A New Revelation

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

A New Revelation is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the magazine Light on 4 november 1916.


A New Revelation

Light (4 november 1916, p.357)
Light (4 november 1916, p.358)
The New-York Times (26 november 1916, p. 3)

Spiritualism and Religion.

If anyone were to look up the list of subscribers to I Light for the year 1887 I think that he would find my I name. I am also one of the oldest members of the Psychical Research Society. Therefore if, after thirty years of thought, I venture to respond to the Editor's invitation to say a few words upon spirit intercourse, I cannot be accused of having sprung hastily to my conclusions. Those conclusions can be expressed concisely in one sentence. In spite of occasional fraud and wild imaginings, there remains a solid core in this whole spiritual movement I which is infinitely nearer to positive proof than any other religious development with which I am acquainted. The days are past when the considered opinions of such men as Crookes, Wallace, Flammarion, Lodge, Barrett, Generals Drayson and Turner, Serjeant Ballantyne, W. T. Stead, Judge Edmonds, Vice-Admiral Usborne Moore, the late Archdeacon Wilberforce, and such a cloud of other witnesses, can be dismissed with the empty-headed "all rot" formula. As Mr. J. Arthur Hill has well said in a recent number of the "National Review," we have reached a point where further proof is superfluous, and where the weight of disproof lies upon those who deny. If, to take one of a thousand examples, the only evidence for unknown intelligent forces lay in the experiments of Dr. Crawford recorded in a true scientific spirit of caution in your columns, I do not see how it can be shaken. We should now be at the close of the stage of investigation and beginning the period of religious construction.

For what is this movement? Are we to satisfy ourselves by observing phenomena with no attention to what the phenomena mean, as a group of savages might stare at a wireless installation with no appreciation of the messages coming through it, or are we resolutely to set ourselves to define these subtle and elusive utterances from beyond, and to construct from them a religious scheme, which shall be founded upon human reason on this side and upon spirit inspiration on the other ? These phenomena have passed through the stage of being a parlour game ; they are now emerging from that of a debatable scientific novelty; and they are, or should be, taking shape as the foundations of a definite system of religious thought, in some ways confirmatory of ancient systems, in some ways entirely new.

Where are they confirmatory? They are confirmatory as to all those moral laws which are common to most human systems and which are so sanctioned by reason that whore reason is developed they need no further support. They are confirmatory as to life after death, which has been taught by most religions but has been denied by many earnest and thoughtful men. They are confirmatory as to the unhappy results of sin, though adverse to the idea that those results are permanent. They are confirmatory as to the existence of higher beings whom we may call angels and of an ever-ascending hierarchy above us, culminating in heights which are beyond our light or apprehension, with which we may associate the idea of all-power or of God. They are confirmatory as to the existence of the "Summer-land" or heaven, but assert that every human being finds his or her ultimate, but not necessarily final, resting place therein. Thus this new revelation, so far as it has been systematised, supports many of the most important contentions of the old ones. If this compass points true then our old compasses did not work so badly after all.

But now for the points of correction or addition. These take the form of more positive teaching as to the nature of death and of the world beyond. By this teaching death makes no abrupt change in the process of development, nor does it make an impassable chasm between those who are on either side of it. No trait of the form and no peculiarity of the mind are changed by death, but all are continued in that spiritual body which is the counterpart of the earthly one at its best, and still contains within it that core of spirit which is the very inner essence of the man. Nature develops slowly, and not by enormous leaps, so that it would seem natural that the soul should not suddenly become devil or angel but should continue upon its slow growth. Such would appear to be a reasonable solution, and such is the spiritual teaching from beyond. Nor apparently are the spirit's surroundings, experiences, feelings, and even foibles very different from those of earth. A similar nature in the being would seem to imply a similar atmosphere around the being to meet the needs of that nature, all etherialised to the same degree. What of the colours which we know to exist beyond the violet of the spectrum ? What of the notes which we can detect by the vibration of the diaphragm but which are above the pitch of the human ear ? We can see for ourselves how in these instances there is an unseen and unheard physical world close to our own; I do not say that it is this world which the spirits inhabit, but at least it shows how very near to us, even in the space which we ourselves occupy, other worlds may exist as oblivious of us as we of them.

It is in the possibility of communion that the main feature of this new teaching lies. The conditions being similar on either side of the partition of death make the idea of communication more feasible. Spirits claim that they are happier than we, but they have no more force of intellect than they brought over with them and they have the same difficulties in solving the question of communication as their relatives on earth. On both sides of the partition the vast majority would appear to be absolutely indifferent and ignorant upon the subject. But also on both sides there are bands of pioneers who, as we know in this world, comprise some of the best intellects of humanity, and who are, as we are told, reinforced upon the other side by more advanced spirits. These are beating down the partition, and hear the sound of each others’ picks. Many ways have been devised, all imperfect, but some of them fitfully and wonderfully successful. Clairvoyance, clairaudience, the direct voice, automatic writing, spirit control—these are the various methods, all depending upon that inexplicable thing called mediumship, a thing so sacred, and sometimes so abused.

Such, in brief, is the spiritual philosophy where faith — a most two-edged virtue — is replaced by actual demonstration. The evidence upon which this system rests is so enormous that it would take a very considerable library to contain it, and the witnesses are not shadowy people living in the dim past and inaccessible to our cross-examination but are our own contemporaries, men of character and intellect whom all must respect. The situation may, as it seems to me, be summed up in a simple alternative. The one supposition is that there has been an outbreak of lunacy extending over two generations of mankind and two great continents — a lunacy which assails men or women who are otherwise eminently sane. The alternative supposition is that in recent years there has come to us from divine sources a new revelation which constitutes by for the greatest religious event since the death of Christ (for the Reformation was a re-arrangement of the old, not a revelation of the new), a revelation which alters the whole aspect of death and the fete of man. Between these two suppositions I can see no solid position. Theories of fraud or of delusion will not meet the evidence. It is absolute lunacy or it is a revolution in religious thought, a revolution which gives us a by-products an utter fearlessness of death, and an immense consolation when those who are dear to us pass behind the veil.

There are many superficial inquirers to whom the ideas of a divine revelation and of such humble phenomena as Rochester rappings or moving tables seem incompatible. The greatest things have always come from the smallest seeds. The twitching leg of a frog suggested the whole development of electric science, and the rattling lid of a kettle was the father of steam, as the falling apple is said to have suggested the law of gravity. It is the simple tiling that catches the eye. But the wise investigator does not dwell too much upon the first suggestions, but passes onwards to consider what they have suggested and whither they have led.

There remains the question which troubles many earnest souls as to whether such communion is right. Personally I am not aware of any human power which has been given us without our having the right under any circumstances to use it. On the other hand, I know no human power which may not he abused. It is an abuse of such a power as this that it should he used in a spirit of levity or of mere curiosity. It is either an absurd farce or the most solemn and sacred of functions. But when one knows, as I know, of widows who are assured that they hear the loved voice once again, or of mothers whose hands, groping in the darkness, clasp once again those of the vanished child, and when one considers the loftiness of their intercourse and the serenity of spirit which succeeds it, I feel sure that a fuller knowledge would calm the doubt of the most scrupulous conscience. Men talk of a great religious revival after the war. Perhaps it is in this direction that it will be.