John Bovee Dods’ Experiences

Alonzo Eliot Newton.

“Dr. Dods’ Experience,” New-England Spiritualist (Boston), March 15, 1856.


Dr. Dods’ Experience.

[As given at the Music Hall, on Sunday, March 2d.]

At the outset the Dr. defended himself from the charges of seeking popularity, and of being influenced by mercenary motives, in the changes which he had passed through. They had been such as always to throw him upon the unpopular side, with the exception of when he published his book against Spiritualism. This he had done from conscientious convictions that its believers were deceived, as he supposed he had himself been at an earlier period of his life. Yet though the book had had a great run, and had given him popularity with the opposers of Spiritualism, he had received none of the profits of the sale, and now he was compelled again, by evidence which was irresistible, to place himself upon the unpopular side.

He then proceeded to narrate the singular and extraordinary personal experience he had had in the matter of spirit-manifestations and communications. These commenced with him at the age of fourteen years, and had been enjoyed more or less ever since. The first was on this wise:

Forty-six years ago (1809,) while living in the town of Amsterdam, N. Y., he had been, one Sunday, to visit his mother (his father having been deceased about two years, and he living in the family of a neighboring farmer;) and while returning in the afternoon, he sat down for a time in a piece of woods near the road-side. Here he supposed he fell asleep, and on awaking shortly after, was conscious of an unusual sensation or influence thrown over him. He however proceeded homeward; but before he had left the woods, he suddenly saw, standing under a tree, a short distance before him, his father. He felt no alarm, the unusual influence over him seemed to prevent fear. His father approached and accosted him, and walked by his side, entering into a familiar conversation. Among other things, he told him that the spirit-world was not what people supposed—that great darkness and error hung over the religious world—that the sects differed as widely from the truth as they did from each other—but that a new era of great light was soon to dawn on earth—that he (the son) would live to see it, and would have an important work to do in introducing it—that he would pass through great vicissitudes, suffer much opposition, but would eventually see the truth established. His life on earth would be long, even to the eighty-fourth year, beyond which he could give him no information.

At the end of this conversation, his father suddenly disappeared, the unusual influence he had been under passed off, he became greatly alarmed and fled in terror to the house. He gave some account of the matter to the family, who treated it as a mere hallucination and a subject for mirth; it became noised abroad through the neighborhood, and he was subjected to much annoyance on account of it from his youthful associates. He began to think it might be all a delusion, and wished for a repetition of it to satisfy himself.

Accordingly on a succeeding Sunday, he repaired to the same place intending to go through with the same process, and see if his father would not appear again at the same spot. He sat down and lost his consciousness, but soon awoke with the intention of going to the tree where he had before met his father; but was surprised to find him sitting at his side. Another conversation ensued, in which his father referred to the annoyances to which he had been subjected, counselled him to say no more for the present about these things, as the world was not yet prepared to receive them, and proceeded to explain to him the spirit-life, the "spheres," etc., just as spirits now describe them, and left him with the promise that he and others would come to him from time to time and give him instructions for the work he was called upon to do.

The promise was to some extent, fulfilled, but he kept all to himself. In process of time, he entered upon public life as an Orthodox clergyman—which was the faith in which he had been educated. During three years in which he preached the popular Calvinistic doctrines, these visits were discontinued. At length, in 1823, while preaching in the town of Levant, Me., the spirit of a female relative, who had been drowned, appeared to him four times in succession. The first and second appearances were to him alone, (the circumstances being unimportant, we omit them) but the third time she was seen also by his wife, who was in bed with him at the time. The circumstances, in brief, were these: In the night, both having retired, they heard a distant rumbling sound, as if a wagon on the frozen ground—it grew louder as if approaching the house—suddenly the door burst open, and the room filled with a peculiar light, in the midst of which this female spirit-friend revealed herself clad in shining robes, with a most angelic countenance and eyes of great brilliancy. All this was seen by both. This angelic visitant then proceeded to address Mr. Dods, telling him she had been appointed to come to him to prepare his mind for an important work to which he was to be called in enlightening mankind—that some of the doctrines he was preaching were erroneous—and that he was to receive such lessons in regard to spirit-life, etc., as would satisfy himself to proclaim it to others. She departed, saying that the first lesson would soon commence, after which he should see her again.

Shortly after, a series of most extraordinary physical demonstrations commenced at his house—the principal of which were sounds like the striking of heavy stones forcibly thrown against the building, rumbling sounds, explosions as of a cannon near the house, violent shakings of the whole building, the movement of various articles of furniture, even to that of a bed with a heavy man upon it, across the room, with great force—and all these without any discoverable cause. They became known throughout the community, hundreds flocked to witness them, and a great excitement was produced, which spread throughout the State. The facts were noticed in the publications of the day, and in Whitman’s work on popular superstitions. These demonstrations commenced in January, 1824, and continued for about three months. They were ascribed by some to collusion and machinery, by others to the devil—they caused him a great amount of annoyance, and he was at last obliged to give away the home he had built, and remove to another place, on account of the reputation of its being haunted.

After these phenomena ceased, the same spirit manifested herself to him again one day, as he was in the open field—she appeared with exceeding brilliancy, floating in the atmosphere above his head—told him that the first lesson to which she had before alluded had been given—proceeded to explain to him the philosophy of several points on which he had been perplexed—charged him to go forward in the work to which he had been called, stating that if he was faithful he would not see her again until he entered the spirit-life, which would be at the age of 84 years, but if unfaithful, she should come again in 32 years—and finally, to prove to him the exalted spirits had power over material substances, she reached forth her hand, took his hat from his head, or rather it seemed to be attracted by the hand, and floated off, carrying the hat with her, over the top of his house, also over a neighboring house, described a circuit of about a mile in diameter, or three miles in circumference, and then returned the hat to him! She then took leave, bidding him to remember her instructions and her promise.

The result of all this was that he renounced the preaching of some of the doctrines he had formerly held, and became known as a Universalist, although he considered that sect a long way from the truth. He continued to be perplexed by various doctrines, as the resurrection, the person and mission of Christ, atonement, second death, etc.; but his father and other spirits among whom were (as his father assured him) the apostles Paul and John, from time to time appeared to him, and explained these and other doctrines in a manner which seemed to him rational and philosophical. These explanations he gave to the public through newspapers and books, not mentioning, however, the source when they were derived, and they were generally adopted by the denomination among whom he was recognized.

He came at length to feel that it was his duty to give these facts to the world, and believed himself appointed and inspired for this work. In 1840 he announced a book in which he intended to set forth the whole matter; but before he had prepared it for the press, the subject of Mesmerism attracted his attention. He entered upon the investigation of its facts and philosophy; and the singular phenomena which it presented, being, in some respects, similar to his own experiences, caused him to doubt whether all his visions, etc., could not be traced to the mysterious power there evinced. As he pursued the subject, the phenomena of psychological states were developed, and he found that he could produce in others, visions of angels, the spirit-world, their departed friends, &c., cause them to think they saw what did not exist, and to believe that movements of physical articles took place when they did not, etc. His own visions still continued, but he found he could sometimes (not always) pass voluntarily into this electro-psychological state,—though he noticed that his visions were less clear and vivid at such times then when they came involuntarily upon him. Anxious to teach nothing beyond the truth, he felt compelled to give up his long cherished faith in communion with departed spirits, the belief in his own inspiration and appointment to a great work, and all the expectations of distinction which had floated before him. He wept like a child over these supposed delusions, and thereafter became doubtful and materialistic, though he at times had misgivings on the subject.

When the purported spirit-manifestations broke out in 1848, he believed that those who accepted them were honest, but deluded as he had been. He wrote a book in which he believed he explained their illusory nature. However, in that book, he had admitted that if certain alleged phenomena did occur, and should be witnessed by himself, he should be compelled to be a believer in spirit-agency, though the general principles of his philosophy would still be true.

Within a few months, facts had occurred in his own experience which furnished the precise evidence wanted, and had restored him to his former faith in actual spirit-communion. Last August, four spirits appeared to him one day, one of whom was his father, and two others were relatives whom he supposed were living in the body, at Norfolk, Va. They informed him that they had just passed to the spirit-world, having died suddenly of yellow fever, and that his daughter and another relative, residing there, had been attacked by the same disease, but would recover. All this was proved true by subsequent information. His unbelief in spirits was somewhat staggered, but he tried to persuade himself that this was a psychological impression.

Sometime subsequently, while alone in his room, and quite unexpectedly to himself, the same female spirit who had appeared to him in Maine, in 1823 and 4, suddenly stood before him, surrounded by a halo of light, and looking far more glorious than before. She reminded him of her promise at her last interview, chided him for his want of faith, and his over-reliance on human philosophy, by which he had been led into error, and assured him that he should have further demonstrative evidence, which would settle the question of spirit-agency beyond doubt in his mind. Charging him henceforth to be faithful in his mission, and saying that she should visit him thereafter no more in the earth-life, she disappeared. On consulting his memoranda, he found that this appearance occurred just thirty-two years to a day, from her second visit in Maine.

This was followed by a series of astonishing physical phenomena, such as loud rappings about the room, the moving of a table across it without perceptible means, the raising of himself in his chair, etc., until he had all the evidence that the senses were capable of receiving, that these things were real, and that he was in his normal state.

These occurrences had brought him back to his former faith, and he now believed in the spiritual origin of the modern manifestations. He again felt sure that he had seen and conversed with his sainted father and with numerous others of the departed—that revelations had been made to him from the immortal world, and that it was his duty to proclaim the glad tidings of IMMORTALITY DEMONSTRATED to his brethren of the human race.

We need not say that this narrative produced a profound impression upon the audience, not only in favor of Spiritualism, but in behalf of the candor and honesty of Dr. Dods, in the seemingly inconsistent course he has pursued. Though he may yet be somewhat at fault in his philosophy of the mode of inspiration,—in supposing that the back-brain is the sole receptacle or instrument of inspirational influence,—yet his facts are such as materialistic theorizers will find it difficult to dispose of.


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