Lord Charles Hope

British investigator of the paranormal, especially physical mediums. His long series of sittings with Rudi Schneider convinced him "that impressive phenomena were observed at all these sittings. Hope was sharply critical of Harry Price's charges that Schneider cheated. "What does emerge damaged from Mr Price's report," wrote Hope, "is his own reputation as controller, conducted of investigations and critic". As far as Hope's own reputation was concerned, he was "seeking quite simply for the truth, whatever it might be", said Rosalind Heywood.

Physical Mediumship

 - Charles Hope -

         IN PSYCHICAL research the study of physical phenomena includes the following happenings: the movements of objects without any normal cause; the materialization of phantoms and the production of voices from no human throat. All these phenomena have been claimed to have been produced by modern mediums. Many people have also asserted that they have witnessed such things when no medium was present, or at least when no sitting or séance was taking place. With such cases I am not going to deal. Sir Ernest Bennett deals with them when discussing ghosts and haunted houses. My line of inquiry is to study abnormal movements, sounds and appearances in the presence of certain mediums.

As far back as 1848 in Hydesville in the USA raps were heard by people, raps which they said gave supernatural information, among other things, about a murder. After that, this sitting round tables to get raps and other kinds of strange happenings became quite common. At last men of science, trained researchers, felt they must investigate these claims. It was, however, not at all easy to investigate them. As Mr. Besterman has mentioned*, the medium - the person who it was claimed was essential if the happenings were to take place - was hardly ever willing to undergo tests. That unwillingness, of course, ruled out any scientific research into the subject. A few, however, were willing, but these insisted that the phenomena could not take place save in the dark or in a very dim red light. This may be a fact. Perhaps this phenomenon, perhaps this strange material, if it is a material, is really spoilt by light as an undeveloped photographic plate is spoilt by light. But it is also true and even more obvious that if experiments can only be carried out in the dark it is almost impossible to be sure what has really happened. Dim red light is also not much better because such a light is very deceptive. It defines things far more poorly than we think. Still, in spite of these obstacles, men of science have attempted to find out what may happen when a physical medium, a medium who claims to produce physical disturbances through an unknown force, is functioning. Rudi Schneider is the name of one of these mediums. He has the peculiarity that he breathes very rapidly when in trance during his sittings.

* See Besterman's article How Psychical Research is Done.

What happens is that he puts on a pair of pyjamas with luminous strips at the wrists. He then sits down. His hands are held by a person who sits opposite him and who places his two legs on either side of the medium's knees. The light is then extinguished, but the luminous wrist-bands still enable the whereabouts of the medium to be seen, quite apart from the fact that he is held in the way I have described. Next to the controller - that is the person who holds the medium - is placed another sitter, who with his right hand also holds the medium. Then round in a semi-circle are placed the remaining sitters. This medium always goes into a trance before any phenomenon occurs and his trance state is very impressive. It takes about two or three minutes from the first indication to the full trance, and in the middle of that period he goes completely limp like a rag doll, and sometimes for nearly three-quarters of a minute does not breathe at all. Then there are more convulsive movements and contortions of his muscles and suddenly he begins to breathe very loudly and quickly. Our normal rate of breathing is about twelve to fourteen breaths a minute. He has been timed to breathe at the rate of over three hundred breaths a minute when in trance. What is supposed to have happened is that the personality of the medium has left his body and has been replaced by that of a young woman who calls herself Olga, but who is supposed to be the spirit of Lola Montez, the dancer who you may remember was the mistress of Ludwig I, King of Bavaria. Of course, I am only describing what 'Olga' herself says and I am not at all implying that that is what really does happen, for this trance personality is of a childish order and quite possibly only a figment of the medium's subconscious mind.

In the middle of the circle, and, of course, out of the medium's reach, there is usually placed a small, light table, on which are put various small objects such as a bell, a small musical instrument and so on. Farther back is a so-called cabinet, which is really just an arrangement of black curtains, hung across the corner of a room, and forming a dark space, within which the supernormal force is supposed to collect itself before coming out to produce the phenomena about which I will tell you in a minute. Outside the curtains there is a faint red light. The objects on the table are painted with luminous paint, so that they can be seen better and there are also luminous strips on the curtains. The idea is that the force, or whatever it is, that emanates from the medium, is able to move these objects when it is in good form. When this happens, the small objects will suddenly fall over or fly up over the heads of the sitters and fall down in remote corners of the room; on some occasions they have even been placed in the hands or the laps of the sitters, although nothing visible has been seen moving them. The table itself may sometimes be lifted up and overturned, and on occasions things on it have been broken.

A favourite request of 'Olga's' is to ask a sitter to hold a handkerchief near the centre of the curtains. After a few minutes it is pulled behind the curtains and at the end of the sitting is found lying on the floor with a knot tied in it. A still stranger thing is that this unknown force, when it is particularly strong, can so condense itself that it becomes visible. Then a curious thing happens, because this force - I call it force because that is what Olga herself calls it-this force becomes visible in a human shape. That is to say a shape like that of a human hand may come out in the dim red light, lift an object and even possibly touch you. I have experienced this myself and so have many other witnesses. Sometimes the shape may develop even more to the extent of an arm; and it is even alleged, though I have not experienced this myself with this medium, that heads and whole bodies have been materialized in this way. Mr. Besterman has described another thing it has been claimed that this medium can do, that is, to interrupt a beam of invisible infra-red rays, and though flashlight photographs have been taken at the instant this beam has been interrupted, nothing that could have caused the interruption has appeared on the plates.

Now I have said all this about Rudi Schneider simply because he is the medium I happen to have had most experience of, and because we happen to have this record of his breathing. But you must not think that Rudi Schneider is the only medium who had succeeded in producing phenomena of this sort. On the contrary there have been and still are mediums who claim to produce still more striking and extensive phenomena. One of these is the Polish medium who is known by the name of 'Kluski.' This gentleman's mediumship is very different from that of Rudi Schneider. His trance is more like ordinary sleep and his sittings last only for half an hour, or at the most for an hour, while Rudi Schneider's last anything up to five or six hours or more. A large proportion of Rudi Schneider's sittings are totally negative; nothing supernormal happens at all, and you often have to wait hours and hours before you get the slightest phenomenon. In the case of Mr. Kluski, things begin almost at once, come to a climax and the sitting ends. In the sittings of Mr. Kluski, the sitters simply group themselves round an ordinary table holding each other's hands and those of the medium. On the table are laid things that look like ping-pong bats covered on one side with luminous paint. When the phenomena begin these luminous bats rise from the table and fly about, and in a little while they approach one or other of the sitters and by the light from the luminous surface can be seen the head of what is supposed to be a materialized spirit.

The extraordinary thing is that sometimes as many as four or five or more of these heads are alleged to have been seen simultaneously and to have touched people sitting not at all close to each other. Full-sized materialized figures which speak and some of these figures also self-luminous are said to be quite common with Mr. Kluski, though I have not myself seen them. Unfortunately for psychical research Mr. Kluski is getting on in years and is failing in health, and is disinclined to use his powers for work of a purely scientific nature, preferring to keep them for the consolation of his bereaved friends. He did, however, in 1920, visit Paris and gave some successful demonstrations of his powers under strict test conditions. Amongst those present at these experiments was Professor Charles Richet, the eminent French scientist, who has taken an active part in psychical research for a number of years. One interesting experiment which has often been tried with this medium is the making of paraffin-wax moulds of 'materialized' hands. A bowl containing melted paraffin-wax is placed near the medium and the request is made that the 'spirits' shall dip their hands in the hot liquid and then withdraw them, leaving the moulds outside the bowl. The moulds can then be filled with plaster after the sitting and plaster casts of the hands obtained.

Under these circumstances some very interesting casts of hands unlike those of the medium or the sitters have been obtained, with fingers in twisted positions and sometimes of two hands with fingers intertwined. Whether or not it would be possible to reproduce all these moulds by normal means is a disputed point, but it would certainly be exceedingly difficult under the conditions pertaining to the sittings.

There is, of course, nothing new about many of these strange happenings. They have been alleged to have occurred for a great many years and you will no doubt recollect very similar incidents mentioned in the sacred books of various religions. At any rate, since the beginning of the spiritualist movement, phenomena of this sort have been consistently reported from all over the world. Nor has serious investigation of these things been wanting. Quite a number of eminent men of science have given their attention to these so-called supernormal phenomena. Perhaps the most remarkable of these researches was that undertaken by Sir William Crookes, who was later to become President of the Royal Society. In 1869, when he was already a well-known scientist, he began to interest himself in psychical research and had some experiments with the most famous medium of those times - D. D. Home. Various mysterious events of a physical nature were reported by responsible observers as having occurred in Home's presence, and judging from the contemporary accounts they were produced in more light than is usually the case with such mediums. He was also said to have taken living coals from the fire and held them some while in his hands. Crookes experimented with this medium and claimed that Home demonstrated that he could emit an unknown force which depressed a lever when Home himself was kept so that he could not touch the instrument. Other more remarkable things were said by reliable witnesses to have happened at his sittings. Hands were seen. to come from under the table and touch people, objects were moved about the room in a mysterious manner and beautiful tunes were played on musical instruments which the sitters were convinced could not have been done by Home in a normal way.

Crookes also experimented a year or two later with another medium, Florence Cook. At whose sittings a fully formed materialized 'spirit' was said to have appeared in the scientist's own house. Sir William Crookes remained quite convinced of the genuineness of these manifestations up to the time of his death in 1919.

At the end of the last century and the beginning of this one Eusapia Paladino was the best-known physical medium. Sir Oliver Lodge and Professor Charles Richet, both scientists of international reputation to-day, were among the careful observers who attested to the genuineness of some of her phenomena, such as the levitation of tables in a fairly good light. Were they duped? They knew she would, on occasion, try to cheat if given favourable opportunity. We must therefore assume that their precautions provided for this possibility. At some sittings held at Cambridge in 1895 she was undoubtedly detected in fraud, but thirteen years later, after a series of experiments held in Naples by some representatives of the Society for Psychical Research, a report favourable to the medium was published.

Now it is worth noting that Sir William Crookes was quite inclined to think that some of the phenomena he observed were really due to the agency of the spirits of the dead and that, of course, is what spiritualists believe, but there is another theory. Professor Richet, whom I have already mentioned, although he believes we are dealing with a force at present unknown to science and contrary to all accepted scientific law, holds that it is actually a rare sort of mental energy controlled by the mind of the medium which does not in itself provide evidence for survival. His opinion is shared by many other careful researchers, who think this theory is the one best able to explain the apparent contradictions often shown by these puzzling phenomena.

Yet it would be idle to pretend that we know very much about these things. In my opinion many of the phenomena I have described to you do definitely occur with certain mediums - of that I am convinced, and my conviction on this point is shared by many others who have had the opportunity of investigating them after careful tests under severe conditions. At the same time a great many others who have also had the opportunity of investigating them, do not accept these phenomena, thinking that they are all due to fraud on the part of the mediums, or to malobservation or suggestion on the part of the sitters, or to both.

We must admit we have not got very far in our investigation. Our theories are theories only. We know next to nothing about the nature of these phenomena which, if true, are contrary to all accepted laws of science. But we must remember it is only within the last few years that investigation of these phenomena has been proceeding on more scientific lines.

Can we rely on the support of orthodox science to help us unravel these mysteries?

In the past there has been little indication of any such readiness to help on the part of most scientists. At present there are signs of a change of attitude, and in the future, perhaps, discoveries of vital interest may be made with their help.

What we can claim is that the study of physical mediumship does at least show that here is a problem awaiting scientific inquiry.


"Inquiry into the Unknown" edited by Theodore Besterman (London: Methuen & Co., 1934).

Related articles

Physical Phenomena: Harold Anson
Physical Phenomena in Psychical Research: C. J. Ducasse
Is there Anything Besides Fraud in the Physical Séance Room? G. N. M. Tyrrell

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