I received for my birthday – from a friend who knows my tastes well – a very unusual book: "The Occult and Psychical Sciences: Psychical Phenomena and The War", by Hereward Carrington. It was originally published in 1918, when war wasn't qualified by a number, a date, or a place. It was just The War – people didn't think there would ever be another one.
The book is a collection of thoughts, theories, sittings and readings – dreamed up and written down during the course of the war, from 1914-1918. During this time, when continents were drowning in sorrow, psychics, spiritualists and mediums tricked, cheated and bilked their clients - while at the same time giving them immeasurable comfort.
One passage of the book was a 'communication' from 1916 via Ouija board between Michael Whitty, ('M'), editor of Azoth Magazine ("A Monthly Magazine of Philosophy, Theosphy, Mysticism, Spiritualism, Physical Research, Higher Thought, Symbolism, Astrology and Occultism") and a soldier ('O') – dead, but apparently still not beyond his pain:
O: When very young – bayonet still in me
M: Where were you fighting?
O: I must not tell
M: Why not? If you have been killed it does not matter now.
O: I will not tell
M: Why wil you not?
O: Yes boss…orders not to…
M: Are you French?
M: Are you Italian or Russian?
O: No Canadian
M: Oh, a Canadian, eh?
O: It hurts
M: You are deluding yourself. If you are dead you are in a new body – the bayonet may be sticking in the old body but it is not really sticking in you now.
O: Just try a bit yourself
M: Will you do what I tell you? If you will I can help you -
O: Are you sure you can whats it
M: Will you do it?
O: If I can
(M. tells him to wish himself back where his body was and find it, and then he would see the bayonet in it and realize that it was not really in him now)
O: If I go back now I'll get in a scrap with a bloody german
M: The dead don't fight with each other
O: They still scrap
M: Where is your mother?
O: Been dead years
M: Well you think of her and call her and she will come to you.
O: Nothing doing
M: Well, I will pull it out for you. Place yourself so that the head of the bayonet is in my hand here (holding out hand) – is it there?
O: Yes go easy go easy
M: All right – it won't hurt (suddenly pulling as if removing the bayonet). There – it's out now. I've got it.
O: Its OK now
M: Well, goodnight –
I don't accept this book as a statement of fact, but rather as a sign – or sympton – of the times. Mothers, sisters, wives and lovers were desperate to hear from their departed ones, or to at least hear what happened to them: there are times when ignorance is not bliss, at all.
So if this little dialogue convinced even one reader that a living man was able to extract a bayonet from the side of a suffering spirit, I say let it stand – if not on truth, at least on the consolation it gave, when there was none left in the world.