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Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research by Michael Sage

I Mrs Piper's mediumship--Is mediumship a neurosis?

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Mrs Piper is what the spiritualists call a _medium_, and what the English psychologists call an automatist, which is to say, a person who appears at times to lend her organism to beings imperceptible to our senses, in order to enable them to manifest themselves to us. I say that it appears to be thus, not that it is so. It is difficult for many reasons to admit the existence of these problematical beings. We shall deny it or remain sceptical till the day comes when the evidence proves too strong for us.

Mrs Piper's mediumship is one of the most perfect which has ever been discovered. In any case, it is the one which has been the most perseveringly, lengthily and carefully studied by highly competent men. Members of the Society for Psychical Research have studied the phenomena presented by Mrs Piper during fifteen consecutive years. They have taken all the precautions necessitated by the strangeness of the case, the circumstances, and the surrounding scepticism; they have faced and minutely weighed all hypotheses. In future the most orthodox psychologists will be unable to ignore these phenomena when constructing their systems; they will be compelled to examine them and find an explanation for them, which their preconceived ideas will sometimes render it difficult to do.

Praise and warm gratitude are due to the men who have studied the case of Mrs Piper. But we owe no less to Mrs Piper, who has lent herself to the investigations with perfect good faith and pliability. None of those who have had any continued intercourse with her have a shadow of doubt of her sincerity. She has not taken the view that she was exercising a new kind of priesthood; she has understood that she was an interesting anomaly for science, and she has allowed science to study her. A vulgar soul would not have done this. Her example, and also that of Mlle. Smith, of whom Professor Flournoy has lately written,[3] deserve to be followed. If the strange phenomena of mediumship have not yet been sufficiently studied by as many persons as could be wished, scientific men are chiefly to blame for the fact. Many of them regard with disfavour facts which upset painfully-erected systems on which they have relied for years. But the mediums are also to blame, for their vanity is sometimes great, and their sincerity frequently doubtful.

Mrs Piper is American. Her husband is employed in a large shop in Boston. Although of a home-loving disposition, Mrs Piper has travelled; she has several times consented to leave her ordinary surroundings in order to prevent all suspicion of fraud; she has given sittings in New York and other places, and has paid a three months' visit to England.

Her education does not appear to have been carried very far. She has doubtless read much, like all American women, but without method, and probably very superficially. Her language is commonplace, sometimes even trivial, but the records do not give me the impression that she is really trivial-minded; language may be trivial when ideas are not. On the whole, Mrs Piper's personality is attractive.

The point which naturally interests the man of science, and particularly the doctor, is the state of health and the morbid heredity of Mrs Piper. We have very insufficient information about these. I can find no circumstantial report on this important matter anywhere. Mrs Piper was rather seriously ill in 1890; a doctor attended her for several consecutive months; this gentleman was also present at a sitting she gave on the 4th December of this same year, 1890. It is evident that he was in a position to study Mrs Piper closely. Dr Hodgson asked him for a report, which would have been appended to the other documents. But this doctor had the wisdom of the serpent. He promised, but changed his mind, and absolutely refused to furnish any report whatever. Dr Hodgson asked the subject a series of questions with the object of ascertaining the state of health of her immediate ancestors, particularly from the neuropathic point of view. She belongs to a family which appears to have been very healthy and not in any way subject to nervous maladies.