Monday, December 14, 2009

Catherine Crowe and the Nightside of Nature, part two.

Rowena, who might be the best fantasy illustrator around, has nearly perfectly expressed the "Nightside of Nature" as I imagine Catherine Crowe to feel towards it. This "nightside" encompasses dreams, doppelgangers, ghosts, and the "altered states of consciousness" that produce the phenomena of that nightside. Catherine saw in these incidents of the nightside, not diseases nor delusions of the brain, but moments wherein we glimpsed the spiritworld [or perhaps what we today might call the "psychic"]. To make her case, she collected piles of witness accounts and packed them into her book alongside her analysis and theories about what was going on. She began with reports relating to dreams, and proceeded to doppelgangers, wraiths, and poltergeists [among other things]. This entry will concern her entry ideas and some of her dream cases. After taking a break, I'll get back to her and present some of the other topics.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In chapters 3 & 4 of Nightside [the first evidential chapters of the book], Catherine indicates that she has dozens of dream-related anomalies which she has collected, and goes on to present thumbnail condensations of about 40 of them. "Instances of this sort are numerous; but it would be tedious to narrate them, especially as there is little room for variety in the details...The frequency of the phenomena may be imagined, when I mention that the instances I shall give, with few exceptions, have been collected with little trouble, and, without seeking, beyond my own small circle of acquaintance." She is being a bit modest, as her "small circle" included the highest educated crowd that Edinburgh had to offer, including not only people like Combe and Charles Dickens, but the great early neuro-scientist, John Abercrombie [from whom she received several of her more interesting anecdotes] and elite visitors like Hans Christian Andersen. When Andersen was introduced at a get-together for a visiting scientist, he and Catherine were introduced on an equal footing as two outstanding authors. {At that same party, by the way, Catherine was one of two guests willing to experiment by "drinking ether" to go into an altered state. She doesn't talk about this in her book, so I don't know if anything happened other than she got stoned. As you read her book however, you can see that she would do this to try to see if it produced an out-of-body state wherein she might experience some of the things she was writing about. But alas, the guest just said that she and the other lady just turned into ghastly zombies and scared the hell out of him}. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Even though Catherine couldn't tell us of her own experiences, she told plenty of others. At the right is an illustration of Charles Dickens literally dreaming up the things he wrote about. Catherine thought this unleashing of creativity in the dreamstate indicated that within us was a "Seer-in-the-Temple" who had great abilities often blocked by the normal functionings of our physical bodies. In dreams, some of this blockage was swept aside, possibly allowing a clearer seeing. Abercrombie told her of a patient of his [a young girl] who had been placed in a bedroom beside another in which an amateur, but virtuoso, violin player resided. He played long into the night, and, though good, the young girl hated it because she could get no sleep. This girl was a rather dull child as well, and showed no talent for music, nor much interest in anything of that sort. She became ill, and a charitable woman took her in and she was at last in a "silent" bedroom. The lady began hearing music at night, and, upon inspection, found that these sounds, well imitative of the violin [even to the tuning up], were issuing from the mouth of the child who remained asleep. The phenomenon increased to include piano sounds, and finally to spoken discourse upon erudite subjects of religion and politics, of which she seemed unaware when awake in the day. To us, it would seem that some sort of autistic genius had been released during the altered state of sleep. Catherine, without using that vocabulary, considered it so. But she had bigger fish to fry when it came to dream stories. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------A young man of fifteen [he told Catherine his story later in life] was visiting friends away from home when he had a powerful dream that his mother was very ill. He awoke, considered that his mother had been in good health when he left, assumed that it was "only a dream", and went back to sleep. The dream returned just as powerfully. He got up, dressed in the dark, and silently left his friend's house to make the long walk back home. When he arrived, his mother was still alive, but barely. She had been calling out his name for him to return. [This is no happy story as his mother soon died]. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------A sister dreamt that her brother called her to his bedside. He wanted her to deliver a letter to their aunt, so that she could pass it on to their other brother already deceased. In the dream he told her that he, the living brother, was going to be "there" soon, but their aunt would be "there" even before him, and could deliver the letter sooner than he. Still in the dream, the sister took the letter to the aunt, whom she found in a radiant shining state. The next morning the sister found that her aunt had passed that night. A short time later her brother also passed.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Dr. Abercrombie gave her this one: a sister dreamt that a valuable watch had stopped. While still in the dream, she "woke" and told her sister about the watch. Again in the continuing dream, her sister says "something more important has stopped"-their brother's heart. This shocks her awake. She goes to her brother's room, and all is OK. The next night it all happens again. But the following morning, while writing, she notices that the watch pictured in the dream has indeed stopped. Simultaneously there is a scream from her sister in her brother's room. He has just died. [Catherine notes the peculiar fact that there are a whole suite of anecdotes in which a time-keeping device fails at the moment of death. At Goethe's death, his clock allegedly quit working].------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------These stories could be the province of clairvoyance + deduction [from known failing conditions] + some post-death psychokinesis, rather than seeing-the-future in some direct manner. My theology [involving free-will and therefore a non-fixed future] would prefer it so, but the cases are challenging. Catherine herself says much the same thing.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The next case doesn't involve the dying. A gentleman from the south of Scotland told Catherine that he had a dream wherein he entered his office to find a former employee [of whom he had not thought in many months] sitting on a stool. He asked the clerk why he was there, and received the answer that he was at a point that he just felt the need to revisit old portions of his life and acquaintances. The dream being exceptionally vivid, he told others at breakfast, and went on to the office...where, of course, the former clerk awaited him, perched on the stool.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------An eminent Edinburgh lawyer dreamt that he was in the street watching a gallows wagon taking someone to be hung. The man's face was vivid and seemed evil. He told associates at breakfast the next day and went to the office. That afternoon two men arrived, one of whom was the man in the dream. they wished for his services as an advocate saying that some charge of murder was being laid. The barrister questioned them and became convinced that he would be defending a guilty party, so he refused [he admitted to Catherine that the dream had prejudiced him]. He said that their only chance was to run for it--which they did. They were, however, caught and tried together for the crime. As the story evolved, the one in the dream was guilty, the other was not. But both were convicted anyway. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Our last story of these chapters is a German tale, from Johan Jung-Stilling, and is not from the dream state. At the University of Marburg, the mathematics professor, a man named Boehm, was at a party with friends when he was afflicted with the most unusual urge to take his leave of them and go home. He fought this off for a while but it was ultimately too much and he left. Arriving at his residence, all was still not well as an urge was still at him; this time to move the bed in his room. This he thought was nonsensical and would not do so. The urge persisted and built until he relented and with the maid's help moved the bed to the other side of the room. Urgency suddenly left him, and feeling better, he returned to his party. Later that night, back at home and sleeping, he was awakened by a thunderous crash. A beam from the roof had ruptured and broken through the ceiling, landing in the former spot of his bed.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Catherine does not know exactly how to explain all these things. She only knows that they happen and should not be ignored. She attempts to grasp the problem of cause by building a model of human consciousness wherein occasional unusual mindstates or environmental circumstances release us from normal limitations and allow such marvels to come to mind.
Catherine's model is based loosely on her understanding of the sort of thinking involved in "Plato's Cave". Her "Seer-in-the-Temple {of the body}" is her more poetical way of phrasing this. She sees our normal consciousness as being fixed [by some law of natural design?] towards the physical universe of common experience. We "must" see in that "direction". Only when we are in some non-normal circumstance can the Seer "turn" [this is my phraseology not hers, but I firmly believe that this is what she is saying] and experience reality through different pathways, and experience entirely different elements of reality--ex. psychic gifts and spiritworld realities. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The whole thrust of her book aims at supporting the model that the human Seer {The Soul} rests under some form of Law of Design within the Temple {The Body} and can under some circumstances [often involving damage to or deprivation of the body] be released from these limitations and, in the extreme, produce Out-of-Body experiences [this term was already in use in the German literature] including most significantly wraiths, ghosts, poltergeists et al. The imaginative painting at the right would be one way of imagining the Seer loosed and coming out of another "cave mouth" to fly on the psychic winds, perhaps even "up the Light Tunnel" to the Divine. This breaking away from the forced fixation of normal consciousness is the route to all the paranormal and spirit experiences that she relates in Nightside. As said, I'll try to get back to some of her later chapter topics in the future.


  1. I'm enjoying your blog almost as much for the illustrations as its content. These are especially beautiful. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. Thanks. It actually is taking a lot of work to illustrate some of this, so I'm particularly grateful. Rowena is so good that she takes fantasy illustration to the heights of true higher art. I'm a bit proud of the illustration of the "dreamer" in the cave, as I had to "engineer" that one from an "anime-like" painting and a Hubble telescope picture. I can't promise that I'll keep this up though I'd like to. [old man; old neurons and energies].

  3. Thank you--worth the mind expansion to read.