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. 

Mediumship and its Investigation

 - G. C. Barnard -

          IT IS to be remarked that one essential feature of Mediumship appears to consist of a mental, and sometimes also a physical, dissociation. Every instance of Cryptaesthesia(1) involves the activity of a subconscious part of the mind, which seems to escape, momentarily at any rate, from that subservience to the "Here-Now" which characterizes a well-knit waking personality. In the majority of cases when any considerable degree of cryptaesthesia is shown, the normal personality of the medium is definitely obliterated, and either a manifestly secondary personality takes its place, or else a "control" or "communicator" claiming to be a genuine spirit, but which in our opinion is again really a secondary personality. So also every act of telekinesis, materialization, or other physical phenomenon involves the extrusion of ectoplasm from the medium's body, often, if not always, with the purpose of giving material form and body to the secondary personality or to ideas which it wishes to realize.

(1) i.e. acquirement of knowledge by supernormal means.

It is a natural consequence of this fundamental fact that the best phenomena of mediumship should take place when the medium is entranced, and that minor effects should require at least a state of sleep, or "absence," in which the medium's attention is not fully held by the distractions of the outside world. Taking it by and large we may say that the strength of the phenomena is proportional to the degree of abstraction from the external world. Hence the universal practice amongst mediums of either putting themselves into a state of trance, or having themselves hypnotized by someone else, or again of achieving a suitable state of semi-trance or "absence" by rituals such as crystal-gazing, which, by helping them to become lost to the outside world, tend to set free the subconscious faculties.

Since the disposition towards mental dissociation, as shown for example in hysteria and insanity, is hereditary we find that mediumship itself often appears in several members of one family. As examples we may mention that D. D. Home's mother was clairvoyant; that Helen Smith's mother and grandmother both had mediumistic faculties; that all the members of the Goligher family seem to be mediums in lesser degree, while Kathleen acts as the primary medium. Again, Ossowiecki's grandmother was noted for her clairvoyance, and his mother and one brother are lesser mediums. The father of the well-known French medium, Madame Fraya, gave Dr. Geley one of his best cases of auto-premonition of death; Kluski's father and paternal uncle were definitely mediumistic; and two of the best-known modern ectoplasmic mediums, Willy and Rudi Schneider, are brothers.

A further illustration of the connection between psychic effects and dissociation is given by the many instances when a mental trauma or shock produces or greatly augments mediumistic powers. No doubt many of the phenomena often alleged to accompany death, particularly a violent death, are instances of this sort; but we see the connection more certainly in the life histories of several well-known mediums. The wonderful clairvoyant powers of Mrs. Piper developed after a sudden fright and two surgical operations; Eusapia Palladino was dropped in her infancy, with the result that a hole was made in her skull, and from this hole cold breezes were observed to come during her sťances - presumably the ectoplasm issuing thence. Moreover she lost both her parents in early childhood, under terrifying circumstances, her father being murdered by brigands. In the case of 'the famous Ossowiecki mediumistic powers of a lesser sort showed themselves in early childhood, but they were vastly augmented by a terrible experience when, after six months' confinement in a Bolshevik prison under the worst conditions, he was condemned to death and led out to the scaffold, only to be reprieved at the last minute. His experience is exactly parallel to that of Dostoevsky (described by him in "The Idiot"), only that the latter suffered as a result from epilepsy, an obscure disease dependent on mental dissociation, of which he had previously shown signs, but which now was very considerably augmented. Finally we may condense an account of the early history of Stanislawa Tomezyk, given by Schrenck-Notzing.

At the age of twenty Stanislawa was mixed up in a crowd of rioters, surrounded by soldiers, and (unjustly) arrested and put in prison for ten days. The shock of all this produced symptoms of hysteria, and at the same time various telekinetic phenomena occurred in her presence - the doctor's inkpot, for example, moved itself about when he wrote out a prescription for her. After her release these things attracted the notice of local spiritualists, who initiated her into seances and thus directed and developed her mediumship. After a while, as she appeared to have remarkable powers, she was carefully studied first by Ochorowicz and later by Schrenck-Notzing. Hers is a clear instance of the appearance of psychic powers, together with hysterical symptoms, as a consequence of mental dissociation. Moreover her personality is definitely split into three recurrent sections: namely, the ordinary waking Stanislawa; the "Stasia" of the trance state, who is herself at the age of ten years, and simply represents a regression to an earlier time which is entirely characteristic of some forms of hysteria; and finally the "Little Stasia" which she believes to be the double of "Stasia," and to which is attributed all the phenomena of the seances. "Little Stasia" is an invention, a spirit invoked to account for the happenings, or a name given to a centre of personality of which Stanislawa is unconscious. "Stasia" on the other hand is more than a figment of imagination; for Stanislawa when entranced acts and speaks like a little child of ten. "Stasia," then, is a more substantial secondary personality, analogous to Miss Beauchamp's "Sally," with the difference that whereas Sally was adult, Stasia is definitely a regression to a juvenile stage.

Part 2

The general personal character of mediums, neglecting the inevitable exceptions (many of which, however, are more apparent than real), is one of instability, as indeed might be deduced from the considerations given above. The average medium has not a fixed and well-knit personality, such as one expects in a capable business man or a naval officer, but is apt to be sensitive, capricious, unaccountable, moody, irrational, and often sentimental. Most mediums are gifted with more sympathy and altruism than are usual in more stable types, and they are often generous of their time and energy (vital energy, be it observed) to an extent that would amaze the public if it were generally known. There are of course mercenary souls among them, though probably few among those with any considerable gifts, but in general they really believe that they receive their gifts from God, and that they are in the service of a higher power and have a mission in life to help others; just as priests, nurses, and doctors do, not entirely without material reward, but certainly not in the spirit of commercial enterprise which makes money the primary and service the secondary consideration. Although I do not believe in the validity of their intellectual doctrines, I must wholeheartedly admit that spiritualists have an ethical code which tends to promote various human virtues among its adherents. The best mediums have been admired and loved for their moral character and their personal charm by a wide and very varied circle of friends, and though it is of course obvious that in any walk of life there are outstanding personalities who are morally superior to the average, I think we may recognize certain desirable qualities amongst mediums which are characteristic of them, and also of some imaginative artists and some religious types, but not specially characteristic of others; sympathy and unselfishness being prominent.

As an example of a quite typical mediumistic disposition we may take Willy Schneider, who has been studied carefully by Schrenck-Notzing. We are thus dealing with a critical and competent account, instead of the usual biographical eulogy written by admiring friends or relatives. Schrenck-Notzing states that Willy shows no important physical anomaly or signs of degeneration, no motor or sensory troubles, and has a mental development normal for his age and social status. His memory is good, his character gentle, docile, and modest, but his will-power is rather feeble and he is easily influenced. His moods are unstable, changing quickly from gaiety and carelessness to pessimism and despondency. He has a fondness for masquerades and dancing as well as a love of Nature. His imagination is vivid, but he has little capacity for abstract thought. He shows marked sympathies and antipathies towards certain people, and is capricious in temper. Without much power of self-discipline he is yet obstinate, and is extravagant and fond of an easy life. At times he is self-willed, and also given to inexact statements and trivial falsehoods which he seems at the time to believe to be true; but if one corrects him and convicts him of error a regular sentimental "scene" with tears and repentance will follow.

Schrenck-Notzing states that if there is a prolonged gap of say four to six days between the sťances, Willy gets into a depressed, morose mood and is evidently in a state of mental tension. The sťances appear to relieve this tension and put him again into a cheerful and friendly mood. As with Eusapia Palladino and Eva C, there appears to be an organic need for ectoplasmic extrusion, an internal force which, if inhibited for long, causes crises and mental disturbances. Finally, Willy is artistically inclined, having a natural aptitude for music, and also for comic acting and mimicry. He has also an acute moral and religious sense. The disposition to hysteria is, as Schrenck-Notzing points out, quite noticeable in all the above traits, but as Willy has fortunately not suffered any particular shocks, but has led a quite comfortable and sheltered life, it has remained merely a disposition and has not developed into an actual malady.

Part 3

It is characteristic of unstable persons that they are very suggestible, and in dissociated states, such as hypnosis or trance, this suggestibility is very greatly enhanced. Hence arises one of the chief difficulties which complicate the study of metapsychic phenomena, a difficulty always present in ordinary experimental psychology, but raised to the nth power when we deal with the supernormal. The results of any experiment of this sort are apt to be determined very largely by the ideas, whether subconscious or conscious, of the medium and of the sitters, be they ordinary consultants or scientific inquirers; and it is extraordinarily hard to disentangle the essentials which properly belong to the phenomenon from the accretions which are supplied by conscious or unconscious suggestion. It is a truism that if an investigator has any kind of a theory the medium will produce phenomena which tend to confirm it. The mechanical mind of Crawford conceived of an explanation of telekinesis in terms of levers, and the Goligher circle produced levers; under the influence of a biologist they would probably have materialized hands instead. De Rochas, and many early researchers, strongly believed in the hypothesis of an astral body, and they found good evidence for their theory because the mediums accepted the suggestion. In the same way the popular belief in ghosts, spirits, and so on is a strong enough suggestion to create the habit, almost universal amongst mediums, of producing hands, faces, forms, and voices of spirits. All this is consequent upon the essentially ideoplastic nature of ectoplasm and the extreme suggestibility of the medium.

In the realm of mental phenomena we find the same thing, and it is often even more difficult to detect and discount every suggestion. To begin with, the mediums have accepted a whole network of suggestions which forms the mental environment in which they work and which limits seriously their range and versatility. The demand for darkness made by physical mediums is perhaps an instance, for some have been educated to work in the light; but the various rituals adopted are certainly examples of suggestion. One medium will only become clairvoyant when gazing into a crystal, another when inspecting your palm, a third on telling the cards, a fourth if music is played, a fifth when computing mystic numbers, and so on. All the various rituals belonging to the old witches and magicians or the modern mediums are a tangle of suggestions derived from various superstitions or preconceptions which have crystallized into formulae. In view of this great suggestibility it is very difficult to analyse any given communication in such a way as to expose what, if any, parts of it show supernormal action or knowledge. The art of psychic research is very largely the art of excluding, or at least of exposing, errors due to suggestion, which, be it remembered, may be, telepathic as well as normal.

A second important consequence of the suggestibility of an entranced medium is the fact that any suspicion of fraud, particularly when narrowed to a definite mode of fraud, tends to create it. When Eusapia Palladino was "exposed" at Cambridge for practising various tricks (such as the substitution of her hands) Ochorowicz and others rightly blamed the experimenters, firstly for permitting it and not controlling her rigidly (which was tantamount to a suggestion that she could deceive them), and secondly for their whole attitude, which was one of suspicion that she would try to trick them and of hope that they would detect her in the act. And in the same way a hostile and sceptical attitude tends to inhibit the medium's faculty while friendly encouragement and faith will enhance it; the medium, like the musician, responding to the suggestions coming from the audience.

The most important rule for the investigator to remember is that, while retaining complete independence of thought and, if possible, indifference to the nature of the phenomena to be produced, he should treat the medium fairly and sympathetically and maintain his faith in his ability to produce results. It is essential that the medium should be able to trust the investigator absolutely, and have no fear that the latter will go back on his word and seize an ectoplasmic structure, or make use of his trance-state to test for anaesthesia by digging a needle under his nails or by blistering his skin (as Stanley Hall did to Mrs. Piper), for without this sense of security and confidence the medium will not achieve a deep and stable state of trance, but will necessarily be disturbed and unable to produce much, if anything. In the past, scientists have subjected mediums to much brutal and callous treatment in their zeal for physiology, forgetting that their subjects were unusually sensitive human beings. Moreover it is possible to be just as callous in a purely psychological study, without any resort to physical experiments, and many clever researchers have thought to get the better of a medium by suggesting falsities, asking for news of fictitious persons, etc., and generally behaving more like a police inquisitor than a genuine inquirer after knowledge. However much this sort of thing may appeal to the detective mind it is really unscientific, and it is a procedure which is singularly futile in psychic research for the simple reason that it creates the very frauds and fabrications that it is designed to discover. A clever lawyer may make a simple witness say almost anything; but to make a child, or a half-wit, or an hysterical patient, or a hypnotized subject, or finally, an entranced medium, say anything one need not even be clever. It would probably not be an exaggeration to say that quite half the responsibility for the frauds and misstatements committed by mediums should be borne by their investigators.

The scientist generally works on material which either is not alive or, if alive, does not demand much human response from him. Of course, a doctor is the obvious exception to this rule, and doctors are often remarkably good practical psychologists, able to handle irresponsible and impressionable people tactfully, firmly, and yet sympathetically. Now a medium almost always requires, as a fundamental condition for efficient functioning, an atmosphere of good-will, sympathy, and confidence. He is easily affected adversely by any hardness of outlook, materialism, or the rather inhuman abstractness of many great intellects. For this reason he hardly ever can produce good results under the control of a committee of investigators composed of strangers, chosen because they are celebrated as scientists, lawyers, conjurers, business men, etc.; i.e. selected precisely for the qualities which are most antipathetic to the medium. It is therefore entirely fallacious to argue that because the results found by some such independent committee are meagre in comparison with those reported by more sympathetic observers, therefore the latter are untrustworthy and should be attributed to fraud or malobservation. The empirical fact is that the committee itself constitutes an adverse condition for the medium, in just the same manner as an audience picked from professedly unmusical people, and assembled for the set purpose of detecting errors and resisting aesthetic impressions, would constitute an adverse condition for a musician. One has only to imagine a Pachmann recital before a select committee of Philistines, one of whom times all his rests with a stop-watch, while another introduces resonators surreptitiously to entrap an unsuspected overtone, and a third stops him and insists on beginning again with the music stool two inches lower, and so forth! How would the poor artist convince them of his ability to express anything in music? The atmosphere of his audience would rob him of his technique of expression; his touch and his pedalling would become clumsy and uncertain, for he depends, and the medium depends no less, on mental and spiritual conditions, and these have been tampered with.

Part 4

Once an investigator has created the proper mental conditions which conduce to good results his next task, in experiments dealing with physical phenomena, is to achieve physical control of the medium and sitters adequate to prevent or reveal all possible modes of fraud. The procedure must necessarily differ in different cases, but in general the following precautions should be taken for rigorous work.

1) The medium should, if possible, be without any friends who might be deemed accomplices. This means in effect that the investigator and his companions who form the circle must previously have so gained the medium's confidence that they have become in fact friends.

2) Neither the medium nor any unauthorized person should be able to have access to the sťance room in between the sťances. This is best achieved in the investigator's house, or in special institutions.

3) The medium should be stripped, examined, and re-clothed in specially provided garments before the sťance, and again examined directly after it.

4) In telekinetic experiments the objects to be displaced may be put inside a cage of wire gauze; or some equivalent device used to exclude normal action.

5) In materialization experiments the cinematograph can give the most valuable confirmatory evidence.

6) The light should be the best that the medium can stand, and it should be gradually improved until the medium has been trained to work in a full and strong illumination. On this point there is much that might be said, for the whole subject of lighting is full of uncertainties.

Apparently the action of light may be harmful to the success of a sťance in two distinct ways:

a) by disturbing the trance state, and so making for timid and abortive efforts to achieve phenomena which in a more secure and deeper trance would be produced with more ease and certainty;

b) by actually disintegrating the ectoplasm, which is apparently unstable in strong light, unless it has previously organized a kind of outer skin to protect it.

Mediums always believe firmly in this latter disintegrating effect, and there is really a good deal of evidence that it is a true physical effect, and not merely based upon suggestion and fear. We know of normal biological effects of light, and we know that it does in fact hurt the lowest and most primitive forms of living substance. The embryos of all animals spend an initial period developing rapidly in darkness; seeds germinate best in the dark; growth generally takes place most quickly at night; so that the idea that ectoplasm is adversely affected by strong light seems a priori probable. On the other hand, just as the human skin can be trained by gradual exposure to bear stronger and stronger radiation without blistering, so can the ectoplastic medium be trained to bear considerably more light than that in which he first began to work.

An empirical observation which may be of general application is that, in at any rate some cases, the ectoplasm seems less affected by what are termed "cold" lights, such as moonlight, or the phosphorescence of a Zinc Sulphide screen. I do not know if any physicist has yet made an investigation to determine precisely which wave-lengths are noxious and which are not; one would expect the shorter ones to do more damage than the longer ones, but it has been alleged that red light is just as noxious as blue light, if of the same intensity; its common usage being due to the fact that it enables the shutter of a camera to be left open ready for a flashlight photograph, and not due to its lack of action on the ectoplasm(2).

(2) See note at end of chapter.

Another observation bearing on the practical conduct of experiments is that the ectoplasm always emerges from a dark place; either its initial extrusion and building up into a form takes place while the lighting is still very dim, or else it is extruded from a part of the body which is in deep shadow - commonly the back, as the medium is often seated with a cabinet or curtained space directly behind. Nevertheless, once the ectoplasm has been built up into an organized form and has got partially free from the medium's body, it can then stand a greater intensity of light, apparently because it has protected itself with an outer layer of firmer texture.

7) A useful general principle to be applied in every kind of experimentation is the following: that if an experiment is attempted whose value depends upon the unpreparedness of the medium and circle, and it does not succeed, then it should be repeated with the addition each time of some fresh but essentially irrelevant feature (preferably quantitative) so that, while the essentials of the experiment remain unaltered, any fraudulent preparation is circumvented.

As an illustration of the need for carrying out this principle let us consider an experiment done by D'Albe when studying the Goligher Circle. He put a button, a piece of rubber, and a drop of mercury into a decanter and asked the medium to remove the button by means of a psychic rod without inverting the bottle. The drop of mercury was there in order to prevent anyone from inverting the decanter and replacing the rubber. The experiment did not succeed. At the next sťance it was repeated with complete success; but D'Albe discounts this because he hints that a sitter, knowing the contents this time, might have brought with him a drop of mercury, emptied the decanter, and replaced the rubber plus his own mercury instead of the spilled drop. Now clearly experimentation of this nature is valueless, and so are D'Albe's conclusions from it; for what notice can be taken of an experimenter who devises a test and when the medium passes it rules it out of court? The drop of mercury was only a check as long as the others did not know of its presence beforehand - although incidentally D'Albe never looked to see whether it had been spilled on the floor, as he did not at first think of the possibility of a sitter being clever enough to bring a drop with him. But had he realized, in all his experiments, the importance of this principle of varying the unessential details, he would, as a matter of normal habit, either have used oil, say, the second time, or better still, have used a weighed amount of mercury, different from the quantity first used. The essence of this sort of experimentation is to present the fundamental and necessary features of an experiment as simply as possible to the medium and circle, and to attach one, always different, accidental but identificatory feature which is known only to the investigator; and if this private and unessential detail is measurable, so much the better.

8) Finally, another golden rule for the investigator: always remember that accusations and imputations of fraud must be supported by evidence which is as strong as that demanded in support of allegations of supernormal actions. If, for example, the light is so dim that an investigator cannot be sure that what he sees is an ectoplasmic structure, then it is ipso facto not good enough for him to be sure that what he sees is the medium's leg lifting a stool. Testimony resting on eyesight is not worth much either way if the visibility is poor, and one must remember that it is just as easy to mistake a real ectoplasmic structure for a limb as vice versa - assuming of course that the former exists and does simulate the latter; but unless you admit that as a possibility, why investigate at all? Practically all the past "exposures" of fraud and adverse reports are seen to be extremely vulnerable when examined critically; quite slap-dash methods of argument and crude testimony as to facts seem to suffice here, because, after all, the average man finds that fraud is the most comfortable and convenient hypothesis. If there were no supernormal actions we should not be brought up against some knotty intellectual problems; common-sense would be reassured, and extravagant and hysterical people like these mediums would be shown their right place, presumably a hospital. No, it is not surprising that most of the best mediums have been exposed as frauds from time to time; but what does cause us a little annoyance is that so many men of keen and critical intellect should have accepted these exposures so uncritically.

Note to Chapter VII

In his recent researches with Rudi Schneider (see "Revue Meapsychique", 1982, no. 1) Dr. Osty has found certain effects for different wave-lengths, which may have a general validity; although of course other people, using different mediums, will have to corroborate his observations before we can take them as of universal application.

He finds that red light, if strong, hinders the production of ectoplasm. If the ectoplasm has been produced in the dark, however, and then condensed to a more solid form, it can stand a strongish red light. Consequently it is best to protect the medium from the light by a screen, or provide a dark cabinet near him in which the ectoplasm may be condensed, and to confine the strong red light to the region in which the already condensed ectoplasm is to operate.

Ultra-violet light does not destroy the condensed form of ectoplasm, neither does it render it fluorescent.

Infra-red light is more easily absorbed when of long wavelength.

Ordinary bright light, if of very brief duration (for example the magnesium flash), stops the action of the ectoplasm. This is probably not by disintegrating it (as is popularly thought), but because the condensed ectoplasm simply runs away from the bright light, with exceeding rapidity; for often its activity is immediately resumed undiminished directly the flash is over, which would not be the case if the condensation had to begin all over again.

The bright light, if brief, does not affect the medium himself. On the other hand a weaker light, when prolonged, causes uneasiness and muscular spasms - and this also applies to the Red and the Ultra-violet light. Thus, when we consider the effect of light on the medium, its duration is much more important than its intensity.

Bibliography

GELEY "Ectoplasmie et Clairvoyance" (Eng. Trans. as Clairvoyance and Materialization.)
SCHRENCK-NOTZING "Les Phenomenes Physiques de la Mediumnite"
D'ALBE "The Goligher Circle"

 

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