Judge Edmonds' Investigations - Part Two

The introduction by Edmonds

The first volume of Spiritualism begins with a long introduction by Edmonds, which runs from page 7 to page 80. At once the author refers to a statement he had recently published, dated August 1, 1853, in which he explained the reasons which had led him to write and publish this text, also in response to some attacks he suffered from newspapers which insinuated that he had sought advice from the spirits – in particular from the spirit of his wife – to orient himself in his decisions, regarding some of his judgments. This statement, entitled Appeal: to the Public, is reproduced in full from page 69 on page 80 of the book, and from it we will begin our examination. From now on I will assume that those who follow this blog have their eyes on the passages of the book I am commenting on, which I will refer to by indicating the page where they are. Only in the Italian version will I provide in some cases a translation of the English text, for the benefit of those who are not able to follow the original text. Those who do not yet have the book at hand, can download it by clicking here. In a period in which much importance was still given to the religious orientation declared and manifested – sometimes hypocritically – by those who occupied public offices or who competed in politics, some newspapers' articles had questioned the religious belief of Judge Edmonds, who – as we recall – in 1853 was still on the bench in the New York State Supreme Court, awaiting renomination to a second term (page 69). The occasion for the assault had been given by one of his judgments which, as sometimes happens, had not satisfied the expectations of a substantial part of the public opinion (page 69: I was fully aware that that judgment...). Edmonds then states that his public position requires him to recognize the right of others to question his religious faith, but also obliges him to defend himself from the allegations and suspicions brought against him.

Of particular interest is what the Judge says about the administration of justice in accordance with human law, but also with the principles of divine law as it has been revealed to us (page 69: And inasmuch as I accepted my present position...). As we have said, at that time the impact of religious faith on social life was still very strong, and Judge Edmonds could not be able to make a clear distinction between the cultural programs originating from the psyche in order to establish a form of order between often chaotic human interactions, and the experiences of a spirituality not conditioned by personal and collective needs imposed by our organic life. Therefore the divinity is made to coincide with the human psyche's positive polarity, which manifests its will in the revelation, without the question being asked about the origin of the negative polarity, which in fact establishes an insoluble dualism. Continuing in the defense of his own integrity, Edmonds – after summarizing some of the accusations made against him in the press (page 70: Thus one writer, with a want of feeling not perhaps surprising...) – informs his readers about the path that led him to publicly manifest his faith in spiritualism, announcing the forthcoming publication of his book. Indeed, he is convinced that the real object of the attacks is not his person, due to a judgment he pronounced, considered unacceptable by a part of public opinion, but precisely the faith he professes, i.e. spiritualism (page 70: I am aware that it is not so much me...). He therefore believes that it is necessary to clarify to a public that is often erroneously or confusedly informed on the topic, what are the real facts from which this faith of his originated and on which it is founded.

The author informs us that he first became interested in mediumistic phenomena (which he calls spiritual intercourse) in January 1851. At that time he lived a withdrawn life, except for work commitments, and felt depressed (page 71: I was at the time withdrawn from general society...). In his book, Edmonds says no more about the reasons for his depressed mood, but in 1852 he had published some articles in the spiritualist magazine The Shekinah (vol. 1, 1852), in the first of which (Personal Experience, page 265 of the magazine) he referred to the loss of the person most near and dear to him on earth: his wife Sarah. On pages 313 and following of the same volume we can read a detailed biographical article on the life and career of Judge Edmonds – up to 1852 – from which I have drawn some of the information reported in last month's blog page. On page 327 we read that Edmonds' wife had died in the early part of November 1850, that the judge was warmly attached to her, and that they had lived together for more than thirty years: «Her death affected him very much. He was living at the time at a small place in the country, a short distance from the city of New York... He slept very little during the time, it frequently occurring that he would not retire to bed at all during the night... his mind was very much occupied with the inquiries concerning the nature of death, and the condition after death. He read and reflected a great deal on the subject. He was in the habit of throwing himself on his bed, or of reclining on a sofa, and continuing his reading». Although this article is unsigned, its author is probably the same editor of the magazine, Samuel Byron Brittan – a staunch and active spiritualist who knew Judge Edmonds well – who later edited for almost a decade the weekly The Spiritual Telegraph, one of the most important American spiritualist journals. The article continues informing us that in December 1850, therefore about a month after the death of his wife «...after the family had all retired, and about midnight, as he (Edmonds) lay reading, he distinctly heard the voice of his wife, speaking a sentence to him. As he has himself described the incident to us, he started as if he had been shot. He sat up, and looked around him... He lay down again, persuading himself that it was a delusion of his imagination, produced by his grief and sleeplessness. But reason upon it as he would, the impreeaion on his mind that it had been a reality continued and grew in strength daily. He, however, sturdily resisted that impression, and for many days studied and analyzed the operations of his own mind, to ascertain, if he could, why it was that this impression of reality continued so vigorously against the often repeated conclusions of his reason that it was a mere delusion».

From this vivid description we get the impression that the conflict in which Edmonds struggled was not that of being able to establish the reality of a subjective event which – like a dream or a hallucination – had been perceived as real by the Ego who had experienced it, without this subjective reality could ever find objective validation: Edmonds' doubt concerned rather the possibility that this subjectively real event had been created by his own mind, instead of being determined by the objective reality of an intervention of his wife's spirit, which therefore continued to exist even after the death of her organism. Had the judge had a deeper understanding of the functioning of the human psyche, he would have realized that his conscious Ego was involved in a typical boundary conflict, so to speak, since the psyche is unable to establish with certainty the reality of what happens outside the domain of its competence. As we shall see, this is the main problem to be faced by anyone who wants to investigate the reliability and consistency of mediumistic communications, always more or less heavily contaminated by disturbing elements due to the psyche's tunings. An interesting aspect of the communications reported in Edmonds' book is that this problem is openly acknowledged and debated by the communicating entities, who claim not to be able to know what is actually received by us humans through mediums. We will have the opportunity to deepen this topic when we'll examine the communications contained in the book by Edmonds and Dexter. Anyway, in January 1851 Edmonds participated for the first time in a séance, solicited by a ladyfriend of his who reported to him that for several days she had been sensing around her the presence of the spirit of the judge's wife. At the sitting, which was held at the friend's home, in addition to the lady and her daughter, the judge and a rapping medium, whose identity is not given to us, were present. The somewhat primitive functioning of rapping mediums consisted in saying aloud the letters of the alphabet one after another, waiting for a rap or a burst of raps showing the right letter: in this rather slow way words and sentences were built which answered the questions asked, sometimes even only mentally, by the sitters. To speed up the process, when the sitters guessed the word or sentence under construction, they verbally asked for confirmation, which was usually given with three raps (=yes) or denied with two raps (=no).

The results of this brief séance were sufficient to arouse Edmonds' strong interest in further investigating mediumistic communications: «The interview was a brief one, but several things occurred which at once riveted his attention. He ascertained, from his examinations, that the sounds which he heard were not, and could not be, produced by the persons present. He saw there was intelligence in them. His questions were answered with good sense, and entire sentences spelled out, expressing sentiments characteristic of the spirit who professed to speak, and his thoughts were read and spoken to, and mental questions answered, when the persons present could not even know that he asked a question, much less know what it was. He made a memorandum of what occurred, and he was told to correct an error he had made in his writing – an error which those present did not know anything about, but which seemed to be known to the intelligence that was distinguishing the sounds» (The Shekinah, page 328). In his book, Edmonds so relates about his involvement in mediumistic phenomena: «For about four months I devoted at least two evenings in a week, and sometimes more, to witnessing the phenomena in all its phases. I kept careful records of all I witnessed, and from time to time compared them with each other, to detect inconsistencies and contradictions... At length the evidence came, and in such force that no sane man could withhold his faith» (page 71-72). Edmonds did not give us other information regarding the nature and requirements of this irrefragable evidence, through which he was convinced of the survival of the Ego after the body's death and of the validity of attributing mediumistic communications to the spiritual Ego of persons who had previously lived in our world. He goes on saying that the first objective of his investigation was to ascertain whether the phenomena he witnessed were produced, in one way or another, by living persons, or by some invisible agent, unknown to us. He also informs us that all the details of the phenomena he personally witnessed in four months fill over 130 closely written pages: «Thus far, the question I was investigating was...» (page 72). Most of the phenomena occurred in the presence of other people, whose names the judge claims to be able to mention when needed: the phenomena themselves can therefore be considered objectively real, because «if I have been deluded, and have not seen and heard what I think I have, my delusion has been shared by many as shrewd, as intelligent, as honest and as enlightened people as are to be found anywhere among us» (page 72).

The author then explains the reasons why, in the case of communications obtained through raps, the observations and tests carried out convinced him that the raps he heard could not be produced by any person, present or hidden: «We pursued our inquiries many days, and established, to our satisfaction, two things: first, That the sounds were not produced by the agency of any person present or near us; and, second, That they were not forthcoming at our will and pleasure» (page 73). Afterwards, Edmonds lists a good number of physical phenomena that he observed firsthand, in the presence of other people who could confirm the objective reality of what he saw and experienced: «In the mean time another feature attracted my attention, and that was "physical manifestations," as they are termed... when it was coming with a violence which, if not arrested, must have broken my legs» (page 73 and 74). While observing these facts firsthand, Edmonds could read in the newspapers the various explanatory hypotheses, trivially normal, put forward by personalities even of a certain cultural importance, who – with all evidence and by their own admission – despite never having seriously investigated mediumistic phenomena, believed they could clarify every mystery. Obviously, the judge was perplexed, and even a little amused, in the face of such naive presumption: «While these things were going on, there appeared in the newspapers various explanations and "exposures of the humbug," as they were termed...» (page 74). In this case Edmonds has good hand in confronting the solid reality of enigmatic facts, which he observed and verified firsthand, to the need determined by the human psyche to restore the order disturbed by these events, by means of naive, stupid and rash explanatory theories which, without taking into account the complexity of the phenomena as they occur, a priori purport to reduce everything to tricks and humbugs by mediums, and to stupidity and gullibility on the part of those who seriously investigate them through field research. 

Once the genuineness of the mediumistic phenomena had been ascertained, the next question that Edmonds asked himself was: «Whence comes the intelligence there is behind it all? For that intelligence was a remarkable feature of the phenomenon» (page 75). He had been very impressed by the fact that the communicating entities gave sensible and almost always correct answers to questions formulated only mentally, and in some cases when not even himself yet knew the answer to the question he asked: «Preparatory to meeting a circle, I have sat down alone in my room, and carefully prepared a series of questions to be propounded...» (page 75). Regarding the possibility that the things revealed by the communicating entities were nothing more than the reflection of what was already consciously present in the mind of the human sitter asking the questions, Edmonds was of the opinion that this was to be excluded on the basis of those cases in which the facts that were communicated were still unknown to all the sitters, and could only be ascertained later: «The answer was, that facts were communicated which were unknown then, but afterward found to be true...» (pag. 75). As regards the existence of an intelligent counterpart, Edmonds – as we have seen – had found that the phenomena could not be obtained at will and pleasure, either by the medium or by the sitters: it seems to me that this fact confirms the active participation of intelligent agents belonging to a dimension different from ours. Anticipating what we will see better later, when we will examine some of the communications obtained through Dexter, the entities declared that the mediumistic phenomena were the result of a program through which an organized group of spiritual entities worked – with remarkable commitment and not without effort – to establish a channel of communication with us humans. However, it seemed that other groups of entities disagreed on the usefulness of this interference between two such different dimensions: this could be the reason why spiritualism has remained a limited phenomenon in time and, after a rapid expansion in the first decades, has progressively declined without achieving those objectives of universal diffusion (at least concerning humankind) that various spirit entities had predicted as certain.

Once becoming convinced that mediumistic communications and phenomena implied the active participation of intelligent operators belonging to another dimension, Edmonds wondered what was the purpose of all this complex operation: «...then came this important question, cui bono? To what end is it all? For what purpose? With what object?» (page 76). Judge Edmonds reports that, for over two years, he devoted all the energies at his disposal to give a satisfactory answer to these questions: «To that inquiry I have directed my earnest attention, devoting to the task for over two years all the leisure I could command...» (page 76). After observing that mediumistic communications were transmitted and received in various ways, besides the rappings and table-tippings, Edmonds also presents a rather objective evaluation of the contents of those communications, which testifies in favor of his faculties of judgement, untainted by an absolute or irrational fideism: «...through those other modes there came very many communications distinguished for their eloquence... something more than telling the age of the living, of the dead, etc.» (page 77). The motivations given by Judge Edmonds are undoubtedly noble and shareable in order to increase our knowledge, if we don't want to simply be satisfied and misled by our amazement at what seems wonderful, mysterious and incomprehensible to us, yielding to the temptation to uncritically believe any revelation that reaches us through these alien operators, by virtue of the magical actions that they are capable of producing through mediums. Edmonds believes that these efforts of his have achieved some significant results, and that his book Spiritualism – which we are dealing with – responds to the need to make these results public and spread them, so that each reader can evaluate them through his own intelligence: «What I have discovered in that regard I have intended to give to the world, that all may judge for themselves whether there is anything in it worthy the attention of intelligent beings» (page 77). It seems to me that Judge Edmonds' position is positive, open, and certainly acceptable: therefore – as he himself hoped – we will evaluate what is reported in his book with a free spirit, in the light of our intelligence.

The remainder of the Appeal to the Public consists of Edmonds' strenuous defense of the consistency of what he believes should be considered a positive renewal of the faith – rather than a new faith – with what at the time were considered by the majority of the public opinion to be the revealed truths of the Christian religion. Edmonds believed that the spread of faith in Spiritualism was an unstoppable phenomenon: «Scarcely more than four years have elapsed since the "Rochester Knockings" were first known among us. Then mediums could be counted by units, but now by thousands; then believers could be numbered by hundreds, now by tens of thousands...» (page 78). Here we get the impression that Edmonds abandons the usual caution that distinguishes him, to report facts – undoubtedly true – with a neophyte's enthusiasm. In that part of his Introduction that precedes the Appeal to the public, Edmonds first makes a rather accurate analysis of the religious orientations of the population of the United States – which, according to the 1850 census, was estimated at just over 23 million citizens – coming to the conclusion that: «a vast majority of the population of our country, professing as it did to be a Christian nation, were not, to say the least, professed believers in the religion of the day, and perhaps not of any religion...» (page 9). Furthermore, the various Christian sects proliferated, not infrequently in competition with each other: «The world of professing Christians was divided into numerous sects, and most of the sects were again divided into factions among themselves – thus causing discord among those to whom it was a primary lesson "Love one another"...» (page 9). Later Edmonds informs the readers in more detail about his investigations in the field of mediumistic phenomena, the facts observed, the results obtained, and the reasons that led him to publish his book. I would now like to highlight those points of this long Introduction which seem particularly interesting to me.

First of all, Judge Edmonds tells us that up until the moment he began to investigate mediumistic phenomena, the primary objective of his active life had been to get himself a good name in the society in which he lived: «...all that during a life, extending to half a century, I had been struggling to attain, namely, the good opinion of my fellow-men. I had not aimed at wealth, but my reputation was, as it were, the very breath of my nostrils...» (page 11). Edmonds was therefore well aware that with the publication of his book he would jeopardize what he cared most about until then, that is his reputation: the attacks he suffered, especially from some newspapers, confirmed this concern of his. Another point of great interest is the assessment he made – also in the light of his competence and experience as a judge – about the inductive and subjective nature of many experiences, which therefore cannot be proven: «So, too, much of the evidence is appreciatory, and not tangible. What I mean by this, that it is evidence addressed to the mind only, and not to the senses... (Testing what the spirits tell us) we can not have the same evidence of those matters that we can of a house or a tree, which we can see and touch, and thus, by the aid of our senses, ascertain the reality. We can only reason upon it... Hence it is that it is so important that each one should investigate for himself, and not depend upon what others tell him. Pinning their faith upon the sleeve of others has for ages been the curse of mankind» (page 12). Edmonds also points out how he alone was able to evaluate the correctness of the answers given by the communicating entities to the questions he mentally asked, and that consequently only he could know: what was convincing and probative to him may not be so to another, forced to rely only on what the author claims to have subjectively experienced. The saneness and common sense of these considerations elaborated by Judge Edmonds speak in favor of his mental lucidity and the good functioning of his mind's faculties. 

In a long footnote (page 13 and following) Edmonds quotes a passage from the Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man by the Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid (1710-1796), to counter those skeptics to the bitter end who even then questioned – arguing that in certain circumstances one cannot even trust one's senses – the testimonies of all those who claimed to have personally ascertained and verified the mediumistic physical phenomena. Reid was a supporter of common sense, on which almost all human experiences and activities are based, in contrast to the skepticism carried to the extreme consequences by some philosophers whose mental elaborations were based exclusively on ideas, neglecting the practical and concrete aspects of human life, which are based on the reality attributed to our sensory experiences. In this case too we can see the importance of the juridical forma mentis of Edmonds, used to sifting and evaluating the trial testimonies in order to get a reasonable reconstruction of the reality of the facts occurred. In relation to the questions asked mentally, it is also important what Edmonds says on page 16: «I asked mental questions and obtained answers, the truth of which I could not then tell, though afterwards I ascertained». This is followed by reports of various mediumistic experiences, which – despite their out-of-the-ordinary character – still could not fully persuade Edmonds that the agents were truly spirits belonging to another dimension, who interacted with our physical dimension. When the entities asked what would fully satisfy him, Edmonds replied: «Evidence that this was not the product of mortal agency... and evidence that this was for a good and not an evil purpose» (page 25). He was told he would get such evidence, and in fact the author continues as follows: «It was on 21st May, 1851, that the evidence came, and in such form as to leave no doubt on my mind as to two of the points of my inquiries. It is impossible for me to give an adequate conception of what I then witnessed. But as beforesaid, as I am not aiming to convince others, and merely relating how I was convinced, I regret my inability the less. Yet what I can do to describe the scene, I will» (page 25). Again we recognize Edmonds' precision and caution in distinguishing between his mental process, which convinced him about two of the objectives of his investigation, and the objective validity of what he observed and experienced, which cannot be confirmed by the mere report of events. With this premise, it is certainly important to carefully read the description of these events, given on pages 25, 26 and 27.

On page 28 the author reports that, in confirmation of the objectivity of his investigative observations, he had availed of the collaboration of other people, including «an officer of rank in the army, a graduate at West Point, and at one time an assistant professor there...». Once convinced of the reality and genuineness of the events he had witnessed – on the basis of the reliability of what his senses made him perceive, and in the light of the confirmations and validations received from other witnesses of mediumistic phenomena – Edmonds then relates how he was increasingly interested and fascinated by the intelligence demonstrated by the invisible entities who conversed with him. On page 29 and following, the judge explains the reasons which, after many experiences, led him to be convinced of the extraterrestrial nature of the intelligence of those communicating entities: «...now for years, have I watched it, and there is no possible solution of it that I can imagine that can bring it to any other complexion than that it is out of and beyond mere mundane existence – in other words, that it is super-terrestrial». Let us pause for a moment to consider whether the alternative hypotheses put forward to explain the mediumistic phenomena to which Judge Edmonds refers are really such, or if they are only mere expedients elaborated by the human psyche to avoid recognizing the existence of intelligences belonging to another dimension, who occasionally interfere with ours. As we have already seen, the only other hypothesis that can reasonably be taken into account is that of the super-psi, meant as a set of extraordinary powers attributed to the human mind, which ordinarily do not manifest themselves, but that in the presence of certain persons and in particular circumstances can – in an unconscious way – produce phenomena such as, among others: 1) the reading of what is present in a person's mind, of which that person is conscious, and the objective rendering of that reading by means of a written document or verbal communication, or through raps; 2) the reading of a person's memories, of which that person is not currently conscious, and the objective rendering of this reading with the same tools referred to in the previous point; 3) the transmission, even over remarkable distances, of information relating to people and events in a certain place, and the objective rendering of such information, without the persons to whom such information refers being aware of the phenomenon; 4) the more or less conscious transmission, between two or more people, of thoughts and other mental elaborations at a distance; 5) the movements of more or less heavy objects (or of people) by means of leverages and non-visible forces applied to these objects; 6) acoustic objective phenomena, such as direct voice or the performance of musical pieces through an instrument or the human voice, sometimes with remarkable virtuosity; 7) objective optical phenomena, such as apparitions of globes or other luminous forms wandering in a room; 8) optical and tactile objective phenomena, such as the more or less complete materializations of forms resembling those of human beings.

In order for the super-psi hypothesis not to be reduced to a simple tautological statement (such as: these phenomena occur, therefore super-psi exists), it should be able to bring back all the phenomena listed above, and others as well, to the organic activity of some human brains: in fact, as long as the super-psi remains framed within the ambit of generic mental activities meant as energy fields, whose existence is not produced by the cerebral activity through which their effects are experienced by the conscious Ego, the intervention of alien entities gifted with an intelligence of their own cannot be excluded, at least no more than we can rule out the existence of conscious non-human beings, living in another world of our physical universe. The purpose of the operation of bringing all mediumistic phenomena back to the existence of a super-psi whose activation should depend exclusively on the organic activity of some people's brain circuits, seems to be that of excluding the possibility of any form of existence of a conscious Ego, except for the organic one: ultimately, it is a matter of denying the survival of the conscious Ego after the death of its own organism. But, at least until today, all attempts to explain the ways in which brain activity could influence the energy fields of this hypothetical super-psi have not found any experimental validation: for now this theory is one of those mental elaborations originating from the human psyche which do not translate into reliable knowledge, as they do not involve any increase in the capacity for voluntary production and control of the phenomena by the conscious Ego. Although some conscious and intentional telepathy experiments have been successfully carried out, and although it is true that some people are able to exert hypnotic suggestions on other people at will, current knowledge of the brain functioning does not allow us to understand with sufficient precision how these remote and proximity phenomena are produced. Moreover, for the majority of mediumistic phenomena the hypothesis of the super-psi refers to the so-called activities of the unconscious mind, without delving into the differences between a generic and abstract mental activity of which the Ego of a person involved in a specific experience is not conscious, and the unconscious activities of that person's brain. In particular, we fail to understand how the brain activity alone – conscious or unconscious – of a person, can transmit and exercise at a distance the forces necessary to lift and move even massive objects.

Thus, if we can agree with Judge Edwards on the soundness of his deductions, which attribute the occurrence of mediumistic phenomena, both physical and mental, to the intervention of intelligent alien entities, this does not necessarily imply that such entities have lived in any case in our world, in human form, to then assume the spirit form after death. For all we know, they may also have lived in another world, or exist only in inorganic form.

 (to be continued)      


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