The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow

VI. The Mysteries of the Life-sign Gemini

In this vision the conception of our human duality was presented to me in a manner more striking than ever before. Hitherto it had been more a suggestion than a proof; now it appeared in the light of an intuition. A wonderful field of questions is opened by such an experience, and I am constrained to sketch a few of them as they have occurred to myself.

1st. Are the animal and spiritual conjoint parts of the same life, or two different lives which intensely interact, yet are not altogether dependent upon each other for their continuance?

That the soul is dependent upon aught that we call material for the preservation of its highest functions, very few men will feel disposed to assert. Yet we are all exceedingly loth to concede that the animal has a distinct life of its own, which, for some time after the dissolution of the ties which bind it to the spiritual, might continue to throb on unimpaired. Your critic, who aims altogether at uses comprehended in bread, meat, and broad-cloth, may ask, "If it be so, of what practical utility would it be to discover it?" A sufficient answer lies in the fact that men would know one more truth. A truth tested and established may lie for centuries, mildewed and rusted, in the armory of knowledge, until some great soul comes along, draws it out of the rubbish, buckles it on, rushes into the conflict, and with it pries open the portals of one more promised land of blessing for the human race. Gunpowder is a truth; wise men sneer at the monk's obstreperous plaything. The years float calmly on; that plaything strikes the cliffs of Dover, and as they go toppling down to leave a highway for the nations, contemned truth vindicates her uses with a triumphant voice of thunder.

But there is also a tangible utility in this discovery of an independent animal life (supposing it to be made) which arises out of the fact that we should thus possess much higher notions of the spiritual than we have at present. In the desire to make the body entirely dependent on the soul for all its processes, we have linked the two in so close a marriage that the soul itself has become materialized by contact in our conceptions. What we call spirit is, after all, when its vague and variable boundaries are somewhat accurately drawn, nothing but an exceedingly rarefied mist, capable, to be sure, of self-conscious phenomena, but nevertheless subject to most of the conditions of matter. We grant, indeed, that after death the interior eyes may see without the mediation of our present lens and retina, but scout the idea that those eyes, in this world, ever employ a power which, after a few years, they shall keep in constant activity forever. Now, if we can more definitely mark the line between the spiritual and the animal as between two independent lives hinged on each other, yet not interpenetrating, we shall have done much to glorify the soul and reinstate it in its proper reverence.

Not to assert the separate of the animal life as proven, let us look at some singular phenomena which, by such an hypothesis, would be explained, and (as it seems to me) by such a one only.

1st. In surgical operations performed while the patient lay under the influence of an anæsthetic, as chloroform or ether, I have witnessed contortions of the whole muscular system, and heard outcries so fearful that it was impossible to persuade the lookers-on that the application of the instrument was not causing the severest agony. Upon one occasion I myself stood by a man who was to suffer a difficult dental operation, and with my own hands administered chloroform to him. All the usual symptoms of complete anæsthesia ensuing, I signaled the dentist to begin his work. The moment that the instrument came into successful operation, the patient uttered a harrowing cry of pain and struggled convulsively, at the same time entreating the operator to stop. I was persuaded, from former cases of a similar nature, that the man had no consciousness of pain, and so advised the dentist. From motives of humanity, however, the latter desisted when his work was but partly accomplished, and, having extracted a single tooth instead of the several which were to be drawn, permitted the seeming sufferer to return to his natural state. He presently awoke, as from a dream; and on being asked whether he endured great torture, he laughed at the idea, denying that he had even been aware of the application of the forceps, although fully self-conscious internally during the whole effect of the anæsthetic.

I believe I am only stating one of many cases which fall under the almost daily observation of men of wide experience in the surgical profession. Although far from being an expert myself, I have been an eye-witness to two such instances.

Now what is it, or who is it that is suffering tortures so great that the face, the lips, the limbs must give vent to them in such intensity of expression? The soul has been all the time lying in a delicious calm of meditation, or gliding through a succession of strange images, whose order was not once broken by the thrill of pain. It frequently remembers its visions, and can repeat them coherently; it would certainly have recollected, if it had ever known them, some traits of an experience so utterly discordant as suffering.

An inference directly suggests itself. Where all the outer phenomena of torture have been witnessed, the anæsthetic has not so much affected the body as the ties which unite it with the soul. A temporary disjunction has taken place between the two, and the animal nature has been suffering while the spiritual, completely insulated, was left to its own free activity.

2d. I believe it is gradually becoming conceded that the agonies which universal belief once attached to the idea of death are rather imaginary than real. Yet the hour of dissolution is almost invariably accompanied by groans and contortions, which tell tales of the bitter pang felt somewhere in the depths of that mysterious being which is becoming disjoined. While the dying man, if still fully conscious, frequently asserts that he is in ecstasy beyond compare, tense muscles and writhing limbs are telling another story. What is it that is suffering?

3d. There have been instances of the trance state which throw an additional light upon this question, or involve it in deeper mystery, according to the mental temperament of the man who considers them. It is needless to quote the case of Tennant in our own country, and many cataleptic and hypnotic states which have fallen under private notice, when an argument à fortiori may be drawn from the remarkable phenomena which but a few years ago transpired under the eye-witness of many eminent men of the medical and other professions in India*. So important a field of inquiry did these phenomena seem to open, that Dr. Braid, of Edinburgh, a physician of considerable fame, made it the groundwork of a book, condensed, yet valuable for its research, upon the trance condition, and the scientific mind throughout Great Britain took a lively interest in the subject. A fakeer presented himself at one of the Company's stations, and proffered the singular request that he might be buried alive. Though not much astonished at any possible petition coming from one of an order of men so wildly fanatic as those who infest India with their monstrous devotions and insatiable alms-begging, the servants of the Company still treated him as insane, and answered his request with corresponding neglect. Still, the fakeer insisted upon their compliance, asserting that he possessed the power of separating soul and body at will, and was able to live without air or food for the space of thirty days. Upon his producing native witnesses who fully corroborated his statement, he obtained a more deferential attention to his demand. As his reason for asking sepulture, he stated the desire for a more complete abstraction of soul than he could attain above ground and among the things of sense, positively assuring his questioners that this abstraction, as he had tested by repeated experiments, was in no danger of proving fatal to the body.

At last, then, his petition was granted. By an effort of will he threw himself into the ecstatic or trance state, and when the vital processes had become absolutely imperceptible, and he lay to all appearance dead, he was closely wrapped in a winding-sheet, and, for fear of imposition, buried in a tightly-masoned tomb. The opening was then filled with earth, and the mound thus raised above him thickly sown with barley. A Mohammedan guard (the last in the world which would be likely to connive at the cheat of a disciple of Brahm) was stationed about the grave night and day. The barley grew up undisturbed till the month was accomplished, and, at the expiration of that time, hundreds of people thronged to be present at the disentombing of the fakeer. Among them were grave men, men of calm and scientific minds, and many utterly incredulous of the possibility that human life could have been sustained from inner sources through so long a period. Every test was thus present which could make evidence of any fact conclusive beyond doubt.

The body of the fakeer was found unaltered by decay, yet shriveled to a mummy. Means of restoration were used very similar to those employed in bringing a cataleptic patient to consciousness. Presently the seemingly dead man began to breathe, his color returned, and before the close of the day, as the nutriment which was given him was assimilated, all his functions were in their ordinary activity.

A more complete separation of the animal and spiritual probably never existed without death, yet the two lives, through the whole period of sepulture, were sustained apart without the slightest consciousness in the soul that the body was growing emaciated, convulsed, and juiceless. Many of the eye-witnesses to this wonderful experiment are living to the present day.

Upon the theory of these independent existences it may be asked, "How is death possible at all to the animal?" We reply, In most cases, doubt-less, the animal dies first, and the spiritual deserts it afterward; but, wherever the spiritual is the more powerfully agonized of the two, in the very shock of its exertions to depart it may bear the animal away with it, which, not being immortal, has no possible residence outside of the body, but instantly perishes. Yet when, as by the gentle disentanglement of patient fingers, the ligaments of the corporeal life are unwound from about the soul, the latter, undestroyed, may still remain through its allotted day of endurance. If this be more than mere visionary conjecture, it accounts for the unchanged appearance of bodies disentombed after a hundred years, and the relics unconsumed by time, which, in the world's reaction from hyper-credulity, we have so long been apt to classify with the other legends of the Vita Sanctorum.

2. Another question suggested by the experience of my own duality is this: If the two existences are independent, may not the fact account for that blind feeling which almost every man has experienced, that he has lived previously to his present form in other and entirely different states? The idea of the metempsychosis was never, indeed, made the central one of any system of philosophy until the time of Pythagoras. He was the first of whom we have historic mention to scale off from the original gem the laminae of grosser Egyptian and Indian fable, which covered it like a later deposit (and he had reasons for doing so, which we think will be proved, to a strong probability at least, in a future portion of this narrative); yet, after all, metempsychosis, as a fact, has been dimly felt by universal humanity, and even at the present day presents itself at times so strongly to many a mind as almost to carry the conviction of an intuition.

But, upon our hypothesis, can the idea be accounted for? Let us see.

Except in the prerogative of the peculiar quality of that life which animates it, the body has no more claims to reverence than the same number of pounds of alkali, water, iron, and other chemicals composing it, in any other form.

But for the energizing, vital element of the particular rank in the scale of vitality which energizes man, he would be worthy of quite as much consideration were he sealed up in carboys, poured into pitchers, blown into bladders, and tied up in brown paper parcels. His body has not the faintest stamp of originality. As bovine muscle he existed long ago in the food which nourished his parents; still farther back he was eaten by an ox in the form of some succulent weed of the pasture, and that very weed educed him from the soil through microscopic tubes by capillary attraction. Wash this soil, and he will be deposited in the form of a precipitate; yet after all this investigation of his material genealogy, we have only arrived at the same result which could be attained by any skillful chemist who would undergo the labor of taking him to pieces in his present state, and subject him to adequate tests. The man of visionary mind may sit down before one solitary cabbage, and find food for his thought, if not for his palate, in the reflection, "Truly thou mightest have been my brother."

Now, without the least shadow of a wish to prove matter self-conscious, may we not hold it possible that the particles entering into our corporeal composition still preserve some subtle properties (not memory, be it understood) of the other bodies through which they have passed, which, being felt by our own animal nature, are suggested by it to the spiritual as a ground for the idea of metempsychosis? The body will then be that part of us which has really transmigrated, while the soul is original.

The idea that the soul has ever transmigrated leads us into painful, disgusting, irrational, and irreligious conclusions. But grant that, in the animal life, a blind perception exists of peculiar qualities in the corporeal particles, arising out of former conditions through which they have passed, and we can then see how it may be possible for the spiritual to sympathize with the animal to such a degree as to etherealize these perceptions into a dreamy echo of its own former being. The problem, therefore, stands thus: Both for the sake of right and reason we must utterly disown the idea of spiritual metempsychosis. How, then, can we explain the fact of its universality among the race? We offer our hypothesis.

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