Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
The well-known English writer, editor and spiritualist William T. Stead (1849-1912), who published magazines such as the London-based Review of Reviews, published in 1891 a special Christmas edition of the Review entitled Real Ghost Stories that he edited himself. The publication, available here, had two sections entitled “The Ghost that Dwells in Each of Us,”and “The Census of Hallucinations,”as well as eleven chapters about psychic phenomena, most of which were about apparitional phenomena of different sorts, and an appendix: “Some Historical Ghosts.”
The following are illustrations of the first page of some of the chapters.
Stead opened stating: “Many people will object — some have already objected—to the subject of this Christmas Number. It is an offence to some to take a ghost too seriously; with others it is a still greater offence not to take ghosts seriously enough. One set of objections can be paired off against the other; neither objection has very solid foundation. The time has surely come when the fair claim of ghosts to the impartial attention and careful observation of mankind should no longer be ignored.”
Stead told his readers that they would “be treated in the following pages, with all the respect due to Phenomena whose reality is attested by a sufficient number of witnesses. There will be no attempt in this Christmas Number to build up a theory of apparitions, or to define the true inwardness of a ghost. There will be as many explanations as there are minds of the significance of the extraordinary narratives which I have collated from correspondence and from accessible records. Leaving it to my readers to discuss the rival hypotheses, I will stick to the humbler mission of recording facts, from which they can form their own judgment.”
He also cautioned his readers about three things. The first was that the accounts presented should not be read by the very young (“any one of tender years”) or by those with excitable and nervous temperament. He also wrote, apparently referring to some spiritualists: “That the latest students of the subject concur in the solemn warning addressed in the Sacred Writings to those who have dealings with familiar spirits, or who expose themselves to the horrible consequences of possession.” Finally Stead stated that “as the latent possibilities of our complex personality are so imperfectly understood, all experimenting in hypnotism, spiritualism, etc., excepting in the most careful and reverent spirit, by the most level-headed persons, had much better be avoided.” Stead’s approach was not as rigorous or systematic as that of the researchers of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), as seen in the publications on the subject and analysis of cases by individuals such as Frederic W.H. Myers, Edmund Gurney, and Frank Podmore. But he valued greatly the work of the SPR, as is evident in this special issue of the Review of Reviews.
In his conclusion Stead argued that the evidence for the objective existence of apparitions was strong enough for the topic to be considered and investigated. He also argued for the potential importance of telepathy, a phenomenon he thought could become as important to humankind as the contributions of steam and electricity, but he associated telepathy to space-time issues that could be related to the evolution of human beings. Finally, he talked about the double. “After telepathy, the most practically useful truth that is suggested by the ‘Real Ghost Stories’ is that of the existence of the Double . . . The instantaneous transportation of the Thought Body, instinct with consciousness, tangible or capable of speech, and preserving memory of its flight; from place to place, is a conception so stupendous as to stagger the most daring imagination. It is as if we were transported into space of four dimensions. Yet who can read the record of the appearance of Doubles, both before death and at other times, without feeling that the possibility of such latent powers existing in at least some human beings can no longer be dismissed as unthinkable? . . . There seems to me sufficient evidence to justify a belief that in these phantasms of the living we have a clue to a great and as yet unworked mine of latent human capacity, which, if, like all other human faculties, it be capable of development by education and exercise, may yet prove an enormous agency in transforming society.”
These interesting ideas, recorded in psychic literature both before and after Stead, still evoke in many beliefs against materialism and in support of survival of death.
We no longer have a Stead around to treat us to special Christmas issues of magazines with ghosts stories But at least we have a second one that Stead gave us in 1892 entitled More Ghost Stories: A Sequel to “Real Ghost Stories.”