ARTICLES

Guy Christian Barnard

Literary critic and little-known writer on mediumistic and psychical phenomena. His most famous work on psychical research, "The Supernormal," was published in 1933. In it Barnard attempts to establish a strong case for the extension of the living personality to explain the apparent evidence for survival. 

Ideoplasticity

 - G. C. Barnard -

          THE FORMS of the ectoplasmic structures vary greatly, and provide the materials for an interesting study. Sometimes a simple cloud appears, and condenses till gradually a face or hand is seen evolving in it; at other times, the head or hand appears suddenly, fully developed. Often, and apparently generally with Eva C, the product resembled a two-dimensional picture rather than a solid model [for an example, see Fig. 136]. The simultaneous photographs taken from various angles frequently showed that the materialized head, though beautifully formed and modelled on the side facing the observer, was practically blank at the back, and indeed often almost lacked any thickness at all; and when the images were fairly solid they were only modelled in parts, and those portions which were concealed remained amorphous [see photograph no. 7] . The frequent draperies, veils, turbans, etc., worn by materialized spirits would thus appear, as Gustave Geley suggests, to be simply rough easy devices for concealing gaps and defects in the phantom forms, and for enabling mediums to economize their sculptural efforts.

A highly interesting point about the séances with Eva is that the evolution and growth of the structures could often be seen, so that the phenomenon carried its own proof of genuineness - since the concealment of dummy hands or pictured heads, either by the medium or by an accomplice, would be quite inadequate to simulate a progressively evolving form. Not only did the form evolve in complexity of structure, but it also often grew or diminished in size, while remaining of the same proportions, and this sometimes at the request of the investigators.

The apparently two-dimensional and picture-like faces produced by Eva were an unexpected, and at first disconcerting result, and certain features of them soon seemed to point conclusively to fraud. Some of the photographs, for example, showed recognizable likenesses to pictures of President Wilson [see Fig. 197], Poincaré [see Fig. 195], the King of Bulgaria [see Fig. 189] and other personages, which had previously appeared in the French illustrated press. Most damning was one which showed a piece of paper, with creases, and the printed inscription LE MIRO [see Fig. 119]. It was obvious to sceptics that Eva had simply cut out a piece of Le Miroire, concealed it, and then produced it as a piece of ectoplasm during the séance. The crudity of such a fraud is certainly staggering, but the critics of psychic research will always seize any loophole that is offered and make their assertions of fraud without investigating facts to see whether the supposed procedure conforms to them. Schrenck-Notzing knew that Eva could neither conceal such cuttings, nor rig them up unobserved, nor, had she done so, succeed in making such things at all convincing under the conditions of the séance. Moreover, he knew that these photographs only showed an instantaneous phase of a materialization which actually evolved and grew. In order to confute his critics, however, he set up various photographs and pictures from illustrated papers, draped them suitably with muslin, etc., to imitate the materializations, and photographed them under exactly the same séance conditions; the results were not in the least comparable with his photographs of Eva's productions, and they showed none of the shadows which even the flattest of Eva's materialized heads showed.

The picture-like materializations, however, are highly instructive and give one the clue to a general theory which applies to the whole field of psychic science: they must be interpreted as being thought-images in the mind (not necessarily the consciousness) of the medium which have been temporarily objectified and incarnated. Given that the medium extrudes ectoplasm, it is obvious that she wishes to do or make something with it, and that it will thus be organized and moulded by some idea in her mind. Miss Goligher, influenced doubtless by the mechanical interests of Dr. W. J. Crawford, evolved rods and levers, but most mediums, who are, as a rule, pious spiritualists with no particular scientific interests and theories, wish to materialize spirits, or at least hands and faces which they and their friends may take to be genuine incarnations of some departed soul. Probably, indeed, the ectoplasm itself is inherently disposed to take on a definitely human shape, although two powerful mediums, Jan Guzyk and Franek Kluski, have frequently produced materializations of animals - an eagle [see Strange Beasts from the Beyond by Nandor Fodor], a squirrel and a dog, for example. With Eva C. in her early spiritualistic days (when she was Marthe Béraud) the most important form was an Arab known as Bien Boa. His appearance has been well described by Charles Richet, who managed to prove that the materialization was complete enough to have normal respiration. He says (p. 505):

"The materializations produced were very complete. The phantom of Bien Boa appeared five or six times under satisfactory conditions in the sense that he could not be Marthe masquerading in a helmet and sheet. Marthe would have had not only to bring but also to conceal afterwards the helmet, the sheet and the burnous. Also Marthe and the phantom were both seen at the same time. To pretend that Bien Boa was a doll is more absurd still; he walked and moved, his eyes could be seen looking round, and when he tried to speak his lips moved.

"He seemed so much alive that, as we could hear his breathing, I took a flask of baryta water to see if his breath would show carbon dioxide. The experiment succeeded. I did not lose sight of the flask from the moment I put it into the hands of Bien Boa, who seemed to float in the air on the left of the curtain at a height greater than Marthe could have been if standing up. While he blew into the tube the bubbling could be heard, and then I asked Delanne, 'Do you see Marthe?' He said, 'I can see Marthe completely.' Aischa was far off, and could be seen clearly, asleep in the other corner of the cabinet. I could see myself the form of Marthe sitting in her chair, though I could not see her head and her right shoulder."

"However striking this was, another experiment seems to me even more evidential: Everything being arranged as usual (except that Mlle. X., being indisposed, was absent), after a long wait I saw close to me, in front of the curtain which had not moved, a white vapour, hardly sixteen inches distant. It was like a white veil or handkerchief on the floor. This rose and became spherical. Soon it was a head just above the floor; it rose up still more, enlarged, and grew into a human form, a short bearded man dressed in a turban and white mantle, who moved, limping slightly, from right to left in front of the curtain. On coming close to General Noel, he sank down abruptly to the floor with a clicking noise like a falling skeleton, flattening out in front of the curtain. Three or four minutes later, close to the General, not to me, he reappeared, rising in a straight line from the floor, born from the floor, so to speak, and falling back to it with the same clicking noise.

"The only un-metapsychic explanation possible seemed to be a trap-door opening and shutting, but there was no trap-door, as I verified next morning, and as was attested by the architect."

Generally speaking, spiritualistic mediums will endeavour to produce materializations of particular deceased persons in whom their clients are interested; for their clients visit them with the hope of speaking to or seeing some departed dear one. But as this feat is usually not at all easy (unless the client is satisfied with a very rough likeness) it is perhaps more common for them to materialize one or two stock figures who are supposed to be "guides" of the medium, and who act as intermediaries between him and the various spirits invoked by the client; this practice of having a guide or "control" obviously saying the medium a vast deal of trouble, and serving to cover up deficiencies in his formation.

Sometimes we are able to see clearly the influence of suggestion on the form of the materialization; for example, on December 6th, 1919, a long conversation had been held in front of the young medium Willy Schneider, the subject of which was the idea of psychic threads, lines of force, etc. The same evening a séance was held, and for the first time the ectoplasm was observed in a thread-like form. Similarly, on January 17th, 1913, Schrenck-Notzing showed Stanislawa P a photograph of Eva C in which two ectoplasmic fingers were placed on her hair; the same evening Stanislawa copied the effect, materializing two fingers on her hair during the séance.

Under the influence of her protectress, Mme. Bisson, Eva later produced a simulacrum of the late M. Bisson, but when she came in contact with the more scientific and anti-spiritistic mind of Schrenck-Notzing, she produced simulacra of a less spiritualistic genre; for example, heads which she did not claim to represent anybody in particular, or fairly close imitations of published photographs of celebrities.

We thus reach the important conclusion that all the materializations of the séance room are objective expressions or representations of ideas in the mind of the medium, who works with ectoplasm as a sculptor does with clay. This is the phenomenon of ideoplasticity, the physical counterpart of the mental phenomena of dissociation and the assumption of fictitious or new personalities. One might expect much light to be thrown on the subject by the methodical psycho-analysis of a good materializing medium, though I do not know that this has yet been done. One could expect interesting connections to be established between the forms and actions of the phantoms and the unconscious desires and complexes of the medium, for physical mediumship involves a marked degree of mental dissociation and a hypnoidal trance state, as well as a certain physical dissociation and the creation of a partially independent organism. It is, so to speak, a form of wish-fulfilment one stage nearer to reality than is reached in phantasy and dream.

Dr. Geley has developed the theory of Ideoplasticity at some length in his book From the Unconscious to the Conscious, and has shown its importance in relation to the field of normal biology. It would take us too far to go into all the aspects of this theme, that the essential feature of all living organisms is not any mere synthesis of parts, but the operation of a central directing mind force, or Psycho-Dynamism (to use Geley's technical term, which is rather more general than the word Idea). But it is very germane to our subject to mention the more numerous cases where an idea (involving probably volition, emotional feeling, and intellectual representation) has a notable effect on the body, actually modifying its structure and functions. Of course, we all are familiar with some simple cases, as, for example, the temporary flow of blood to the cheeks, or of tears, which accompany the feelings of shame or sorrow, or the obvious physical symptoms of anger, fear, etc. Much more striking are the examples drawn from psychiatric literature - for instance, the mechanism of symptom formation in hysteria, and the almost magical curative power of hypnotic suggestion. The physical action of an idea is neatly illustrated in an experiment by Delboeuf.[1] He hypnotized a subject, suggested to her that her right arm was insensible to pain, and then burnt each arm with a red-hot iron, making identical bums. She felt the pain in her left arm only. Both burns were dressed similarly, and during the ensuing twenty-four hours the burn on the left arm was painful, and developed a large blister; in the right arm there was no pain, and no inflammation, but only the plain scar, the exact size of the iron as applied. Clearly then, the pain, the inflammation, and blistering in the one arm were secondary results of the initial burning process, produced through the mediate operation of the mind of the patient; being unaware of any initial pain in the right arm, however, the mind did not interfere with the normal routine of cell-life on that side.

[1] See M. Bramwell, Hypnotism, p. 84.

More striking still, perhaps, though also more complicated, are the cases of stigmatization. A devout nun, practising austerities and meditating intently on the Passion of Christ, will sometimes experience a trance, almost always accompanied by visual hallucinations in which Jesus is seen, which results in the appearance of the crucifixion marks in their appropriate places. As a rule these wounds seem to bleed every Friday, for some time, and to heal up in the week. Such cases are fairly numerous,[2] and indubitably illustrate the power of a strongly visualized idea to realize itself by modification of the living tissue. In all these cases we find, according to H. Thurston, a bad medical history, together with a strong concentration on the wounds of the Passion, often continued over a long period before the actual vision with stigmatization occurs.

[2] See a paper by Rev. H. Thurston (P.S.P.R., Part 83), who says he has studied the accounts of sixty cases.

As an illustration of what is typical in these cases of stigmatization I will briefly summarize the story of Therese Neumann of Konnersreuth, Bavaria. I take the facts from Herr Jaschke's account, given in Psychic Science for July 1929.

Therese Neumann was born in 1898, the child of a tailor who owned a small farm. Up to the age of twenty she was strong and healthy, doing heavy work at home on the farm, and later as a servant. At that age, however, a fire occurred, and she apparently strained herself assisting to put it out, and collapsed with a stabbing pain in the back. Spinal paralysis set in, and she was soon sent back from hospital as incurable. Severe attacks followed, then partial and finally complete blindness. Contraction of the muscles forced her left foot up under her right thigh, and sores appeared on her back. At the end of 1922 she practically ceased to take nourishment, owing to ulceration in the throat. In this almost hopeless condition of invalidism she suddenly, in April 1923, recovered her sight, and in May 1925, after a vision, she managed to raise herself and walk with assistance. In September the vision recurred and she was completely cured.

Now in November 1925 she fell ill, of acute appendicitis, according to the doctor. However, praying to St. Theresa, she again saw the vision and was immediately cured. In February 1926 she again fell ill, with influenza. During this illness she had a vision of Christ on the Mount of Olives and received a stabbing pain in the left side, from which flowed blood. Again, next week, on Thursday night, another vision of Christ crucified, accompanied by blood from the wound, which healed next day. This was repeated on the three next Thursdays, and the wound and bleeding grew more severe on the Good Friday which followed. At the same time blood came from the eyes, and wounds appeared in the hands and feet. Since May 1926 these latter have ceased to bleed, but have deepened through the hands and feet. Every Friday the wounds of the side and head bleed, and visions of the Passion of Jesus are seen. It is stated that from 1923 to 1926 Therese only took liquid nourishment, and that from Christmas 1926 even that ceased, and that she has existed since then (i.e. to July 1929) on literally nothing, except her daily Holy Communion. Nevertheless, every Friday she loses a quantity of blood, and her weight remains approximately constant at 110 lb.[3]

[3] See also The Story of Therese Neumann, by Father Pacificus (Burns and Oates).

In the above case of Therese Neumann we may note that although the child was apparently quite robust until the age of twenty, yet as a result of shock and strain produced by the fire she suddenly developed an altogether abnormally bad pathological state of spinal paralysis, blindness, temporary deafness, ulceration, etc. Secondly, she was a devout Roman Catholic, and at the age of sixteen had developed a great reverence for St. Theresa, her patron saint. We have therefore the typical conditions of a bad medical history and intense religious preoccupation prior to the stigmatization.

These two examples show us that even a highly stable organism like the physical body is yet, in spite of the inertia of its heredity and its habits, amenable under somewhat exceptional circumstances to quite drastic modifications at the instance of a pure idea; it is, in fact, essentially ideoplastic. And when we come to the semi-material amorphous living ectoplasm it is obvious that this ideoplasticity is far more complete. The ectoplasm may be said to have an inherent tendency to organization, but it is of no mechanical kind; its propensity is to take any form which may be dictated or imagined by the medium. Probably, in fact, the extrusion of ectoplasm and its "materialization" into phantom forms such as Bien Boa, or Katie King, represent a physical realization of desires, phantasies, day-dreams which are in the medium's subconscious mind. The analogy with psychological dissociation and with wish-fulfilment, day-dreams, and the accompanying pseudo-personalities and spirit-controls, enable us to interpret the whole in terms of Life rather than in terms of Death. That the phantasy which finds temporary physical expression, the wish which is dramatically or symbolically fulfilled with all the reality of a dream, is sometimes not specifically the medium's, but may be primarily the sitter's, does not in the least invalidate the interpretation. There is reason to believe that the sitter often contributes not only some of the psychological material of the drama, but also some of the ectoplasmic material which builds up the actors.

It may perhaps be objected against the theory of Ideoplasticity in its widest applications that it implies the existence of mind, or of a subconscious psychical entity, apart from any cerebral basis. Those who hold that thought is secreted by the brain, and those who adopt the theory of Psycho-physical parallelism, will argue that the development of conscious intelligence goes pari passu with the development of the brain, and declines with the decline of the body; that all thought is invariably accompanied by corresponding activity in the brain cells and nerves; and that an injury to the brain damages the psychic processes correspondingly. In short, they say that no psychological activity can occur without an antecedent or a simultaneous activity of the brain.

Against this view, however, we have the facts relating to subconscious thought in general. In the first place, subconscious thinking proceeds apparently without effort; that is to say, it is not noticeably fatiguing, whereas conscious thought produces fatigue quite obviously. In the second place, subconscious thought bears no kind of qualitative relationship with cerebral development; the examples of the calculating boy and the musical prodigy make this clear.

Finally, however, there are certain medical cases which show that conscious psychic life may proceed normally even when portions of the brain which are usually considered essential have been removed, or are completely septic. Bergson's studies of Aphasia led him to deny that memories were stored in the brain, as physical traces or "neurograms"; and if the materialistic view does not hold for memory it certainly does not apply to other psychological processes. Moreover, some interesting cases are quoted by Camille Flammarion (Before Death, p. 88) which undermine any physiological theory of thought.

"My learned friend, E. Perrier, presented to the Academy of Sciences, in his lecture of December 22nd, 1918, an observation of Dr. Robinson's concerning a man who had lived for nearly a year with almost no suffering and with no apparent mental trouble, with a brain that was nearly reduced to a pulp, and was no longer anything but a vast purulent abscess. On March 24th, 1917, at the Academy of Sciences, Dr. Guepin showed, through an operation on a wounded soldier, that the partial ablation of the brain does not prevent manifestations of intelligence. Other examples might be cited. At times there remain only very slight portions; the mind makes use of what it can."

The last sentence expresses the correct attitude for us to adopt towards this problem. The body is the instrument of the soul; in particular the brain is the instrument which is used by the mind. It is not the machine which creates mental phenomena, but the machine which is driven by psychological forces.

Bibliography

Gustave Geley. From the Unconscious to the Conscious.
Baron von Schrenck-Notzing, Phenomenes Physiques de la Mediumnite.
Charles Richet. Thirty Years of Psychical Research.
Camille Flammarion. Before Death.
Psychic Science Quarterly. July 1929.
Rev. Thurston. Paper on Stigmatization, P.S.P.R., Part 88.

Source: 

"The Supernormal" by G. C. Barnard (London: Rider & C0., 1933).

 

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