Konstantin Oesterreich

Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tübingen, an authority on religious psychology, the first modern scientist in Germany who publicly declared his belief in psychic phenomena. In 1921 he published two books: Grundbegriffe Parapsychologie and Der Okkultismus im modernen Weltbied. In the latter he testified to materialisation and telekinesis as facts.


- Konstantin Oesterreich -

          THE STORE of mediumistic phenomena was further increased some ten years ago by a new development, hitherto unknown, that of Cross-Correspondence. It was discovered by the distinguished secretary of the British Society for Psychical Research, Alice Johnson, who, while studying the automatic writings, of the different mediums, became aware of a strange relationship between them. In some cases this consisted of striking allusions made by one written communication to the other, in the use by both mediums of the same strange expressions, in a common reference to a certain literary quotation, and so on. This relationship was of too frequent and systematic a character to be merely due to chance, and did not necessarily exist between two mediums only, but between several. For instance, on April 8, 1907, Mrs. Piper uttered the words "Light in the West" while in a trance in London. On the same day, three hours later, Mrs. Verrall, a medium in Cambridge, wrote automatically among other things: "Rosy is the East, etc. You will find that you have written a message for Mr. Piddington, a message that you have not understood, but that he has. Tell him this." Moreover, on the same day, a little later, a third medium, in Calcutta, Mrs. Holland, wrote: "This exceptional sky, beneath which dusk renders the East as beautiful and shining as the West, Martha became Mary and Lea Rachel." Closer analysis of these expressions and of their contrast proved that all three scripts were related to each other.

A second instance: On August 6, 1906, Mrs. Holland wrote in India at the end of a fairly long communication, separated by a wider space and in an altered hand:

"Yelo" (scribbled).
"Yellowed Ivory."

Two days later Mrs. Verrall wrote in Cambridge on August 8:

"I have done it to-night y yellow is the written word
Say only yellow.'

And her daughter also wrote automatically at the same time, without her mother's knowledge:

“Camomile and resin the prescription is old on yellow paper in a box with a sweet scent.”

In other cases automatic writings supplement each other, and only make coherent sense when added together. It is - to use a metaphor - almost as though a manuscript had been cut into scraps and handed to various compositors who would only be able to make sense of the whole after joining the fragments together. Oddly enough, cross-correspondence first showed itself suddenly among a number of mediums, including Mrs. Verrall, Mrs. Holland, Mrs. Piper, and others.

Spiritistic interpretation sees in cross-correspondence the best of all proofs of its teaching that mediumistic phenomena emanate from spirits, arguing that the relationship between the various automatic scripts can only be the outcome of an intelligence beyond the ken of the mediums, which uses the latter to prove its own independent existence through the cross-correspondences. Only an intelligence, it is argued, would be capable of meting out a consecutive idea into distinct parts and then directing the pen of the various mediums so that each should write separate fragments of the whole. Spiritism further points to the strange coincidence that cross-correspondence appeared for the first time after the death of Myers, one of the most eminent scientific English-speaking spiritists, who was expected to furnish a conclusive proof of spiritism. In the first cross-correspondence, the "spirit" purporting to be Myers draws direct attention to the new development and the prospect of its further continuance. As a matter of fact, it is not possible not to regard certain cases of cross-correspondence as evidence of the most remarkable and difficult parapsychic phenomena. It is easy to understand that when confronted with cross-correspondence, scepticism should lose its assurance, and that those spiritistically inclined should become definite converts. It is obvious that cross-correspondence must be attributed to a reflecting mind. There can be no question of chance, for the varied inspirational utterances are too numerous, too striking in character, and fit into each other too well. Despite this, they need not be regarded as any incontrovertible proof of spiritism. The hackneyed contention that the various mediums concerned have come to an understanding with regard to a common deception cannot, of course, be maintained. There is no cause for suspicion here. The possibility, however, is not to be denied that there may be an unconscious telepathic understanding of that kind. We have gradually collected so many proofs of the highly developed intelligence of the subconscious mediumistic psychic life that such a hypothesis cannot be excluded. We know of automatic riddles and of anagrams of such artistic conception that we cannot reject such possibilities. A certain Mr. A., for instance, while experimenting with automatic writing, at his third attempt to obtain a reply from the supposed spirit to his question: "What is Man?" received the automatic answer, "Tefi Hasl Esble Lies," of which the solution is "Life is the less able."

It must not be forgotten that the majority of the mediums are confirmed spiritists, so that a tendency or a desire to testify as to the genuine nature of spiritism is ever prevalent. In the same way, in the case of Hélène Smith, this tendency was concentrated on the invention of faked languages. Mrs. Piper, however, lacked any such tendency while awake, as her attitude towards spiritism remained neutral. But it must be noted that in her case, the parapsychic manifestations were evolved in trance, in a state of transmuted personality. She was then apparently transformed into other personalities. These "spirits" - i.e. the somnambulistic Mrs. Piper - were, however, as such, naturally convinced as to the truth of spiritism, and their whole activity was concentrated on evolving proofs of their belief. Is it surprising that she was bent on making use of her telepathic faculties to this effect? Even the fact that the phenomenon of cross-correspondence was manifested with comparative suddenness by the various mediums, is no proof for the spiritistic contention that the spirits agreed to make common use of this new channel. It is a quite sufficient explanation that, once cross-correspondence has been discovered, innumerable mediums should employ it.

No difficulty is encountered in interpreting the cases in which the cross-correspondence confines itself to connexions between automatic script in the way in which a certain word is repeated or referred to. Such similarities must be explained as due to the mediums writing being possessed of telepathic or clairvoyant faculties. It is another matter when one fragment only makes sense when joined to another, each scrap consisting of one sentence. Then it is necessary, unless the connexion between the two scripts is to be regarded in the light of mere coincidence resulting from a purely hypothetical completion, of one fragment by another, that a mutual understanding or convention should be assumed to exist between the two mediums to settle which words of the sentence should be written by either. If, however, telepathic possibilities of communication actually exists between them, it is equally admissible to contend that all these various mediums are alike imbued with their desire to add to the proofs in favour of spiritism. It might also be that one medium simply transmits telepathic suggestion to another "a distance," in which case there need be no question of any previous agreement.

A conscious suggestive influence of one trance personality on other individuals would represent a positive novum. A priori there is no reason why a person in a somnambulistic state or in a similar condition should not be subjected to suggestion from others, and also subject others thereto. Experimentally, we only know at the present time of suggestion "à distance", (based on the tests of Richet, P. Janet, and others), in the form of suggestions by a conscious individual.

It would be extremely interesting (if it were possible) to persuade the trance personalities themselves to make suggestions either to conscious or to other hypnotized persons. Suggestion on suggestion might also be contrived, by influencing a person under hypnosis, so that he should distribute his own suggestions even at a distance.

Cross-correspondences are from the point of view of logical proof at a disadvantage when compared with other parapsychic phenomena, in so far as we are, in their case, mainly obliged to rely on the veracity of the mediums themselves. Many among them, notably those to whom the most important experiments are due, as also the authors of the reports published in the "Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research," have themselves supplied the material in full cognisance of the stage reached in the problem at issue. The assumption that the writers must be regarded as common frauds is in contradiction to what is known of their character on the whole; besides which, in Mrs. Piper's case, the phenomena of cross-correspondence were carried out under a system of strict control.

Additional Remarks

In response to several requests I will give below a few more examples of cross-correspondence.

One of the most famous, which occurred right at the beginning of the cross-correspondence, is as follows:

Mrs. Verrall, lecturer in classics at the University of Cambridge, writes:

"On January 31, 1902, I had been lunching with Mr. Piddington in town, and after the arrival of Sir Oliver Lodge from Birmingham was about to walk with them to the SPR Council Meeting at 3 p.m., when I felt suddenly so strong a desire to write that I came down and made an excuse for not accompanying the gentlemen, saying I would drive later. As soon as they had started I wrote automatically in the dining-room the following words:

"Panopticon σφαιράς άτιτάλλει συνδέγμα μύστικον τί ούκ έδιδως; volatile ferrum - pro telo impinget."

A few more words were added, when I was interrupted by Mr. Piddington, who had returned, in order to drive with me to the meeting. All the rest of the day I felt a wish to write, and finally, in the train on the way home to Cambridge, more script was produced. That script contained no verifiable statement but was signed with two crosses, one of them being the Greek cross, definitely stated elsewhere in the script to be the sign of Rector (one of Mrs. Piper's trance personalities).

So far for what happened in England. In Boston, as I subsequently learned, the following took place. At Mrs. Piper's sitting on January 28, 1902, after the reference to my daughter's supposed vision, Dr. Hodgson suggested that the same "control" should try to impress my daughter in the course of the next week with a scene or object. The control assented. Dr. Hodgson said: "Can you try and make Helen see you holding a spear in your hand?" The control asked: "Why a sphere?" Dr. Hodgson repeated "spear," and the control accepted the suggestion, and said the experiment should be tried for a week. On February 4, 1902, at the next sitting, and therefore at the very first opportunity, the control claimed to have been successful in making himself visible to Helen Verrall with a "sphear" (so spelt in the trance writing)."

This example is also an instance of the curious and baffling confusion which prevails in much of the automatic writing which contains cross-correspondences. Instead of an (actively conditioned telepathic?) vision which we might have expected after the séance with Mrs., Piper, we get at Mrs. Verrall's end (as was so often the case with her) script mixed up with broken bits of Latin and Greek (she was a classical scholar), or, as in the present case, so far as it is published, script consisting of nothing but bits of Latin and Greek, in which very clear allusions, obvious at once, strike us to the séance in Boston (σφαιρα = sphere; volatile ferrum, telum = spear).

A second example. On March 11, 1907, at about eleven o'clock, Mrs. Piper, who was in her normal waking consciousness, said "Violets. Dr. Hodgson (said) violets." In accordance with previous experience marked utterances of this kind might be expected to have reference to a cross-correspondence. In fact, on the same day about the same time Mrs. Verrall wrote automatically:

"With violet buds their heads were crowned.
"Violaceae odores.
"Violet and olive leaf purple and hoary.
"The city of the violet―"

It is hardly necessary to emphasize here the marked way in which the word violet is stressed. The whole script seems really to be simply built up round this word. (This example is taken from A. Hude's "The Evidence, etc.," p. 283).

To conclude with an example in which several days elapsed between the cross-correspondence.

On April 8 the Myers' personality speaking through Mrs. Piper, said to Mrs. Sidgwick: "Do you remember Euripides?" "Do you remember Spirit and Angel? I gave both. Nearly all the words I have written to-day refer to messages I am trying to give through Mrs. V―.", Mrs. Verrall had already on March 7 done a long piece of automatic writing in which the word "Hercules Furens," and "Euripides" are found.

And on March 25 she had written: "The Hercules play comes in there, and the clue is in the Euripides play if you could see it." Also she wrote on the same day a separate piece of script in which the word "shadow" occurred several times: "Let Piddington know when you get a message about shadow. The shadow of a shade. That is better umbrarum umbras σκιάς έίδωλον was what I wanted to get written." The word "spirit," however, was not used. On April 3 an effort was clearly made to reach a satisfactory conclusion, although the word "Angel" could not be reached. "Flaming swords - wings or feathered wings come in somewhere - Try pinions of desire. The wings of Icarus - Lost Paradise regained - his flame - clad messengers (she draws an angel with wings) that is better F W H M has sent the message through at last."

The cross-correspondence, moreover, was extended to include Mrs. Holland. On April 16 she wrote automatically a passage in which were found these words: "Lucus Margaret To fly to find Euripides Philemon." The names Lucus and Philemon seem to be derived from Browning's translations of Euripides' Hercules Furens. (A. Hude, p. 285).

Many other cross-correspondences, some of them extremely striking ones, cannot be quoted here because of their complexity and of the space which they require for interpretation and comment. The peculiarity of the cross-correspondences from English sources is that they are mostly of an especially contorted kind. Some French cross-correspondence to which I am unable to refer, are (as I am told) much easier to see through. (G. Geley, "Contribution à l'etude des Correspondances Croisées." Documents nouveaux, Paris, 1914).


The above article was taken from Konstantin Oesterreich's "Occultism and Modern Science" (London: Methuen & Co., 1923).

Related Articles

Summary and Discussion of the Cross-Correspondences by H. F. Saltmarsh
Three Simple Cross-correspondence Experiments by H. F. Saltmarsh
Cross-correspondences (1) by Rosalind Heywood
Cross-correspondences (2) by Rosalind Heywood
Introduction to the study of Cross-Correspondence by Oliver Lodge
Cross-Correspondences by W. H. Salter
Cross-Correspondences: New Evidence by W. H. Salter

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