The Psychic in Literature
Dorothy Scarborough, PhD
War, that relentless disturber of boundaries and of traditions in a spiritual as well as a material sense, has brought a tremendous revival of interest in the life after death and the possibility of communication between the living and the dead. As France became nearer to millions over here because our soldiers lived there for a few months, as French soil will forever be holy ground because our dead rest there, so the far country of the soul likewise seems nearer because of those young adventurers. The conflict which changed the map of Europe has in the minds of many effaced the boundaries between this world and the world beyond. Winifred Kirkland, in her book, The New Death, discusses the new concept of death, and the change in our standards that it is making. “We are used to speaking of this or that friend’s philosophy of life; the time has now come when every one of us who is to live at peace with his own brain must possess also a philosophy of death.” This New Death, she says, is so far mainly an immense yearning receptivity, an unprecedented humility of brain and of heart toward all implications of survival. She believes that it is an influence which is entering the lives of the people as a whole, not a movement of the intellectuals, nor the result of psychical research propaganda, but arising from the simple, elemental emotions of the soul, from human love and longing for reassurance of continued life.
“If a man die, shall he live again?” has been propounded ever since Job’s agonized inquiry. Now numbers are asking in addition, “Can we have communication with the dead?” Science, long derisive, is sympathetic to the questioning, and while many believe and many doubt, the subject is one that interests more people than ever before. Professor James Hyslop, Secretary of the American Society for Psychical Research, believes that the war has had great influence in arousing new interest in psychical subjects and that tremendous spiritual discoveries may come from it.
Literature, always a little ahead of life, or at least in advance of general thinking, has in the more recent years been acutely conscious of this new influence. Poetry, the drama, the novel, the short story, have given affirmative answer to the question of the soul’s survival after death. No other element has so largely entered into the tissue of recent literature as has the supernatural, which now we meet in all forms in the writings of all lands. And no aspect of the ghostly art is more impressive or more widely used than the introduction of the spirit of the dead seeking to manifest itself to the living. No thoughtful person can fail to be interested in a theme which has so affected literature as has the ghostly, even though he may disbelieve what the Psychical Researchers hold to be established.