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Geologist Galivants with Spirits and Fairies May 9, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

John Beaumont (obit 1751)  was a celebrated, to use an anachronistic word, geologist. He also experienced ‘the other side’ with a rush of spirits and ghosts that would have thrilled a wind-sock. One passage from his An Historical Physiological and Theological Treatise of Spirits, Apparitions, Witchcrafts, and Other Magical Practises are well known because they describe his first-hand Blake-style interaction with the spirit world. These passages were picked up by several nineteenth-century writers and they eventually found their way into Lewis Spence’s Occult Encylopedia. They give a sense of a man (however you explain his experiences) labouring under an immense mental weight.

I had two spirits, who constantly attended me, night and day, for above three months together, who called each other by their names; and several spirits would call at my chamber door, and ask whether such spirits lived there, and they would answer they did. As for the other spirits that attended me, I heard none of their names mentioned only I asked one spirit, which came for some nights together, and rung a little bell in my ear, what his name was, who answered Ariel [!]. The two spirits that constantly attended myself appeared both in women’s habit, they being of brown complexion, about three feet in stature; they had both black loose net-work gowns, tied with a black sash about the middle, and within the net-work appeared a gown of a golden colour, with somewhat of a light striking through it. Their heads were not dressed in top-knots, but they had white linen caps on, with lace on them about three fingers’ breadth, and over it they had a black loose net-work hood.

I would not, for the whole world, undergo what I have undergone, upon spirits coming twice to me; their first coming was most dreadful to me, the thing being then altogether new, and consequently most surprising, though at the first coming they did not appear to me but only called to me at my chamber-windows, rung bells, sung to me, and played on music, etc.; but the last coming also carried terror enough; for when they came, being only five in number, the two women before mentioned, and three men (though afterwards there came hundreds), they told me they would kill me if I told any person in the house of their being there, which put me in some consternation; and I made a servant sit up with me four nights in my chamber, before a fire, it being in the Christmas holidays, telling no person of their being there. One of these spirits, in women’s dress, lay down upon the bed by me every night; and told me, if I slept, the spirits would kill me, which kept me waking for three nights.

In the meantime, a near relation of mine went (though unknown to me) to a physician of my acquaintance, desiring him to prescribe me somewhat for sleeping, which he did, and a sleeping potion was brought me; but I set it by, being very desirous and inclined to sleep without it. The fourth night I could hardly forbear sleeping; but the spirit, lying on the bed by me, told me again, I should be killed if I slept; whereupon I rose and sat by the fireside, and in a while returned to my bed; and so I did a third time, but was still threatened as before; whereupon I grew impatient, and asked the spirits what they would have? Told them I had done the part of a Christian, in humbling myself to God and feared them not; and rose from my bed, took a cane, and knocked at the ceiling of my chamber, a near relation of mine then lying over me, who presently rose and came down to me about two o’clock in the morning, to whom I said, ‘You have seen me disturbed these four days past, and that I have not slept: the occasion of it was, that five spirits, which are not in the room with me, have threatened to kill me if I told any person of their being here, or if I slept; but I am not able to forbear sleeping longer, and acquaint you with it, and now stand in defiance of them’; and thus I exerted myself about them and notwithstanding their continued threats I slept very well the next night, and continued to do so, though they continued with me above three months, day and night.

Beach has not unfortunately been able to get his hands on the Treatise yet. However, he has been reading, with great interest, The Gleanings by the same author, where Beaumont is rather more contemplative about these etheral beings in a notable appendix entitled Notes Concerning Genii or Familiar Spirits. Here, indeed, Beaumont says things that would have got him burnt a hundred years and hung fifty years prior to publication.

And as I have averr’d my own Experience in this kind, I mud declare, that as often as those Genii have appear’d to me, it has always been with that swimming Motion through the Air, and not setting one Foot before the other, as usual with Men, when they pass from one place to another. I know many Persons laugh at all Apparitions; and it’s not for those I record these things, but for those to whom such Genii may appear ; who, as they will be much surprized at the first Sight of them, I know will be glad to find that others have had the like Experiences, and to be instructed in the manner of their Appearance, and in what they may portend. I shall farther here observe to you, that whenever such Genii have appeared to me, I have always look’d on my self to have been, for that time, in an extatick State of Mind; and conclude, that most: Persons, who see Apparitions, unseeen by others, present with them, are in such a state, tho’ many times unobserv’d by themselves, the various Dispositions of Men’s Minds not being to be understood without a good share of philosophical Learning, and much Application used. In this extatick state of Mind, Men are said to dream waking and the antient Poets call this a dreaming on Parnassus, in which Dream their Minds were opened, and they were led into Knowledges.

Beaumont goes on to speculate on some other facts of the spirit world including the question of whether or not second sight is transmitted to children when one parent in an ‘extatick’ state while ‘creating’ the child. He also wonders whether much of the familiars of witchcraft and the evidence of the witch trials cannot be explained by such phenomenon.

Beach is always curious about the relation between spirits and fairies in the popular imagination and he was interested to read in a short biographical sketch of Beaumont in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that Beaumont (allegedly) married his wife on the instructions of a fairy. (‘Sloane claimed that fairies had instructed Beaumont to marry Dorothy, daughter of John Speccot, of Penheale, Egloskerry, Cornwall, who did indeed become his wife’.) However, he’s not yet tracked down a source for this. Can anyone help? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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14 May 2012: With characteristic kindness Wade writes in with the source. ‘Here’ s Beaumont’s treatise: It must be the same person even though the date of death as 1731.’ No references to Beaumont’s wife unfortunately. Invisible speculates: ‘On John Beaumont’s fairy visitations, I wonder if it is possible that he was suffering from Charles Bonnet Syndrome, which is characterized by elaborate visual hallucinations. Some sufferers also report auditory hallucinations, although the music and bell sounds Beaumont reports sound more like tinnitus. So many fairy/spirit appearances; so little chance of matching them with modern medical diagnoses…. Then JK writes ‘I just read your latest article and found it fascinating. I also looked for the book and was rather surprised to find it (if real) on iTunes! Such books are usually buried in the Gutenberg Project or Archive.org. Such a panoply of subjective experiences would tend to make me suspect psychological issues. His self-described ‘ecstatic state of mind’ may have been symptoms of something akin to Bipolar Disorder; sleep disorder and visual/auditory  hallucinations would go hand-in-hand. I’ve suspended judgement when it comes to apparently *supernatural* mischief and incidents. Over the years, my parents’ home has been scene to a range of incidents not easily explainable. These peculiar incidents have been experienced by friends, family and visitors despite occurring infrequently. I say this so as not to give the impression of knee-jerk scepticism when faced with the unknown. It’s simply the extent and variety of Beaumont’s experiences that causes me to doubt their objective spookiness (technical jargon). The amount of his experiences reminds me of Reverend Edmund Jones and the carnival of horrors he placed in Monmouth.  What a character he must have been!’ More on EJ another day. For now thanks to Wade, JK and Invisible!!