- So You Think There's Something In It! -
"I wish you would put into Round Robin suggestions for beginners, people who think 'there may be something in it.' Such people are frightened and put off by stories such as the Bell Witch, I think. What is a good book for a beginner? Or have you put such counsel into your Letter to a Soldier? And I'd like much more written on 'one way to get ahead with this is to cooperate with folk on the other side.' But, how to do? How, that is, to begin? With me it just happens - when it does. But surely there is a technique for the beginner."
(Mrs. L.B., Ill. Letter to Editor.)
Similar requests and comments have come to us from time to time, and perhaps they point to a real lack in Round Robin pages. But when RR first began its chirp, some two years ago, the Editor took the ground that he would try to appeal to readers who already had considerable knowledge of the subject-matter; that he would not attempt to "prove" survival and communication, or rethresh the old straw of elementary ideas and facts. This for the reason that there are literally thousands of books, pamphlets, articles, essays, dealing with psychism, mediumship, phenomena of every kind from every angle, and personal development and 'unfoldment.'
In the mimeo. booklet to which Mrs. L.B. refers there is a reading list for newcomers, and an exposition of basic ideas and facts, but no instruction for developing one's personal powers. But the attempt in this booklet was to reach a few of the millions of young men, whom our criminal stupidity sent forth to the hazards of war without a single word of instruction, concerning the experience of death and the new life thereafter.
Elementary instruction of this sort, and of the kind our correspondent mentions, is indeed vitally important; but so too, are thousands of facts and problems which arise for those who have advanced beyond the elementary acceptances. RR chose to deal with these latter, rather than repeat that which has already been a thousand times well said. The field of new knowledge which opens before the illuminist is limited only by the capacities of the human mind. Such studies may perhaps be called spiritistic, but are not necessarily included under spiritualism. This last term, properly used, denotes the religious approach to "supernormal" laws and facts. Any fact known to us can be interpreted in a religious aspect, as also under the aspects of physics, mathematics, and philosophy.
Still, having stated once again the RR point of view, let us consider the case of the newcomer who has begun to think 'Maybe there's something in it.' Our own conviction is, that the best approach is thru wide reading - and that without it you will make very little progress. Go to the library and get four or five or six books. Get Doyle's History of Spiritualism, and Carrington's Story of Psychic Science, and then whatever else looks interesting. The two books named will give you perspective; at least you'll learn what kind of things happen in seances (and out of them), and what is meant by psychic and occult phenomena, and get some inkling of the causes and laws and problems involved, and of the many distinguished investigators of these matters. A few weeks  or months of such reading will do you far more good than attending seances, and watching a great number of dubious phenomena which leave you completely fogged in misunderstanding and suspicion. I'm assuming, of course, that you really want to know, in an intellectual way, what it is all about, and are not simply satiating a thirst for the marvelous.
Even if you do attend seances, keep on reading. And our advice would be, don't join anything. Keep clear of all cults and Orders and cliques and societies and correspondence courses, and save your money and your wits at the same time. Perhaps later on, when you have learned the elementary facts, and have stopped being excitable and combative and dogmatic and grossly ignorant, you will want to join some organization. Go ahead, keep your fingers crossed, and God be with you! The 'field' you are exploring is really a vast bog, a morass, a wilderness. There are Paths thru it, and glens and flower-filled glades, and many strange and beautiful things - but there is ugliness and danger too. And you are not likely (in spite of teachers and correspondence courses) to find someone to take you by the hand at every turning. One has to use his commonsense and intelligence, and be patient, and courageous, and willing to turn back or go around, and unlearn as well as learn. Science and philosophy, religion and history are all deeply interwoven in this subject matter.
It's always a good idea to formulate your objectives, if you can. Probably all you really want to know, right now, is whether "dead" folk really come back and talk to us. If you're easily satisfied by a few good seance phenomena, that is that! If you're critical (which is all right), or suspicious (which is understandable), or stuffed with pseudo-scientific theories or pseudo-religious prejudices, remember that the real problem is you yourself - how to think, how to evaluate the facts and ideas you encounter. Before you begin clamoring for proof, try to make yourself a definition of that word. Try to formulate what would be proof to you. Keep your demands within the limits of the subject. Do you think that dear dead Aunt Mary ought to drop in for a cup of tea some bright noon-day? or Bill Brown the butcher-man reveal half the secrets of the universe (because he happens to be out of the body)? or Socrates or Solomon come in hot-foot haste if you choose to call them? Don't be such a fool! (I know, you wouldn't be, but there are such people.) The "proof" you are going to get will be cumulative evidence (nine times out of ten) - thru a few months, a few years, a few decades according to your own requirements.
The situation is simply, that the more you know about spiritism, the more clear it becomes that there is no alternative explanation, apart from the spiritistic. All the prejudice and ignorance and bigotry of religionists, and pseudo-scientists, and newspaper writers, and common run-of-mill smart-Alexanders hasn't been able to find an alternative. None of them, of course, will admit this. Whether you can grasp this situation, or think up an explanation to suit yourself, or prefer to join the hoot-owl chorus is strictly your own affair.
If you accept the basic contentions of spiritism or spiritualism, and then attempt to get behind the phenomena into the principles and laws, you will of course be led far into the uncertain regions we have spoken of, of esoteric or occult knowledge. That's because there's no where else to go; the answers lie there and nowhere else. Our pathways there are without end, but maybe we can manage a few hesitating steps  in the right direction. Even if you have only gotten as far as the idea that maybe there's something in it (as the fox said of the hencoop) you have achieved your first toddle, and your Guardian Angel smiles happily.
Right here we shall make a few guesses about the future - probabilities, not prophecies, and assuming that we shall not have a world smash-up, an atomic war or some great natural convulsion. At the moment all signs point to the gathering of a terrific row. Spiritism is gaining ground very fast, and some form of instrumental communication with the other planes is probably close at hand. But the enemies of spiritism, and of this discovery to be, are implacable and numerous and powerful. Whatever still survives of religious orthodoxy, official scientism, outmoded materialism, authoritarianism in all fields, are going to bubble and boil over with a most notable hissing - all of course in the name of culture, enlightenment, science, and commonsense. That's largely because this new-old knowledge, now sprouting everywhere, is a great underminer of Authority, and tradition, and secular and ecclesiastical power, and theories of education, and current social and cultural ideals - all of them very dear to the 'I-folk' and the 'gimmies'. All the people who got the world into this mess, will be doing their best to keep it there, and (judging by past and present) most of the Intellectuals, the Intelligentsia, and the Ignoramuses (the Three-Blind-I's of culture) will at last find a Cause they can agree upon. We also expect to see a great increase of involuntary psychism (we believe already in evidence), accompanied (naturally) by a general fatting up of doctors, psychiatrists, alienists, psychoanalysts, holy fathers, hard-shell clergymen, and lawyers (put-em-in and keep-em-out kinds). Hospitals, asylums, and the market for straitjackets should flourish like bay trees. It isn't really funny, of course! It's a world tragedy, crux mundi, and we have brought it on ourselves. Well, then --
It's your problem and mine, personal, individual, to wake up, learn something, escape from the hypnotic dream of our pseudo-culture. For the masses of humanity perhaps little can be done, but maybe you and I can do something for ourselves. And so, back to Mrs. L.B.'s question, of What and How. RR cannot recommend teachers, cults, Schools, movements, or publish pamphlets and text books. The literature already runs to hundreds of thousands of titles, and as for teachers, everybody who can set a planchette scratching is ready to impart wisdom. Everybody but the scholar and Adept, who keep their mouths uncommonly close shut. But the data of Illuminism (psychism, spiritism, occultism, mysticism, borderland science, parapsychology) is enormous, and nine-tenths of it is available to everybody. Our theory is, anybody who really wants to know about a subject, and who has a hundred or a thousand books accessible to him, will read two or three of them, and maybe go on from there.
Yes, we think there's something in it - world end, maybe, or at least end of the old order, shaking-down and building-up of all the life and ways and thought of mankind. And perhaps, however sharp our ears, we can hear no more than the airy stirring of grasses before this gathering of Apocalyptic storm - but even that, we maintain, is better than not to be able to hear at all.
- Doyle, Arthur Conan. The History of Spiritualism. London: Cassell, 1926. Print. [Hesperides, 2008: <http://amzn.to/1gRBoj8>; digital: <https://archive.org/details/historyofspiritu015638mbp>]
- Carrington, Hereward. The Story of Psychic Science. New York: Ives Washburn, 1931. Print. <http://amzn.to/UmvelM>