myself.
This being so, he was taken in hand by M., who directed
Hudson's spirit-people to mould a representation of his face and to sketch
drapery, the simulacrum was made of spirit-substance, actually posed, and
After this IMPERATOR said:--]
We would speak with you of your friend. But first, we wish to explain that we
prevented, so far as we could, any return to physical manifestations to you. We
did not wish the medial power to recur to that phase. Hence we have prevented
you from being placed in circumstances where it would be likely to be
encouraged. We have explained before that we do not wish you to remain on the
physical plane, and have therefore discontinued our meetings. Nor did we wish
that your friend should become attached to you. His spiritual state is low, and
it would have been well that you had not attracted him. Since you have done so,
you must now help him to progress. M. has rightly told you that you had entered
into his sphere from association and conversation with----, and from your
thoughts being directed towards him strongly. That is the law of attraction of
spirit to spirit. You know this?
Yes; but it does not always act, or rather its
results are seldom manifest to us. Is he unhappy?
How should he be blest? He lifted sacrilegious hands against the shrine in
which the All-wise had placed his spirit for its progress and development. He
wasted opportunities, and destroyed, so far as he was able, the temple in which
dwelt the Divine spark, which was his portion. He sent forth his spirit alone
and friendless into a strange world where no place was yet prepared for it. He
impiously flew in the face of the Great Father. How should he be blest? Impious,
disobedient, wilful in his death, heedless, idle, selfish in his life, and yet
more selfish in bringing pain and sorrow on his earthly friends by his untimely
death,--how should he find rest? The wasted life cries out for vengeance. The
fostered self-hood dominates him still, and makes him ill at ease. Selfish in
his life, selfish in his earthly end, he is selfish still. Miserable, blind, and
undeveloped, there is no rest for such as he till repentance has had its place,
and remorse leads to regeneration. He is outcast.
What hope of progress?
Yes; there is hope. Already there stirs within him the consciousness of sin.
He sees dimly through the spiritual gloom how foolish and how wicked was his
life. He begins to wake to some faint knowledge of his desolation, and to strive
for light. Hence he remains near you. You must help him though at your own cost.
Willingly; but how?
By prayer first. By fostering the dawnings of the higher life. By allowing
the unhappy spirit to breathe the higher atmosphere of work. His spirit knows
not what that pure and bracing atmosphere is. You must teach him, though his
presence be unpleasant to you. You have summoned him, and he comes obedient to
your call. You must bear with him now. You cannot undo what you have done in
spite of us and of our wishes. Your consolation must be that you will be engaged
in a work that is blessed.
It is not fair to say I summoned him; but I will do
anything. He was mad and not accountable.
He was and is accountable, and he begins to know it. The seeds of his final
sin wherewith he has cursed himself were sown in a life of idle uselessness. He
fostered and encouraged morbid self-introspection. He brooded over self, not for
the purpose of progress and development, not to eradicate faults and foster
virtues, but in selfish exclusiveness. He was enwrapped in a cloud of distorted
selfishness. This bred in him disease, and in the end he fell a prey to tempters
in the spirit, who fastened on him and drove him to his ruin. He exposed himself
a prey to those who are always ready to seduce to ruin, and so far he was mad,
as you say; but the mad act was the result of his own acts. And now he throws
the same influence around those whom he wounded in his death. A curse to
himself, be becomes a curse to those he loves.
Horrible! That seems to me the very bitterness of
retribution. I can understand how an idle, selfish life breeds spiritual
disease. Selfishness seems to me to be the root of sin.
It is the plague-spot of the spirit, that which wrecks more souls that you
dream of. It is the very paralysis of the soul. And when to it is added this,
moreover, that the selfishness is passive, it becomes more fatal. There is a
selfishness which is far less baleful in its poison, and which finds it
counteracting power in activity, and which even becomes the spring of actions
which have in them a form of good. There is a selfishness which causes a spirit
to do well that it may have the good report of its fellows: and there is a
selfishness which is content to do good so it be not vexed or troubled, which
will yield to any influence, so it may escape anxiety. These are faults which
hold the spirit back from progress; but they are not the baleful plague which
ate into this spirit's life, and drove it to despair and death. That was the
meaner selfishness which stirred him not to any deeds or to action of any kind.
It was idle and useless, no less than self- pleasing; nay, it was not even
self-pleasing, for the whole life was blurred and blotted with morbid scrutiny
of self, till its very lineaments were eaten out. This selfishness was cruel
alike to himself and to his friends. There are grades of sin, and his was deep.
Listen while the story is recounted for your instruction. But rest awhile, and
we will remove the disturbing influence from your mind.
[I was a good deal disturbed: but I fell into a deep
trance- like sleep, during which I had a soothing vision and from it I awoke
It is not necessary to go through in detail the story of that wasted life.
Its spirit was eaten out with cruel selfishness, and its end was destruction of
self-consciousness. Mad he was, as you estimate madness. None lifts the hand of
the suicide against himself save when the disordered mind has lost its power of
judgment. The balance is destroyed, and the spirit has fallen a prey to the
tempters which surround it.
But your estimates of sin are rude. The state was self-induced. The spirit
delivered itself over to the foes, and wrought its own ruin. This was not one of
the cases where hereditary conditions of disease unfitted a spirit for judgment
and right action. The suicide was the outcome of the selfish idler. It was an
access of temptation that withdrew the power of reason, and caused the crime. In
others the temptation might have taken other forms; but whether it led to
destruction of self, or to ruin or hurt of others, to whatever gratification of
self it tended, the root is the same.
That spirit which neglects to use its powers, which acts not, but morbidly
dwells on fancied ills or sufferings, assuredly breeds in itself disease. The
law of existence is work--for God, for brethen, for self; not for one alone, but
for all. Transgress that law, and evil must ensue. The stagnant life becomes
corrupt, and acts as a corrupter of others. It is vicious and noisome; hurtful
to the community, in that it defrauds it of its due from one of its members, and
sets up a plague spot of infection which becomes a fertile centre of mischief.
It matters not what course the evil takes, its source is still the same. In this
case the evil eventuated in personal harm, and in the wrecking of a wasted life.
It has ended in sorrow and shame to the injury of all who were associated with
When the cord of earth-life was severed, the spirit found itself in darkness
and distress. For long it was unable to sever itself from the body. It hovered
round it even after the grave had closed over the shrine which it had violated.
It was unconscious, without power of movement, weak, wounded, and distressed. It
found no rest, no welcome in the world to which it had come unbidden. Darkness
surrounded it, and through the gloom dimly flitted the forms of congenial
spirits who had made shipwreck of themselves, and were in unrestful isolation.
These drew near, and their atmostphere added vague discomfort to the half-
It was not till the first shudder of awakening conscience attracted the
ministering spirits that anything could be done to palliate the misery, not yet
half felt or acknowledged, or to minister healing to the soul. When it stirred
amid the darkness, the ministers drew near and strove to quicken the seared
conscience and to awaken remorse. In seeming cruelty they strove to bring home a
knowledge of its state, and to paint before it a picture of its sin. Only
through the portal of remorse could it enter into rest; and so the conscience
must be quickened at the cost of pain.
For long their efforts availed little; but by degrees they succeeded in
awakening some measure of consciousness of sin, and the spirit began to grope
blindly for some means of escape from a state which had become loathsome to it.
Frequent relapses dragged it back. The tempters were all around it, and no
effort of theirs was spared to mete out to the spirit the full measure of its
lawful penalty. They know it not; they do but gratify their debased instincts,
but they are the avenging ministers of doom.
The hope for the spirit is that it may be nerved to occupy itself with some
beneficent work, and so to work out its own salvation. To this end it must
journey on through remorse and uncongenial labour: for by no other means can it
be purified. Selfishness must be eradicated by self-sacrifice. Idleness must be
rooted out by laborious toils. The spirit must be purified by suffering. This is
the only upward path of progress; a path that its past has made it difficult,
nearly impossible, for it to tread. Reiterated efforts must secure each onward
step, and frequent slips and backslidings will try endurance to the utmost. Step
by step the way must be won in sorrow, remorse, and shame, with faintings and
cries of the despairing soul; won, too, against temptation all around, against
the suggestions of the foe who will not fail to goad the aspiring soul; won as
through a baptism of fire. Such is the penalty; such the road to the heaven that
can be won in no other way.
Such help as the ministers can give will not be withholden. It is their
glorious mission to help on the aspiring, and to cheer the fainting soul. But,
though they may comfort, they cannot save one pang, nor palliate by one jot the
penalty of transgression. No vicarious store of merit can avail; no friend may
bear the burden, or lift it from the weary back. It must be borne by the soul
that sinned, though helps and aids be given to strengthen and support the
This is the inevitable penalty of a wasted life. It may be that the
half-quenched spark may be quickened again, and be fanned into a flame strong
enough to light the spirit onward. It may be that the spirit may wander in gloom
and desolation, deaf to the voice of the ministers, and groaning in lonely
unrest, nerveless for the struggle, till the sin through cycles of purgatorial
suffering, has eaten out its virulence. It may be that the time consumed in such
purgation may seem to you an eternity; or the soul may wake and stir before its
condition has become fixed; and so by an effort of despairing energy may
struggle up to light, and may welcome the suffering that leads to purification,
and may have strength not all sapped to cast off the habits of earth, and wake
to newness of life.
It may be; but such cases are rare. Characters are not so easily changed; nor
does the fire of purification work so rapidly. Too frequently he that died
selfish or filthy is selfish or filthy still, and the present proves only a
perpetuation of the past. Pray for strength to minister to him who has in him
the first faint dawnings of progression. Pray that his darkness may be
enlightened, and his unrest soothed by the angelic ministrations. Such prayers
are the most potent medicine for his disease.
[On reading over what had been written, I suggested
that the picture was one to strike dismay into a man, however much he strove to
progress. I said the ideal was too high for earth.]
Nay! We have not painted the picture in all its details; nor have we
overdrawn or overcoloured it in any way. We are not able to bring home to you
the full horror of the desolation and misery of such a wasted life. No words
that we can write would express the full measure of the woe felt by a soul that
has awakened to remorse after a life such as this of which we speak. For the
rest, we are not responsible for any ideal. We put forward none, save that which
exists in the eternal and unalterable sequence of events. Selfishness and sin
bring misery and remorse before they can be purged away. It is not we who laid
down that law, but the Eternal and All-wise. We have but pointed out to you
again the operation of a law the working of which you may see all around you. We
desired to point out what men are apt to forget, that though there be no formal
judgment such as has been imagined, at a far-distant day, in presence of an
assembled universe, when the Recording Angel shall produce the Books of Doom,
and the Christ shall sit in judgment, and shall condemn the sinner to an
everlasting hell; though there be none of this, yet that every act is
registered, every thought recorded, every habit known as a factor in the future
character. We would show you that the judgment of condemnation need no
paraphernalia of assize, but is conducted in the silent recesses of the soul
itself. No judge is there but the voice of Spirit communing with itself, and
reading its own doom. No books but the records of conscience; no hell but the
flame of remorse that shall eat into the soul and purge it as by fire.
And this, not in a far-off future when the arisen myriads of humanity shall
all have been gathered up, but instant on death, quick as consciousness awakes,
sure as the soul stirs in the new life. This too, not subject to a faint
perhaps, in a dim and hazy light seen far off down the vista of the future, but
sure and certain, instant and inevitable. We would teach you this. For it has
been said of us that our Gospel removes the terror from religion, by which
motive alone the most of men may be governed and restrained, and substitutes for
it a faith which teaches salvation for all, whatever their deeds may be,
whatever creed they may profess. We do not teach any such insensate creed. You
know it; but you need to have repeated again and again the truth on which we
have beein insisting: Man makes his own future, stamps his own character,
suffers for his own sins, and must work out his own salvation.
We did but dwell on this side because the story of that wasted life invited
by its example. We have dwelt often enough on the lighter side of grace and
beauty and angelic ministration. You need not to be told of the abounding mercy
and love of the Supreme, nor of the tender watchful care which is ceaselessly
exercised by those who minister between Him and you. It is well sometimes to
show the dark side of loneliness and desolation, and temptation by the foes.
The ideal was not high: and if it were, high ideals serve only to brace the
aspiring soul: they are too high for those only who have no ambition to ascend:
not for those whose lives have not been eaten out by selfishness and sin, whose
energies are yet strong, and will grow stronger by the exercise of them. Be
assured, good friend, that the grand truth can never be escaped. Life is a
journey, a conflict, a development. The journey is up-hill, and the way is
thorn-beset and difficult. The conflict is unending till victory crowns the
final effort. The development is spiritual from a lower to a higher plane, from
the child of earth to the measure of the stature of the Christ. You cannot
change the unalterable. You cannot reach the Perfect Good, save after a conflict
with evil. It is an eternal necessity that you be purified through struggles
with the evil that surrounds you. It is the means by which the spark once struck
off from the Divine Soul wins back its way to Him and enters into its rest.
Do you need to be told that true happiness is to be had only by living up to
the highest ideal? That the idler and the sluggard know it not? That the vicious
man and the evil-doer, who sins of choice and by preference,
have no part in it? That peace on earth springs up only in the soul that soars
heavenwards, and finds its happiness in viewing the dangers and difficulties
that have been overpassed? Do you need to be told again that the angels watch
over such to bear them up--that the ministers count it honour to support them,
and that no final harm can fasten on the spirit which keeps a high ideal before
it? Victory is assured: but it would not be victory were it found without a
struggle in selfish and inglorious ease, by those who would not value what every
idle hand might pluck. Victory comes after conflict: peace after tribulation:
development after steady growth.
I replied that this seemed to me matter of course;
and that in the seed-time of life man must get as much knowledge, do as much
work, and enjoy such peace as he can. But the work and the knowledge (especially
of God Himself and His future) must precede Peace, or Rest. Perhaps too little
room was left for meditation.
No; the life is threefold: of meditation and prayer; of worship and
adoration; and of conflict with the threefold enemy. The meditation is necessary
to self-knowledge. It is an element of steady growth. With it goes prayer, the
communion of the prisoned soul with the Father of spirits, and with us His
ministers. Worship and adoration, in any of the countless phases that the soul
seeks out for itself, whether in silent solitude beneath the heavens that speak
to him of his God, or in communion with Nature, the external and material
manifestation of Deity, or in the solemn service of song within some stately
temple which man has separated for God: or in the upward aspiration of the heart
unuttered and unheard of man--in any or all of these ways the instinct of
adoration divinely implanted may find its vent. These are the necessary helps
for the sustained conflict. We do not undervalue them: rather do we insist on
them. We tell you that it would be well if you devoted more time to peaceful
thought. Your life lacks quietness.
As to the accountability of this spirit for its rash
act, surely you admit some cases where the spirit is not accountable.
Assuredly. The human instrument may be jarred and out of tune, and so may
faultily transmit the will of the spirit within. There are many cases in which
madness is the result of bodily disease. For such the spirit is not blameworthy.
Accidental injury may derange, or congenital defect, or overstrain of trouble
and distress. For such causes the spirit is blamed by none, least of all by the
Holy and Just One, who deals not with body but with spirit, and who judges
according to spiritual motive and intent. We reprobated the case on which we
spoke, because the end was the result of life-long sin. He was and is
responsible, and he begins to know it.
May the All-wise foster and increase the knowledge.