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W.T. Stead on Clairvoyancy

Excerpted from W. T. Stead, Borderland: a Casebook of True Supernatural Studies (1970) part I, ch. II, pp. 64-65
Previously published as W. T. Stead Real Ghost Stories (1897)

It is difficult for those who are not clairvoyant to understand what those who are clairvoyant describe, often with the most extraordinary precision and detail. Unfortunately for myself I am not a clairvoyant, but on one occasion I had an experience which enabled me to understand something of clairvoyant vision. I had been working late at night, and had gone to bed at about two o'clock in the morning somewhat tired, having spent several hours in preparing "Real Ghost Stories" for the press. I got into bed, but was not able to go to sleep, as usual, as soon as my head touched the pillow. I suppose my mind had been too much excited by hard work right up to the moment of going to bed for me readily to go to sleep. I shut my eyes and waited for sleep to come; instead of sleep, however, there came to me a succession of curiously vivid clairvoyant pictures. There was no light in the room, and it was perfectly dark; I had my eyes shut also. But, notwithstanding the darkness, I suddenly was conscious of looking at a scene of singular beauty. It was as if I saw a living miniature about the size of a magic-lantern slide. At this moment I can recall the scene as if I saw it again. It was a seaside piece. The moon was shining upon the water, which rippled slowly on to the beach. Right before me a long mole ran out into the water. On either side of the mole irregular rocks stood up above the sea-level. On the shore stood several houses, square and rude, which resembled nothing that I had ever seen in house architecture. No one was stirring, but the moon was there, and the sea and the gleam of the moonlight on the rippling waters was just as if I had been looking out upon the actual scene. It was so beautiful that I remember thinking that if it continued I should be so interested in looking at it that I should never go to sleep. I was wide awake, and at the same time that I saw the scene I distinctly heard the dripping of the rain outside the window. Then suddenly, without any apparent object or reason, the scene changed. The moonlit sea vanished, and in its place I was looking right into the interior of a reading-room.

It seemed as if it had been used as a schoolroom in the daytime and was employed as a reading-room in the evening. I remember seeing one reader, who had a curious resemblance to Tim Harrington, although it was not he, hold up a magazine or book in his hand and laugh. It was not a picture—it was there. The scene was just as if you were looking through an opera-glass; you saw the play of the muscles, the gleaming of the eye, every movement of the unknown persons in the unnamed place into which you were gazing. I saw all that without opening my eyes, nor did my eyes have anything to do with it. You see such things as these, as it were, with another sense, which is more inside your head than in your eyes. This was a very poor and paltry experience, but it enabled me to understand better how it was that clairvoyants see than any amount of disquisition. The pictures were apropos of nothing; they had been suggested by nothing I had been reading or talking of, they simply came as if I had been able to look through a glass at what was occurring somewhere else in the world. I had my peep and then it passed, nor have I had a recurrence of a similar experience.

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