The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson - by R.W. Emerson Institute, Jim Manley, Director -

THE name Demonology covers dreams, omens, coincidences, luck, sortilege, magic and other experiences which shun rather than court inquiry, and deserve notice chiefly because every man has usually in a lifetime two or three hints in this kind which are specially impressive to him. They also shed light on our structure.

The witchcraft of sleep divides with truth the empire of our lives. This soft enchantress visits two children lying locked in each other's arms, and carries them asunder by wide spaces of land and sea, and wide intervals of time:

"There lies a sleeping city, God of dreams!
What an unreal and fantastic world Is going on below!
Within the sweep of yon encircling wall
How many a large creation of the night, Wide wilderness and mountain, rock and sea, Peopled with busy, transitory groups,
Finds room to rise, and never feels the crowd."

'T is superfluous to think of the dreams of multitudes, the astonishment remains that one should dream; that we should resign so quietly this deifying Reason, and become the theatre of delirious shows, wherein time, space, persons, cities, animals, should dance before us in merry and mad confusion; a delicate creation outdoing the prime and flower of actual Nature, antic comedy alternating with horrid pictures. Sometimes the forgotten companions of childhood reappear:

"They come, in dim procession led,
The cold, the faithless, and the dead,
As warm each hand, each brow as gay,
As if they parted yesterday:"

or we seem busied for hours and days in peregrinations over seas and lands, in earnest dialogues, strenuous actions for nothings and absurdities, cheated by spectral jokes and waking suddenly with ghastly laughter, to be rebuked by the cold, lonely, silent midnight, and to rake with confusion in memory among the gibbering nonsense to find the motive of this contemptible cachinnation. Dreams are jealous of being remembered; they dissipate instantly and angrily if you try to hold them. When newly awaked from lively dreams, we are so near them, still agitated by them, still in their sphere,-give us one syllable, one feature, one hint, and we should repossess the whole; hours of this strange entertainment would come trooping back to us; but we cannot get our hand on the first link or fibre, and the whole is lost. There is a strange wilfulness in the speed with which it disperses and baffles our grasp.

A dislocation seems to be the foremost trait of dreams. A painful imperfection almost always attends them. The fairest forms, the most noble and excellent persons, are deformed by some pitiful and insane circumstance. The very landscape and scenery in a dream seem not to fit us, but like a coat or cloak of some other person to overlap and encumber the wearer; so is the ground, the road, the house, in dreams, too long or too short, and if it served no other purpose would show us how accurately Nature fits man awake.

There is one memory of waking and another of sleep. In our dreams the same scenes and fancies are many times associated, and that too, it would seem, for years. In sleep one shall travel certain roads in stage-coaches or gigs, which he recognizes as familiar, and has dreamed that ride a dozen times; or shall walk alone in familiar fields and meadows, which road or which meadow in waking hours he never looked upon. This feature of dreams deserves the more attention from its singular resemblance to that obscure yet startling experience which almost every person confesses in daylight, that particular passages of conversation and action have occurred to him in the same order before, whether dreaming or waking; a suspicion that they have been with precisely these persons in precisely this room, and heard precisely this dialogue, at some former hour, they know not when.

Animals have been called "the dreams of Nature." Perhaps for a conception of their consciousness we may go to our own dreams. In a dream we have the instinctive obedience, the same torpidity of the highest power, the same unsurprised assent to the monstrous as these metamorphosed men exhibit. Our thoughts in a stable or in a menagerie, on the other hand, may well remind us of our dreams. What compassion do these imprisoning forms awaken! You may catch the glance of a dog sometimes which lays a kind of claim to sympathy and brotherhood. What! somewhat of me down there? Does he know it? Can he too, as I, go — of himself, see himself, perceive relations? We fear lest the poor brute should gain one dreadful glimpse of his condition, should learn in some moment the tough limitations of this fettering organization. It was in this glance that Ovid got the hint of his metamorphosis; Calidasa of his transmigration of souls. For these fables are our own thoughts carried out. What keeps those wild tales in circulation for thousands of years? What but the wild fact to which they suggest some approximation of theory? Nor is the fact quite solitary, for in varieties of our own species where organization seems to predominate over the genius of man, in Kalmuk or Malay or Flathead Indian, we are sometimes pained by the same feeling; and sometimes too the sharpwitted prosperous white man awakens it. In a mixed assembly we have chanced to see not only a glance of Abdiel, so grand and keen, but also in other faces the features of the mink, of the bull, of the rat and the barn-door fowl. You think, could the man overlook his own condition, he could not be restrained from suicide.

Dreams have a poetic integrity and truth. This limbo and dust-hole of thought is presided over by a certain reason, too. Their extravagance from nature is yet within a higher nature. They seem to us to suggest an abundance and fluency of thought not familiar to the waking experience. They pique us by independence of us, yet we know ourselves in this mad crowd, and owe to dreams a kind of divination and wisdom. My dreams are not me; they are not Nature, or the Not-me: they are both. They have a double consciousness, at once sub- and objective. We call the phantoms that rise, the creation of our fancy, but they act like mutineers, and fire on their commander; showing that every act, every thought, every cause, is bipolar, and in the act is contained the counteraction. If I strike, I am struck; if I chase, I am pursued.

Wise and sometimes terrible hints shall in them be thrown to the man out of a quite unknown intelligence. He shall be startled two or three times in his life by the justice as well as the significance of this phantasmagoria. Once or twice the conscious fetters shall seem to be unlocked, and a freer utterance attained. A prophetic character in all ages has haunted them. They are the maturation often of opinions not consciously carried out to statements, but whereof we already possessed the elements. Thus, when awake, I know the character of Rupert, but do not think what he may do. In dreams I see him engaged in certain actions which seem preposterous,—- of all fitness. He is hostile, he is cruel, be is frightful, he is a poltroon. It turns — prophecy a year later. But it was already in my mind as character, and the sibyl dreams merely embodied it in fact. Why then should not symptoms, auguries, forebodings be, and, as one said, the moanings of the spirit?

We are let by this experience into the high region of Cause, and acquainted with the identity of very unlike-seeming effects. We learn that actions whose turpitude is very differently reputed proceed from one and the same affection. Sleep takes off the costume of circumstance, arms us with terrible freedom, so that every will rushes to a deed. A skilful man reads his dreams for his self-knowledge; yet not the details, but the quality. What part does be play in them,–a cheerful, manly part, or a poor drivelling part? However monstrous and grotesque their apparitions, they have a substantial truth. The same remark may be extended to the omens and coincidences which may have astonished us. Of all it is true that the reason of them is always latent in the individual. Goethe said: "These whimsical pictures, inasmuch as they originate from us, may well have an analogy with our whole life and fate.

The soul contains in itself the event that shall presently befall it, for the event is only the actualizing of its thoughts. It is no wonder that particular dreams and presentiments should fall out and be prophetic. The fallacy consists in selecting a few insignificant hints when all are inspired with the same sense. As if one should exhaust his astonishment at the economy of his thumb-nail, and overlook the central causal miracle of his being a man. Every man goes through the world attended with innumerable facts prefiguring (yes, distinctly announcing) his fate, if only eyes of sufficient heed and illumination were fastened on the sign. The sign is always there, if only the eye were also; just as under every tree in the speckled sunshine and shade no man notices that every spot of light is a perfect image of the sun, until in some hour the moon eclipses the luminary; and then first we notice that the spots of light have become crescents, or annular, and correspond to the changed figure of the sun. Things are significant enough, Heaven knows; but the seer of the sign, -where is he? We doubt not a man's fortune may be read in the lines of his hand, by palmistry; in the lines of his face, by physiognomy; in the outlines of the skull, by craniology: the lines are all there, but the reader waits. The long waves indicate to the instructed mariner that there is no near land in the direction from which they come. Belzoni describes the three marks which led him to dig for a door to the pyramid of Ghizeh. What thousands had beheld the same spot for so many ages, and seen no three marks.

Secret analogies tie together the remotest parts of Nature, as the atmosphere of a summer morning is filled with innumerable gossamer threads running in every direction, revealed by the beams of the rising sun! All life, all creation, is tell-tale and betraying. A man reveals himself in every glance and step and movement and rest:–

"Head with foot bath private amity,
And both with moons and tides."

Not a mathematical axiom but is a moral rule. The jest and byword to an intelligent ear extends its meaning to the soul and to all time. Indeed, all productions of man are so anthropomorphous that not possibly can he invent any fable that shall not have a deep moral and be true in senses and to an extent never intended by the inventor. Thus all the bravest tales of Homer and the poets, modern philosophers can explain with profound judgment of law and state and ethics. Lucian has an idle tale that Pancrates, journeying from Memphis to Coppus, and wanting a servant, took a door-bar and pronounced over it magical words, and it stood up and brought him water, and turned a spit, and carried bundles, doing all the work of a slave. What is this but a prophecy of the progress of art? For Pancrates write Watt or Fulton, and for "magical words" write "steam;" and do they not make an iron bar and half a dozen wheels do the work, not of one, but of a thousand skilful mechanics?

"Nature," said Swedenborg, "makes almost as much demand on our faith as miracles do." And I find nothing in fables more astonishing than my experience in every hour. One moment of a man's life is a fact so stupendous as to take the lustre out of all fiction. The lovers of marvels, of what we call the occult and unproved sciences, of mesmerism, of astrology, of coincidences, of intercourse, by writing or by rapping or by painting, with departed spirits, need not reproach us with incredulity because we are slow . to accept their statement. It is not the incredibility of the fact, but a certain want of harmony between the action and the agents. We are used to vaster wonders than these that are alleged. In the hands of poets, of devout and simple minds, nothing in the line of their character and genius would surprise us. But we should look for the style of the great artist in it, look for completeness and harmony. Nature never works like a conjuror, to surprise, rarely by shocks, but by infinite graduation; so that we live embosomed in sounds we do not hear, scents we do not smell, spectacles we see not, and by innumerable impressions so softly laid on that though important we do not discover them until our attention is called to them.

For Spiritism, it shows that no man, almost, is fit to give evidence. Then I say to the amiable and sincere among them, these matters are quite too important than that I can rest them on any legends. If I have no facts, as you allege, I can very well wait for them. I am content and occupied with such miracles as I know, such as my eyes and ears daily show me, such as humanity and astronomy. If any others are important to me they will certainly be shown to me.

In times most credulous of these fancies the sense was always met and the superstition rebuked by the grave spirit of reason and humanity. When Hector is told that the omens are unpropitious, he replies,

"One omen is the best, to fight for one's country."

Euripides said, "He is not the best prophet who guesses well, and he is not the wisest man whose guess turns out well in the event, but he who, whatever the event be, takes reason and probability for his guide." "Swans, horses, dogs and dragons," says Plutarch, "we distinguish as sacred, and vehicles of the divine foresight, and yet we cannot believe that men are sacred and favorites of Heaven." The poor shipmaster discovered a sound theology, when in the storm at sea he made his prayer to Neptune, "0 God, thou mayest save me if thou wilt, and if thou wilt thou mayest destroy me; but, however, I will hold my rudder true." Let me add one more example of the same good sense, in a story quoted out of Hecateus of Abdera:–

"As I was once travelling by the Red Sea, there was one among the horsemen that attended us named Masollam, a brave and strong man, and according to the testimony of all the Greeks and barbarians, a very skilful archer. Now while the whole multitude was on the way, an augur called out to them to stand still, and this man inquired the reason of their halting. The augur showed him a bird, and told him, 'If that bird remained where he was, it would be better for them all to remain; if he flew on, they might proceed; but it he flew back, they must return.' The Jew said nothing, but bent his bow and shot the bird to the ground. This act offended the augur and some others, and they began to utter imprecations against the Jew. But he replied, 'Wherefore? Why are you so foolish as to take care of this unfortunate bird? How could this fowl give us any wise directions respecting our journey, when he could not save his own life? Had he known anything of futurity, he would not have come here to be killed by the arrow of Masollam the Jew.' "

It is not the tendency of our times to ascribe importance to whimsical pictures of sleep, or to omens. But the faith in peculiar and alien power takes another form in the modern mind, much more resembling the ancient doctrine of the guardian genius. The belief that particular individuals are attended by a good fortune which makes them desirable associates in any enterprise of uncertain success, exists not only among those who take part in political and military projects, but influences all joint action of commerce and affairs, and a corresponding assurance in the individuals so distinguished meets and justifies the expectation of others by a boundless self-trust. "I have a lucky hand, sir," said Napoleon to his hesitating Chancellor; "those on whom I lay it are fit for anything." This faith is familiar in one form,-that often a certain abdication of prudence and foresight is an element of success; that children and young persons come off safe from casualties that would have proved dangerous to wiser people. We do not think the young will be forsaken ; but he is fast approaching the age when the sub-miraculous external protection and leading are withdrawn and he is committed to his own care. The young man takes a leap in the dark and alights safe. As he comes into manhood he remembers passages and persons that seem, as he looks at them now, to have been supernaturally deprived of injurious influence on him. His eyes were holden that he could not see. But he learns that such risks he may no longer run. He observes, with pain, not that he incurs mishaps here and there, but that his genius, whose invisible benevolence was tower and shield to him, is no longer present and active.

In the popular belief, ghosts are a selecting tribe, avoiding millions, speaking to one. In our traditions, fairies, angels and saints show the like favoritism; so do the agents and the means of magic, as sorcerers and amulets. This faith in a doting power, so easily sliding into the current belief everywhere, and, in the particular lucky days and fortunate persons, as frequent in America to day as the faith in incantations and philters was in old Rome, or the whole some potency of the sign of the cross in modern Rome,-this supposed power

runs athwart the recognized agencies, natural. and moral, which science and religion explore. Heeded though it be in many actions and partnerships, it is not the power to which we build churches, or make liturgies and prayers, or which we regard in passing laws, or found college professorships to expound. Goethe has said in his Autobiography what is much to the purpose:–

"I believe that I discovered in nature, animate and inanimate, intelligent and brute, somewhat which manifested itself only in contradiction, and therefore could not be grasped by a conception, much less. by a word. It was not god-like, since it seemed unreasonable; not human, since it had no understanding; not devilish, since it was beneficent; not angelic, since it is often a marplot. It resembled chance, since it showed no sequel. It resembled Providence, since it pointed at connection. All which limits us seemed permeable to that. It seemed to deal at pleasure with the necessary elements of our constitution; it shortened time and extended space. Only in the impossible it seemed to delight, and the possible to repel with contempt. This, which seemed to insert itself between all other things, to sever them, to bind them, I named the Demoniacal, after the example of the ancients, and of those who had observed the like.

"Although every demoniacal property can manifest itself in the corporeal and incorporeal, yes, in beasts too in a remarkable manner, yet it stands specially in wonderful relations with men, and forms in the moral world, though not an antagonist, yet a transverse element, so that the former may be called the warp, the latter the woof. For the phenomena which hence originate there are countless names, since all philosophies and religions have attempted in prose or in poetry to solve this riddle, and to settle the thing once for all, as indeed they may be allowed to do.

"But this demonic element appears most fruitful when it shows itself as the determining characteristic in an individual. In the course of my life I have been able to observe several such, some near, some farther off. They are not always superior persons, either in mind or in talent. They seldom recommend themselves through goodness of heart. But a monstrous force goes out from them, and they exert an incredible power over all creatures, and even over the elements; who shall say how far such an influence may extend? All united moral powers avail nothing against them. In vain do the clear-headed part of mankind discredit them as deceivers or deceived,-the mass is attracted. Seldom or never do they meet their match among their contemporaries; they are not to be conquered save by the universe itself, against which they have taken up arms. Out of such experiences doubtless arose the strange, monstrous proverb, 'Nobody against God but God.' "

It would be easy in the political history of every time to furnish examples of this irregular success, men having a force which without virtue, without shining talent, yet makes them prevailing. No equal appears in the field against them. A power goes out from them which draws all men and events to favor them. The crimes they commit, the exposures which follow, and which would ruin any other man, are strangely overlooked, or do more strangely turn to their account.

I set down these things as I find them, but however poetic these twilights of thought, I like daylight, and I find somewhat wilful, some play at blind-man's-buff, when men as wise as Goethe talk mysteriously of the demonological. The insinuation is that the known eternal laws of morals and matter are sometimes corrupted or evaded by this gypsy principle, which chooses favorites and works in the dark for their behoof; as if the laws of the Father of the universe were sometimes balked and eluded by a meddlesome Aunt of the universe for her pets. You will observe that this extends the popular idea of success to the very gods; that they foster a success to you which is not a success to all; that fortunate men, fortunate youths exist, whose good is not virtue or the public good, but a private good, robbed from the rest. It is a midsummer madness, corrupting all who hold the tenet. The demonologic is only a fine name for egotism; an exaggeration namely of the individual, whom it is Nature's settled purpose to postpone. "There is one world common to all who are awake, but each sleeper betakes himself to one of his own." Dreams retain the infirmities of our character. The good genius may be there or not, our evil genius is sure to stay. The Ego partial makes the dream; the Ego total the interpretation. Life is also a dream on the same terms.

The history of man is a series of conspiracies to win from Nature some advantage without paying for it. It is curious to see what grand powers we have a hint of and are mad to grasp, yet how slow Heaven is to trust us with such edge-tools. "All that frees talent without increasing self-command is noxious." Thus the fabled ring of Gyges, making the wearer invisible, which is represented in modern fable by the telescope as used by Schlemil, is simply mischievous. A new or private language, used to serve only low or political purposes; the transfusion of the blood; the steam battery, so fatal as to put an end to war by the threat of universal murder; the desired discovery of the guided balloon, are of this kind. Tramps are troublesome enough in the city and in the highways, but tramps flying through the air and descending on the lonely traveller or the lonely farmer's house or the bank-messenger in the country, can well be spared. Men are not fit to be trusted with these talismans.

Before we acquire great power we must acquire wisdom to use it well. Animal magnetism inspires the prudent and moral with a certain terror; so the divination of contingent events, and the alleged second-sight of the pseudo-spiritualists. There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant, and these are such. Shun them as you would the secrets of the undertaker and the butcher. The best are never demoniacal or magnetic; leave this limbo to the Prince of the power of the air. The lowest angel is better. It is the height of the animal; below the region of the divine. Power as such is not known to the angels.

Great men feel that they are so by sacrificing their selfishness and falling back on what is humane; in renouncing family, clan, country and each exclusive and local connection, to beat with the pulse and breathe with the lungs of nations. A Highland chief, an Indian sachem or a feudal baron may fancy that the mountains and lakes were made specially for him Donald, or him Tecumseh; that the one question for history is the pedigree of his house, and future ages will be busy with his renown; that he has a guardian angel; that he is not in the roll of common men, but obeys a high family destiny; when he acts, unheard – of success evinces the presence of rare agents; what is to befall him, omens and coincidences foreshow; when he dies, banshees will announce his fate to kinsmen in foreign parts. What more facile than to project this exuberant selfhood into the region where individuality is forever bounded by generic and cosmical laws? The deepest flattery, and that to which we can never be insensible, is the flattery of omens.

We may make great eyes if we like, and say of one on whom the sun shines, "What luck presides over him!" But we know that the law of the Universe is one for each and for all. There is as precise and as describable a reason for every fact occurring to him, as for any occurring to any man. Every fact in which the moral elements intermingle is not the less under the dominion of fatal law. Lord Bacon uncovers the magic when lie says, "Manifest virtues procure reputation; occult ones, fortune." Thus the so-called fortunate man is one who, though not gifted to speak when the people listen, or to act with grace or with understanding to great ends, yet is one who, in actions of a low or common pitch, relies on his instincts, and simply does not act where he should not, but waits his time, and without effort acts when the need is. If to this you add a fitness to the society around him, you have the elements of fortune; so that in a particular circle and knot of affairs he is not so much his own man as the hand of Nature and time. Just as his eye and hand work exactly together,-and to hit the mark with a stone he has only to fasten his eye firmly on the mark and his arm will swing true,-so the main ambition and genius being bestowed in one direction, the lesser spirit and in voluntary aids with in his sphere will follow. The fault of most men is that they are busybodies; do not wait the simple movement of the soul, but interfere and thwart the instructions of their own minds.

Coincidences, dreams, animal magnetism, omens, sacred lots. have great interest for some minds. They run into this twilight and say. ''There's more than is dreamed of in your philosophy." Certainly these facts are interesting, and deserve to be considered. But they are entitled only to a share of attention, and not a large share. Nil magnifcum, nil generosum sapit. Let their value as exclusive subjects of attention be judged of by the infallible test of the state of mind in which much notice of them leaves us. Read a page of Cudworth or of Bacon, and we are exhilarated and armed to manly duties, Read demonology or Colquhoun's Report, and we are bewildered and perhaps a little besmirched. We grope. They who love them say they are to reveal to us a world of unknown unsuspected truths. But suppose a diligent collection and study of these occult facts were made, they are merely physiological, semi-medical, related to the machinery of man, opening to our curiosity how we live, and no aid on the superior problems why we live, and what we do. While the dilettanti have been prying into the humors and muscles of the eye, simple men will have helped themselves and the world by using their eyes.

And this is not the least remarkable fact which the adepts have developed. Men who had never wondered at anything, who h a d thought it the most natural thing in the world that t h e y should exist in this orderly and replenished world. have been unable to suppress their amazement at the disclosures of the somnambulist. The peculiarity of the history of Animal Magnetism is that it drew in as inquirers and students a class of persons never on any other occasion known as students and inquirers. Of course the inquiry is pursued on low principles. Animal Magnetism peeps. It becomes in such hands a black art. The uses of the thing, the commodity, the power, at once conic to mind and direct the course of inquiry. It seems to open again that door which was open to the imagination of childhood of magicians and fairies and lamps of Aladdin, the travelling cloak, the shoes of swiftness and the sword of sharpness that were to satisfy the uttermost wish of the senses without danger or a drop of sweat, But as Nature can never be out witted, as in the Universe no man was ever known to get a cent's worth with out paying in some form or other the cent, so this prodigious promiser ends always and always will, as sorcery and alchemy have done before, in very small and smoky performance.

Mesmerism is high life below stairs: Momus playing Jove in the kitchens of Olympus. 'T is a low curiosity or lust of structure, and is separated by celestial diameters from the love of spiritual truths. It is wholly a false view to couple these things in any manner with the religious nature and sentiment, and a most dangerous superstition to raise them to the lofty place of motives and sanctions. This is to prefer halos and rainbows to the sun and moon. These adepts have mistaken flatulency for inspiration. Were this drivel which they report as the voice of spirits really such, we must find out a more decisive suicide. I say to the table rappers:

"I well believe
Thou wilt not utter what thou dust not know,
And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate."

They are ignorant of all that is healthy and useful to know, and by laws of kind, -dunces seeking dunces in the dark of what they call the spiritual world,-preferring snores and gastric noises to the voice of any muse. I think the rappings a new test, like blue litmus or other chemical absorbent, to try catechisms with. It detects organic skepticism in the very heads of the Church. 'T is a lawless world. We have left the geometry, the compensation, and the conscience of the daily world, and come into the realm or chaos of chance and pretty or ugly confusion; no guilt and no virtue, but a droll bedlam, where everybody believes only after his humor, and the actors and spectators have no conscience or reflection, no police, no foot-rule, no sanity,-nothing but whine and whim creative.

Meantime far be from me the impatience which cannot brook the supernatural, the vast; far be from me the lust of explaining away all which appeals to the imagination, and the great presentiments which haunt us. Willingly I too say, Hail! to the unknown awful powers which transcend the ken of the understanding. And the attraction which this topic has had for me and which induces me to unfold its parts before you is precisely because I think the number less forms in which this superstition has reappeared in every time and every people indicates the inextinguishableness of wonder in man; betrays his conviction that behind all your explanations is a vast and potent and living Nature, inexhaustible and sublime, which you cannot explain. He is sure no book, no man has told him all. He is sure the great Instinct, the circumambient soul which flows into him as into all, and is his life, has not been searched. He is sure the intimate relations subsist between his character and his fortunes, between him and his world; and until he can adequately tell them he will tell them wildly and fabulously. Demonology is the shadow of Theology.

The whole world is an omen and a sign. Why look so wistfully in a corner? Man is the Image of God. Why run after a ghost or a dream? The voice of divination resounds everywhere and runs to waste unheard, unregarded, as the mountains echo with the bleatings of cattle.

The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson