Gustave Geley

Graduate doctor of the Faculty of Medicine of Lyon, distinguished psychical researcher and Director of the Institut Métapsychique International from 1919 to 1924. He wrote "l'Etre Subconscient" (Paris, 1899), "From the Unconscious to the Conscious" and "Clairvoyance and Materialisation" (London, 1927). It was to have been followed by a second volume, "The Genesis and Meaning of Metapsychic Phenomena", of which, however, the world was deprived by his sudden death in an aeroplane accident on July 15, 1924, a few days after a last experiment with Kluski in Warsaw.

Introduction to the Practical Study of Mediumship

- Gustave Geley -

          THE HEROIC stage of metapsychics would seem to be nearing its end. The reality of mediumistic phenomena is certainly not yet accepted without discussion and reservations, but it is no longer systematically denied. Demonstrative experiments, everywhere undertaken of late years, especially those of Baron von Schrenck-Notzing in Germany, and those of the International Metapsychic Institute in France, have been decisive. The last objections are gradually diminishing, and fresh men of science are daily devoting themselves resolutely to research.

We may soon expect a general impetus to these studies, which only the scarcity of good mediums can retard.

I therefore consider that it will be useful to call the attention of students new to the subject to the special difficulties of the task they are undertaking. They must fully understand that metapsychic experiment is a delicate matter and one that cannot be improvised.

To be fruitful of results it needs a profound knowledge of the phases and variations of mediumship and of the (unpublished) methods of experimentation that these phases necessitate. A medium is a human instrument needing much more complicated and delicate handling than chemical substances or physical apparatus.

Moreover, we still know very little; such knowledge of mediumship as we have has been acquired empirically and only after innumerable gropings. At present, however, some definite rules and precise ideas have become apparent, and these I shall endeavour to put in a clear light.

1. The General Type of Experimentation

Mediumistic investigations belong to the class of "collective experiments," for the phenomena are the results of subconscious psycho-physiological collaboration between the medium and the experimenters.

Unless this fundamental idea is consistently kept in mind scarcely anything will be understood of mediumship either theoretically or practically.

Doubtless it is the medium who plays the principal part in this collaboration; he is the deus ex machina without whom nothing would be manifest. But, left to himself, he is nearly powerless. With certain exceptions, his faculty, usually latent, only appears spontaneously and casually in irregular and imperfect phenomena.

In the intellectual type of mediumship at least two psychisms in collaboration are required for the active manifestation of supernormal faculty; and physical mediumship also needs association of such psycho-physiological forces as the conditions of the séance may permit.

Therefore in both cases, though the medium is the originating focus of the manifestations, he is not their only cause.

In ectoplasmic manifestations the appearance of the phenomena is necessarily induced by a dynamic and material externalisation of a portion of the organism of the medium. The pages that here immediately follow deal principally with physical mediumship.

But if limited to this elementary externalisation, the phenomena will be very middling, hardly perceptible, and often nil. If, on the contrary, a favourable environment renders possible what may be termed a "call" on the latent forces of the experimenters by the forces emanating from the medium, everything is changed. The faculties of the medium are reinforced and increased by this association; his dynamic and material emanations become markedly stronger, and phenomena of telekinesis and materialisation immediately appear.

Ochorowicz calculated, on the basis of many dynamometrical observations, that the sitters had lost energy. He concluded that the sum of such losses corresponded to the average power of a man, as if these had been used in the creation of a separate dynamic organism at the expense of the persons present, including the medium.

From the preceding it follows that the first term in the problem of experimentation consists in establishing a favourable environment. If this essential condition is not present no success is to be expected. For this reason it is absurd and useless to expect any result from competitions, challenges, or offers of prizes to mediums. Even very powerful mediums, when isolated and disturbed by the divergent or hostile wills of a "jury," are reduced to impotence.

For analogous reasons the examination of a medium by a committee composed of learned men ill-prepared for the task they have undertaken is very chancy. If the committee is not actively interested in the task and does not conduct its experiments sympathetically, it will obtain poor results or none at all. To attribute the success of a good séance, or the responsibility for a bad one, solely to the medium is entirely erroneous. Desert and responsibility are always collective, as are the experiments themselves. Whenever the practical study of mediumship is seriously undertaken, it is indispensable that both medium and sitters should be alike considered, since (and this cannot be over-emphasised) both medium and experimenters have an equal share in success or failure.

2. The Medium

What is "a medium"? One whose constituent elements - mental, dynamic, and material - are capable of being momentarily decentralised.

The innate tendency to dissociation in these peculiar constitutions is increased by the practice of mediumship, which tends to render the primarily abnormal state more and more easy and normal[1].

[1] For the biologic causes and consequences of this faculty of dissociation, I refer the reader to my book "From the Unconscious to the Conscious", which I hope to complete by that which I have under preparation.

This tendency is innate. In fact, mediumship is hereditary. I have found this to be the case with all the powerful mediums that I have studied - both clairvoyants and those capable of ectoplasmic phenomena. Sometimes this heredity is direct, sometimes it appears in ancestors or collaterals; but it is always there, so clearly as to be undeniable.

Mediumship may therefore be described as an hereditary "gift" conditioned by a tendency to decentralisation of the constituent psychological factors of the medium.

This notion of the hereditary nature of the "gift" allows us, in some measure, to understand why mediumship is so rare in the Western nations. I have heard this often maintained in Poland. Poles consider that the Inquisition and legal proceedings against "sorcery" have very largely extinguished the race of mediums in Western Europe. Among the thousands of persons condemned to the stake during many centuries, the majority were victims of hysteria, along with a considerable minority of real mediums... Subjective mediumship escaped destruction to some extent; but objective mediumship, being more easily discerned and more striking in its manifestations, would seem to have been nearly extirpated. From this point of view the work of the Inquisition and prosecutions for sorcery, instituted for other ends, must have had important consequences, disastrous alike to science and to truth.

Analysis of the mediumistic gift reveals two characteristics which have both practical and theoretical importance:

A. Mediumship tends to appear spontaneously and early in life, like artistic gifts.

Observation confirms this. All powerful mediums are born mediums and remain so throughout life. Less powerful subjects are to be found in considerable numbers, and the development of their gift will be dependent on its training and practice. The cases of the child medium and the child artist are alike.

B. Despite the diversity in its manifestations, all mediumship is essentially the same.

To outward seeming there is nothing in common between clairvoyance and ectoplasmic phenomena. Nevertheless, they are certainly the same in essence. In the first place, all mediums, whether subjective or objective, have a similar psychology; they are suggestible, hypersensitive, unstable in their moods, capricious, easily provoked to anger, and emotional. Moreover - and this is important - observation shows that clairvoyance and materialisation can be coexistent and sometimes alternate one with the other. As an instance of co-existent psychic and physical gifts, I will cite that of Franek Kluski. His clairvoyance., which takes the form of automatic writing, is sometimes almost terrifying. Franek is a universal medium, a king among his contemporaries.

Nevertheless, this co-existence is rare. Generally there is a sharply marked alternation between intellectual and physical mediumship. I can quote three typical instances:

1. Eva C. This medium at certain times in her life has shown very remarkable phenomena of the intellectual type. She has "read" automatically on an imaginary screen, like that of a cinema, pages of philosophy. These automatic productions had no relation to her normal powers and knowledge, and greatly exceeded these latter. This was very interesting, but during this period of her mediumship the ectoplasmic faculty disappeared.

2. The wonderful clairvoyant, Stephan Ossowiecki produced extraordinary phenomena of telekinesis in his youth; but at such times his clairvoyance was eclipsed.

3. Madame Silbert of Graz had all her life been a clairvoyante pure and simple; she had shown no physical faculties. Five or six years ago she attended spiritualist séances for several months, and became an excellent physical medium, but lost her clairvoyance.

These observations are very important:

From the theoretical point of view they prove that mediumship is at first a single faculty: a very young medium has all its potentialities. Specialisation comes later. He is led by personal affinities, or by hereditary predisposition, to exercise only some one or other faculty, and loses the others. But this specialisation is never absolute or final. Nevertheless, simultaneous physical and intellectual mediumship in the same person is the exception; one or other must be chosen and seems to absorb all the powers of the individual.

From the practical point of view, the above-mentioned characteristics should enable us to find mediums and to train them rationally. Intellectual mediumship is vastly more common, in the West at any rate, than the physical type. It is not impossible, as we have seen, to transform a clairvoyant into a physical medium, and the younger the person the more easily this can be done; but it remains practicable even in advanced years with time and patience. But the first condition will always be to suppress the exercise of clairvoyance.

I say nothing on the rational education of mediumship, for the very good reason that evidence is wanting on this point.

M. Lebiedzinski, an engineer at Warsaw, who has studied many mediums, gives much importance to their impulses. He thinks that most of them tend to reproduce phenomena that they have had the opportunity of seeing produced by others. Suggestions, especially those that are indirect and unconscious, also play a great part. He thinks that in the future, new and varied phenomena may be obtained by using young mediums fresh to the subject. The future will show how much truth there is in these theoretical views.

In this connection it will be well to study the influence of regimen and mode of life on the development of mediumship. Orientals, it would seem, insist on a vegetable diet and on conditions which resemble those of the Vestals of antiquity. They claim also that experimenters should observe certain rules of life and use certain empirical procedure. In the West we have no experience of these methods of training.

3. The Conditions for Good Output

A. The medium must be in good health. Any indisposition, even if slight, diminishes or even suppresses his faculties for the time. I have seen very powerful mediums, such as Kluski, paralysed by a cold or toothache. Muscular fatigue or nervous exhaustion (abuse of séances, genital excess, immoderate use of alcohol or drugs, insomnia, etc.) have the same inhibitive effect.

B. The medium must be in a good temper. He is a sensitive, and feels acutely the slightest moral dispositions of those about him. Experimenters should make efforts to gain his sympathy, should give him courteous attentions and treat him as a friend and coadjutor. If they misuse him, show crude suspicion, or even despise him as a mere instrument or an animal for experimentation, they create deplorable conditions and risk total unsuccess. I repeat that sympathy between the medium and the experimenters is an essential, or nearly essential, condition for success. Irony and ridicule are even more inhibitive than ill-will or want of skill. Mental or material anxiety, sorrow, and preoccupation also militate against results.

C. The medium must have confidence in the experimenters. Every kind of check imaginable may be proposed to him, but it is mere prudence to explain it to him clearly, so that he understands the purpose in view and the nature of the control. He is instinctively distrustful; he feels painfully, and quite reasonably, that during his trance he is abandoned, defenceless, to the mercy of the experimenters. If he does not know them well he fears some untimely or unskilful measure that may cause him injury or pain. If he sees around him unaccustomed instruments or laboratory apparatus, he dreads some painful experiment; and the more ignorant he is, the greater will be his distrust. A very simple instance will show how justifiable this distrust may be. Nothing is more common than for some ill-advised experimenter to take from his pocket an electric lamp and turn it on the medium during a materialisation séance. What happens? The medium is roughly awakened from his trance. If there is any ectoplasm, it abruptly re-enters the organism without preliminary modification. This abrupt re-absorption is always accompanied by painful and exhausting nervous shock. An incident of this kind fatigues the medium greatly, and often inhibits his faculties for several days.

It is particularly noticeable that the shock is proportional to the duration of the light and not to its intensity. The magnesium flash, lasting only the fraction of a second, disturbs the medium less than the ray of a pocket-lamp, which can never be instantaneous, since its purpose is to observe the medium. But it is necessary to know this; novices in experiment are quite ignorant of this fact. Rough examination, the seizure of materialised forms, react even more strongly and painfully on the nervous system. If the medium, rightly or wrongly, dreads such behaviour, his trance will be imperfect or null, and the séance will fail.

D. The medium should be comfortable. Control, though it may be full and satisfactory, should not be such as to cause discomfort, or a fortiori, pain such as to prevent his sleep. Ectoplasmic trance is a hypnoid state that is slight and very unstable, and may easily be annihilated by untimely or unskilful acts.

It is always well, both for adequate control and for the comfort of the medium (here both conditions are concurrent), that he should be undressed before the séance and clothed in warm and roomy garments. The temperature of the room should be warm but not hot. Other conditions may vary according to the medium's habits. Some go into trance more easily when fasting, others after a meal. All such secondary conditions should be adapted to the habits of the person under examination.

4. The Experimenters

The number of these may vary according to the dispositions of the medium; the average number is from four to seven.

Age and health play an important part. It is indispensable that the majority of the experimenters should not be too old. A séance with old men only would be entirely defective; the younger the sitters, the more favourable will be the conditions for experiment.

All should be in good health and willing. If one of the sitters should be indisposed, fatigued, or preoccupied with serious anxieties, he should withdraw. There should be mutual sympathy among themselves and with the medium. The presence of antagonistic and divergent intentions is a cause of disturbance and failure. This reciprocal sympathy creates a harmonious atmosphere. Similarly, the constitution of the group should remain constant.

The sitters should be passive. It matters little whether they be sceptical or not, though it is not conducive to success that all, or a majority of them, should be prejudiced against the genuineness of the phenomena; nothing is more inhibitive than systematic suspicion. Active hostility is most injurious. Conversely, too strong desire for success hinders rather than aids the phenomena, and, similarly, concentration of thought or marked divergence of intention is objectionable. It is best for the sitters to converse in low tones on indifferent matters, avoiding all controversy or discussion. It is easy to habituate oneself to the necessary passivity without relaxing control and attention.

The sitters must be patient; they must learn to wait and sometimes to pass whole hours and whole séances without results. When phenomena begin, no exclamations or interference should be made; let the phenomenon develop freely and reach its completion. The best and most certain control is that which is given by the phenomena themselves. Elementary or imperfect phenomena may easily be tricks; complete phenomena are usually incapable of imitation.

Some instances will make my meaning clear.

If telekinesis is under scrutiny a small displacement of some object near the medium and within his reach will always be liable to be thought fraudulent, however close the control; but a great displacement, as of a table some yards away from the medium, or the transference of a chair (well out of reach) on to a table over the heads of the sitters, is obviously impossible to reproduce by any trickery.

If ectoplasm is looked for, it is possible to attribute formless ectoplasm to regurgitation or any other fraudulent means, but when it assumes the form of a living hand, or face, or - still more unmistakable - a complete apparition, the hypothesis of fraud is absolutely eliminated if the medium is so held as to be incapable of playing the part of the apparition, and if no confederacy is possible.

The major phenomena carry their own control, because they could only be simulated by a confederate, and nothing is easier than to eliminate this kind of fraud.

My own procedure is quite simple. I neglect systematically all minor and elementary phenomena, taking no notice of them. I do not waste time considering whether these might possibly be produced fraudulently in spite of the control. I take any elementary phenomenon that could be supposed to be fraudulently produced as non-existent. I only attend to phenomena that it is impossible to imitate by any trick whatsoever under the given conditions of control.

The experimenters must know how control should be applied. It must not be supposed that this can be improvised or is obvious. For this reason those who are unused to these investigations should allow themselves to be directed by one who is experienced.

But students new to metapsychic experimentation have an unfortunate tendency to take no account of the work done by their predecessors, and the consequences of this mistake are deplorable.

In no other branch of science is this done. Everywhere and always, when new and unknown facts are being examined, the man of science begins by studying the subject up to date; if he decides to experiment, he undertakes a real apprenticeship, guided by his predecessors.

In the upside down world of metapsychics the procedure is quite otherwise: men begin to experiment without even wishing to know anything, of the matter. Not only are they ignorant, sometimes totally ignorant, of the work of others, but they begin by deliberately excluding that work. The inevitable results are widely advertised failures or endless gropings. There is no mistake that novices are not liable to; fortunately these mistakes mostly lead only to blank séances, but I shall be surprised if some day they should not have much more serious results to the health or even the life of a medium.

I will now deal with two important matters - the measures of control and frauds by mediums.

5. The Lighting of Séances

One of the great difficulties attending ectoplasmic manifestations arises, as is well known, from the injurious action of light on the production of the phenomena.

Light seems to act injuriously in two ways - (1) by disturbing the trance, (2) by opposing the actual process of materialisation. On both counts, the brighter the light, the more difficult it is to obtain the phenomena. This detrimental action is most marked in the earlier phases of the phenomenon. When the materialisation is organically complete and "skinned over" it stands light much better than in the earlier stages of exteriorisation of the amorphous substance and its passage into the organised state. Experimenters are therefore confronted with an embarrassing dilemma. Either they must work in the dark or with so dim a light as to make observation not fully satisfactory; or they insist on a strong light, in which case the phenomena are much diminished or altogether absent. No doubt, by much patience and training of the medium, it is possible to operate in sufficient light. Madame Bisson has been able to do this with Eva C. But as regards causes, the intensity of light and the perfection of materialisation are inversely proportional.

The detrimental action of light on ectoplasmic forms is not surprising. Light is well known to be fatal to many micro-organisms, and seems even to hinder the organisation of primordial forms of life. Germs in process of development are usually shielded from its action more or less by the natural conditions. The early stages of embryonic life take place in relative or complete darkness. One of the functions of chlorophyll in vegetation seems to be the protection of delicate tissues against light, and it is a common observation that vegetable growth takes place mainly at night.

If light hinders the biologic process in the first stages of organic growth, considering that this process is very slow, it is easy to conceive that it should actually paralyse the same processes during materialisation, when the rapidity of vital action is greatly accelerated. The human embryo, for instance, requires weeks to be built up in the womb, shielded from light; in a séance a quasi-human being or a human organ is completely formed in a few seconds.

This rapidity of the process must be taken into account in order to understand the injurious action of light in materialisation séances. If light is adverse to the normal phase of embryonic organisation, it may be expected to be a thousand times more so when the duration of this phase is counted by seconds instead of days, weeks, or months.

The injurious action of light, therefore, is only natural and logical.

How, then, are we to reconcile the just demands that we should have the use of our two chief senses - sight and touch - for good observation, with the primary necessity of experimenting without light? All attempts to solve this difficulty have so far been failures. Red light was tried, by analogy with photography, but this similarity does not obtain. Red light has been found as injurious to materialisations as white; if it seems less so, that is only because it is weaker; and if increased to equal white light it has the great disadvantage that it deforms or alters our vision. Its only real advantage is that its use allows of the camera being left open to receive the revelations of the magnesium flashlight.

Endeavours have been made to filter the light by glasses of various colours; all to no purpose. Latterly sulphide of zinc or calcium screens have been tried. These radiate cold light and are less injurious, but their illumination is poor unless they are very large. Also the intensity of their phosphorescence rapidly diminishes. They are bright enough soon after being exposed to sunlight or magnesium light, but they quickly weaken in a quarter of an hour and finally go out. There is, it is true, a radio-active sulphide of zinc which keeps bright for hours, but it is most probably as injurious as warm light.

Is the problem therefore insoluble? No; and a rational mode of lighting will no doubt be discovered. Experience has shown that the least injurious is cold light devoid of actinic rays. Moonlight realises this ideal, and excellent séances can be obtained, as Crookes first observed and succeeded in getting, by this light.

Biologic light, as given by certain animals and plants, seems favourable, as I explained in the Revue Metapsychique of March-April, 1922, and have since verified. Unfortunately it is difficult to reduce this to practice. The cultures of photogenic microbes are very unstable. Professor Raphael Dubois discovered in 1900 a bacillus, cultures of which last for a month, but he has been unable, despite prolonged experiment, to recover this bacillus. Luminous insects have been tried with success in some favoured countries (Brazil), and finally some vegetable products might be usable. Meanwhile, till the ideal method is found, we can use large screens of zinc sulphide, or hold séances by moonlight.

It is, I repeat, possible to hold séances by ordinary light sufficiently bright to allow of good observations, though for this a preliminary training of the medium is required. When no trained medium is available, a faint red light controlled by a rheostat may be tried.

The light is kept low till trance is complete; the light may then be very slowly increased up to sufficient visibility, but care must be taken not to direct the light on the medium. Only reflected light should reach him, and the dorsal region should always remain in shadow. If one must experiment in darkness, quite adequate control can be maintained and give complete satisfaction.

6. The Control of Séances

Measures for control are devised to protect the experimenters from conjuring tricks. The conditions for effective legerdemain are three:

1. Freedom for the conjurer to move about.
2. His own room or apparatus.
3. The presence of a confederate.

The two latter conditions are eliminated by the fact that the medium is working with men of science in a laboratory or a reliable room.

Improvised trickery, by wires, etc., is difficult to hide, and even if successful could give only very poor results. In any case, the medium should not enter the séance-room except for the séance and with the experimenters. Control of the medium's person is very easily effected when there is no reason to apprehend the use of trick apparatus nor confederacy.

First of all the medium should be completely undressed and clothed in a garment belonging to the experimenters, and previously searched by them. In my opinion it is quite unnecessary that this garment should be tight-fitting; a warm pyjama suit without pockets suffices. This should be put on in presence of two experimenters at least.

In the séance-room the chief and essential control is that both the medium's hands be held. I say both hands, not both wrists. And this for two reasons: the fingers, if free, may make fraudulent movements, and, more especially, the much-famed trick of the substitution of hands cannot be effected when the medium is held by his fingers. A fraudulent medium can easily get his right wrist taken for his left, and vice versa. However little the attention of the controllers is alert, a right hand cannot be mistaken for a left, nor the thumb for the little finger.

Holding the hands of the medium renders any important fraud impossible.

However trained to acrobatic feats or prestidigitation a medium may be supposed to be, he can only produce elementary and negligible phenomena by using his head or his feet. Nevertheless, it is always well to control the legs and feet. This can generally be done without much difficulty. It will be remarked that I do not speak of instrumental measures - a cage, ligatures, chains, seals, leaden or other, bags and nets over the medium, electric wires, etc.

I think that all these should be rejected except in the cases of séances for mere demonstration, like those of the International Metapsychic Institute with Guzik. For experimentation I dispense with all these instrumental controls, for two reasons:

(a) They cause the medium serious discomfort that may prevent or limit his trance. From the emotional point of view they are depressing and unnerving; suspicion thus emphasised tends to inhibit the delicate supernormal faculties.

(b) None of these methods, except lead-sealed ligatures or nets, gives real security. (Certain conjurers can release themselves from the most careful tying.)

None is so good as simple holding of the hands[2].

[2] I think it unnecessary to allude to rectal or vaginal examination, which are only exceptional precautions adapted to very special cases.

7. Fraudulent Practices

We now come to the important question of mediumistic frauds, and it is absolutely indispensable that experimenters should be well acquainted with this matter.

Mediums may cheat in two ways - consciously and unconsciously.

The methods of control already described protect us from conscious fraud. Ochorowicz writes:

"Conscious fraud is outside science. It is generally easy to detect, unless at a public performance, seen from a distance. A thorough search before and after the séance, elimination of confederacy, with knowledge of professional tricks, with close supervision of movements like legerdemain, are sufficient. In simple cases - i.e., without apparatus - conscious fraud may be difficult to distinguish from unconscious fraud."

I affirm that in my experiments with Eva C., with Kluski, and with Jean Guzik, conscious fraud was impossible and never occurred.

The question of unconscious fraud is more complicated, because its study involves psychological factors. All students of metapsychics know what is meant by unconscious fraud, but I must enter into some explanations for the benefit of novices in investigation and those readers who know nothing of these matters.

To begin with, it may be said that unconscious fraud is not "fraud" at all. It results from the automatism, which is the first phase and essential condition of mediumship.

I will now give some short and elementary instances of unconscious fraud (the term must be used for want of a better), which will elucidate the matter more than any theoretical explanations.

At one of Kluski's séances in Warsaw the following little occurrence took place: We had in use a red electric lamp, and usually the first, phenomenon was the extinguishing of this lamp by telekinetic action on the switch. That evening the action was delayed. One of the sitters, being impatient, addressed the power in play, saying: "Put out the lamp." it still remained lighted. He repeated three times: "Put out the lamp." At once the entranced medium got up, taking his two controllers with him, who were surprised and interested. He went straight to the lamp, turned the switch, and returned to his place with the satisfaction of a duty done.

This is typical of unconscious "fraud," for which no sensible person would blame the medium; he was simply obeying the suggestion. The phenomenon not coming to pass by abnormal means, he produced it normally. If, under analogous conditions, the medium had displaced some object or raised a table with his feet, he would have been equally morally innocent.

Ochorowicz reports another instance of the same kind:

"I have seen mediums knock on the wall with their hands, before witnesses, and nevertheless maintain that 'the spirit' was rapping. A law student, who was a medium of an elementary type, gave himself a box on the ear in full view of everyone present, and was much frightened thereby. He was in variable trance, and insisted that the spirit of Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates, had done this!

"Such things are ludicrous, of course, but they are psychological facts which it is necessary to know before studying the higher forms of mediumship."

Unconscious fraud is simply the result of the dissociation of the will and consciousness of the medium in trance and the consequent automatism.

It is needless to remark that unconscious fraud may be complex and skilful; it is well known how perfectly in somnabulism automatic acts may be executed. But in the great majority of cases unconscious frauds are infantile.

Such frauds may originate in two ways, both of which should be known. They can only occur under circumstances which it rests with the experimenters to avoid. The originating causes are:

(a) The line of least resistance, and
(b) Untimely verbal or mental suggestion by the experimenters.

Fraud due to automatically following the line of least resistance is very easily understood. As Ochorowicz has explained, the whole processes of exteriorisation, the physiological dissociation between the organism and the externalised power, are accompanied by pain and demand great expenditure of nervous energy.

"When the medium is exhausted or even careless - that is, without a special effort of his somnambulic will - he will free his hand to trick and will make the substitution as skilfully as possible, because it is much less fatiguing and because he is allowed to do this. This is the unmoral and purely physiological action of the medium's subconsciousness. Therefore it must be understood once for all that in the absence of some special incitement, internal or external, a medium will always cheat automatically."

This conclusion of Ochorowicz's is much exaggerated, but contains an element of truth. When writing this he had in view Eusapia Palladino, with whom unconscious trickery was very frequent, much more so than with other mediums.

The second cause of unconscious frauds is verbal or mental suggestion by the sitters. I will once more quote Ochorowicz:

"When it is understood that the medium is but a mirror reflecting and directing the nervous energies of the sitters to an ideo-plastic purpose, it will not be found surprising that suggestion should play an important part ... With controllers imbued with the notion of fraud ... the medium will be dominated by the suggestion of fraud."

More than this: the medium will be tempted to enact the fraud of which an experimenter may be thinking. Of this there are typical instances. The inference is that during a séance mental suggestions of fraud should be taken into account.

Is it possible to avoid unconscious frauds? Certainly. It is not only possible, but easy. All subconscious fraud needs one only condition - insufficient control. When control is good, especially when both the medium's hands are properly held, not only is there no such fraud, but there is no attempt at it. It depends solely on the experimenters whether the medium does or does not trick in this way. It must be expressly stated that unconscious fraud may be stimulated if one of the two controllers of the hands relaxes his duty, whether intentionally or not. Hence the inference, which is axiomatic for all who understand these matters, when a medium tricks, the experimenters are responsible. It should be obvious that it is quite puerile to demand scientific probity from a medium, to whom scientific reasoning is usually quite foreign, and who is, moreover, irresponsible by reason of trance.

From all this it follows that experimenters should be very cautious in alleging or suspecting conscious fraud; but the levity with which accusations of this kind are made passes all reasonable bounds. I do not cite known instances of this, as I wish to abstain from all personal allusions; but this I will say - that in metapsychics many observers reverse the first rule of justice and place the burden of proof, not on the accuser, but on the accused. Ill-will and ineptitude have free course, and an honest medium is disgraced without scruple on the slightest suspicion. Mere suspicion stands in place of proof. "The medium might possibly have tricked. It is not shown that he did not trick; therefore he did trick."

Nine-tenths of the accusations against mediums, made not only by opponents, but by students themselves, involve this sophistry, and then they are astonished that they find it difficult to get mediums!

I repeat, conscious fraud is always due to the negligence or incompetence of the experimenters; and unconscious fraud is not "fraud" at all. On the other hand, experimenters should be fully aware that the appearance of fraud is not a proof. The entranced medium often makes reflex or associated movements synchronously with the displacement of an object without contact. Novices may find these slight synchronous movements suspicious; and similarly with all movements of the medium's body and legs, often purposeless and no more important than the unconscious movements in natural sleep.

Another fact that may give an appearance of fraud is the strange aspect of the ectoplasmic substance. It may assume the likeness of more or less visible filaments, giving the unaccustomed observer the impression of threads intended to move an object fraudulently. At other times it assumes the appearance of light woven stuff like muslin, and photography shows the web. This has often been thought a proof of fraud in cases of quite genuine metapsychic phenomena.

It is a standing principle that a photograph can never, by itself, attest the reality or the falsity of any phenomenon; it has no weight whatever apart from the evidence of the conditions under which the negative was produced.

The illusion of fraud may also arise in another way.

Ectoplasmic organs are often flat, irregular, and incompletely formed. As I shall show when dealing with defective materialisations, these imperfections not only do not prove fraud, but attest the honesty of the medium. Paradoxically, the reverse is also the case: the perfection of materialised organs may cause the same illusion. Inexperienced observers see a perfectly formed and living hand move some object; their first impression is naturally that it is the hand of the medium.

Finally, students should be aware that authentic phenomena and subconscious frauds may co-exist in the same séance. Verification of the latter in no way proves the nullity of the former. For better or worse, it is not unusual to see a séance begin with automatic and unconscious "fraudulent" movements by the medium and progress to thoroughly genuine phenomena.

For this reason, Ochorowicz counselled that control should not be too strict at the outset. Experimenting with Eusapia, it was agreed to take no notice of the first phenomena produced; considering these as preliminary, it was settled that no notice should be taken of them. It is easy to see the reason for this.

The first phase arises in psychological and muscular automatism. Consider, for instance, a person endowed with moderate or undeveloped mediumistic powers, in process of training. The first manifestations are always unconscious, automatic movements - e.g., his hands, placed on the experimental table, give it movements which he will categorically and in good faith declare he has not made. Nevertheless, the visible contraction and swelling of the muscles show the undeniable origin of the movements. But little by little, if the training is continued, his mediumship will develop; externalisation will become possible, and muscular automatism will give place to telekinesis.

Similarly, at a séance with a good medium, one may, and often does, observe a regression to the earlier phases of mediumship, especially at the beginning of the séance. At such a moment strict control, keeping arms and legs fixed as in a vice, may prevent the normal development of phenomena by suppressing its initial automatic stage.

This is a very common mistake made by those who are unfamiliar with such studies, and, unfortunately, by many who should be better informed. The error consists in charging the medium with bad faith and suspecting the genuineness of the phenomena by reason of the inhibitive effect of very strict control in many cases. It is constantly said:

"No control = fine phenomena."
"Incomplete control = intermittent phenomena."
"Absolute control = no phenomena."

This is radically false; all real students have obtained magnificent phenomena with perfect control.

But it should be thoroughly understood that this control should not be blind, or identical in all cases and at all times. It must be adapted to circumstances, flexible in its methods, and rational. Rigid control that takes no account of the psychological and physiological modalities of mediumship is often sterilising, not because it eliminates fraud, but because it suppresses the initial automatism.

When certain observers obtain nothing under an absolute control, it does not follow that this is because control is perfect, but because it is unskilfully applied.

As has already been stated, the first term in the problem of this kind of experimentation is the creation of a favourable collective environment; the second and third terms relate to fraud. The keys to success are, on the one hand, to eliminate possible legerdemain, and, on the other hand, to take fair account of automatisms, especially initial automatisms, and even at need to let these latter have free course. All this, however, implies much skilful handling and thorough knowledge in the management of mediums.

It is doubtless true that the possible, though infrequent, co-existence of pure and adulterated phenomena gives opportunities for mockery to adversaries ignorant of the subject; and the fact is, moreover, not of a nature to simplify metapsychic studies. But though this co-existence is very important in practice, it is without any theoretical value.

The end to be sought by observers is not to protect themselves with absolute certainty at all times against any possible or conceivable fraud (this, though desirable, is seldom feasible); it is to obtain phenomena so powerful and complex that they carry their own proof and undeniable witness, under the given conditions of control[3].

[3] Translator's Note (Stanley de Brath): Dr. Geley has often explained to me, and I have seen for myself at the International Metapsychic Institute, that the measures of control there practised are such as to make fraud physically impossible for the major phenomena. For instance, in procuring paraffin moulds of materialised hands, the point to be guarded is the possibility of surreptitious introduction (however difficult) of moulds already made. This was made physically impossible by the admixture of cholesterin with the paraffin and chemical test of the moulds produced.

If experimenters waste time on poor or elementary phenomena, they will find the greatest difficulty in getting a control that will satisfy them at all points. If they are wise enough to consider elementary phenomena and such minor frauds as they may suspect, both negligible; if they allow phenomena to develop without checking them at the outset by untimely demands, they will certainly obtain facts so various and important, also (sometimes) of such beauty, that their conviction will be complete, unshakable, and conclusive.


The above article was taken from Gustave Geley's "Clairvoyance and Materialisation: A Record of Experiments" (London: T. Fisher Unwin Limited, 1927).

Other articles by Gustave Geley

Experimental Demonstrations by Dr. von Schrenck Notzing
Pseudo-Materialisations and Pseudo-Mediums
Similarity of Experiments at the General Institute of Psychology and those at the International Metapsychic Institute

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