Portrait of Madame Blavatsky resized


No Religion Higher Than Truth

About "Spirit" Materializations

From William Q. Judge Theosophical Articles, Vol. I.


An examination of the records of the past forty years of what is known as the spiritualistic movement discloses a strange state of things, revealing a blindness on the part of that unorganized body of people to the just and logical conclusion to be drawn from the vast mass of facts in their possession. They have been carried away wholly by the pleasures of wonder-seeking and ghost-hunting to such an extent that nearly all of them wish for and seek out only that which they are pleased to call the spirits of the departed. In a former article in this magazine this has been called “the worship of the dead”; and that it justly is.

It is not the worship of those who have died, such as the Hindu and other eastern nations have in their ceremonies for the spirits of the fathers, but it is the running after that which is really dead to all intents and purposes – corpses in fact. For these people stand on the brink of the grave and call for those who have passed away, who are still living in other states, who do not return; and in response to the cry the seekers are rewarded by the hosts, the ghouls, the vampires, the senseless, wavering shapes, the useless images and reflections of human thoughts and acts of which the vast reservoir of the astral light is full. This and this alone is their worship. It is the seeking after dead images, senseless and conscienceless, moved by force alone and attracted solely by our passions and desires that give them a faint and fleeting vitality.

Yet from the remotest days of the past down to the present time the loudest and clearest warnings have been given against such practices. It is what we called necromancy in the old time, prohibited in the Christian Bible and the pagan mysteries alike.

Moses, educated among the Egyptians, told his people that they must not run after these things, and the Hindus, warned by centuries of sorrow, long ago declared against it, so that today these so-called “spirits” are known to them as devils. The literature of the Theosophical Society is full of these warnings from the very first book issued by H. P. Blavatsky to this present article. But the spiritualists and their leaders, if they have any, persistently ignore not only the experience of the past but also the cautions now and then given by their own “spirits.” For, as is well know to the thoughtful theosophist, mediums, being passive and open to any and every influence that may come their way, often do give out the knowledge in the possession of living men on these subjects.

Many times have learned living occultists entered into the sphere of mediums and compelled them to tell the truth, which has been sometimes recorded and preserved so that it may be inspected afterwards when found in the mass of their history as printed in their journals. To some of this I purpose to refer, for no spiritualists can say with propriety that the evidence given through their own mediums and purporting to come from the “spirit land” is not to be relied upon. If they reject any such testimony from mediums who have not been shown to be frauds, they must reject all. Enough has been given out by those who say they are controlled by spirits to prove the case made by the theosophists, or, at the least, to throw doubt upon the assertions of spiritualists about the summer-land and the returning of spirits.

In October, 1877, beginning on the 13th, The Religio-Philosophical Journal began a series of interviews with a medium in Chicago in which questions were put to the control by the reporter of that paper. This “control” was called Jim Nolan, and the medium was Mrs. M. J. Hollis-Billing. Her reputation has never been assailed, nor has she been ever accused of lying or fraudulent practice. The place where the interviews took place was 24 Ogden Avenue.

The first question was whether Nolan understood the process of spirit materialization. He, replying from the “spirit world,” said he did, and proceeded in substance thus:

The electrical particles in a dark room are in a quiet condition; they are collected by us and laid upon one another until we have made an electrical form (still unseen). We then take magnetism from the medium or from the sitters in the circle and with it coat this electrical form. After that the form is used by the “spirit,” who steps into it and uses it as a form.

This of course proves from the side of the spirits that no materialized form is the form of any spirit whatever, for certainly electrical and magnetic particles are not spiritual. Nolan then proceeds:

Another way is this: We gather these particles to which I have referred and, going into the astral light, we reflect upon them the face of some spirit and thus a reflected image of a spirit is seen. Or, again, we collect these particles into a sheet or plane surface, take chemicals from the atmosphere with which to coat them over, and then (at the request of the sitters) reflect upon this surface a face, and you see the features of the deceased or other person.

From this it follows inevitably that no real face of any spirit is seen, and as the images are taken from the astral light the whole thing is full of deception. At the request of the sitter the operating “spirit” finds the in astral light any desired face, and then goes through the form of reflecting it upon the prepared surface. Now all of this on the part of Jim Nolan is very scientific, much more so than the mass of nonsense usually heard from “spirits,” yet it has passed unnoticed because it is a deathblow out of their own camp to the claims of spiritualists that the dead return or that spirits can materialize, and raises up the horrid suspicion that they do not know, never can know, who or what it is that speaks and masquerades at their séances and behind the forms said to be materializations of spirits. It at once opens the door to the possibility that perhaps the theory of the theosophists is right, that these spirits are only shells of dead people and that nothing is heard from them except what may be found on the earth and in the earthly lives and thoughts of living people. But the second question was in regard to the identity of “spirits” among many materialized forms, and the replay was:

“It is very rarely in cases of materialization that over two or three forms are used for the whole number of reporting spirits. Really, what would be the use in building house after house for everyone who wishes to go into it for some special purpose?” What use, truly, except to prove that spirits do come back in the way claimed by spiritualists? But what he says upsets the identity of any materialization. If two forms have been used by five or more spirits to show themselves in, it of course results that none of them have shown themselves at all; but that some force or intelligence outside the circle or inside the medium has done all the talking by means of access to the astral light where all the pictures and all the images are forever stored up.

Nolan. – The materialized form shown never belonged to the physical part of that spirit. It consists of chemical, electrical, and magnetic particles or elements from the atmosphere.

At the sitting of October 27th in the same year he said:

The Astral Light spoken of by the ancient men is what we call magnetic light. All the acts of life are photographed in the astral light of each individual; the astral light retains all those peculiar things which occur to you from day to day.

And again, on the 12th of January, in reply to the sixth question, the same “spirit” said:

We gather these electrical particles together and with them form a house, as it were, into which we step; they are no more a part of the spirit than the chair on which you sit.

Nothing could be plainer than this. Out of the mouth of the “spirit” who has never been charged with being untruthful it is proved that the astral light exists, that it contains all images of all our acts and of ourselves, and that these images are reflected from that other side to this, and are mistakenly taken by the ghost hunter for the faces, the bodies, the acts, the speech of those who have gone the great journey. So, then, just as we have always contended, all these sittings with mediums and these materializations prove only the existence, powers, and functions of the astral light. As the frequenters of séances are not behind the scenes, they cannot say who it is or what it may be that operates to produce the phenomena exhibited. It may be good spirit or devil; more likely the latter. And therefore the great Roman Catholic Church has always insisted that its members should not run after these “spirits,” accounting them devilish and asserting that all these powers and forces are under the charge of the fallen angels.

It is seldom, perhaps not once in a century of materializations, that a spirit such as that called Jim Nolan would be so foolish as to give out correct information as he has done in the sittings referred to; for the nature and habit of the elements who work at the most of these séances is to bring about and continue delusion. But going a step farther, I say that in the case of Jim Nolan it was no “spirit” of dead man and no elemental that spoke and acted, but the spirit, soul and intelligence of a living man who chose to take the name of Nolan as being as good as any other, in order that the evidence might be recorded for the benefit of the spiritualists in their own camp and in their special investigations, of the truth of the matter, as an offset to the mass of stuff gathered by the elementals from the brains and confused thoughts of mediums and sitters alike. This evidence cannot be razed from the record, although so far it remains unnoticed. It must stand with all the rest. But while the rest will fall as not being in accord with reason, this will remain because it is the truth as far as it goes.

William Q. Judge,
The Path, July 1891