Frank Podmore

Well-known psychical investigator and distinguished author. Elected to the Council of the SPR in 1882 and served for an unbroken period of 27 years. For eight or nine years he held, jointly with Frederic Myers, the office of the honorary secretary. He was a collaborator with Myers and Edmund Gurney in "Phantasms of the Living".

The German Somnambules

 - Frank Podmore -

          IN GERMANY the history of Animal Magnetism was more complex. As already said, Spiritualist views found many disciples. But not all the German magnetisers gave themselves over to parleying with spirits. From the first there were students of the new facts at least as cautious and sober-minded as in any other European country. With such men as Gmelin, Wienholt, Fischer, Kluge, Kieser, Animal Magnetism was, just as to Deleuze himself, primarily an adjunct to the art of healing; and perhaps most of the German investigators possessed sounder knowledge of the physical sciences in general and of medicine in particular than the earlier French magnetisers could claim. But the phenomena observed were essentially the same. The experiments of M. Tardy de Montravel were repeated, confirmed, and improved upon. Light was observed to stream from the fingers of the operator, from the poles of a magnet, from the heart of a living frog, or the spinal marrow of a recently killed ox. This radiant light would impregnate a glass of water, and would be conducted, reflected, or dispersed by the intervention of various substances. Metals exercised characteristic effects on somnambules at a distance of ten or fifteen paces, inducing severally pricking, warmth, numbness, drowsiness, catalepsy, and so on; the poles of the magnet could be distinguished by the different sensations to which they gave rise. In a word, we find scattered through the writings of the first two decades of the nineteenth century the germs of those curious pseudo-observations, which Reichenbach was a little later to expand into an enormous treatise.

Again we read that to the clairvoyant somnambule her body is transparent, so that the exact condition of every organ can be seen, and the nature of any ailment described. A good clairvoyant, of course, possessed the same power of insight into the bodily processes and ailments of others, and could foretell the course of diseases, and prescribe the fitting remedies.

Again, in the books of this period we find much of community of sensation between operator and subject; of reading of thought; of the action of the operator's will - even at a distance of some miles - in sending the patient into trance; and finally of clairvoyance, whether at close quarters or at a considerable distance.(1) The latter faculty-though abundant illustrations of it are given - is said by Kieser(2) to be much rarer than in France. But the incident which apparently provoked the comparison - an account in the "Annales du Magnetisine Animal" of a man who on his first essay had made five women simultaneously clairvoyant in one evening can hardly, perhaps, be taken as representative.(3)

(1) Kluge, "Versuch einer Darstellung des animalischen Magnetismus", etc. (Berlin, 1815), gives a useful summary of the observations and views of his predecessors on all these points.
(2) "Archiv fur den thierishen Magnetismus", vol i. part iii. pp. 126, 127.
(3) The numerous observations which are cited to prove the existence of a faculty of vision, either in the pit of the stomach or some other portion of the body, are as inconclusive as those quoted by the French Animal Magnetists. In most of the cases, indeed, no precautions, or wholly inadequate precautions, seem to have been taken to exclude normal vision through the half-closed eyes, and in the rare instances where vision at the time was apparently impossible, as when the word to be read was wrapped up in vellum paper and sealed before the sitting, there is still open the possibility that the subject might have surreptitiously obtained knowledge of the text beforehand, or that she might have been influenced by transmission of thought from the hypnotist and those around who knew the word. (Archiv, vol. iv. part iii. pp. 80-2. See also vol. iii. part ii. p. 131; part iii. pp. 14 and 18; v. part iii. p. 14; vi. part ii. PP. 103, 124, and elsewhere, and the numerous references given in Kluge's book already quoted.)

One of the most fully recorded series of observations in thought-transference and clairvoyance is to be found in a case given at great length in the "Archiv fur den thierischen Magnetismus", by Dr. Van Ghert, Secretary of the Royal Mineralogical Society at Jena.(4) Van Ghert's patient was a young woman of twenty-eight, who appears to have been a neurotic of the same type as Frau Hauffe, and the other somnambules to be discussed later. Several instances are quoted in detail, in which the somnambule gave accurate descriptions, to persons who came from a distance, of their homes, the furniture contained in each room, the personal appearance of the inmates, their mental idiosyncrasies, and even the diseases from which they suffered, and the appropriate remedies. If we may trust Van Ghert, who seems to have been a careful observer and without strong bias towards the marvellous, the descriptions coincided so closely with the facts that something more than chance must have been at work. But the evidence, since it rests on Van Ghert's testimony alone, and we have no means of knowing how the conversations were reported, or what hints may have been given by the witnesses, is no better, perhaps not so good, as in some of the cases quoted in a later chapter from English observers.

(4) Archiv, vol. ii. part i. PP. 3-186; part ii. pp. 3-51. The account given in the Archiv is translated from the original Dutch.

A large selection of instances of apparent thoughttransference and clairvoyance, cited for the most part from contemporary publications, will be found in another work of this date, "Der Magnetismus und die allgemeine Weltsprache", by H. M. Wesermann, Government Assessor and Chief Inspector of Roads at Dusseldorf.(5) The most valuable part of Wesermann's book is a brief record of some experiments of his own in thought-transference at a distance. On four occasions he reports that he succeeded in inducing four separate acquaintances to dream on matters suggested by himself. On the fifth trial he caused the subject of the experiment, and a friend who happened to be in his company at the time, to see a waking vision of a woman's figure.(2) The experiments are of interest as anticipating very closely some experiments on the same lines recorded in recent years in the publications of the Society for Psychical Research.

(5) Creveld, 1822.
(6) Op. cit., pp. 26-30. The experiments are quoted in "Phantasms of the Living" Vol. i. pp. 101, 102. The fifth and most important experiment is given in full in the Journal S.P.R. for March, 1890; and again in my own Apparitions and Thought-Transference, p. 231.

The writers so far quoted, even when treating of clairvoyance and similar marvellous powers, expressly repudiated a Spiritualist or mystical interpretation of the phenomena, and regarded Animal Magnetism as a branch of physical science. Thus Wesermann supposed that his power of influencing the thoughts of a distant acquaintance depended upon the projection from himself of a stream of magnetic fluid, visible to the clairvoyant eye as a stream of light. Van Ghert's patient never professed to commune with angels. Kluge(7) contends that the pious Jung, in claiming that the denizens of the spiritual world are perceptible to our senses, overshoots the mark, and falls back into sheer materialism. Ghost-seeing, in Kluge's view, whether induced or spontaneous, is pure illusion. So Kieser, in reviewing in the Archiv(8) Meier's history of Auguste Muller, to be discussed later, takes occasion to controvert Meier's explanation of the apparition of his somnambule to a friend at a distance.

(7) "Versuch einer Darstellung", pp. 300-301
(8) Vol. iii. part iii. p. 119.

Meier claimed the incident as a proof that the soul of the ecstatic can leave the body and make itself perceptible to human senses. Kieser sees in it merely proof of an action upon the mind of the seer exercised by the mind of the ecstatic. For the soul, says he, being immaterial, cannot make itself visible except through its proper body. But, while rejecting the crudely Spiritualistic view, Wienholt, Kieser, and Kluge - to mention no others - are agreed that in the higher stages of the trance the soul approaches the threshold of the universal life, and seems partly to free itself from the shackles of space and time.(9) Whilst Nasse goes further, and frankly claims that in somnambulism we have to deal with a fact of the spiritual order; and that any attempt to correlate its laws with those of the physical universe must end in failure.(10) It is clear, indeed, that men who believed in the reality of clairvoyance at a distance (as distinguished from reading the thoughts of those present) must have been hard put to it to find an explanation in physical terms.

(9) Wienholt, "Lectures in Somnambulism" (? 1804). I know this work only in an English translation. Kieser, "System des Tellurismus oder thierischen Magtetismus." Kluge, op. cit., pp. 259-306.
(10) "Archiv fur den thierischen Magnetismus", vol. i. part iii. pp. 3-22.

But side by side with these sober-minded investigators there were many who saw in the phenomena of the trance proofs of intercourse with a spiritual world, and recorded the utterances of the somnambules as precious revelations from superhuman sources. The founder of this school may be said to be J. H. Jung, better known as Jung-Stilling; not, indeed, that Jung could or did claim to be the originator of the scheme of spiritual cosmology which he propounded. Much of it could certainly be found in Swedenborg; much of it, again, is the common property of the mystics of all ages. And no small part of his teaching was simply a re-statement in modern terms of certain Christian beliefs. But Jung's special distinction is that he placed the doctrine of the psychic body on a new and surer basis, first by associating it with the conception - then for the first time beginning to gain general acceptance in the scientific world - of the luminiferous ether - and secondly, by supporting and explaining it by means of illustrations drawn from the observed phenomena of somnambulism. Jung, who was born in 1740, began life in humble circumstances. In early manhood, however, he obtained a medical degree, and practised for many years as a doctor, ultimately becoming Professor of Political Economy at the Universities of Marburg and Heidelberg. His book, "Theorie der Geister-Kunde", appears to have been published in the last years of his life. It is hardly, even in form, a scientific treatise, being avowedly a piece of Christian apologetics. About three-fourths of the book consist of a collection of ghost stories, anecdotes of prophecy, and second sight, recorded without any attempt at verification or critical treatment.(11)

(11) The value of this evidence may be estimated from a single example. Jung is anxious to prove his contention that the soul of a man can leave the body while the man is still alive, and show itself in a distant place. The narrative which he selects for this purpose was told him by a friend (unnamed) on whose veracity he could rely; the friend heard it from a respectable (redliche) individual (unnamed); the source of this respectable individual's information is not mentioned; but he was not, apparently, personally concerned in the episode, and it cannot be inferred from Jung's account that he was even acquainted with the chief actors (unnamed). The only date mentioned in connection with the case is "about 60 or 70 years ago," and this does not relate to the date of the incident itself, which had taken place an indefinite number of years previously. I do not quote the story in full, since, perhaps because of the length of its pedigree, perhaps because of the soundness of the narrator's theological views, it forms a prominent item in nearly every collection of ghost stories since published (Th. der Geister Kunde, new edition, p. 60. Stuttgart, 1827).

Jung gives a convenient summary of his theory, in the shape of fifty-five propositions, from which I quote the following:

9. Animal Magnetism undeniably proves that we have an inward man, a soul, which is constituted of the divine spark, the immortal spirit possessing reason and will, and of a luminous body (Lichtshulle), which is inseparable from it.

10. Light, electric, magnetic, galvanic matter, and ether appear to be all one and the same body under different modifications. This light-substance or ether is the element which connects body and soul, and the spiritual (Sinnenwelt) and material world together.

11. When the inward man, the human soul, forsakes the inward sphere, where the senses operate (die innere Merkstatte der Sinner verlasst) and merely continues the vital functions, the body falls into an entranced state, or a profound sleep, during which the soul acts more freely, powerfully, and actively. All its faculties are elevated.

12. The more the soul is divested of the body, the more extensive, free, and powerful is its inward sphere of operation. It has, therefore, no need whatever of the body in order to live and exist. The latter is rather an hindrance to it...

13. The whole of these propositions are sure and certain inferences, which I have drawn from experiments in Animal Magnetism. These most important experiments undeniably show that the soul does not require the organs of sense in order to be able to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel in a much more perfect state...

30. The boundless ether that fills the space of our solar system is the element of spirits in which they live and move. The atmosphere (Dunstkreis) that surrounds our earth, down to its centre, and particularly the night, is the abode of fallen angels, and of such human souls as die in an unconverted state.(12)

(12) From the translation by Samuel Jackson, "Theory of Pneumatology". London, 1834.

It remains to add that Jung taught that the trance was a diseased condition; and that the attempt to communicate with spirits or foretell the future by such means was highly dangerous and sinful (Propositions 23, 24); and warns his readers against yielding implicit trust to the somnambule's utterances. But Jung's successors paid little heed to these warnings, and in the course of the next thirty years there were recorded at prodigious length the sayings and doings of many" highly remarkable somnambules." One of the first of these to attract attention - an attention which the nature of her performances scarcely seems to have merited - was a certain Fraulein Auguste Muller, of Carlsruhe, whose history, as preserved by Dr. Meier, may be taken as fairly representative.(13) The young woman in the trance was able to diagnose and prescribe for the ailments of herself and other persons in the usual fashion. She said in the trance that she could discern not only the bodies of men, but also their thoughts and characters; but no proofs are offered of this power. She claimed to converse with the spirit of her dead mother. She also said that she could visit her brother in Vienna, and make her presence known to him; but she rejected Dr. Meier's suggestion that she should speak aloud, for fear that she should frighten him. It is recorded that with her eyes closed she could read theatre tickets and songs out of a music-book. But no details are given. The nearest approach to a test is as follows: Meier asked her one evening whether she could tell him anything noteworthy which had recently happened in his own family, and the clairvoyant in reply was able to tell him of the death of his father-in-law at a town fifteen miles off Meier had received the news of this event on the morning of that day, but was confident - a confidence which he does not enable us to share - that the somnambule knew nothing about it. One other case may be cited. A friend of Auguste, one Catharine, happened to be suffering from toothache, and told the somnambule that she would probably be unable to pay her usual visit on the following day. Auguste replied,"I will visit you, then, to-night." That night Catharine is reported to have seen Auguste enter her room clothed in a night-dress. The form, which hovered above the floor, came up to Catharine and lay beside her in bed. In the morning Catharine awoke to find her toothache gone, and was much astonished to learn that Auguste had never left her own bed all the night through. The incident is regarded by Meier as a manifest proof of the existence of a psychic body. Kieser, as already mentioned, reviewing the case in the Archiv, adduces it as a striking instance of action at a distance, conditioned by the rapport between the young women. The reader may possibly prefer a still simpler hypothesis.

(13) "Hochst merkwurdige Geschichte der magnetisch hellsehenden Auguste Muller". Stuttgart, 1818.

In another case, which is recorded by Dr. C. Romer, we advance a little further into the realms of the unknown.(14)

(14) "Ausfuhrliche hisiorische Darstellung einer hochst merkwurdigen Somnanbule", etc., etc. von C. Romer, PH.D., etc. Stuttgart, 1821.

The somnambule in this case was Romer's own daughter, a girl of fifteen, who in November, 1813, was seized with convulsive attacks, followed by catalepsy. Ultimately she became somnambulic, prescribed for her own ailments and those of her father and other persons, rejecting all other medical treatment than her own. Romer frequently asserts that she displayed in the trance knowledge which she could not possibly have acquired from normal sources. But he offers little evidence for the statement; and most of the utterances which he records were from their nature incapable of verification. One curious feature of this trance - a feature which we shall see developed to a much greater extent in a later somnambule - was the tendency to arithmetical symbolism. Romer reproduces a whole page of numerical calculations, the meaning of which is left obscure, but which seem to have profoundly impressed the onlookers as having presumably some mystic significance.(15) In another direction Fraulein Romer advanced beyond Auguste Muller. Like her, she conversed freely with her dead relations. But, further, she was conducted, sometimes by a deceased relative, but more frequently by the spirit of a still living companion, one Louise, to the moon. But, alas! her description of her first voyage reveals a conception of the solar system scarcely more adequate than that of the Blessed Damosel, watching, "from the gold bar of Heaven,"

(15) Ibid., p. 146.

"... the tides of day and night 
With flame and darkness ridge 
The void, to where this Earth 
Spins like a fretful midge."

It was night when she left the earth - 5.30 on a January afternoon - and continued night, apparently, as she voyaged to the moon, for she describes how that luminary, at one point, showed forty times larger, but there is no mention of the sun. However, she enjoyed a unique astronomical experience. She watched the sunrise over the lunar mountains, basked in his rays for a whole lunar day, witnessed his setting, and returned to the earth in time for supper. Miss Romer was probably not aware that in the ordinary course of nature about a fortnight would elapse between the rising and the setting of the sun on our satellite.

After this, no description of birds, flowers, waterfalls, mountains, lovely valleys, and even the inhabitants of the moon, can seem anything but tame. In truth, her account of lunar scenery bears some resemblance to a pre-Raphaelite painter's conception of the plains of heaven. At her first visit to the moon she learns that her two little sisters had already gone to "Juno": the spirits of the dead apparently come first to the moon, and then progress to higher spheres.(16) The knowledge of this fact lends a painful interest to Miss Romer's first interview with her deceased grandparents, whom she meets in the moon, and, with the terrible candour of the clairvoyant, asks why they have not already gone higher. Satisfactory explanations are given; and, indeed, the somnambule allows that her relatives shine more than they did upon the earth.(17)

(16) Page 54
(17) Page 85

It would be scarcely profitable to carry our study of these revelations further. It should be noted, however, that Romer apparently accepts them, if not as indubitably authentic, at least as having serious claims upon our consideration. He records them with scrupulous care and at great length, and he mentions that the descriptions of the inhabitants of other worlds given by his daughter accord precisely with the descriptions given by Ennemoser's subject and by another more recent clairvoyant.(18)

(18) Page 213, note.

Justinus Kerner, a well-known poet of that generation and a physician of some distinction, had his attention early called to the trance and its value in therapeutics. In 1826 he published the history of two "remarkable" somnambules, whom he had treated magnetically. Towards the end of the same year there came to him at Weinsberg, to be treated by him, one Frau Frederica Hauffe, better known from her birthplace as the "Seeress of Prevorst." A full history of her remarkable trances was published by Kerner in 1829, shortly after the death of the Seeress.(19)

(19) "Die Seherin von Prevorst, Eroffnungen uber das innere Leben des Menschen und uber das Hereinragen einer Geisterwelt in die Unsere". Stuttgart und Tubingen. A second edition, to which reference is made in this account, was published in 1832, and two others, in 1838 and 1846 respectively. An English translation, greatly abridged, by Mrs. Crowe, was published in London in 1845.

From her childhood she had been delicate; had suffered from convulsive attacks, had fallen into spontaneous trance, and seen visions. She had already been magnetised, with more or less success, by different persons on several occasions. When she came to Weinsberg, Kerner, by his own account, was somewhat incredulous, and disposed to treat her by ordinary medicine rather than by magnetism. After a few weeks, however, finding drugs of no use, he magnetised her, and thereafter followed implicitly the treatment prescribed by her in the trance. From that time, until her death in August, 1829, she appears to have spent the greater part of her existence in somnambulism - the trance, or secondary condition, lasting on one occasion for about a year.

The phenomena claimed to be observed in her case were such as we are already familiar with. She reacted in various ways to the presence or contact of stones, metals, plants, and drugs. She would become cataleptic if left seated on a sandstone bench; glass or crystal, on the other hand, awakened her from the magnetic state. She wielded the divining rod with great success. She could distinguish magnetised water by its appearance, and could even tell how many passes had been made over it. Further, in the magnetic state the lower part of her body would involuntarily rise out of the water in her bath - a procedure which reminded Kerner of the medieval test for witches. She could see the internal mechanism of the human body, and could trace and accurately describe all the ramifications of the nervous system. In the case of persons who had lost a limb she could see the psychic form of the limb still attached to the body.

But signs and wonders of this kind, which are more or less common to all somnambules of the period, need not detain us further. The Seeress is conspicuous, above all her fellows in the history of somnambulism in Germany, for three things: the numerous proofs which she purported to afford of abnormal powers of vision, whether of the distant or of the future, and of seeing and conversing with ghosts; the physical disturbances which were observed in her presence; and her extraordinary revelations on things spiritual. 

As regards the first, Kerner gives several instances of clairvoyant and prophetic dreams and visions; but though he shows a better notion of evidence than many of his contemporaries, none of the records are of much account. Dates and other essential details are frequently lacking, and in the only cases which appear to be definite and conclusive we are dependent, so far as can be gathered from Kerner's narrative, on members of the Seeress' family for all particulars of the alleged fulfilment.

But the Seeress' supernormal faculties found their chief field of activity in seeing and holding conversations with phantasmal figures, the spirits of deceased men and women, who came to her mostly for help, guidance, and prayer. In this manner she held communication, on occasion, with the spirits of deceased citizens of Weinsberg, and received from them much information on their affairs and family history.

Thus, a certain poor family in Weinsberg were disturbed by a ghost. This came to Kerner's knowledge, and he brought the woman of the house to see Frau Hauffe. Thereafter the ghost seems to have attached itself to the Seeress. He - the ghost - told her that he had lived in the house where he had first appeared, and that he had in his lifetime defrauded two orphans; later he said that he had lived about 1700; that he had died at the age of seventy-nine; and later still, that his name was Belon. Search in the town records showed that there had been a burgomaster of that name, who had actually lived in the house named; he had died in 1740, aged seventy nine, and had been a guardian of orphans.(20)

(20) Vol. ii. PP. 136-71.

On another occasion the Seeress was much disturbed by noises from an unquiet ghost, who ultimately revealed himself as the spirit of a bankrupt solicitor, recently deceased, who had owed much money in the town. In connection with the communication the Seeress was enabled, as a test, to describe the whereabouts of a certain document, which was ultimately discovered in the position described by her in the office of the High Bailiff.(21) The incident is narrated at considerable length by Kerner, who regards it as a striking proof of spirit identity. It does not appear, however, that either in this case or in that of the Burgomaster Belon any information was actually furnished by Madame Hauffe which could not have been obtained from local gossip, or at most by carefully conducted inquiries.

(21) Vol.. ii. PP. 93-110.

These ghostly figures which purported constantly to appear to the Seeress herself, both by night and by day, were occasionally visible to others. Thus Kerner himself on one occasion saw a cloudy figure:

"On the 8th December, at seven in the evening, I happened to be in Frau H.'s outer room, from which one could see into her bedroom. I saw there a cloudlike figure (a grey pillar of cloud as though with a head), without any definite outlines. I seized a light and hurried silently into the room with it. There I found her staring fixedly at the spot where I had seen the cloudy form. It had disappeared, however, from my view."(22)

(22) Op. cit., Vol. ii. 257; see also page 33.

Kerner states that this is the only occasion on which he himself saw a ghost; but elsewhere he tells us that one evening, when they were sitting in a lighted room at the supper table, a form like a white cloud floated past the window. This form was seen by all.(23) There were women servants and other persons who slept in the same room as the Seeress, or in one adjoining, who at various times professed to have seen figures similar to those seen by Frau Hauffe.

(23) Vol. ii. p. 168.

More noteworthy, however, than these apparitions - seen for the most part by servants and peasant women, whose nervous equilibrium had, no doubt, been already upset by hearing of Frau Hauffe's marvellous powers - were the noises and physical phenomena which took place generally whilst the Seeress was staying in Kerner's house. Kerner himself and his wife on several occasions heard knocks on the walls and windows of the bedroom, and other sounds, when they retired for the night.(24) All the household on one occasion heard somebody trying to force the house door.(25) Frau Hauffe's sister heard the noise of chains at the window.(26) These noises, especially the knocks and raps (Klopfeln und Klatschen), were so puzzling that Frau Kerner on one occasion spent part of the night in Frau Hauffe's room in order, if possible, to ascertain their origin. The raps began about 10 p.m., proceeding apparently from the bedstead, the table, and the walls. Kerner tells us that his wife satisfied herself that they were not caused by either the Seeress or her sister who was present in the room.(27)

(24) Vol. i. p. 133; ii. p. 155, 166, 229, etc.
(25) Vol. ii. p. 183.
(26) Vol. ii. p. 168.
(27) Vol. ii. P. 141.

The physical phenomena mostly occurred when the Seeress was alone or accompanied only by her sister. Thus gravel was on several occasions thrown in at the open window Kerner himself did not see the gravel thrown, but he saw it lying on the floor, and found that it resembled the gravel in the garden just outside the house. One evening some of this gravel was thrown at the maid when she was standing near the house.(28) Again, a stool was thrown across the room,(29) and a knitting-needle flew through the air and settled in a glass of water;(30) but both these phenomena had the Seeress herself for their only witness.

(28) Vol. ii. p. 165-7. 
(29) Vol. ii. p. 166. 
(30) Vol. ii. p. 214.

There were cases, however, in which other inmates of the house were privileged to witness the physical phenomena, or at least to be present in the room when things were moved. The following is a brief summary of the evidence given by Kerner under this head.

On one occasion, the Seeress having announced that a ghost would visit her on a certain night, a trustworthy person was deputed by Kerner to share the bed of Frau Hauffe's sister, who slept in the same room as Frau Hauffe, and watch for the coming of the ghost. The trustworthy person fell asleep at 11 p.m., and was wakened at midnight by the sister getting out of bed to give Frau Hauffe her supper. Hardly had the sister got back into bed, when strange and alarming noises were heard all about the room. Presently the Seeress, who meanwhile lay quite still, began to talk to the ghost, and at last said "Open it yourself." Then the trustworthy person beheld, "with awe such as she had never felt before," a music book which lay on the bed gradually open itself as though by an unseen hand, the while Frau Hauffe remained still motionless.(31) On another occasion, when Kerner himself was present in the room with the sister, small pieces of cinder were thrown, not this time through the window, but from a corner of the room. Kerner could discover no natural cause for the phenomenon. He gives no details, however, and does not mention whether the Seeress was herself present, but leaves us to infer that she was.(32) An account of two other physical phenomena witnessed by Kerner or a member of his family may be quoted in full

(31) Vol. ii. P. 143. 
(32) Vol. ii. p. 169.

"An hour later, as Frau H. lay dressed on her bed in her boots, which were fastened firmly on her feet with clasps, she saw this ghost again go clanking through the room as though wearing spurs. Then she turned round at once without looking at him closely (besides it was in the dusk), lay on her other side and fell asleep, as it seemed to her. At that moment I [Kerner] entered the room, where her sister also was. Frau H. lay quite still as I looked at her, but her boots at this moment parted violently from her feet, which remained motionless, as though pulled off by an invisible hand, sped through the air towards the sister, who was just looking out of the window, and turned round at that moment and laid themselves quietly on the ground close beside her."(33)

(33) Op. cit., Vol. ii. pp. 211-2.

Three days later another remarkable phenomenon is thus recorded:

"Whilst Frau H., her sister, and my daughter were alone in the room (Frau H. was lying in bed), suddenly the lamp shade, which stood on the table at a distance from everyone, flew to the other side of the room, as though thrown by an invisible hand. A moment before this happened Frau H. had seen the ghost with the spurs come in at the door, but she immediately became cataleptic (fiel in Erstarrung) and did not see what happened to the lamp shade."(34)

(34) Vol. ii. p. 212.

The only other physical disturbances recorded by Kerner for which there is any independent evidence are as follows: Kerner and his wife, at midnight (and therefore presumably in the dark), heard a noise in their room, and found that a table which stood by the bed had been thrown into the middle of the room: the Seeress was at the time staying in the house.(35) A trustworthy person, who shared the sister's bed one night, saw the nightlight extinguished without visible cause, and thereafter saw the candlestick glowing of itself.(36) A maid-servant and another person, hearing a great noise in the room where Frau Hauffe lay alone in bed, entered the room, when a stool was flung at them as by an invisible hand from another quarter of the room from that in which the Seeress lay asleep.(37)

(35) Vol. ii. p. 222.
(36) Vol. ii. p. 213. 
(37) Vol. ii. p. 215.

The attentive reader will not fail to observe that none of the evidence for these marvels, except Kerner's own, is at first hand, and that the presence of Frau Hauffe's sister was apparently indispensable to the production of physical phenomena before witnesses. Indeed, this dependence on the support of her family forms, as has been already noted in the case of the alleged instances of clairvoyance and prophecy, a marked feature in Frau Hauffe's manifestations of supernormal power.

It will be convenient if we consider the case of the Seeress of Prevorst, both in its evidential aspects and as regards the mystical teachings of the ecstatic, side by side with another case of the kind, recorded a few years later by Heinrich Werner, Doctor of Philosophy.(38) It is fair to assume, especially as the later book was also published at Stuttgart, that Werner's somnambules as well as himself were probably acquainted with the doings and teachings of the Seeress of Prevorst. There is indeed a striking similarity in both respects between the two books. "R. D.," Werner's leading clairvoyant, was a girl of eighteen, of whose medical history and manifold ailments he gives a minute account. Werner is careful to explain that, so far was he from attempting to induce a state of magnetic clairvoyance, both he and his patient were much surprised when she spontaneously fell into that state.(39) However, the trance once established appears to have recurred, or was re-induced, at almost daily intervals.

(38) "Die Schutzgeister, oder merkwurdige Blicke zweier Seherinnen in die Geister welt", etc., etc. Stuttgart und Tubingen, 1839.
(39) Introduction, pp. xii., xiii.

The physical phenomena attending R. D. were not so numerous or striking as those just considered. Here are two instances: The clairvoyant had just been engaged in conversation with a wicked monk, of most terrible appearance, and a Jesuit to boot, who by his own confession had murdered his five children and buried them one by one in a cloister. Even Albert, R.'s guardian spirit, could not always keep this fearsome being at a distance. Except for this spiritual companion, Werner was alone with the clairvoyant. He heard, as if proceeding from a small table near him, a clatter (Klirren) like a cup rattling in a saucer, but could find nothing to account for the sound. Presently it occurred again, but louder, and was repeated several times. Werner was completely puzzled. R. D. explained that the wicked monk had made the noise, and was much delighted with the effect produced.(40)

(40) Pages 188, 189.

In the other case the spirit was more ambitious. Werner returned at noon one day to his lodgings, which consisted of five rooms, leading into one another, the suite terminating at either end-an arrangement common in Germany - in a door giving on to the staircase; these doors stood opposite to each other. The one on the left was fastened on the day in question. Werner entered by that on the right. On his entrance Werner, "together with the lady whom he found"(41) in one of the rooms (no further account of this lady is given), heard the sound of a heavy fall in the front room, to which the door on the left gave immediate entrance. They both rushed through the suite of connecting rooms, and found that in this front room two flower-pots, which had stood on the ledge of the middle window, had been violently flung to the floor and broken in pieces, the sherds, earth, and plants being scattered right across the room. Moreover, one of the curtains of the middle window had been twisted round a birdcage which hung from the ceiling. The window was open, but the jalousies were closed; the day intensely hot, and no wind stirring; and there was not even a cat in the room. From his house Werner went into Stuttgart in the afternoon, and returned, at six p.m., straight to the bedside of his patient, without telling anyone of the, to him inexplicable, incidents of the morning. Nevertheless, the clairvoyant showed herself acquainted with the whole affair, and was even able to furnish the explanation, to wit, that the aforesaid wicked monk had thrown about the flower-pots after a desperate struggle with the angel-pure Albert, who tried to thrust him out of the house.(42)

(41) 'Die Dame' possibly means the landlady of the lodgings.
(42) Pages 190-2.

Of the occasional instances of terrestrial clairvoyance the following is the case which Werner himself regards as the most striking. The clairvoyant had just been prescribing eau-de-cologne for the headaches from which Frau Werner was suffering, when she suddenly broke off, anxious and trembling, and cried:

"'For God's sake! oh, Albert, help, save! My Emilie is falling out on to the street; oh, hasten, and save - (a short, anxious pause) - God be thanked, help has already come! My faithful Guide and Friend, thou hast prepared help, before I knew of the danger, or could ask for it.' 'What has shaken and disturbed you so?' 'Oh, my little sister at U.' (Her whole body trembled violently). 'What is wrong with her?' 'She was in the upper story of the house just when they were drawing up wood from the street with a windlass. She wanted to catch the rope with the weight dangling at it, and as there is no parapet up there, the swaying would have dragged her out, if my father had not caught hold of her at that moment and pulled her in."'

A few days later, in response to an inquiry from Werner as to whether anything remarkable had happened on the day of the trance, a letter (of which the date and signature are not given) was received, confirming all these facts, and stating that the father had been disturbed in his office, at some distance from the house, by an inexplicable feeling of disquiet, which had finally led him to his house, and then to the upper room, just in the nick of time to save his child.

Albert, it is hardly necessary to say, took the whole credit of the performance; and it was, indeed, his intervention on this occasion which finally convinced Werner of that admirable spirit's independent existence.(43)

(43) Pages 89-91. See also P. 451. For other instances of alleged clairvoyance, see PP. 70, 73, 99, 123, 125, etc.

Finally, let us briefly consider the doctrinal utterances of the somnambules, and the inferences founded on those utterances as to the constitution of man and the nature of the spirit world.

The central point of these teachings is that man consists of body, soul, and spirit, the two latter surviving death and forming the spiritual man. But the soul itself is clothed, for the time at least, after leaving the body by an ethereal body (Nervengeist) which partakes rather of the nature of body than of soul, and ultimately with progressive spirits, according to some somnambules, decays and leaves the soul free. It is apparently this Nervengeist which carries on the vital processes when the soul leaves the body in the magnetic trance, and which after death withdraws with the soul and leaves the body to perish. It is the Nervengeist which attracts to itself grosser particles and becomes visible even to the fleshly eye in the case of low and undeveloped spirits.

The conception implicitly held by all mystical writers at this time of the relation between body, Nervengeist, soul, and spirit is apparently that they differed from each other only as in the gradation of coarser and more attenuated substances. Indeed, Werner expresses this conception in so many words. There is, he says, but one absolutely immaterial Being - that is God. Below God there is an infinite chain from seraph to grain of sand, from highest self-consciousness to most absolute unconsciousness, each link in the chain having more of earth intermixed with its spiritual nature than that which went before. The soul of man occupies some intermediate position in this universal procession. Would it not, he asks, be a piece of extreme folly and self-conceit to suppose that the spiritual part of man, as soon as it was separated from the body, could be as absolutely immaterial as God Himself?(44)

(44) Page 432.

But apart from this general scheme of man's constitution, which was more or less common to all the mystics of the time, and has been adopted and generously amplified by Spiritualists and Theosophists since, the Seeress of Prevorst is responsible for other revelations of a very curious kind. She described, with the utmost minuteness, certain systems of circles - designated respectively Sun - Circles and Life Circles - which had relation apparently to spiritual conditions and the passage of time. Kerner gives most amazing diagrams of these circles. The grand sun-circle has two concentric inner circles and innumerable radii, and the inner most concentric circle is itself ornamented with twelve subsidiary systems of triple concentric circles, having their centres at equidistant points on the circumference of the primary circle (itself the innermost circle of a larger system). Then the Seeress had a life-circle of her own, and seven private sun-circles of a somewhat less intricate nature, with an intercalary circle in the seventh. All these circles are ornamented, in addition to the radii, with eccentric straight lines like the spokes of some bicycles; and the interpretation of all this bewildering maze of lines "With centric and eccentric scribbled o'er, Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb" is furnished partly by cyphers, partly by words of the primitive universal language written in the primitive ideographs. With the somnambule's dissertations on the meaning of these interlacing circles and the mystic relation of the numbers attached to human life, all of which Kerner records with the most amazing patience, we need not here concern ourselves further. Gorres, Eschenmayer, and other members of the circle of mystics, which continued for some years to expand and illustrate the revelations of the Seeress,(45) found in this part of her teaching analogies with the philosophical ideas of Pythagoras, of Plato, and of more recent mystics. But they do not seem to have exercised much effect on the utterances of later somnambules. The conception of a primitive universal language, however, deserves some further consideration. The characters of this language, as preserved for us in Kerner's plates, bear to the uninstructed eye some resemblance to Hebrew; but they are in many instances quite as complicated as an Egyptian hieroglyph. It was to Hebrew, however, that the Seeress herself, following the example of Dr. Dee's familiars, compared the language; it was, according to her, the primitive universal tongue and resembled the language actually spoken in the time of Jacob. She frequently spoke the tongue in the trance, maintaining that it was the common language of the inner life. Kerner asserts that she was quite consistent in her use of the words of this primitive tongue, and that those who heard her often gained by degrees some familiarity with its meaning. A few words are quoted and their likeness to Hebrew pointed out. Werner's somnambule, R. D., also made use of this language, and confirmed Frau Hauffe's account of it; and Werner himself gives us a dissertation upon it which recalls faint echoes of the age-long contention of the Schoolmen on the relation of words to things.(46)

(45) In the "Blatter aus Prevorst", of which several volumes were published from 1831 onwards.
(46) Pages 353-61.

With primitive man, as yet not wholly estranged from God by sin, thought, according to Werner, answered exactly to the realities of the external world, and speech was the organic correlate of thought. This was because man shared the nature of God, with whom thought, its object and its expression are all one. The name of a thing in that primitive Nature - speech was not, as now, a mere label, fortuitous and inadequate; it expressed by some one symbol - which was, indeed, not a symbol, but rather a reflection-the form, properties, value, and existence of the thing named. With the coming of sin, the primitive Nature-speech was lost and forgotten; traces of it remain in Hebrew, and in the babbling of children; but the nations of the earth have now to be content with innumerable collocations of accidental vocables, which with ever-growing elaboration and refinement yet continually fail to be an adequate mirror of even the external aspect of this complex world. But the compendious and all-sufficient vocabulary of the world's childhood is yet preserved in the inner spirit of man: and in rare states of exaltation he can recover something of what he has lost. The priestess who chanted the Greek oracles expressed herself in that forgotten tongue, and from pure somnambules in the highest stage of ecstasy we can catch its apocalyptic accents.

Werner, had he known it, might have found further support for his argument in the curious outbreak of speaking with unknown tongues in Edward Irving's church in London, which had taken place in the interval between the publication of Kerner's book and his own, and in the account of the primaeval language given by Dr. Dee.(47)

(47) Chapter i. above. See also the account given by Flournoy ("Des Indes a la planete Mars") of the Martian language constructed by his clairvoyant. Flournoy's results are quoted below, Book IV. chap. vii.

It is by the German Magnetists of the first half of the nineteenth century, whose works we have just been considering, that the foundations of the movement of Modern Spiritualism were laid. It is not merely that we find here in miniature all the characteristics of the later belief; it would be easy to demonstrate that it was through the writings of Jung-Stilling, Kerner, and their contemporaries that a path was prepared in this country, and probably also in America, for the coming of the new gospel. It was from this source, after Swedenborg, that the Howitts, Shorter, Mrs. De Morgan, and others of the early English Spiritualists derived most of their philosophy; and it was largely owing to the intermixture of physical phenomena with the revelations of the Seeress of Prevorst that the grosser manifestations of the same kind found afterwards so ready a reception.

Again, all the chief problems of Spiritualism are posed in the records of this time; on the one hand, we find in the observations of men like Wesermann and Van Ghert characteristic examples of apparent thought-transference and clairvoyance; on the other, we find in Frau Hauffe and her kind indications of systematic trickery, often of a puerile character, whose only object appears to have been the satisfaction of a diseased vanity, conjoined with trances and ecstasies apparently genuine, and outpourings, also probably not less genuine, of religious feeling.

Source: Modern Spiritualism: A History and a Criticism by Frank Podmore (2 vols) (London: Methuen, 1902.)

Other articles by Frank Podmore...

Home | About Us | Latest News | Biographies | Articles | Experiments | Photographs | Theory | Online Library | Links | Recommended Books | Contact Us | Glossary | Search


Some parts of this page The International Survivalist Society 2002