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REAL GHOST STORIES (Collected and Edited by William T. Stead) online

REAL GHOST STORIES by William T. Stead


Chapter I. The Unconscious Personality.

"Real Ghost Stories!--How can there be real ghost stories when there are no real ghosts?"

But are there no real ghosts? You may not have seen one, but it does not follow that therefore they do not exist. How many of us have seen the microbe that kills? There are at least as many persons who testify they have seen apparitions as there are men of science who have examined the microbe. You and I, who have seen neither, must perforce take the testimony of others. The evidence for the microbe may be conclusive, the evidence as to apparitions may be worthless; but in both cases it is a case of testimony, not of personal experience.

The first thing to be done, therefore, is to collect testimony, and by way of generally widening the mind and shaking down the walls of prejudice which lead so many to refuse to admit the clearest possible evidence as to facts which have not occurred within their personal experience, I preface the report of my "Census of Hallucinations" or personal experiences of the so-called supernatural by a preliminary chapter on the perplexing subject of "Personality." This is the question that lies at the root of all the controversy as to ghosts. Before disputing about whether or not there are ghosts outside of us, let us face the preliminary question, whether we have not each of us a veritable ghost within our own skin?

Thrilling as are some of the stories of the apparitions of the living and the dead, they are less sensational than the suggestion made by hypnotists and psychical researchers of England and France, that each of us has a ghost inside him. They say that we are all haunted by a Spiritual Presence, of whose existence we are only fitfully and sometimes never conscious, but which nevertheless inhabits the innermost recesses of our personality. The theory of these researchers is that besides the body and the mind, meaning by the mind the Conscious Personality, there is also within our material frame the soul or Unconscious Personality, the nature of which is shrouded in unfathomable mystery. The latest word of advanced science has thus landed us back to the apostolic assertion that man is composed of body, soul and spirit; and there are some who see in the scientific doctrine of the Unconscious Personality a welcome confirmation from an unexpected quarter of the existence of the soul.

The fairy tales of science are innumerable, and, like the fairy tales of old romance, they are not lacking in the grim, the tragic, and even the horrible. Of recent years nothing has so fascinated the imagination even of the least imaginative of men as the theory of disease which transforms every drop of blood in our bodies into the lists in which phagocyte and microbe wage the mortal strife on which our health depends. Every white corpuscle that swims in our veins is now declared to be the armed Knight of Life for ever on the look-out for the microbe Fiend of Death. Day and night, sleeping and waking, the white knights of life are constantly on the alert, for on their vigilance hangs our existence. Sometimes, however, the invading microbes come in, not in companies but in platoons, innumerable as Xerxes' Persians, and then "e'en Roderick's best are backward borne," and we die. For our life is the prize of the combat in these novel lists which science has revealed to our view through the microscope, and health is but the token of the triumphant victory of the phagocyte over the microbe.

But far more enthralling is the suggestion which psychical science has made as to the existence of a combat not less grave in the very inmost centre of our own mental or spiritual existence. The strife between the infinitely minute bacilli that swarm in our blood has only the interest which attaches to the conflict of inarticulate and apparently unconscious animalculę. The strife to which researches into the nature and constitution of our mental processes call attention concerns our conscious selves. It suggests almost inconceivable possibilities as to our own nature, and leaves us appalled on the brink of a new world of being of which until recently most of us were unaware.