site logo

An "astral Body"

Categories: Out of Body
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

Mr. Sparks and Mr. Cleave, young men of twenty and nineteen, were

accustomed to "mesmerise" each other in their dormitory at Portsmouth,

where they were students of naval engineering. Mr. Sparks simply

stared into Mr. Cleave's eyes as he lay on his bed till he "went off".

The experiments seemed so curious that witnesses were called, Mr.

Darley and Mr. Thurgood. On Friday, 15th January, 1886, Mr. Cleave

determined to
ry to see, when asleep, a young lady at Wandsworth to

whom he was in the habit of writing every Sunday. He also intended,

if possible, to make _her_ see _him_. On awaking, he said that he had

seen her in the dining-room of her house, that she had seemed to grow

restless, had looked at him, and then had covered her face with her

hands. On Monday he tried again, and he thought he had frightened

her, as after looking at him for a few minutes she fell back in her

chair in a kind of faint. Her little brother was in the room with her

at the time. On Tuesday next the young lady wrote, telling Mr. Cleave

that she had been startled by seeing him on Friday evening (this is an

error), and again on Monday evening, "much clearer," when she nearly


All this Mr. Sparks wrote to Mr. Gurney in the same week. He was

inviting instructions on hypnotic experiments, and "launched a letter

into space," having read something vague about Mr. Gurney's studies in

the newspapers. The letter, after some adventures, arrived, and on

15th March Mr. Cleave wrote his account, Mr. Darley and Mr. Thurgood

corroborating as to their presence during the trance and as to Mr.

Cleave's statement when he awoke. Mr. Cleave added that he made

experiments "for five nights running" before seeing the lady. The

young lady's letter of 19th January, 1886, is also produced (postmark,

Portsmouth, 20th January). But the lady mentions her _first_ vision

of Mr. Cleave as on last _Tuesday_ (not Friday), and her second, while

she was alone with her little brother, at supper on Monday. "I was so

frightened that I nearly fainted."

These are all young people. It may be said that all five were

concerned in a complicated hoax on Mr. Gurney. Nor would such a hoax

argue any unusual moral obliquity. Surtees of Mainsforth, in other

respects an honourable man, took in Sir Walter Scott with forged

ballads, and never undeceived his friend. Southey played off a hoax

with his book The Doctor. Hogg, Lockhart, and Wilson, with Allan

Cunningham and many others, were constantly engaged in such

mystifications, and a "ghost-hunter" might seem a fair butt.

But the very discrepancy in Miss ---'s letter is a proof of fairness.

Her first vision of Mr. Cleave was on "Tuesday last". Mr. Cleave's

first impression of success was on the Friday following.

But he had been making the experiment for five nights previous,

including the Tuesday of Miss ---'s letter. Had the affair been a

hoax, Miss --- would either have been requested by him to re-write her

letter, putting Friday for Tuesday, or what is simpler, Mr. Sparks

would have adopted her version and written "Tuesday" in place of

"Friday" in his first letter to Mr. Gurney. The young lady,

naturally, requested Mr. Cleave not to try his experiment on her


A similar case is that of Mrs. Russell, who tried successfully, when

awake and in Scotland, to appear to one of her family in Germany. The

sister corroborates and says, "Pray don't come appearing to me again".

These spirits of the living lead to the subject of spirits of the

dying. No kind of tale is so common as that of dying people appearing

at a distance. Hundreds have been conscientiously published. {91b}

The belief is prevalent among the Maoris of New Zealand, where the

apparition is regarded as a proof of death. {91c} Now there is

nothing in savage philosophy to account for this opinion of the

Maoris. A man's "spirit" leaves his body in dreams, savages think,

and as dreaming is infinitely more common than death, the Maoris

should argue that the appearance is that of a man's spirit wandering

in his sleep. However, they, like many Europeans, associate a man's

apparition with his death. Not being derived from their philosophy,

this habit may be deduced from their experience.

As there are, undeniably, many examples of hallucinatory appearances

of persons in perfect health and ordinary circumstances, the question

has been asked whether there are _more_ cases of an apparition

coinciding with death than, according to the doctrine of chances,

there ought to be. Out of about 18,000 answers to questions on this

subject, has been deduced the conclusion that the deaths do coincide

with the apparitions to an extent beyond mere accident. Even if we

had an empty hallucination for every case coinciding with death, we

could not set the coincidences down to mere chance. As well might we

say that if "at the end of an hour's rifle practice at long-distance

range, the record shows that for every shot that has hit the bull's

eye, another has missed the target, therefore the shots that hit the

target did so by accident." {92} But as empty hallucinations are more

likely to be forgotten than those which coincide with a death; as

exaggeration creeps in, as the collectors of evidence are naturally

inclined to select and question people whom they know to have a good

story to tell, the evidence connecting apparitions, voices, and so on

with deaths is not likely to be received with favour.

One thing must be remembered as affecting the theory that the

coincidence between the wraith and the death is purely an accident.

Everybody dreams and out of the innumerable dreams of mankind, a few

must hit the mark by a fluke. But _hallucinations_ are not nearly so

common as dreams. Perhaps, roughly speaking, one person in ten has

had what he believes to be a waking hallucination. Therefore, so to

speak, compared with dreams, but a small number of shots of this kind

are fired. Therefore, bull's eyes (the coincidence between an

appearance and a death) are infinitely less likely to be due to chance

in the case of waking hallucinations than in the case of dreams, which

all mankind are firing off every night of their lives. Stories of

these coincidences between appearances and deaths are as common as

they are dull. Most people come across them in the circle of their

friends. They are all very much alike, and make tedious reading. We

give a few which have some picturesque features.