A Journey in Other Worlds by J. J. Astor - HTML preview
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Accordingly, the next morning they concentrated their minds simultaneously on the spirit, wishing with all their strength that he should reappear.
"Whether he be far or near," said Ayrault, "he must feel that, for we are using the entire force of our minds."
Shadows began to form, and dancing prismatic colours appeared, but as yet there was no sign of the deceased bishop, when suddenly he took shape among them, his appearance and disappearance being much like that of stereopticon views on the sheet before a lantern. He held himself erect, and his thoughtful, dignified face had the same calm expression it had worn before.
"We attracted your attention," said Ayrault, "in the way you said we might, because we longed so to see you."
"Yes," added Bearwarden and Cortlandt, "we felt we MUST see you again."
"I am always at your service," replied the spirit, "and will answer your questions. With regard to my visibility and invisibility"--he continued, with a smile, "for I will not wait for you to ask the explanation of what is in your minds--it is very simple. A man's soul can never die; a manifestation of the soul is the spirit; this has entity, consciousness, and will, and these also live forever. As in the natural or material life, as I shall call it, will affects the material first. Thus, a child has power to move its hand or a material object, as a toy, before it can become the medium in a psychological seance. So it is here. Before becoming visible to your eyes, I, by my will, draw certain material substances in the form of gases from the ground, water, or air around me. These take any shape I wish--not necessarily that of man, though it is more natural to appear as we did on earth--and may absorb a portion of light, and so be able to cast a shadow or break up the white rays into prismatic colours, or they may be wholly invisible. By an effort of the will, then, I combine and condense these gases--which consist principally of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon--into flesh, blood, water, or anything else. You have already learned on earth that, by the application of heat, every solid and every liquid substance, which is solid or liquid simply because of the temperature at which you find it, can be expanded into gas or gases; and that by cold and pressure every gas can be reduced to a liquid or a solid. On earth the state of a substance, whether solid, liquid, or gaseous, depends simply upon those two conditions. Here neither thermal nor barometric changes are required, for, by mastering the new natural laws that at death become patent to our senses, we have all the necessary control. It requires but an effort of my will to be almost instantly clothed in human form, and but another effort to rearrange the molecules in such a way as to make the envelope visible. Some who have been dead longer, or had a greater natural aptitude than I, have advanced further, and all are learning; but the difference in the rate at which spirits acquire control of previously unknown natural laws varies far more than among individuals on earth.
"These forms of organic life do not disintegrate till after death; here in the natural state they break down and dissolve into their structural elements in full bloom, as was done by the fungi. The poisonous element in the deadly gust, against which I warned you, came from the gaseous ingredients of toadstools, which but seldom, and then only when the atmosphere has the greatest affinity for them, dissolve automatically, producing a deathspreading wave, against which your meteorological instruments in future can warn you. The slight fall you noticed in temperature was because the specific heat of these gases is high, and to become gas while in the solid state they had to withdraw some warmth from the air. The fatal breath of the winged lizards--or dragons, as you call them--results from the same cause, the action of their digestion breaking up the fungus, which does not kill them, because they exhale the poisonous part in gaseous form with their breath. The mushrooms dissolve more easily; the natural separation that takes place as they reach a certain stage in their development being precipitated by concussion or shock.
"Having seen that, as on earth, we gain control of the material first, our acquisitiveness then extends to a better understanding and appreciation of our new senses, and we are continually finding new objects of beauty, and new beauties in things we supposed we already understood. We were accustomed on earth to the marvellous variety that Nature produced from apparently simple means and presented to our very limited senses; here there is an indescribably greater variety to be examined by vastly keener senses. The souls in hell have an equally keen but distorted counterpart of our senses, so that they see in a magnified form everything vile in themselves and in each other. To their senses only the ugly and hateful side is visible, so that the beauty and perfume of a flower are to them as loathsome as the appearance and fumes of a toadstool. As evolution and the tendency of everything to perpetuate itself and intensify its peculiarities are invariable throughout the universe, these unhappy souls and ourselves seem destined to diverge more and more as time goes on; and while we constantly become happier as our capacity for happiness increases, their sharpening senses will give them a worse and worse idea of each other, till their mutual repugnance will know no bounds, and of everything concerning which they obtain knowledge through their senses. Thus these poor creatures seem to be the victims of circumstances and the unalterable laws of fate, and were there such a thing as death, their misery would unquestionably finally break their hearts. That there will be final forgiveness for the condemned, has long been a human hope; but as yet they have experienced none, and there is no analogy for it in Nature.
"But while you have still your earthly bodies and the opportunities they give you of serving God, you need not be concerned about hell; no one on earth, knowing how things really are, would ever again forsake His ways. The earthly state is the most precious opportunity of securing that for which a man would give his all. Even from the most worldly point of view, a man is an unspeakable fool not to improve his talents and do good. What would those in sheol not give now for but one day in the flesh on earth, of which you unappreciatives may still have so many? The well-used opportunities of even one hour might bring joy to those in paradise forever, and greatly ease the lot of those in hell. In doing acts of philanthropy, however, you must remember the text of the sermon the doctor of divinity preached to Craniner and Ridley just before they perished at the stake: 'Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing'--which shows that even good deeds must be performed in the proper spirit.
"A new era is soon to dawn on earth. Notwithstanding your great material progress, the future will exceed all the past. Man will find every substance's maximum use, thereby vastly increasing his comfort. Then, when advanced in science and reason, with the power of his senses increased by the delicate instruments that you, as the forerunners of the coming man, are already learning to make, may he cease to be a groveller, like our progenitors the quadrupeds, and may his thoughts rise to his Creator, who has brought him to such heights through all the intricacies of the way. Your preparation for the life to come can also be greatly aided by intercourse with those who have already died. When you really want to associate spiritually with us, you can do so; for, though perhaps only one in a hundred million can, like me, so clothe himself as to be again visible to mortal eyes, many of us could affect gelatine or extremely sensitive plates that would show interruptions in the ultra-violet chemical rays that, like the thermal red beyond the visible spectroscope, you know exist though you can neither see nor feel them. Spirits could not affect the magnetic eye, because magnetism, though immaterial itself, is induced and affected only by a material substance. The impression on the plate, however, like the prismatic colours you have already noticed, can be produced by a slight rarefaction of the hydrogen in the air, so that, though no spirit could be photographed as such, a code and language might be established by means of the effect produced on the air by the spirit's mind. I am so interested in the subject of my disquisition that I had almost forgotten that your spirits are still subject to the requirements of the body. Last time I dined with you; let me now play the host."
"We shall be charmed to dine with you," said Ayrault, "and shall be only too glad of anything that will keep you with us."
"Then," said the spirit, "as the tablecloth is laid, we need only to have something on it. Let each please hold a corner," he continued, taking one himself with his left hand, while he passed his right to his brow. Soon flakes as of snow began to form in the air above, and slowly descended upon the cloth; and, glancing up, the three men saw that for a considerable height this process was going on, the flakes increasing in size as they fell till they attained a length of several inches. When there was enough for them all on the tablecloth the shower ceased. Sitting down on the ground, they began to eat this manna, which had a delicious flavour and marvellous purity and freshness.
"As you doubtless have already suspected," said the spirit, "the basis of this in every case is carbon, combined with nitrogen in its solid form, and with the other gases the atmosphere here contains. You may notice that the flakes vary in colour as well as in taste, both of which are of course governed by the gas with which the carbon, also in its visible form, is combined. It is almost the same process as that performed by every plant in withdrawing carbon from the air and storing it in its trunk in the form of wood, which, as charcoal, is again almost pure carbon, only in this case the metamorphosis is far more rapid. This is perhaps the natural law that Elijah, by God's aid, invoked in the miracle of the widow's cruse, and that produced the manna that fed the Israelites in the desert; while apergy came in play in the case of the stream that Moses called from the rock in the wilderness, which followed the descendants of Abraham over the rough country through which they passed. In examining miracles with the utmost deference, as we have a right to, we see one law running through all. Even in Christ's miracle of changing the water to wine, there was a natural law, though only one has dwelt on earth who could make that change, which, from a chemist's standpoint, was peculiarly difficult on account of the required fermentation, which is the result of a developed and matured germ. Many of His miracles, however, are as far beyond my small power as heaven is above the earth. Much of the substance of the loaves and fishes with which He fed the multitude--the carbon and nitrogenous products--also came from the air, though He could have taken them from many other sources. The combination and building up of these in the ordinary way would have taken weeks or months, but was performed instantaneously by His mighty power."
"What natural laws are known to you," asked Bearwarden, "that we do not understand, or concerning the existence of which we are ignorant?"
"Most of the laws in the invisible world," said the spirit, "are the counterpart or extension of laws that appear on earth, though you as yet understand but a small part of those, many not having come to your notice. You, for instance, know that light, heat, and motion are analogous, and either of the last two can be converted into the other; but in practice you produce motion of the water molecules by the application of heat, and seldom reverse it. One of the first things we master here is the power to freeze or boil water, by checking the motion of the molecules in one case, and by increasing it, and their mutual repulsion, in the other. This is by virtue of a simple law, though in this case there is no natural manifestation of it on earth with which to compare it. While knowledge must be acquired here through study, as on earth, the new senses we receive with the awakening from death render the doing so easy, though with only the senses we had before it would have been next to impossible.
"At this moment snow is falling on the Callisto; but this you could not know by seeing, and scarcely any degree of evolution could develop your sight sufficiently, unassisted by death. With your instruments, however, you could already perceive it, notwithstanding the intervening rocks.
"Your research on earth is the best and most thorough in the history of the race; and could we but give you suggestions as to the direction in which to push it, the difference between yourselves and angels might be but little more than that between the number and intensity of the senses and the composition of the body. By the combination of natural laws you have rid yourselves of the impediment of material weight, and can roam through space like spirits, or as Columbus, by virtue of the confidence that came with the discovery of the mariner's compass, roamed upon and explored the sea. You have made a good beginning, and were not your lives so short, and their requirements so peremptory, you might visit the distant stars.
"I will show you the working of evolution. Life sleeps in minerals, dreams in plants, and wakes in you. The rock worn by frost and age crumbles to earth and soil. This enters the substance of the primordial plant, which, slowly rising; produces the animal germ. After that the way is clear, and man is evolved from protoplasm through the vertebrate and the ape. Here we have the epitome of the struggle for life in the ages past, and the analogue of the journey in the years to come. Does not the Almighty Himself make this clear where He says through his servant Isaiah, 'Behold of these stones will I raise up children'?--and the name Adam means red earth. God, having brought man so far, will not let evolution cease, and the next stage of life must be the spiritual."
"Can you tell us anything," asked Ayrault, "concerning the bodies that those surviving the final judgment will receive?"
"Notwithstanding the unfolding of knowledge that has come to us here," replied the spirit, "there are still some subjects concerning which we must look for information to the inspired writers in the Bible, and every gain or discovery goes to prove their veracity. We know that there are celestial bodies and bodies terrestrial, and that the spiritual bodies we shall receive in the resurrection will have power and will be incorruptible and immortal. We also know by analogy and reason that they will be unaffected by the cold and void of space, so that their possessors can range through the universe for non-nillions and decillions of miles, that they will have marvellous capacities for enjoying what they find, and that no undertaking or journey will be too difficult, though it be to the centre of the sun. Though many of us can already visit the remote regions of space as spirits, none can as yet see God; but we know that as the sight we are to receive with our new bodies sharpens, the pure in heart will see Him, though He is still as invisible to the eyes of the most developed here as the ether of space is to yours."