Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
In my article “On Constancy, Stability and the Antiquity of Psychic Phenomena” (Paranormal Review, 2014, No. 69, 3-7) I wrote as follows:
“Over the years writers discussing psychic phenomena have used a variety of arguments to establish the validity of observations and belief in specific claims. In addition to discussions of evidence, some have used arguments of authority, citing the names of prestigious individuals that have written in support of phenomena. Others, and this is the topic of these comments, have pointed out that the present situation is not so different from previous developments, arguing that psychic phenomena are as old as humankind and that every culture has produced reports of them. In other words, such long and wide range of precedents are presented to back up the existence and importance of the phenomena, or at least to suggest that the topic deserves attention. Such arguments have been common in the past, as seen in the mesmeric and spiritualist literatures I will briefly discuss in this article.”
Writing about animal magnetism in Rapports et Discussions de l’Académie Royale de Médicine sur le Magnétisme Animal (Reports and Discussions of the Royal Academy of Medicine about Animal Magnetism, 1832) Pierre Foissac noted the antiquity of mesmeric phenomena. These old observations “show that the phenomena of magnetism are subject to laws unknown to us, but yet depending on natural faculties inherent to the human organism.”
Many other books, among them Alphonse Teste’s Manuel Pratique du Magnétisme Animal (Practical Manual of Animal Magnetism, 1840), had chapters about phenomena from the ancient world and the Middle Ages. Burdin and Dubois wrote in their Histoire Académique du Magnétisme Animal Accompagnée de Notes et de Remarques Critiques (Academic History of Animal Magnetism Accompanied by Notes and Critical Remarks, 1841) that: “Among the Greeks Pythagoras was the first of the magnetizers, then came Socrates, Apollonius de Thyana, etc., etc.”
Chandler, T. (1851). A mesmeric scene a thousand years ago. Zoist, 9, 225-226.
D., L.L. (1845). Allusions to mesmerism in the classics. Zoist, 3, 156-173, 304-316.
Loyd, W.W. (1847). Magnetism and mesmerism in antiquity. Zoist, 5, 273-285.
Regarding the antiquity of phenomena Judge John W. Worth wrote in his book, with George T. Dexter, Spiritualism (1853), “to me these facts prove . . . . that . . . there must be something in that which has thus challenged belief in all ages, and if so, that there must be in nature some such law as that whose operations we are now witnessing, and which we are told is thus universal through all earthly time and space in its domination.”
Also influential were books such as William Howitt’s The History of the Supernatural (1863), Eugene Crowell’s The Identity of Primitive Christianity and Modern Spiritualism (1881), and Cesare Baudi di Vesme’s Storia dello Spiritismo (1896). Some publications—among them Hull’s The Question Settled: A Careful Comparison of Biblical and Modern Spiritualism (1869) and Stecki’s Le Spiritisme dans la Biblie (1869)—focused on the Bible.
In addition, there were many articles, among them:
Anonymous. (1893). Orígen é historia del espiritismo: Sus tendencias como ciencia, filosofía y religion [Origin and history of spiritism: Its trends as science, philosophy and religion]. El Sol, 3, 318-323.
Brevior, T. (1864). Glimpses of spiritualism in China, New Zealand, and Russia. Spiritual Magazine, 5, 70-72.
Brittan, S.B. (1874). Spiritualism of the ancients. Brittan’s Journal: Spiritual Science, Literature, Art and Inspiration, 2, 1-15.
Edmonds, J.W. (1859). Spiritualism, as demonstrated by ancient and modern history. Banner of Light, February 26, 5, 8.
The use of the idea of the universal character of psychic phenomena to argue both for their existence and their importance, as Andrew Lang did in his book Cock-Lane and Common Sense (1894), is not only a thing of the past. In his 2006 book Entangled Minds Dean Radin argued: “There are words for psi experiences in every language . . . The universality of the words reflects the fact that these phenomena are basic to human experience. And indeed psi experiences have been reported by people in all cultures, throughout history . . . .”