Gustave Geley

Graduate doctor of the Faculty of Medicine of Lyon, distinguished psychical researcher and Director of the Institut Metapsychique 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.

Pseudo-Materialisations and Pseudo-Mediums

- Gustave Geley -

          TO EVERY informed mind metapsychic science appears as the most difficult and complex of all sciences.

From the practical point of view it necessitates endless gropings; the experimental methods, instrumentation, and hypotheses are all new.

In its theoretical aspect it infringes on the province of philosophy, and has points of contact with physics, chemistry, biology, physiology, medicine, and natural history.

Nevertheless, this, the most complex of all sciences, is also the most vulgarised, in the worser sense of the word. Everyone thinks himself able to "experiment" and draw inferences from such experiments. This involves a very serious danger to the future of the science, and we wish to place honest seekers on their guard against illusory practices and thoughtless enthusiasms.

Let us be well understood. We do not seek to proscribe private mediumistic séances. Metapsychic investigation cannot be restricted to scientific laboratories. It is legitimate, it is useful, it is desirable that all honest and sincere seekers should be able to verify for themselves the genuineness of the phenomena. Those who have the good luck (unfortunately rare) to find honest mediums really endowed with supernormal faculties have every right to derive instruction from their powers.

But on the other hand the systematic vulgarisation of metapsychic phenomena by incompetent practitioners is dangerous from every point of view.

In Paris there is an actual epidemic at the present time (1924) of pseudo-materialisations, which makes it a duty to emphasise this danger, to warn those who are friendly to our studies, and at the same time to deprive its adversaries of their easy triumphs in exposing absurd parodies of the real facts.

The present epidemic in Paris began some years since with a certain medium named Craddock. It is not our duty to estimate the powers of this man, whom we do not know, and who refused investigation at the Institute. We will simply aver that his method of organising séances has been the root of the evil.

The epidemic was at first localised in a drawing-room on the left bank of the Seine, where it remained during the war; but it spread rapidly, and new foci of infection are reported to us almost daily. Neighbouring towns have taken the pest, and no one can say how far it may spread. The clinical symptoms are always the same wherever found. They always consist in a coarse and superficial imitation of materialisation by a hypnotised or allegedly hypnotised subject.

The scene also is always the same - a more or less numerous circle assembled in a totally dark room; in front and in the middle stands the hypnotiser-organiser. In one corner of the room, on a sofa and always at some distance from the audience, is a hypnotised subject entirely free and uncontrolled. This person is usually placed behind the curtains of a dark cabinet, which latter is obviously unnecessary, since the whole room is quite dark.

By the side of the subject are placed some flowers, some sheets of paper and pencils on a small table, and at his feet two luminous screens, face downwards. A musical-box lulls the audience, while subtle perfumes pervade the room.

The hypnotiser puts his subject to sleep and leaves him, and the results are patiently awaited. When the trance is deep enough (and, incidentally, when the phosphorescence of the screens is sufficiently weakened) the performance begins.

The screens are raised, their luminous sides towards the sitters. They make circuits in the air. They move apart (to show that there are several "spirits" present). Flowers are thrown over the sitters. The sheets of paper are covered with writing. Then, sometimes, the screens come together; they illuminate, very indistinctly, a vague something, covered by a veil of muslin, in which a little goodwill can sometimes distinguish human features.

When the general level of naive confidence permits, the "phantom" approaches the, sitters and lets them dimly perceive a perfect and complete "materialisation"; in fact, too perfect and too complete!

Such is the general mise en scène of these séances, which is repeated with wearisome monotony, apart from occasional variations.

How is it that this pitiful and dull farce is possible? For two reasons - the incompetence of the organisers and the absence of all critical faculty in the sitters.

The incompetence of the former goes beyond all bounds. One of them said to me:

"I find as many mediums for materialisation as I can desire. I take anyone, man or woman, of whatever age or social condition, provided that person is hypnotisable. To develop my medium I place him in the same surroundings as at the séance, with the flowers, the music, and the perfumes; I put him to sleep; I describe the work of the spirits; the spirit raises the screens; the spirit moves them about; the spirit throws the flowers; the spirit writes; etc. This education greatly facilitates the spirit's possession of the medium's body(!). After three training séances I always get materialisations. I never have failures."(!)

To anyone who has experimented seriously in this domain and knows how rare and difficult it is to get materialisations, such a conversation is significant. I listened dumbfounded. Without a doubt my interlocutor was sincere after his own fashion, and the way in which he received my remarks showed him to be quite incurable. He was evidently incapable of understanding that he was simply training his subjects to imitate in their hypnotic state the phenomena he was describing, and thus to play the part of a materialised spirit.

The absence of critical ability in the sitters favourises the fraud. The following scene which I witnessed shows how far this lack may go. A lady who had lost her son in the war, on seeing the screen approach her, exclaimed: "Émile, is it you?" The screen waved downwards, which in screen language means "Yes"! The lady weeps, and the sitters are much moved. The magnetiser took up the tale: "If it is Émile, offer some flowers to your mother, kiss her, and show yourself." The screen bends forward. and touches the old lady several times on the head, then some flowers are dropped on her. A little later the two screens were seen to rise from the floor, showing between them an undefined white pillar. The poor mother broke into sobbing. When after the séance I asked her if she had recognised her son, she replied naively: "Oh no, sir; he was not sufficiently materialised."

The exact psychic state of the subjects in such parodies seems to vary. Sometimes they are simply vulgar tricksters practising an easy fraud, either alone or with confederates; sometimes they may be hypnotised subjects playing the part of "phantoms" under suggestion with the well-known skill of somnambulists. In all cases the farce is undeniable. There is nothing like real materialisation. Even if it should come to pass that some genuine phenomena were produced, they would be valueless under such conditions. The absence of control would not allow of their being taken seriously in any way whatsoever.

There is no need to describe how easily all such "manifestations" could be produced by anyone free to move; abnormal separation of the screens could be effected by a telescopic attachment to be found in every conjuring outfit; the "phantom" is either a rude simulacrum or the performer himself dressed to the part.

The fraud has been exposed again and again. Some sitters less simple than the others have crept up to the "medium's" sofa while the "spirit" was moving about, and always found it empty!

One of our friends, wishing to be absolutely certain of the way the trick was done, obtained, at a high price, the attendance of one of these pseudo-mediums for a series of experiments at his own house. A hidden door gave access to the dark cabinet during the séance. It was easy for a reliable friend to verify that the armchair of the medium was always empty during the performance, but his clothes, artistically disposed thereon, allowed the "spirit" to throw the dim light of the luminous screen on this chair, on which the sitters fancied they could see the medium. Needless to say, the face was always invisible, and the hands were represented by india-rubber gloves. A pouch, hidden under the clothes, carried everything needed for the disguise.

In other cases the subject seemed to me sincere, and it is quite possible that he really played this farce in a hypnotic state and under the unconsidered suggestion of the magnetiser.

It should be clearly understood that for ignorant experimenters a hypnotised subject can simulate all the ordinary phenomena. Materialisation needs special facilities, but "controls" ("incarnations"), automatic writing, duplicate personalities, and spiritoid manifestations of different kinds are very frequently imitated by supposed mediums who are only hypnotic subjects.

As to all that concerns materialisation, one cannot too often repeat that it is at once the most important and most certainly established of metapsychic phenomena, and also that which is most rare and difficult to obtain. Mediums capable of giving it scarcely exist in France, in Spain, and in Germany. Some are known in Italy. They are rather more often met with in Northern Europe, especially in Poland and Russia.

I have been able to study this phenomenon personally and closely, and by the experience thus acquired I can definitely state that genuine materialisations in no way resemble the gross imitations described above, imitations which show as much ignorance as impudence. The whole setting of these pseudo-experiments is grossly defective; no serious experimenter ever operates under such conditions.

It is untrue that absolute darkness is indispensable; very good manifestations can be obtained by dim light, especially if red. Luminous screens have their uses, for their phosphorescence does not seem to affect the materialised forms; but such screens should be large enough to light the whole scene. They should never be employed but in conjunction with complete precautions against fraud. If not, the feeble light they give actually favours trickery.

It is completely false that control hinders production of genuine phenomena. Mechanical registration, especially weighing, imprints, and photography, should always be used to supplement the evidence of the senses. In every case the medium should be adequately controlled, and the simplest and most certain method is that his hands should be held.

Every séance in which the medium is uncontrolled is suspect, and in any case has no scientific value; and, worse, it is dangerous from all points of view, and deplorable as an example. Men of science, seeking in good faith, have been permanently deterred from further examination by having been present at one of these séances of pseudo-materialisation. Any experimenter who consents to follow uncontrolled mediumistic experiments puts himself on a level with the simpletons who allow themselves to be duped, and becomes an accomplice of the fraudulent.


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

Introduction to the Practical Study of Mediumship
Experimental Demonstrations by Dr. von Schrenck Notzing
Similarity of Experiments at the General Institute of Psychology and those at the International Metapsychic Institute

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