A London publisher of books on mental science and occultism advertises a crystal gazing outfit in the following terms:--
CRYSTAL GAZING OUTFIT, A COMPLETE.--This outfit consists of a perfectly cut and polished 2 in. transparent solid crystalline sphere; a beautifully turned and polished ebony pedestal, and a circular full of instructions and suggestions. 3s 6d net, boxed and post free 3s 9d, foreign postage is extra.
By Crystal Gazing is meant the practice of gazing steadily into the limpid depths of a solid, crystalline sphere, for the purpose of seeing visions therein. Many people can thus see "pictures" of great personal interest and importance. The visions seem to be in the crystal itself, but the scientific explanation is that the peculiar effect upon the optic nerve provokes to activity some latent clairvoyant function of the brain, which may have been extensively used by primeval man.
It is well known among psychic investigators that Crystal Gazers often see visions of a clairvoyant or telepathic nature. For instance, the experimenter might see, in his Crystal, a moving picture representing a distant friend in a most exciting situation. Subsequent inquiry, by correspondence, has been known to show that the vision correctly portrayed the actual event at the identical time it took place. This is a mere suggestion of the many interesting phenomena developed by Crystal Gazing. It is a harmless, amusing pastime.
As a matter of fact, the Crystal is a beautiful ornament, and is worth its price as a paper weight. This is the cheapest and best Crystal Gazing offer ever made.
This is business and exposition combined. No doubt the publisher knows very well that he is on right and safe lines, for has not Mr Andrew Lang himself written most interestingly about "scrying," as crystal gazing is called, and did he not record the following incident?--
"I had given a glass ball to a young lady, Miss Baillie, who had scarcely any success with it. She lent it to Miss Leslie, who saw a large, square, old-fashioned, red sofa, covered with muslin (which she afterward found in the next country-house she visited). Miss Baillie's brother, a young athlete, laughed at these experiments, took the ball into his study, and came back looking 'gey gash.' He admitted that he had seen a vision--somebody he knew, under a lamp. He said he would discover during the week whether he saw right or not. This was at 5.30 on a Sunday afternoon. On Tuesday Mr Baillie was at a dance in a town 40 miles from his house, and met a Miss Preston. 'On Sunday,' he said, 'about half-past five, you were sitting under a standard lamp, in a dress I never saw you wear, a blue blouse with lace over the shoulders, pouring out tea for a man in blue serge, whose back was towards me, so that I only saw the tip of his moustache.' 'Why, the blinds must have been up,' said Miss Preston. 'I was at Dulby,' said Mr Baillie, and he undeniably was."
Yes, when Mr Andrew Lang certifies the reality of crystal gazing, it is justified in the eyes of many people, and instead of being a modern credulity, it becomes a modern--well, not exactly a modern science--it is not far enough advanced for that--but it assumes a rational atmosphere which nothing else could give it. Hence the popularity of the crystal and the cult of the "gaze." But is there anything in it after all? Certainly there is; it is, in fact, a sub-department of hypnotism, the facts of which few readers will care to question. But as yet not many would-be "scryers" are as successful as their efforts are presevering.
French criticism has been somewhat severe.
"Dr Pierre Janet, one of Charcot's coadjutors at the Saltpetriére, said in a lecture at the University of Lyons, in France, that very few persons really 'see things' in crystals, the estimate of 20 per cent. put forward by the Society for Psychical Research being, in his opinion, exaggerated. He has found, too, that this faculty is seldom met with among persons in sound bodily and mental health, it being, in fact, a neurosis, or disease of the nerves, to which only abnormally nervous or hysterical persons are subject. The state induced by prolonged gazing at a faintly luminous object is, on the same authority, a kind of incomplete hypnotism in which hallucinations occur which are in every way deceptions of the senses. But these hallucinations have for their subjects only those things which are within the conscious or unconscious memory of the gazer, and one is just as little likely to gain from them any hint of facts lying within the gazer's knowledge, as to learn the future from the stammerings of anybody drunk. Thus in one case collected by the Psychical Research Society, where the speculatrix--to use the old-fashioned word for such seers--saw in the crystal a newspaper announcing the death of a friend, which afterward turned out to have actually happened, Dr Janet is able to show that there was in the room a real newspaper with the announcement in question, the inference being that the speculatrix had read and mentally noted it without consciously grasping its significance. This experience might be paralleled by one from Binet, where a student on his way to an examination in Botany, saw to his astonishment the words Verbascum thapsus written on the swing door of a well known restaurant. A second examination transformed the two words into the simple 'bouillon,' and it was only then that he remembered that Verbascum thapsus was the Linnaean name of the herb called by French peasants bouillon blanc."
This kind of criticism cannot be ignored, but it savours of the dogmatic attitude taken up by Dr Crichton Browne (in his Dreamy Mental States) towards anything and everything which cannot be justified by the present knowledge embodied in medical science. There is surely a better way of dealing with phenomena that are capable of scientific verification. If it be possible to see persons and things at a distance by looking into a glass of water, round piece of glass, or other object with a shining surface, then the laws of the scientific method, i.e. observation and experiment, can be employed with sufficient exactitude to determine the truth or error of the claims put forward. Research Societies have already made the attempt, but the results have not been all that one could wish. Spasmodic efforts have not the same value as systematic and repeated investigation at the hands of a number of trained men.
Crystal gazing presents one of a batch of interesting phenomena, which began to assert themselves in the early history of man; were for ages classed as credible facts, then branded as unholy superstitions; lastly, they display a tendency to return to the first position, with the added confirmation which comes from science. Thus the origin of the practice is easily found. Early in the history of man some member of the race, more gifted than his fellows in the sense of being more susceptible to finer influences, saw, or imagined he saw, visions in the shining pool. He communicated these to his comrades, and some of them confirmed the fact by seeing the visions also. Then the cult, began and developed into divination as we see it in Pagan rites, and even in the Old Testament. The crystal itself is not a necessity. As Mr Lang says, people stared into a "crystal ball; a cup; a mirror; a blot of ink (Egypt and India); a drop of blood (the Maoris of New Zealand); a bowl of water (American Indians); a pond (Roman and African); water in a glass bowl (Fez); or almost any polished surface." Unlike many superstitions of the past this, along with others of occult character, holds the fort against all comers; sometimes the enemy makes a breach in the walls and otherwise demolishes the citadel, but the repairs are as rapidly executed, and "scrying"--partly a serious study and partly a social pastime--lives on confident in its future success. It will be interesting to see what will happen during the next twenty-five years, but unless the subject is severely analysed and experimented upon it will, at the end of that time, be where it is to-day; a number of people in all grades of society will be ardent devotees, and a still greater number will call them "a credulous crowd," worse than the superstitious nations of the past.