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

REAL GHOST STORIES by William T. Stead

Chapter IV. The Hypnotic Key.

Hypnotism is the key which will enable us to unlock most of these mysteries, and so far as hypnotism has spoken it does not tend to encourage the belief that the immaterial body has any substance other than the hallucination of the person who sees it. Various cases are reported by hypnotist practitioners which suggest that there is an almost illimitable capacity of the human mind to see visions and to hear voices. One very remarkable case was that of a girl who was told at midsummer by the hypnotist, when in the hypnotic state, that he would come to see her on New Year's Day. When she awoke from the trance she knew nothing about the conversation. One hundred and seventy-one days passed without any reference to it. But on the 172nd day, being New Year's Day, she positively declared that the doctor had entered her room, greeted her, and then departed. Curiously enough, as showing the purely subjective character of the vision, the doctor appeared to her in the depth of winter, wearing the light summer apparel he had on when he made the appointment in July. In this case there can be no question as to the apparition being purely subjective. The doctor did not make any attempt to visit her in his immaterial body, but she saw him and heard him as if he were there.

The late Mr. Gurney conducted some experiments with a hypnotic subject which seem to confirm the opinion that the phantasmal body is a merely subjective hallucination, although, of course, this would not explain how information had been actually imparted to the phantasmal visitant by the person who saw, or imagined they saw, his wraith. Mr. Gurney's cases are, however, very interesting, if only as indicating the absolute certainty which a hypnotised patient can be made to feel as to the objectivity of sights and sounds:--

"S. hypnotised Zillah, and told her that she would see him standing in the room at three o'clock next afternoon, and that she would hear him call her twice by name. She was told that he would not stop many seconds. On waking she had no notion of the ideas impressed upon her.

"Next day, however, she came upstairs about five minutes past three, looking ghastly and startled. She said, 'I have seen a ghost.' I assumed intense amazement, and she said she was in the kitchen cleaning some silver, and suddenly she heard her name called sharply twice over, 'Zillah!' in Mr. Smith's voice. She said, 'And I dropped the spoon I was rubbing, and turned and saw Mr. S., without his hat, standing at the foot of the kitchen stairs. I saw him as plain as I see you,' she said, and looked very wild and vacant.

"The next experiment took place on Wednesday evening, July 13th, 1887, when S., told her, when hypnotised, that the next afternoon, at three o'clock, she would see me (Mr. Gurney) come into the room to her. She was further told that I would keep my hat on and say, 'Good-morning,' and that I would remark, 'It is very warm,' and would then turn round and walk out.

"Next day this is what Zillah reported. She said, 'I was in the kitchen washing up, and had just looked at the clock, and was startled to see how late it was (five minutes to three) when I heard footsteps coming down the stairs--rather a quick, light step--and I thought it was Mr. Sleep' (the dentist whose rooms are in the house), 'but as I turned round, with a dish mop in one hand and a plate in the other, I saw some one with a hat on who had to stoop as he came down the last step, and there was Mr. Gurney. He was dressed just as I saw him last night, black coat and grey trousers, his hat on, and a roll of paper like manuscript in his hand, and he said, "Oh! good-afternoon;" and then he glanced all round the kitchen and he glanced at me with an awful look, as if he was going to murder me, and said, "Warm afternoon, isn't it?" and then "Good-afternoon," or "Good-day," I am not sure which, and then turned and went up the stairs again; and after standing thunderstruck a minute, I ran to the foot of the stairs and saw just like a boot disappearing on the top step.' She said, 'I think I must be going crazy. Why should I always see something at three o'clock each day after the seance?'" (Vol. V. pp. 11-13.)