A natural preliminary question is: "What is the Astral Light?" It is a difficult question to answer; as difficult as that old one, "What is life?" One that can be answered at first only by illustration and analogy; which can be guessed at perhaps best from viewing results. There are certain phenomena, very well known to Spiritualists and to all persons of a psychical nature, needing a hypothesis upon which we may hang our facts and thus try them. Nearly all the phenomena found in the great record of Spiritualistic seance rooms for the past forty years need hypotheses more reasonable than those so far advanced, to say nothing of a classification which never yet has been undertaken by competent hands. Whether this classification will be done by Spiritualists themselves seems doubtful. If ever the scientific world deigns to carefully and seriously investigate these psychic occurrences, many theories now having their day in the ranks of mediums and their friends will be exploded, and then, perhaps the astral light and its place in the phenomena will be better understood.
The identity assumed so easily and quickly by a medium for an alleged spirit calling himself John Smith, would not be admitted at once if the function inherent in the astral light of retaining the image of John Smith for a vast period of time were understood; and then if it were discovered, as it could be by careful records and reports, that at the same time John Smith was declaring himself in a room in Boston through medium A., he was also asserting his identity in Florida, supported by identical proofs, through medium B., -- some doubt naturally would surround the question of identity. Yet, just this is happening every day and especially in regard to alleged return of celebrated men to mediums, good and bad alike.
It is easy to prove this as far as the great dead are concerned, but until recording and comparison are undertaken it will never be known how often twenty different mediums in as many separate cities have given, at one and the same moment, messages from the one deceased person.
And this question of identification is one of the most important in all Spiritualism. Upon it the faith of thousands is built; through assumed proofs of identity many a doubter has become a believer in mediums. For we may see phenomena of a purely physical sort over and over again without being convinced of anything save the occurrence of a fact; but once we are persuaded that our dead friend has really returned to speak with us through an entranced living person, then all the rest comes easy; then we think that here is positive proof of life after death.
My contention is that this important point is built upon, believed in, and supported by flimsy proofs, and that flimsiness is due to ignorance of the astral light, its function and operation.
Furthermore, we can find in the reported utterances of "spirits" that there is great diversity as well as opposition in views. But it is apparent that whenever a "spirit" enunciates theories tending to upset preconceived ideas of Spiritualists on such points as identification, reincarnation, the astral light and the like, the "spirit's" opinions go for nothing. Before me lies a pamphlet printed over 20 years ago by a medium, in which most extraordinary views are given of cosmogony, and teaching reincarnation, but these although given to the medium by his own trusted "guide" have never gained a hearing among Spiritualists; and although correct and well argued views respecting the astral light, supporting all that the ancient East has claimed for this tenuous interpenetrating medium, have been given by a well known "spirit," they have been ignored and lost sight of in the mad rush after the intoxication of physical phenomena and sentimental gushing over supposed messages from a deceased mother, sister, brother or wife.
It is time for the leading minds in Spiritualistic ranks -- among which I can not reckon myself -- to call a halt, and to devote a little of the common sense used in daily business life to the analysis of the utterances of mediums and the conflicting views of alleged "spirits." Are you afraid of truth? Do you hesitate in case it should come in the process that your beloved dead will be removed a few steps higher, a little beyond the reach of your degrading desire to call them back to the mud and horror of earthly life before their cycle rolls round again? Such a fear veils the truth and belittles your manhood.
But such is the weakness, the utter emaciation, of spiritualistic philosophy, I will venture a prophecy that even if the analysis and classification I have spoken of should never be attempted, the proper doctrines about these phenomena and about the "Spirit-world," would come to prevail -- not through any increase of real knowledge on the part of the "spirits" and "controls," but just when the leading minds in your ranks begin out of their own thinking to believe in the true explanation. That is to say, the best expositions given through mediums are never in advance -- save in isolated cases -- of the best thought of living Spiritualists; and this comes about, or fails to, through the action of the astral light as affected by living beings with all their acts and thoughts.
Before closing these general considerations, I would like to ask how any reasonable Spiritualist can be sure that he is hearing from a deceased friend or relative merely because he has from a medium, who never knew the deceased and never before met the inquirer, some circumstances known only to the deceased or to himself? This is the common means of proof, almost always blindly accepted. But there are many elements of weakness in it. We may teach a parrot or an idiot some few sentences, and if put behind a screen no one on this side can tell whether the utterances proceed from a wise man, a fool, an animal or an automaton. Then, again, if the proof be in the recital of some facts "long ago forgotten, and not known to the medium," we are touching upon the memory and its field of operation; a land as unknown as the South Pole. The brain matter cannot hold the facts of a lifetime; where, then, are they held, and how does the possession of them by the medium prove anything save that fact alone?
Nor does the taking on by the medium of the exact physical conditions of the last moments of the reporting deceased one, prove of itself identity. We see hysterics, clairvoyants, sensitives and others in daily life, surrounded by living men, taking on the state or condition of some living person who has just been near and gone away. We might as well say that this proves that such a departed living man is there present, whereas we know such is not the case.
And suppose we assume that the sensitive is also clairvoyant and we hear him using the words, tones and thoughts of this living person, are we to conclude that the latter is present before us in spirit? Such a conclusion is absurd, yet not more so than the other as to the identity of that one whom we know is really beyond the veil and whom a medium declares is speaking through her.
It is here again that the astral light comes into play, its currents aiding the medium to produce astonishment and confusion, or wrong notions. How much do Spiritualists really know about vital electric currents? Much less those swift and wonderful currents in the astral light? How many laws of those life currents have been revealed to us by a consensus of reports from the "Spirit"-world? None. Forty years long since the first raps in Rochester, have the facts, the theories and the contradictions been piling up, but we are as innocent as ever of any authoritative and convincing statement of laws that will meet the facts. It is true a hundred systems have been evolved, living a brief life, each in their own little Pedlington, but they are not accepted, and the most of them have been forgotten. All of this ground has been gone over by man in ages past, with the same struggles, the same confusion, the same heartburnings and mental ruin, and the record of the toilsome journey has been left, showing when light at last has broken, bringing order out of chaos. This is the record found in India, Egypt and other older lands. Is it meet because we are American and freemen that we should ignore this? Should not a patient hearing be given it in order to see whether the doctrines finally arrived at do or do not fit the greater number of facts and offer explanation for all?
I propose to offer a few explanations hereupon, trusting that intelligent Spiritualists will perceive a disposition to get at the truth, to exalt man to his rightful place and to prevent a fatuous running after the emanations of material and psychical corpses.
From Religio-Philosophical Journal, July 22, 1889.