Magic and Mystery: Popular History
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Pages (PDF): 113
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Chapters include: Superstition; Magic; Mystery; Fairies And Devils; Faith-Healing And Medicine; Theosophy: Ancient And Modern; Death; Corpses And Funerals; Occult Forces: Animal Magnetism, Ether, And Mesmerism; Astrology And Alchemy; Spectral Illusions, Ghosts, And Second-Sight; Theology And The 'Isms'; and Religion And Religions.
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Superstition in a nation depends very much upon climate, temperament, religion, and occupation. Notions entertained of supernatural beings or things, though generally based upon one broad feature common to all countries, differ so essentially respecting the form, character, habits, and powers of these beings that they appear to have been drawn from sources widely removed. The advance of knowledge and the truths of evolution have almost convinced us that belief in the supernatural (unrevealed) is nothing but the creation of the human brain, impressed upon the imagination of our ancestors at periods when such impressions were likely to be strong and permanent, and transmitted within the iron- bound certainty of the laws of heredity. Legends have forever been beheld through different prejudices and impressions. They have constantly changed with the media and vistas through which they have been viewed.
Hence their different shape, character, and attributes in different countries, and the frequent absence of rational analogy with respect to them even in the same. Where now are the multitudinous creations of the old Greek and Roman mythologies? Where are their Lares, Demons, Penates, their Fauns, Satyrs, Nymphs, Dryads, Hamadryads, Gods, and Goddesses? And yet the peasantry of the two most enlightened nations of antiquity were so firmly fixed in a belief of their distinct and individual existence that the worship of them formed an essential part of their religions. Who now believes in a Faun or a Dryad? They melted into what they were—nothing—before the lustre of Christian knowledge; but only, alas! to be substituted by newer notions and imagery, purer it may be, but superstitious undoubtedly. Fear and hope are the feelings which make man superstitious. He doubts as to his immortality, his intellect is limited, and his superstition varies in proportion to his preparedness for death. Every truth is abused and perverted by man’s moral delinquencies, and the consequence is that an idle fear of ghosts and apparitions and future states is a resultant of the doctrine of our immortality. The old monsters of the mythologies disappeared before reason and religion. It is the question of the hour what will succeed the Christianity which needs reform, or else must be "writ down" a failure.
This is said to be an age of Materialism, and modern science boasts to have exploded old superstitious beliefs. Yet it is curious how constantly old traditions and fancies crop up amid the most prosaic surroundings of modern existence. There are certainly many people at the present day whose belief in invisible agencies is untouched by all the learning of the ages. Educated persons will attend spirit-rapping seances and cultivate many small superstitious observances. To spill salt, or to sit down thirteen at table, is considered as objectionable in this enlightened century as it ever was in what we are pleased to describe as the "Dark Ages." The appearance of two or three magpies, hares crossing one’s path, the cracking of furniture, the howling of dogs, putting on the left shoe first, the ticking noise of the insect called the death-watch in rotten wood, and a hundred other occurrences, have lost none of the pagan pungency which makes them fit to be believed in. We call our superstitions by different names; but we cling to them still. Matters that admit of no explanation must always puzzle and make anxious. A strange fascination hangs about those subjects upon which no consistent theory has ever been formed—subjects the nerves and fibres of which have never yet been laid bare by the forceps and the scalpels of microscopic science. It is to a survey of some such subjects that the subsequent chapters of this little work will be devoted.
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