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vol. 1, p. 89
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 1 (1874-1876)


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Traveling in the Spirit


Emma Hardinge Britten, in writing upon “Spiritual Gifts,” in the Banner narrates the following story; it is of great interest, as it gives us a glimpse of the possibilities of the human spirit while yet in the flesh.

Some time about the year 1860, Mrs. Emma Hardinge received a number of most unaccountable epistles signed John G - — (the name being given in full), dated from Boston. The writer addressed Mrs. H. in the most inflated and enthusiastic terms of admiration, and referred to numerous interviews which he purported to have had with her, and to conversations which he assumed to have passed between them. So full of detail and matter of fact were these statements that Mrs. Hardinge at first believed some designing woman must have assumed her name, whilst the letters had by some contretemps, or mistake, been forwarded to herself.

Allusions to her lectures, dresses, and even scenes of private life known only to her immediate home circle, at length connected these mysterious documents exclusively with herself. Greatly perplexed, Mrs. H. began to scrutinize the information communicated more and more closely, and, to her amazement, found that they betrayed an intimate knowledge of her very thoughts, no less than incidents and words of the most private nature.

These letters not only followed her from place to place in her itinerant career, but seemed to emanate from one as well acquainted with her movements as herself. The darkest part of the mystery was that though the language of these epistles was refined and occasionally eloquent, the constant allusions to interviews and conversations which were assumed to have transpired between the parties, by seeming to place them on terms of the most endearing intimacy, suggested the horrible suspicion that the whole was a plot concocted by unprincipled enemies to destroy the character of a young girl whose reputation and usefulness would alike have been blighted, were these infamous letters to fall into other hands than her own.

In the deepest distress of mind, occasioned by this inscrutable mystery, Mrs. H. consulted several of her friends, among them the late venerable and respected magistrate, Mr. Fletcher, of Delanco, New Jersey, who, though unable to assist her in his judicial capacity, advised her to collect and keep the letters as she received them, promising her. whenever an opportunity occurred, to render her all the legal assistance in his power, to discover and punish her persecutor.

The same answer and advice was also tendered by Mr. Newell A. Foster, late Mayor of Portland, in whose house, as a guest, Mrs. Hardinge was residing when she received several of these offensive missives. Besides consulting with these and several other friends in this manner, Mrs. Hardinge pursued a course of observation on her own part, which led to very extraordinary conclusions. Habitually accustomed to see and converse with spirits, Mrs. H. did not regard their visitations with either surprise or fear. One exception to this complacent feeling, however, occurred in the approach of a dark, undefined shape, who began frequently to manifest his presence of a night, and always inspired the most unmitigated feeling of loathing and terror. Neither the form nor features of this mysterious visitant could be distinctly observed; in fact, the whole manifestation appealed rather to perception than sight, and was a presence rather than an apparition. Who or what it might be, was a profound mystery. Mrs. Hardinge earnestly questioned her spirit-friends and guides on the nature of this dreadful haunting, but could obtain from them no other explanation than that it was “an evil or undeveloped spirit,” over whom they had no power.

At length the terrors accompanying this obsession became insupportable and injurious alike to health and mental balance. Their unfortunate subject could always recognize the approach of the phantom, from her intense feeling of horror and the cold shiverings which pervaded her whole frame. Sometimes a sensation of faintness accompanied this presence, which nothing but the insupportable dread of becoming unconscious could overcome.

At last another feature of this mystery loomed up amidst the darkness. The midnight visitations were the unmistakable precursors of the not less abhorred letters above alluded to. They came so closely and invariably in succession, and the feelings experienced in the presence of the one and the receipt of the other were so exactly similar, that Mrs. H. began at last realize that they were as intimately connected as the shadow and substance of one dire system of persecution. Whether impelled by desperation or inspired by her watchful spirit guardians, the affrighted medium could not determine; but this is the method which she took to solve at least one portion of the mystery, namely, the connection of the phantom and her hated correspondent.

One night after returning from a lecture, when Mrs. H. felt the near approach of the invisible tormentor, and notwithstanding the fact that her terror almost deprived her of the power of motion, she hastily snatched up the blue silk dress which she had just taken off, arranging the skirt around her head in the manner of a veil. Mrs. H. at that time was lecturing in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Three days later she received one of the usual odious missives dated from Boston, containing these remarkable words:

“How beautiful my angel looked arrayed in that blue veil which she so kindly threw over her head last Friday night, as if in token of welcome when I entered her chamber.”

Still another experiment was attempted, urged by a new horror at the shocking possibilities disclosed in this sentence.

Mrs. Hardinge was returning from a lecture at a distance from town, ana was traveling in a large covered carriage with three friends, late at night, when the party halted at a lonely inn by the wayside, to water and refresh the horses. Being exceedingly fatigued, Mrs. H. sat still in the carriage whilst the rest of the party alighted. Suddenly she became aware that a man was seated at her side, and actually in contact with her. She was on the back seat, and commanded a full view of all that was going on in front. She was confident that no one bad entered the carriage, nor would it have been possible for any one to have done so without observation. Yet in an instant she knew that some one was there, and the consciousness of this mysterious companion’s proximity was so startling and alarming, that Mrs. H. was on the point of shrieking aloud, when the deathly chillness which accompanied her phantom tormentor informed her of his presence.

Almost paralyzed as she was, she remembered enough of her resolution to avail herself of another opportunity for experiment, and snatching the hood from her head, she tore a flower from the bouquet she held in her hand, and tossed it hastily into her hair. The flower was a cape-jasmine, and was seized as the first that presented itself. Before she could recall her scattered senses the figure was gone, and her friends resumed their places in the vehicle.

So rapidly had the whole scene passed, that ere she arrived home, Mrs. H. had persuaded herself it must have been a dream, a mere fancy, a vision conjured up by ill-health and disordered imagination, etc., etc., etc.

On reaching her place of destination several letters were put into her hands, one of which instantly produced the sense of fear and loathing which announced her detested correspondent. On opening the letter a faded sprig of cape jasmine fell from the envelope, and these words caught her eye: —

“To satisfy me that my visits are appreciated, I entreat you to place in your hair, at eleven o'clock on Monday night next, a sprig of cape jesmine, or any white flower yon can procure.”

The lecturer looked at her watch—it was twenty minutes past eleven, Monday night. The carriage must have stopped at eleven precisely!

Mrs. Britten closes the interesting narrative by an account of her endeavors to institute legal proceedings against the individual who tormented her; she collected the letters and as she was about to carry them to the chief of police, her guides warned her to desist for the period of a fortnight. At the end of this time Mrs. Britten learned that the unfortunate man had become partially insane over a belief instilled into his mind, by an “affinity lecturer,” that she was his “spirit affinity.” As to how he effected this release from the body, she gives us no knowledge, neither do we learn what steps were taken to restrain him from the exercise of this power. Information on this subject would have been welcome. She concludes by saying, —

The case forms an instructive example of the abuse of occult powers, and proves that the same elements that could be exerted for good use and enlightenment, may, when exercised in excess, or employed for unholy purposes, be perverted to the disadvantage of others and the injury of their possessor.

The second feature of interest to be derived from this case is the ability which it displays for an individual, by an act of volition, to cause the manifestation of the “Double” or, in other words, so to project the spirit from the body that it in travel at will, and make sensible demonstrations of its presence in distant places without damaging the integrity of its connection with the body. In most instances the manifestations of the so-called “Double” appear to be involuntary, and derived from occult causes unknown either to the seers or the individuals seen. But in the case of Mr. G. the power was evoked and controlled by will, proving that where the force exists in the organism, it can be used, under suitable conditions, at the pleasure of the operator.

Emma H.Britten, F.T.S.

Editor's notes

  1. Traveling in the Spirit by Britten, E. H., Spiritual Scientist, v. 3, No. 10, November 11, 1875, pp. 110-1