This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
It has frequently been laid down as indisputable that if two see a vision at the same time its objective and authentic character is conclusively demonstrated. This by no means follows; on the contrary, a hundred may be confident that they see an apparition, and the proof that they do not may be conclusive. In the middle ages thousands believed in Vampyrism. Less than two hundred years ago in Hungary, Moravia, Silesia, and Lorraine it was prevalent. "Some dreamed that these malicious specters took them by the throat, and, having strangled them, sucked their blood." Others believed that they actually saw them. At times when the imagination is greatly excited, and a belief in ghosts exists, they can be manufactured by the thousand, and thousands can see them. The colored people in the South have no trouble on this point. It is not an unusual occurrence for the ghosts of men hanged to appear to the prisoners in the jail, and though the officers may look at midnight, or whenever the ghost is said to appear, and can perceive nothing, scores of the prisoners are certain that they see the dreadful vision. An instance of this kind within a few years led to the permanent reformation of several persons.
Sailors, naturally superstitious, have great powers as ghost-seers. A vessel that sailed from Newcastle-upon-Tyne had on board a cook one of whose legs was shorter than the other, so that he walked in that way which in the vulgar idiom is called " with an up and a down." He died on the trip and was buried at sea. A few nights afterward the captain was told by the mate that the cook was walking before the ship, and that all hands were on deck to see him. Angry at being awakened, the captain told the mate to let the cook alone and race with him to see whether the ship or he would get first to Newcastle. But being further importuned the captain finally turned out. I will now quote the words of Mr. Ellis (who published them in " Brand's Popular Antiquities ") as they were received from the captain :
He honestly confessed that he had like to have caught the contagion, and on seeing something move in a way so similar to that which an old friend used, and withal having a cap on so like that which he was wont to wear, verily thought there was more in the report than he was at first willing to believe. A general panic diffused itself. He ordered the ship to be steered toward the object, but not a man would move the helm. Compelled to do this himself, he found on a nearer approach that the ridiculous cause of all their terror was part of a maintop, the remains of some wreck, floating before them.
If he had really caught the contagion the evidence would have been complete; the Society for Psychical Research might make much of it, and it would be declared to be convincing proof of a future state.
Dr. Tuke gives an instance of a general misapprehension of vision. At the conflagration in the Crystal Palace, in the winter of 1866-67, when the animals were destroyed by fire, it was supposed that the chimpanzee had succeeded in escaping from his cage. Men saw the unhappy animal holding to the roof and writhing in agony while trying to grasp one of the iron ribs. They watched its struggles with sickening dread — but there was no animal there. "It was a tattered piece of blind, so torn as to resemble, to the eye of fancy, the body, arms, and legs of an ape!"
When Brigham Young asserted that he sawthe angel of the Lord from Ensign Point, making signs that this was the place where the great city and tabernacle of the Latter Day Saints should be established, Mormons surrounding him thought they beheld the angel, and nothing could shake their conviction of its reality.
Mistakes of identity account for many apparitions. Resemblances between persons in no way related are much more numerous and striking than is generally supposed. Lord Byron, who was superstitious, in speaking of ghosts wrote:
And what is strangest upon this strange head Is that, whatever bar the reason rears 'Gainst such belief, there's something stronger still In its behalf, let those deny who will.
Yet he occasionally laughed at apparitions. In 1811, writing to Mr. Murray, he says, "My old school and form fellow Peel, the Irish Secretary, told me he saw me in St. James street; I was then in Turkey. A day or two afterward looking across the way, he said to his brother, 'There is the man I took for Byron.' His brother answered, ' Why, it is Byron, and no one else.' I was at this time seen to write my name in the Palace book. I was then ill of a malaria fever. If I had died, here would have been a ghost story." According to the telepathic theory, Byron's self might have left his body in Turkey, where he was sick, and made an excursion to London. It would be interesting to have an account of the state of his body on that day; whether much agitated, or enjoying a calm and refreshing sleep in the absence of the perturbed spirit of the poet, who must have been an uneasy tenant at the best of times. But these details were omitted, and the natural explanation would be " mistaken identity".
A whole city was excited by the appearance of a person known to be dead — a silent man, who entered a hotel, registered his name, and looked wistfully about, speaking to no one, and not willing to explain his business. Terror seized upon the people. Every one who looked at him affirmed that he was the dead man. He was compelled after a few days to account for himself, and had no difficulty in proving, not only that he was a living man, but that he had never seen the man whom he so strongly resembled. A remarkable fact about this case was, that both the dead man and his double had three moles on the left cheek.
Jugglery and intentional deception, subsequently confessed, have explained many cases of apparition which within a short period previous to the exposure had been generally believed real in the communities where they were reported. One of the most common sources of supposed supernatural interference with ordinary laws is unexplained noises, especially those that appear to respond to questions. Many of these have been afterward explained by chemical conditions; others by the wind shrieking through bottles, down chimneys, and occasionally by pendulum motions caused by gravitation, shakings, or motions by the movements of distant bodies; one famous case by changes that had taken place, the result of mining operations beneath the ground upon which the house stood. The ringing of bells when it was obvious no one was pulling the wires — occasionally the result of electricity, at other times of the actions of cats—has terrified some ordinarily intelligent persons almost out of their senses. Disturbances produced by dogs, eats, and even rats, magnified by large rooms, immense fire-places, the transformation of innocent objects on nights when the moon is at the full, and deep shadows produced by movements of the limbs of trees reflected in mirrors, have all contributed to the production of awful impressions.