Conan Doyle’s View of What is Beyond, Presenting All Details.
The Life After Death
Conan Doyle’s View of What is Beyond, Presenting All Details.
THERE have been many notable converts to spiritualism of recent years. Perhaps no one who has become convinced of the possibility of communicating with those who have passed beyond has been better known than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Homes. In the Metropolitan he tells how he became convinced and the understanding of the “other side” that he has gained through
the communications he has personally received and other communications which have been noted and reported by reputable witnesses. He makes it clear that he approached the subject in a spirit of incredulity in the first place and that his conversion was brought about by examination of the facts. Herewith is reproduced the conception of life after death that he presents as a result of his investigations:
Let us try to follow what occurs to man after death. The evidence on this point is fairly full and consistent. Messages from the dead have been received in many lands at various times, mixed up with a good deal about this world, which we could verify. When messages come thus, it is only fair, I think, to suppose that if what we can test is true then what we cannot test is true also. When in addition we find a very great uniformity in the messages and an agreement as to details which are not at all in accordance with any pre-existing scheme of thought, then I think the presumption of truth is very strong. It is difficult to think that some fifteen or twenty messages of which I have personal notes all agree, and yet are all wrong, nor is it easy to suppose that spirits can tell the truth about our world but untruth about their own.
The message upon these points seem to me to be infinitely reassuring, whether we regard our own fate or that of our friends. The departed all agree that passing is usually both easy and painless, and followed by an enormous reaction of peace and ease. The individual finds himself in a spirit body, which is the exact counterpart of his old one, save that all disease, weakness, or deformity has passed from it. This body is standing or floating beside the old body, and conscious both of it and of the surrounding people. At this moment the dead man is nearer to matter than he will ever be again, and hence it is that at that moment the greater part of those cases occur where, his thoughts having turned to someone in the distance, the spirit body went with the thoughts and was manifest to the person. Out of some two hundred and fifty cases carefully examined by Mr. Gurney, I think that one hundred and thirtyfour of such apparitions were actually at this moment of dissolution when one could imagine that the new spirit body was possibly so far material as to be more visible to a sympathetic human eye than it would later become.
These cases, however, are very rare in comparison with the total number of deaths. In most cases I imagine that the dead man is much too preoccupied with his own amazing experience to have much thought for others. He soon finds, to his surprise, that though he endeavors to communicate with those whom he sees, his ethereal voice and his ethereal touch are equally unable to make any impression upon those human organs which are only attuned to coarser stimuli. It is a fair subject for speculation, whether a fuller knowledge of those sight rays which wo know
to exist on either side of the spectrum, or of those sounds which we can prove by the vibrations of a diaphragm to exist although they are too high for mortal ear, may not bring us some further psychical knowledge. Setting that aside, however, let us follow the fortunes, of the departing spirit. He is presently aware that there are others in the room besides those who were there in life, and among these others, who seem to him as substantial as the living, there appear familiar faces, and he finds his hand grasped or his lips kissed by those whom he had loved and lost. Then in their comnany, and with the help and guidance of some more radiant being who has stood by and waited for the newcomer, he passes to his own surprise through all solid obstacles and out upon his new life.
This is a definite statement, and this is the story told by one after the other with a consistency which impels belief. You will observe that it is already very different from any old theology. The spirit is not a glorified angel or a goblin damned, but it is simply the person himself, containing all his strength and weakness, his wisdom and his folly, exexactly as he has retained his personal appearance. We can well believe that the most frivolous and foolish would be awed into decency by so tremendous an experience, but impressions soon become blinded, the old nature may reassert itself in new surrondings, and the frivolous still survive as our seance rooms can testify.
And now, before entering upon his new life, the new spirit has a period of sleep which varies in its length, sometimes hardly existing at all, at others extending for weeks or
months. Raymond said that his lasted for six days. That was the period also in a case of which I had some personal evidence. Mr. Myers, on the other hand, said that he had a very prolonged period of unconsciousness. I could imagine that the length is regulated by the amount of trouble or mental preoccupation of this life, the longer rest giving the better means of wiping this out. Probably the little child would need no such interval at all. This, of course, is pure speculation, but there is a considerable consensus of opinion as to the existence of a period of oblivion after the first impression of the new life and before entering upon its duties.
Having wakened from this sleep, the spirit is weak, as the child is weak after earth birth. Soon, however, strength returns and the new life begins. This seems to be the point where we may discuss heaven and hell. Hell, I may say, drops out altogether, as it has long dropped out of the thoughts of every reasonable man. This odious conception, so blasphemous in its view of the Creator, arose from the exaggerations of Oriental phrases, and may perhaps have been of service in a coarse age where men were frightened by fires, as wild beasts are scared by the travelers. Hell as a permanent place does not exist. But the idea of punishment, of purifying chastisement, in fact of Purgatory, is justified by the reports from the other side. Such punishment does not consist of gross bodily pain—there is no pain beyond—but it consists in the fact that the grossest souls are in lower spheres with a knowledge that their own deeds have placed them there, but also with the hope that expiation and the help of those above them will educate them and bring them level with the others. In this saving process the higher spirits find part of their employment. Miss Julia Ames in her beautiful posthumous book says in memorable words: “The greatest joy of Heaven is emptying Hell.” Such a sentiment as that is certainly an advance in morality since the days when Gregory, a Father of the Church, and called a Saint, said that one of the joys of the Blessed was watching the torments of the damned.
Setting aside those probationary spheres, which should perhaps rather be looked upon as a hospital for weakly souls than as a penal community, the reports from the other world are all agreed as to the pleasant conditions of life in the beyond. They agree that like goes to like, that all who love or have interests in common are united, that life is full of interest and of occupation, and that they would by no means desire to return. All of this is surely tidings of great joy, and I repeat that it is not a vague faith or hope, but that it is supported by all the laws of evidence which agree that where many independent witnesses give a similar account, that account has a claim to be considered a true one. If it were an account of glorified souls purged instantly from all human weakness and of a constant ecstasy of adoration round the throne of the all powerful, it might well be suspected as being the mere reflection of that popular theology which all the mediums had equally received in their youth. It is, however, very different to any pre-existing system. It is also supported, as I have already pointed out, not merely by the consistency of the accounts, but by the fact that the accounts are the ultimate product of a long series of phenomena all of which have been attested as true by those who have carefully examined them.
We cannot look upon this coming world as a tidy Dutch garden of a place which is so exact that it can easily be described. It is probable that those messengers who come back to us are all more or less in one state of development and represent the same wave of life as it recedes from our shores. Communications usually come from those who have not long passed over, and tend to grow fainter, as one would expect. It is instructive in this respect to notice that Christ’s reappearances to his disciples or to Paul are said to have been within a few years of his death, and that there is no claim among the early Christians to have seen him later. Our seance rooms are, no doubt, only too full of Julius Cæsars and Shakespeares; but the cases of spirits who give good proof of authenticity and yet have passed some time are not common. There is,
in Mr. Dawson Roger's life, a very good case of a spirit who called himself Mantón, and claimed to have been born at Lawrence Lydiard and buried at Stoke Newington in 1677. It was clearly shown afterward that there was such a man, and that he was Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain. So far as my own reading goes, this is the oldest spirit who is on record as returning, and generally they are quite recent. One gets all one’s views from the one generation, and we cannot take them as final, but only as partial. How spirits may see things in a different light as they progress in the other world is shown by Miss Julia Ames, who was deeply impressed at first by the necessity of forming a bureau of communication, but admitted after fifteen years that not one spirit in a million among the main body upon the farther side ever wanted to communicate with us at all since their own loved ones had come over. She had been misled by the fact that when she first passed over everyone she met was newly arrived like herself.
Thus the account we get may be partial, but still such as it is, it is very consistent and of extraordinary interest since it refers to our own destiny and that of those we love. All agree that life beyond is for a limited period, after which they pass on to yet other phases, but apparently there is more communication between these phases than there is between us and Spiritland. The lower cannot ascend, but the higher can descend at will. The life has a close analogy to that of this world at its best. It is pre-eminently a life of the mind, as this is of the body. Preoccupations of food, money, pain, etc., are of the body and are gone. Music, the arts, intellectual and spiritual knowledge and progress have increased. The people are clothed, as one would expect, since there is no reason why modesty should disappear with our new forms. These new forms are the absolute reproduction of the old ones at their best, the young growing up and the old reverting until all come to the normal. People live in communities, as one would expect if like at-
tracts like, and the male spirit still finds his true mate. Since connections still endure, and those in the same state of development kept abreast, one would expect that nations are still roughly divided, though language is no longer a bar, since thought has become a medium of conversation.
These, roughly speaking, are the lines of the life beyond. All are agreed that no religion upon earth has any advantage over another, but that character and refinement nre everything. At the same time all are also in agreement that all religions which inculcate prayer and an upward glance rather than eyes forever on the level are good. In this sense, and in no other—as a help to spiritual life—every form may have a purpose for somebody. If to twirl a brass cylinder forces the Thibetan to admit that there is something higher than his mountains, and more precious than his yaks and his sour milk, then to that extent it is good. We must not be censorious in such matters.
There are many who protest that this world which is described to us is too material for their liking. It is not as they would desire it. Well, there are many things in this world which seem different to what we desire, but they exist none the less. But when we come to examine this charge of materialism and to try to construct some sort of system which would satisfy the idealists, it becomes a very difficult task. Are we to be mere wisps of gaseous happiness floating about in the empyrean ? That seems to be the idea. But if there is no body like our own, and if there is no character like our own, then say what you will, we have become extinct. What is it to a mother if some impersonal glorified entity is shown to her? She-will say, “That is not the son I lost; I want his yellow hair, his quick smile, his little moods that I know so well.” That is what she wants; that, I believe, is what she will have; but she will not have them by any system which cuts us away from all that reminds us of matter, and takes us to a vague region of floating emotions.
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