Saturday, August 8, 2009

Poe: MesmericRevelation

Poe's short story here served merely as a backdrop for explaining the tenets of early 19th century spiritualism. The general laws of mesmerism are then laid out for the reader in graphic form as follows;

  1. Its facts are almost universally admitted despite the skeptics

  2. A fellow is cast in an abnormal condition resembling death

  3. The "impressed" person employs only feebly the external organs of sense

  4. Yet perceives with keenly refined perception through unknown channels

  5. Matters beyond the scope of the physical organs

  6. These steps detail the forced onslaught of a natural mystical sequence or the sequence of a vision so it seems. The similarities of these states are blatant.

  7. The intellect is exalted and invigorated

  8. The subject's susceptibility increases with its frequency

  9. The elicited phenomena commensurately become more extended and pronounced

  10. Colloquy between the narrator and sleepwalker Mr Van Kirk..He had been suffering under confirmed phthisis and the narrator had been summoned to his bedside. He had acute heart pains and the application of mustard to the nervous system occasioned no relief.

  11. He sent for the narrator not to administer to his ailments but to answer.if possible, certain physical impressions causing Van Kirk anxiety and surprise.

  12. Van Kirk gives his reflections upon the immortality of the soul as heightened by the mesmeric experiences had by him.

  13. He would not be intellectually convinced by the mere abstractions of philosophers and moralists. He only half felt as if by intuition but never intellectually believed in the existence of the soul's immortality. The mesmeric influence has caused a deepening of the feeling to equate with the acquiescence of reason.

  14. Mesmeric exaltation enables ratiocination not accessible in the normal waking state.

  15. God is not spirit nor is He matter as we understand matter. There are gradations of matter we know not of.

  16. The profound self cognizance evinced by the sleep waker results in the cause and effect present while in the sleep waking state.Only the effects are present in the "conscious state".

  17. Immateriality is a mere word. Gradations increase in rarity to unparticled matter and the law of impulsion and permeation is modified. Unparticled matter permates all things and impels all things. V. lists his studies : Cousin, Charles Elwood of Mr Brownson.

  18. Unparticled matter is beyond luminiferous ether.

  19. Interspaces must vanish and mass of rarified matter coalesce. The slight resistance of the heavenly bodies "objects" to the idea of absolute coalescence.

  20. When there are no interspaces there can be no yielding. Resistance of bodies is commensurate to their density.

  21. The communication of the luminous body is explained in detail and the limits of the organs of the rudimentary body are expanded ,with the organs not as necessary conduits.

  22. God is the perfection of matter, and it is not irreverent to speak of matter in the context of equating God as this perfection.

  23. We are never bodiless as there are 2 bodies rudimental and complete and this is alluded to in the glorious spirit body described by Paul as the "better resurrection" made of infinitely finer matter. Man is but the incarnation of the divine mind. Note this quote from the text of the story: the rudimental and the complete, corresponding with the two conditions of the worm and the butterfly. What we call "death," is but the painful metamorphosis. Our present incarnation is progressive, preparatory, temporary. Our future is perfected, ultimate, immortal. The ultimate life is the full design. P. But of the worm's metamorphosis we are palpably cognizant. V. We, certainly- but not the worm. The matter of which our rudimental body is composed, is within the ken of the organs of that body; or, more distinctly, our rudimental organs are adapted to the matter of which is formed the rudimental body, but not to that of which the ultimate is composed.

  24. Rarified matter does not contain the rudimentary organs of sense and so we cannot identify with this rarified body. The luminous body might best be described as (quoted as follows: A luminous body imparts vibration to the luminiferous ether The vibrations generate similar ones within the retina; these again communicate similar ones to the optic nerve. The nerve conveys similar ones to the brain; the brain, also, similar ones to the unparticled matter which permeates it. The motion of this latter is thought, of which perception is the first undulation. This is the mode by which the mind of the rudimental life communicates with the external world; and this external world is, to the rudimental life, limited, through the idiosyncrasy of its organs.

  25. Note the author's comments on pain and pleasure and the notion of substance.

  26. The poetic use of Azrael's hand is curious and I will look up this allusion.

Mesmeric Revelation AnalysisAuthor: Prose of Edgar Allen Poe
Type: Prose
Views: 442
WHATEVER doubt may still envelop the rationale of mesmerism, its startling
facts are now almost universally admitted. Of these latter, those who doubt, are
your mere doubters by profession- an unprofitable and disreputable tribe. There
can be no more absolute waste of time than the attempt to prove, at the present
day, that man, by mere exercise of will can so impress his fellow as to cast him
into an abnormal condition, of which the phenomena resemble very closely those
of death, or at least resemble them more nearly than they do the phenomena of
any other normal condition within our cognizance; that, while in this state, the
person so impressed employs only with effort, and then feebly, the external
organs of sense, yet perceives, with keenly refined perception, and through
channels supposed unknown, matters beyond the scope of the physical organs;
that, moreover, his intellectual faculties are wonderfully exalted and
invigorated; that his sympathies with the person so impressing him are profound,
and, finally, that his susceptibility to the impression increases with its
frequency, while in the same proportion, the peculiar phenomena elicited are
more extended and more pronounced.
I say that these- which are the laws of
mesmerism in its general features-
it would be supererogation to demonstrate;
nor shall I inflict upon my readers so needless a demonstration to-day. My
purpose at present is a very different one indeed. I am impelled, even in the
teeth of a world of prejudice, to detail without comment, the very remarkable
substance of a colloquy occurring between a sleep-waker and myself. I had long
been in the habit of mesmerizing the person in question (Mr. Vankirk), and the
usual acute susceptibility and exaltation of the mesmeric perception had
For many months he had been laboring under confirmed phthisis, the
more distressing effects of which had been relieved by my manipulations; and on
the night of Wednesday, the fifteenth instant, I was summoned to his bedside.
The invalid was suffering with acute pain in the region of the heart, and
breathed with great difficulty, having all the ordinary symptoms of asthma. In
spasms such as these he had usually found relief from the application of mustard
to the nervous centres, but to-night this had been attempted in vain.
As I
entered his room he greeted me with a cheerful smile, and although evidently in
much bodily pain, appeared to be, mentally, quite at ease. "I sent for you
to-night," he said, "not so much to administer to my bodily ailment, as to
satisfy me concerning certain physical impressions which, of late, have
occasioned me much anxiety and surprise. I need not tell you how skeptical I
have hitherto been on the topic of the soul's immortality. I cannot deny that
there has always existed, as if in that very soul which I have been denying, a
vague half-sentiment of its own existence.
But this half-sentiment at no time
amounted to conviction. With it my reason had nothing to do. All attempts at
logical inquiry resulted, indeed, in leaving me more sceptical than before. I
had been advised to study Cousin. I studied him in his own works as well as in
those of his European and American echoes. The 'Charles Elwood' of Mr. Brownson
for example, was placed in my hands. I read it with profound attention.

Throughout I found it logical but the portions which were not merely logical
were unhappily the initial arguments of the disbelieving hero of the book. In
his summing up it seemed evident to me that the reasoner had not even succeeded
in convincing himself. His end had plainly forgotten his beginning, like the
government of Trinculo. In short, I was not long in perceiving that if man is to
be intellectually convinced of his own immortality, he will never be so
convinced by the mere abstractions which have been so long the fashion of the
moralists of England, of France, and of Germany. Abstractions may amuse and
exercise, but take no hold on the mind.
Here upon earth, at least, philosophy, I
am persuaded, will always in vain call upon us to look upon qualities as things.
The will may assent- the soul- the intellect, never. "I repeat, then, that I
only half felt, and never intellectually believed.
But latterly there has been a
certain deepening of the feeling, until it has come so nearly to resemble the
acquiesence of reason, that I find it difficult to distinguish the two. I am
enabled, too, plainly to trace this effect to the mesmeric influence
. I cannot
better explain my meaning than by the hypothesis that the mesmeric exaltation
enables me to perceive a train of ratiocination which, in my abnormal existence,
convinces, but which, in full accordance with the mesmeric phenomena, does not
extend, except through its effect, into my normal condition. In sleep-waking,
the reasoning and its conclusion- the cause and its effect- are present
In my natural state, the cause vanishes, the effect only, and perhaps
only partially, remains. "These considerations have led me to think that some
good results might ensue from a series of well-directed questions propounded to
me while mesmerized. You have often observed the profound self-cognizance
evinced by the sleep-waker-
the extensive knowledge he displays upon all points
relating to the mesmeric condition itself, and from this self-cognizance may be
deduced hints for the proper conduct of a catechism." I consented of course to
make this experiment. A few passes threw Mr. Vankirk into the mesmeric sleep.
His breathing became immediately more easy, and he seemed to suffer no physical
uneasiness. The following conversation then ensued:-V. in the dialogue
representing the patient, and P. myself. P. Are you asleep? V. Yes- no; I would
rather sleep more soundly. P. [After a few more passes.] Do you sleep now? V.
Yes. P. How do you think your present illness will result? V. [After a long
hesitation and speaking as if with effort.] I must die. P. Does the idea of
death afflict you? V. [Very quickly.] No- no! P. Are you pleased with the
prospect? V. If I were awake I should like to die, but now it is no matter. The
mesmeric condition is so near death as to content me. P. I wish you would
explain yourself, Mr. Vankirk. V. I am willing to do so, but it requires more
effort than I feel able to make. You do not question me properly. P. What then
shall I ask? V. You must begin at the beginning. P. The beginning! But where is
the beginning? V. You know that the beginning is GOD. [This was said in a low,
fluctuating tone, and with every sign of the most profound veneration.] P. What,
then, is God? V. [Hesitating for many minutes.] I cannot tell. P. Is not God
spirit? V. While I was awake I knew what you meant by "spirit," but now it seems
only a word- such, for instance, as truth, beauty- a quality, I mean.
P. Is not
God immaterial? V. There is no immateriality- it is a mere word. That which is
not matter, is not at all- unless qualities are things. P. Is God, then,
material? V. No. [This reply startled me very much.] P. What, then, is he? V.
[After a long pause, and mutteringly.] I see- but it is a thing difficult to
tell. [Another long pause.] He is not spirit, for he exists. Nor is he matter,
as you understand it. But there are gradations of matter of which man knows
nothing; the grosser impelling the finer, the finer pervading the grosser.
atmosphere, for example, impels the electric principle, while the electric
principle permeates the atmosphere. These gradations of matter increase in
rarity or fineness until we arrive at a matter unparticled- without particles-
indivisible-one, and here the law of impulsion and permeation is modified. The
ultimate or unparticled matter not only permeates all things, but impels all
things; and thus is all things within itself. This matter is God.
What men
attempt to embody in the word "thought," is this matter in motion. P. The
metaphysicians maintain that all action is reducible to motion and thinking, and
that the latter is the origin of the former. V. Yes; and I now see the confusion
of idea. Motion is the action of mind, not of thinking. The unparticled matter,
or God, in quiescence is (as nearly as we can conceive it) what men call mind.
And the power of self-movement (equivalent in effect to human volition) is, in
the unparticled matter, the result of its unity and omniprevalence; how, I know
not, and now clearly see that I shall never know. But the unparticled matter,
set in motion by a law or quality existing within itself, is thinking. P. Can
you give me no more precise idea of what you term the unparticled matter? V. The
matters of which man is cognizant escape the senses in gradation. We have, for
example, a metal, a piece of wood, a drop of water, the atmosphere, a gas,
caloric, electricity, the luminiferous ether. Now, we call all these things
matter, and embrace all matter in one general definition; but in spite of this,
there can be no two ideas more essentially distinct than that which we attach to
a metal, and that which we attach to the luminiferous ether. When we reach the
latter, we feel an almost irresistible inclination to class it with spirit, or
with nihilty. The only consideration which restrains us is our conception of its
atomic constitution; and here, even, we have to seek aid from our notion of an
atom, as something possessing in infinite minuteness, solidity, palpability,
weight. Destroy the idea of the atomic constitution and we should no longer be
able to regard the ether as an entity, or, at least, as matter. For want of a
better word we might term it spirit. Take, now, a step beyond the luminiferous
ether- conceive a matter as much more rare than the ether, as this ether is more
rare than the metal, and we arrive at once (in spite of all the school dogmas)
at a unique mass- an unparticled matter
. For although we may admit infinite
littleness in the atoms themselves, the infinitude of littleness in the spaces
between them is an absurdity. There will be a point- there will be a degree of
rarity at which, if the atoms are sufficiently numerous, the interspaces must
vanish, and the mass absolutely coalesce. But the consideration of the atomic
constitution being now taken away, the nature of the mass inevitably glides into
what we conceive of spirit
. It is clear, however, that it is as fully matter as
before. The truth is, it is impossible to conceive spirit since it is impossible
to imagine what is not. When we flatter ourselves that we have formed its
conception, we have merely deceived our understanding by the consideration of
infinitely rarefied matter.
P. There seems to me an insurmountable objection to
the idea of absolute coalescence;- and that is the very slight resistance
experienced by the heavenly bodies in their revolutions through space- a
resistance now ascertained, it is true, to exist in some degree, but which is,
nevertheless, so slight as to have been quite overlooked by the sagacity even of
Newton. We know that the resistance of bodies is, chiefly, in proportion to
their density. Absolute coalescence is absolute density. Where there are no
interspaces, there can be no yielding.
An ether, absolutely dense, would put an
infinitely more effectual stop to the progress of a star than would an ether of
adamant or of iron. V. Your objection is answered with an ease which is nearly
in the ratio of its apparent unanswerability.- As regards the progress of the
star, it can make no difference whether the star passes through the ether or the
ether through it. There is no astronomical error more unaccountable than that
which reconciles the known retardation of the comets with the idea of their
passage through an ether, for, however rare this ether be supposed, it would put
a stop to all sidereal revolution in a very far briefer period than has been
admitted by those astronomers who have endeavored to slur over a point which
they found it impossible to comprehend. The retardation actually experienced is,
on the other hand, about that which might be expected from the friction of the
ether in the instantaneous passage through the orb. In the one case, the
retarding force is momentary and complete within itself- in the other it is
endlessly accumulative. P. But in all this- in this identification of mere
matter with God- is there nothing of irreverence? [I was forced to repeat this
question before the sleep-waker fully comprehended my meaning.] V. Can you say
why matter should be less reverenced than mind? But you forget that the matter
of which "mind" or "spirit" of the schools, so far as regards its high
capacities, and is, moreover, the "matter" of these schools at the same time.
God, with all the powers attributed to spirit, is but the perfection of matter.
P. You assert, then, that the unparticled matter, in motion, is thought. V. In
general, this motion is the universal thought of the universal mind. This
thought creates. All created things are but the thoughts of God. P. You say, "in
general." V. Yes. The universal mind is God. For new individualities, matter is
necessary. P. But you now speak of "mind" and "matter" as do the metaphysicians.
V. Yes- to avoid confusion. When I say "mind," I mean the unparticled or
ultimate matter, by "matter," I intend all else. P. You were saying that "for
new individualities matter is necessary." V. Yes; for mind, existing
unincorporate, is merely God. To create individual, thinking beings, it was
necessary to incarnate portions of the divine mind.
Thus man is individualized.
Divested of corporate investiture, he were God. Now the particular motion of the
incarnated portions of the unparticled matter is the thought of man; as the
motion of the whole is that of God. P. You say that divested of the body man
will be God? V. [After much hesitation.] I could not have said this; it is an
absurdity. P. [Referring to my notes.] You did say that "divested of corporate
investiture man were God." V. And this is true. Man thus divested would be God-
would be unindividualized. But he can never be thus divested- at least never
will be- else we must imagine an action of God returning upon itself- a
purposeless and futile action. Man is a creature. Creatures are thoughts of God.
It is the nature of thought to be irrevocable. P. I do not comprehend. You say
that man will never put off the body? V. I say that he will never be bodiless.
P. Explain. V. There are two bodies- the rudimental and the complete,
corresponding with the two conditions of the worm and the butterfly. What we
call "death," is but the painful metamorphosis. Our present incarnation is
progressive, preparatory, temporary. Our future is perfected, ultimate,
immortal. The ultimate life is the full design. P. But of the worm's
metamorphosis we are palpably cognizant. V. We, certainly- but not the worm. The
matter of which our rudimental body is composed, is within the ken of the organs
of that body; or, more distinctly, our rudimental organs are adapted to the
matter of which is formed the rudimental body, but not to that of which the
ultimate is composed. The ultimate body thus escapes our rudimental senses, and
we perceive only the shell which falls, in decaying, from the inner form, not
that inner form itself; but this inner form as well as the shell, is appreciable
by those who have already acquired the ultimate life. P. You have often said
that the mesmeric state very nearly resembles death. How is this? V. When I say
that it resembles death, I mean that it resembles the ultimate life; for when I
am entranced the senses of my rudimental life are in abeyance and I perceive
external things directly, without organs, through a medium which I shall employ
in the ultimate, unorganized life. P. Unorganized? V. Yes; organs are
contrivances by which the individual is brought into sensible relation with
particular classes and forms of matter, to the exclusion of other classes and
forms. The organs of man are adapted to his rudimental condition, and to that
only; his ultimate condition, being unorganized, is of unlimited comprehension
in all points but one- the nature of the volition of God- that is to say, the
motion of the unparticled matter.
You may have a distinct idea of the ultimate
body conceiving it to be entire brain. This it is not, but a conception of
this nature will bring you near a comprehension of what it is.
A luminous body
imparts vibration to the luminiferous etherThe vibrations generate similar
ones within the retina; these again communicate similar ones to the optic nerve.
The nerve conveys similar ones to the brain; the brain, also, similar ones to
the unparticled matter which permeates it. The motion of this latter is thought,

of which perception is the first undulation. This is the mode by which the mind
of the rudimental life communicates with the external world; and this external
world is, to the rudimental life, limited, through the idiosyncrasy of its
. But in the ultimate, unorganized life, the external world reaches the
whole body, (which is of a substance having affinity to brain, as I have said,)
with no other intervention than that of an infinitely rarer ether than even the
luminiferous; and to this ether- in unison with it- the whole body vibrates,

setting in motion the unparticled matter which permeates it. It is to the
absence of idiosyncratic organs, therefore, that we must attribute the nearly
unlimited perception of the ultimate life. To rudimental beings, organs are the
cages necessary to confine them until fledged. P. You speak of rudimental
"beings." Are there other rudimental thinking beings than man?
V. The
multitudinous conglomeration of rare matter into nebulae, planets, suns, and
other bodies which are neither nebulae, suns, nor planets, is for the sole
purpose of supplying pabulum for the idiosyncrasy of the organs of an infinity
of rudimental beings. But for the necessity of the rudimental, prior to the
ultimate life, there would have been no bodies such as these. Each of these is
tenanted by a distinct variety of organic rudimental thinking creatures. In all,
the organs vary with the features of the place tenanted. At death, or
metamorphosis, these creatures, enjoying the ultimate life- immortality- and
cognizant of all secrets but the one, act all things and pass every where by
mere volition:- indwelling, not the stars, which to us seem the sole
palpabilities, and for the accommodation of which we blindly deem space created-
but that space itself- that infinity of which the truly substantive vastness
swallows up the star-shadows- blotting them out as non-entities from the
perception of the angels. P. You say that "but for the necessity of the
rudimental life, there would have been no stars." But why this necessity? V. In
the inorganic life, as well as in the inorganic matter generally, there is
nothing to impede the action of one simple unique law- the Divine Volition. With
the view of producing impediment, the organic life and matter (complex,
substantial and law- encumbered) were contrived. P. But again- why need this
impediment have been produced? V. The result of law inviolate is perfection-
right- negative happiness. The result of law violate is imperfection, wrong,
positive pain. Through the impediments afforded by the number, complexity, and
substantiality of the laws of organic life and matter, the violation of law is
rendered, to a certain extent, practicable. Thus pain, which is the inorganic
life is impossible, is possible in the organic. P. But to what good end is pain
thus rendered possible? V. All things are either good or bad by comparison. A
sufficient analysis will show that pleasure in all cases, is but the contrast of
pain. Positive pleasure is a mere idea. To be happy at any one point we must
have suffered at the same. Never to suffer would have been never to have been
blessed. But it has been shown that, in the inorganic life, pain cannot be; thus
the necessity for the organic. The pain of the primitive life of Earth, is the
sole basis of the bliss of the ultimate life in Heaven. P. Still there is one of
your expressions which I find it impossible to comprehend- "the truly
substantive vastness of infinity." V. This, probably, is because you have no
sufficiently generic conception of the term "substance" itself. We must not
regard it as a quality, but as a sentiment:- it is the perception, in thinking
beings, of the adaptation of matter to their organization. There are many things
on the Earth, which would be nihility to the inhabitants of Venus- many things
visible and tangible in Venus, which we could not be brought to appreciate as
existing at all.
But to the inorganic beings- to the angels- the whole of the
unparticled matter is substance; that is to say, the whole of what we term
"space," is to them the truest substantiality;- the stars, meantime, through
what we consider their materiality, escaping the angelic sense, just in
proportion as the unparticled matter, through what we consider its
immateriality, eludes the organic.
As the sleep-waker pronounced these latter
words, in a feeble tone, I observed on his countenance a singular expression,
which somewhat alarmed me, and induced me to awake him at once. No sooner had I
done this than, with a bright smile irradiating all his features, he fell back
upon his pillow and expired.
I noticed that in less than a minute afterward his
corpse had all the stern rigidity of stone. His brow was of the coldness of ice.
Thus, ordinarily, should it have appeared, only after long pressure from
Azrael's hand
. Had the sleep-waker, indeed, during the latter portion of his
discourse, been addressing me from out the regions of the shadows?

Poe: MesmericRevelation

Mesmeric Revelation(read the full text here)Well. I think Poe was attempting to explain some of the tenets of early 19th century spiritualism. The narrator mesmerizes (hypnotizes) a man who is dying, and asks the man a bunch of questions. The dying man then says many things about God, ether, spirits, etc. I found it interesting from a historical perspective, but didn't really ENJOY reading it. It certainly wasn't a great story, but it was not a horrible read.

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