ARTICLES

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".

Was there Hallucination [in the D. D. Home Sittings]?

 - Frank Podmore -

          TO PERSONS familiar with the effects of suggestion on hypnotised subjects the idea naturally presented itself that the more marvellous phenomena reported by attendants at spiritualistic séances might be ascribed to hallucination. As we have seen in the last chapter, such views were advanced, among others, by Professor Balfour Stewart and Dr. E. B. Tylor to explain Mr. Crookes' experiences with Home. Later, at the British Association Meeting of 1876, the theory was again put forward tentatively by Professor W. F. Barrett. If we are to take some of the accounts given by witnesses of credit and intelligence as accurately representing what they saw, the only alternative to a wholesale surrender to the occult forces would be to postulate a not less wholesale state of hallucination on the part of the witnesses. But the problem is never, of course, put before us in such clear and unmistakable terms. However brief the interval between the event and its record, it is sufficient, as we saw in a previous chapter, to allow scope for the action of the constructive faculties. The document with which we have to deal is in no case the photographic record which it purports to be, but a work of art of more or less originality. In many cases we can recognise that the interval is of sufficient length to allow the prodigy to mature. Thus, as we have already seen in the Wesley case[1], and as we may see in any modern Poltergeist story, the farther events recede in time the larger they loom in the imagination. Many of the records of Home's séances appear to be of this kind. Dr. Thomas Hawksley, in an undated letter quoted by Madame Home[2], states that he and a friend visited Home one day in broad daylight, that his friend stood on a heavy centre claw table, and that table and man were lifted eight inches in the air, whilst Dr. Hawksley satisfied himself by passing his hand under the castors that the table was clear of the ground. So Mr. Perdicaris told me that at his first sitting with Home, which took place in 1868, in his mother's house in London, Mr. Perdicaris himself, his mother, Mrs. Mowatt Ritchie (an invalid on sofa), and an old housekeeper were sitting round a table with Home, there was a gaselier over the table with three jets lighted; "suddenly table, sofa, chairs, and sitters were all moved several feet off," apparently by supernormal power.

[1] Vol. i. pp. 32 et seq.
[2] Life, pp. 186-9; see also Journal SRR, July, 1889, p. 122. The letter is said by Madame Home to have been written for the purpose of being included in her book, published in 1888, and therefore many years after the events which it relates.


In such cases as these, however sober-minded and conscientious the witnesses, it is easier to find the explanation of the marvel in a fallacy of memory than in a fallacy of sense[3]. "I want to ask your advice," said a patient to Professor Janet, "how can I distinguish between a memory and a dream?" and, indeed, as Janet remarks, the question raises a very delicate problem[4]. For the differences between memory and imagination, all-important to the historian, to the psychologist may be trivial or irrelevant. Where doubt on the subject is possible it is not by introspection that we shall learn to decide between them.

[3] The question asked by Hamilton Äidé, in his article, "Was I Hypnotised?" (Nineteenth Century, April, 1890) may no doubt be answered in the negative. If we were forced to take Mr. Äidé's narrative as an accurate representation of what he saw at a sitting with Home, we might be hard put to it for any better explanation. But the article was written twenty years after the events which it records, and, though the author speaks of "referring to his note-book," bears internal evidence of being founded mainly on memory.
[4] Nevroses et idees fixes, vol. ii. p. 168.


But when the interval between event and record is very brief, the assumption of a fallacy of memory of this extreme kind cannot seem an altogether satisfactory solution. Take, for instance, the following narrative by the Rev. Thomas Colley (afterwards Archdeacon Colley). Mr. Colley was present at a séance on September 25th, 1877, and wrote out his account of it the same evening. The medium was Dr. Monck, and the sitting apparently took place in a private house:

"Dr. Monck, under control of 'Samuel,' was by the light of the lamp - the writer not being a yard away from him - seen by all to be the living gate for the extrusion of spirit forms from the realm of mind into this world of matter; for standing forth thus plainly before us, the psychic or spirit form was seen to grow out of his left side. First, several faces one after another, of great beauty, appeared, and in amazement we saw - and as I was standing close up to the medium, even touching him, I saw most plainly - several times a perfect face and form of exquisite womanhood partially issue from Dr. Monck, about the region of the heart. Then after several attempts a full-formed figure, in a nebulous condition at first, but growing solider as it issued from the medium, left Dr. Monck, and stood a separate individuality, two or three feet off, bound to him by a slender attachment as of gossamer, which, at my request, 'Samuel,' the control, severed with the medium's left hand, and there stood embodied a spirit form of unutterable loveliness, robed in attire spirit-spun - a meshy webwork from no mortal loom, of a fleeciness inimitable, and of transfiguration whiteness truly glistening."

Later in the evening, when the time came for the form to retire, the gossamer filament again appeared, and Mr. Colley tells us that he saw the spirit figure sucked back, as by a psychic waterspout, into the body of the medium, and watched the angel face fade and finally disappear[5].

[5] Spiritualist, Oct. 5th, 1877.

Mr. Colley does not state how much light the lamp gave, but at a later séance, held at Dr. Monck's own rooms, with Mr. and Mrs. Colley and Mr. Stainton Moses present, the latter describes the light as faint[6].

[6] "Faintly lighted by a very small paraffin lamp, which was placed in a corner of the room and shaded" (Spiritualist, Oct. 26th, 1877).

It is difficult to believe that the exquisite spirit form which presented itself to Mr. Colley's glowing imagination was merely a confection of masks, stuffed gloves, and muslin, actuated by a jointed rod, but we cannot help remembering, if Mr. Colley did not, that articles of this kind had, a twelvemonth previously, been found, under compromising circumstances, in the possession of Dr. Monck[7].

[7] Spiritualist, Feb. 9th, 1877.

More impressive, because written with greater restraint, and by an observer of a more critical temperament, is the record by Mr. St. George Stock of one of his early experiences. Mr. Stock narrates that in March, 1872, he was persuaded by an Oxford friend to take part in a séance at which several choir-boys were the mediums. Bits of paper and stones were thrown about the room, and one or two of the mediums spoke in the trance. The impression left upon Mr. Stock's mind by this first séance was that the phenomena were genuine, though not necessarily of spirit origin, and that the boys were innocent of trickery. A few days later he had a second séance with eight choir-boys, in his friend's room, the host, however, not being present:

"We took tea together as before. Whilst the boys were still seated round the table I rose and walked to the mantelpiece, turning over in my mind how I should broach to the boys my intention of examining their pockets. There were four candles burning on the mantelpiece, by the side of which I took my stand. The boys, as I have said, were still seated round the table, which was at a considerable distance, and were chatting together about some game of cricket. Such was the position of affairs in the room, when a shower of folded papers descended upon me, floating gradually down, as if dropped very gently. One of them alighted on my hand, and so called my attention to the rest. They did not seem, as the stones did [on the previous occasion] to come from or through the ceiling, but rather to start into sudden existence in the air above me. It was physically impossible for these papers to have been thrown at me by the boys at the table, and I thought it perfectly ludicrous after this to propose the examination I had intended, a test having been given me far more satisfactory than any I could have devised."[8]

[8] Spiritualist, Oct. 20th, 1876.

The account is based upon a detailed report written on the following day[9].

[9] As I learn from a private letter from Mr. Stock.

In both these cases - unless we are to suppose that angelic forms did really grow out of Dr. Monck's body, and bits of paper did really fall from nowhere before Mr. Stock's eyes - it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we have to do with something more than a mere fallacy of memory. In other words, we have to suppose that Mr. Colley and Mr. Stock were hallucinated. The hypothesis of hallucination in such circumstances requires, no doubt, some justification. To most persons, it may be surmised, the word "hallucination" represents a rare psychical catastrophe, a kind of volcanic eruption from subterranean depths, symptomatic at the lowest of a profound disturbance of the personality. But whilst, on the one hand, the work of the Census Committee of the English [British] Society for Psychical Research has shown that sensory hallucinations are compatible with ordinary health and sanity, and so far from being uncommon that about one adult Englishman [Briton] in ten can recall such an experience; on the other hand, modern psychology recognises in such sensory fallacies only the product of familiar mental processes pushed to extremes. For it can be shown that, even in normal perception, part only, and it may be a small part, of what we "perceive" is due to the impression actually made on the external sense-organ; another, and it may be a larger part, can be definitely traced to the reproduction of previous sensations, some similar, some disparate, aroused by subconscious processes of association. In other words, a considerable and essential part of all that we claim to see and hear is due to our own imagination; or, to quote a well-known paradox of Taine's: "Au lieu de dire que l'hallucination est une perception extérieure fausse, il faut dire que la perception extérieure est une hallucination vraie."[10] And modern psychologists generally incline to the view that between what we call true perception and those false perceptions which we call illusion and hallucination there is no psychological difference at all comparable in importance to the practical difference between fact and fancy; that the false perception represents in many cases merely a slightly anomalous reaction to sensory stimuli; a perception in which the associative processes have summoned up the wrong ideas[11].

[10] De I'Intelligence, 4th edition, vol. ii. p. 13.
[11] Whether there are or are not any hallucinations in the old sense of the term, i.e., sensory perceptions originating without any sensory stimuli, is for the present purpose immaterial. One of the latest writers on the subject, Edmund Parish, in his Hallucinations and Illusions (English translation, London, 1897), claims that all hallucinations may be reduced to the type of illusion in the old sense, i.e., as started from without by an actual sensory stimulus. Binet, by a different line of reasoning, arrives at the same conclusion. W. James (Principles of Psychology, vol. ii. p. 115) admits that hallucinations are often only extreme cases of the perceptive process, in which the secondary cerebral reaction is out of all normal proportion to the peripheral stimulus which occasions the activity; but he is inclined to believe that some hallucinations are centrally initiated. In the text I have, for the sake of convenience, used hallucination in Parish's sense, as practically equivalent to illusion of an extreme kind.


The cause of this anomalous reaction of the brain to the impression made upon the external sense organs (let us say, the retinal impression, since we are here concerned mostly with visual hallucinations) is to be sought commonly in the condition of the brain itself at the moment. Either there is some general dissociation of consciousness - a dissociation which may range from acute mania down to hypnosis or the drowsiness which precedes sleep - or there may be some local disturbance of equilibrium leading to the undue prominence of certain ideas, that is, in terms of psycho-physiology, to tension of a particular group of cells. It is this last condition, familiarly known as expectant attention, which is probably responsible for most of the sense deceptions of normal life. When the mind is full, as we say, of a particular idea, very slight, and otherwise indifferent, sensory stimuli are liable to call up that idea; the slighter and more ambiguous, indeed, the sense impression, the more liable is it to be misinterpreted in accordance with the dominant idea. Thus, when expecting to meet a friend, we constantly see resemblances to him in the faces of casual strangers; or again, as we have already seen, in the dim light of a materialisation séance the sitters are ready to recognise in any white-robed figure the spirit of mother, sister, or wife[12].

[12] See W. James, op. cit., vol ii. p. 97.

The majority of the sense deceptions which we meet in the investigation of Spiritualist records are no doubt of this type - quasi-hallucinatory faces superimposed upon the faint outlines presented or suggested to the sense of sight at a dark séance or in a spirit photograph[13]. There is a professional medium now (1901) performing in London, at whose séances spirit faces are reported constantly to be seen. The performance takes place, of course, in the dark; the faces are shown in profile against the background of a faintly illuminated slate, and few would appear to pass without the tribute of recognition from one or other member of the circle. From various letters which have appeared in Light[14], it would seem that the female faces which are seen at this medium's séances generally have the lower part of their faces veiled by drapery, so as to conceal the mouth and chin. But this circumstance does not appear materially to affect the recognition[15].

[13] See Book III. chaps. vi. and vii.
[14] See e.g. letter from "T.S.," 9th March, 1901.
[15] The medium, it should be stated, is a man.


That in some cases an hallucinatory image is actually presented to the senses of the witness seems probable. The clearest illustration of the kind known to me is furnished by some recent exhibitions given by a non-professional medium. The lady in question allows certain favoured persons to look into a crystal, enclosed in a small open box, which is not as a rule allowed to leave the medium's own hands. At the back of the crystal, i.e., at the bottom of the box, the seer discerns a face apparently drawn rather sketchily in outline, in black and white. So far the performance would seem a rather transparent trick. But it is the case that some persons have recognised in these sketchy outlines the unmistakable portraits of friends. There is no verbal suggestion from the medium; nor, indeed, could verbal suggestion be directly helpful, since the likenesses seen are sometimes of persons long dead, of whom the medium would, it is likely, never have heard[16].

[16] Amongst those who have described to me this performance, and have assured me that they have "recognised" faces in the box, are the late Mr. F. W. H. Myers, and Mr. C., a Cambridge graduate. In the latter case, at any rate, the visions were not emotionally inspired; one of them represented a mere casual acquaintance, another a college tutor, and so on.

Illusory impressions of this kind represent, it seems probable, the simplest form of hallucination, the form which implies the least disturbance of ordinary consciousness, and is often hardly to be distinguished from the normal process of perception.

At dark séances we frequently find a more pronounced form of sense deception, approximating to the type of "pure" hallucination. Some of the most favoured attendants at Home's circle would see shadowy figures, which were unmistakably of an hallucinatory character[17]. Similar apparitions are recorded by other witnesses with other mediums. The clearest account of the phenomenon which I have seen is contained in an article by Professor Harlow Gale, "A Study in Spiritistic Hallucinations"[18]. The subject of the study, Dr. S., a private medium and, apparently, an honest man, gave dark séances at which he and others habitually professed to see figures, sometimes of sacred personages, sometimes of deceased friends, standing near them. On some occasions they even claimed to shake hands with the figure, and to feel the material contact. Flowers were also seen and lights. The room at these meetings was in almost complete darkness; and each seer described at once the figure which he professed to see. It is likely that the starting point for the hallucination was furnished by the patches of light which came through crevices in the door and window, or by the retinal light or other sensation proceeding from the eye itself; and that the image was completed, as is probably the case in nearly all hallucinations of this kind, under the influence of direct verbal suggestion from the medium or the original seer. A dim light seems to be essential for sense deceptions of this nature; and the emotions cultivated at a séance prove no doubt powerful auxiliaries in their production.

[17] See the references quoted at the end of this chapter.
[18] SPR Proc., vol. xv. p. 65.


A good illustration of similar illusions engendered by expectancy, and conditioned by darkness, is given by Robert Louis Stevenson. In his voyages in the South Seas he describes how, one dark night, having got out of their reckoning, all on board were anxiously looking out for the coral island which was their goal:

"Islands we beheld in plenty, but they were of 'such stuff as dreams are made on,' and vanished at a wink, only to reappear in other places; and, by-and-by, not only islands, but refulgent and revolving lights began to stud the darkness; lighthouses of the mind or of the wearied optic nerve, solemnly shining and winking as we passed"[19].

[19] In the South Seas, edition of 1900, p. 142.

Again, we meet occasionally, in more normal circumstances, with sensory fallacies of a marked type, where the imagination, filled with a dominant idea, reacts upon some slight or ambiguous sense impression so as to construct a complete hallucinatory drama. Thus, in a case published in the SPR Report on the Census of Hallucinations, a lady, on hearing a sound like that of a latch-key in the front door, straightway saw an hallucinatory figure of her father, accompanied by his dog, crossing the hall[20]. The following case, quoted in the same report, is an even better illustration of the hallucinatory development and embellishment of a slight and fugitive sense impression:

[20] SPR Proc., vol. x. p. 181.

"Some years ago a friend and I rode - he on a bicycle, I on a tricycle - on an unusually dark night in summer from Glendalough to Rathdrum. It was drizzling rain, we had no lamps, and the road was overshadowed by trees on both sides, between which we could just see the skyline. I was riding slowly and carefully some ten or twenty yards in advance, guiding myself by the skyline, when my machine chanced to pass over a piece of tin or something else in the road that made a great crash. Presently my companion came up, calling to me in great concern. He had seen through the gloom my machine upset and me flung from it. The crash had excited the thought of the most likely cause for it, and ... this involved a visual perception of the mind, faint, but sufficient on this occasion to be seen with sufficient distinctness when not overpowered by objects seen in the ordinary way through the eyes."[21]

[21] "On the Limits of Vision." Dr. J. G. Stoney, Phil. Magazine, March, 1894. Sir John Herschel gives a case of hallucination experienced by himself, which admirably illustrates the action of long-established association. He had been watching with some anxiety the demolition of a familiar building. On the following day at evening, but whilst the light was still pretty good, he passed the spot where it had stood. "Great was my amazement to see it as if still standing, projected against the dull sky... I walked on, and the perspective of the form and disposition of the parts appeared to change ... as they would have done if real" (Familiar Lectures on Scientific Subjects, p. 4-5).

Again, Beard has described how a steamer in which he was crossing the Atlantic collided with a sailing vessel. It was night, and the cry went forth that the steamer was stove in and the bow sinking. All eyes were turned to the bow, and to all it appeared to be sinking. "I shall never forget," writes Beard, "how it gradually lowered in the darkness." But in fact the vessel was uninjured[22]. Hallucinatory misinterpretations of distant objects such as occasionally occur at sea furnish another illustration of the same principle. Thus, when the French frigate La Belle Poule was searching for a missing consort, the watch signalled a disabled vessel, and the whole crew in full daylight saw a raft and boats crowded with men. A boat was sent to the rescue, and found only a few floating branches of trees[23]. Many of the recorded apparitions of the sea-serpent have, no doubt, a like explanation.

[22] Quoted by J. N. Langley in a lecture on "The Physiological Aspect of Mesmerism," given before the Royal Institution, March, 1884.
[23] Gustave Le Bon, Psychologie des Foules. Paris, 1895. Le Bon quotes the incident from the Revue Scientifique.


I should be disposed, then, to interpret the experiences of Mr. Colley and Mr. Stock quoted above as illusions or hallucinations of this last type. Both witnesses were certainly under the influence of expectancy. Mr. Colley had seen materialised figures in Dr. Monck's presence before; Mr. Stock, as we have read, had witnessed at the previous séance bits of paper and stones thrown about the room, and had inclined to the belief that these movements were not due to trickery. Both, no doubt, at the séance which we are now considering saw something for which they could not account; and the imagination, supplementing the imperfect data of sensation, as the imagination supplements sensation in every act of perception, filled in the picture on these occasions on lines predetermined by the previous experiences of the witnesses.

Probably some of the more marvellous feats described at Home's séances can be analysed into sensory deceptions of this nature. The circumstances were peculiarly favourable for illusion of the kind supposed. The minds of the witnesses were attuned, by previous exhibitions of minor feats, to the proper degree of receptivity. The nature of the marvel to be looked for was indicated beforehand, so that the imagination would have less difficulty, when the rough sketch was supplied, in completing the picture, much as Dr. Stoney's friend constructed, on the hint of a noise, a complete picture of a tricycle accident. Again, this last illustration presents a near parallel in another respect to Home's séances. The light was in most cases extremely faint. There can be no doubt that a sensory deception of the kind supposed occurs much more readily when the original sensation is vague and ill-defined, as anything seen in a dim light must be[24]. The so-called "levitations" of Home offer probably the clearest examples of the process.

[24] For the psychological explanation of the superior power of weak sensations to give rise to hallucination see W. James, op. cit., vol. ii. pp. 83, 123, etc.

The earliest instance of Home's "levitation" occurred in the summer of 1852, at the residence of Mr. Ward Cheney, in the State of Connecticut. An account of this levitation will be found on page 245, vol. i. of the present work. It will be seen from the instances there cited that the feat was not peculiar to Home; at least one professional contemporary, Gordon, had given exhibitions of the same kind. In Home's case it will be seen that the performance took place in a room previously darkened, ostensibly for another purpose; and the evidence that the medium was levitated consisted in his own statement to that effect, corroborated by the palpable demonstration of his boots suspended in the air. Later, we have a very full and candid account, by Robert Bell, of a levitation which took place in 1860[25]. In this case also the room had been carefully darkened before the feat was attempted; and the evidence for the fact of levitation consisted in the sound of Home's voice in the air, his own descriptions of his movements, contact with his boots on the back of a chair, and an appearance as of his person, or some part of it, projected against the dim, grey light which came through the blind drawn down across the window.

[25] Cornhill Magazine, Aug., 1860. The account is quoted above, pp. 49-50.

Most of the recorded levitations of Home are of this character. After various minor manifestations had educated the witnesses to the proper frame of receptivity, the lights would be extinguished, and the room reduced to almost complete darkness. Home would then explain that the spirits were lifting him up; his voice would be heard as if high in the air; some favoured guest would be allowed to grasp his hand or foot; and perhaps a dim silhouette of his legs would be seen against the window-blind. Thus, to take a few instances, "J. G. C.," in an account of a séance which took place apparently early in 1860, records:

"Shortly after this a very curious affair took place ... Mr. Home remarked, 'I feel as if I am going to rise.' The room was quite dark. He said, 'I am getting up,' and as I was only a few feet from him I put out my hand to him. I indubitably felt the soles of both his boots, some three feet above the level of the floor. On my doing so he said, 'Don't touch me, or I shall come down.' Of course, I instantly desisted, but down he came. In less than five minutes after this he remarked, 'I am again ascending,' and from the sound of his voice we could not but infer that he was actually rising towards the ceiling of the ante-room."[26]

[26] Spiritual Magazine, 1860, p. 89.

At another séance, after the lights had been put out and the blinds drawn down, a similar performance took place in the dark, but in this case, at the request of one of the sitters, "he was floated with his feet horizontally into the light of the window, so that we all saw his feet and a part of his legs resting or floating in the air like a feather, about six feet from the ground."[27] On another occasion, recorded by Mr. Wason, the main evidence for the levitation consisted in the fact that the witness held Home's hand in the dark and moved along with the medium for about six paces until he fell over a stool[28].

[27] Ibid., 1860, p. 268.
[28] Ibid., 1860, p. 525.

Of levitations which are said to have taken place in the light we have two accounts by Mr. Enmore Jones. He records that on one occasion, by the light of a single gasburner and a bright fire, Home rose vertically in the air until he was a foot above the floor. No details are given, not even the date of the seance[29] In his evidence before the Dialectical Society, Mr. Jones stated that in a large, well-lighted room in his own house, he and all his family saw his aged mother, together with the chair she sat on, rise in the air until her knees were level with the rim of the table[30].

[29] Ibid., 1861, p. 69.
[30] Dialectical Report, p. 145. In a letter recounting the incident which appeared in the Spiritual Magazine (Sept., 1868), Mr. Jones gives the date of the séances as 17th July, 1868. He omits, however, to date his letter.

Mr. Crookes, in his detailed notes of sittings, records two cases of levitation at which he was present. On July 30th, 1871, shortly after the gas had been turned out and spirit lamps [i.e., lamps burning spirit] substituted:

"Mr. Home walked to the open space in the room between Mr. L's chair and the sideboard, and stood there quite upright and quiet. He then said, 'I'm rising, I'm rising,' when we all saw him rise from the ground slowly to a height of about six inches, remain there for about ten seconds, and then slowly descend. From my position I could not see his feet, but I distinctly saw his head, projected against the opposite wall, rise up, and Mr. Walter Crookes, who was sitting near where Mr. Home was, said that his feet were in the air. There was no stool or other thing near which could have aided him. Moreover, the movement was a continuous glide upwards."[31]

[31] Proc. SPR, vol. vi. pp. 118, 119.

On April 21st, 1872, we have the following record. After various minor phenomena had occurred:

"A message was given, 'Try less light.' The handkerchief moved about along the floor, visible to all. Mr. Home nearly disappeared under the table in a curious attitude; then he was (still in his chair) wheeled out from the table, still in the same attitude, his feet out in front off the ground. He was then sitting almost horizontally, his shoulders resting on his chair. He asked Mrs. Walter Crookes to remove the chair from under him, as it was not supporting him. He was then seen to be sitting in the air, supported by nothing visible."[32]

[32] Ibid., p. 126.

If Mr. Enmore Jones' testimony almost constrains us to believe in hallucination, in the instances recorded by Mr. Crookes it seems more reasonable to suppose that Home may have found opportunity, in the intentionally subdued light, to introduce some mechanical support.

The most noteworthy of all the cases of levitation is that which took place on December 16th, 1868, at 5, Buckingham Gate, London, in the presence of the Master of Lindsay (now the Earl of Crawford), Viscount Adare (now the Earl of Dunraven), and Captain Wynne. The fullest account is that of the Master of Lindsay, written on July 14th, 1871. It is as follows:

"I was sitting with Mr. Home and Lord Adare and a cousin of his. During the sitting Mr. Home went into a trance, and in that state was carried out of the window in the room next to where we were, and was brought in at our window. The distance between the windows was about seven feet six inches, and there was not the slightest foothold between them, nor was there more than a twelve inch projection to each window, which served as a ledge to put flowers on. We heard the window in the next room lifted up, and almost immediately after we saw Home floating in the air outside our window. The moon was shining full into the room[33]; my back was to the light, and I saw the shadow on the wall of the windowsill, and Home's feet about six inches above it. He remained in this position for a few seconds, then raised the window and glided into the room feet foremost and sat down."[34]

[33] The séance, took place, as said, on the 16th December, 1868, two days after new moon.
[34] The letter from which this account is taken originally appeared in the Spiritualist newspaper, and was afterwards republished in a pamphlet entitled Psychic Power - Spirit Power: Experimental Investigation (London, 1871). In July, 1869, Lord Lindsay gave an account of the incident to the Committee of the Dialectical Society, which runs as follows:

"I saw the levitations in Victoria Street when Home floated out of the window. He first went into a trance and walked about uneasily; he then went into the hall. While he was away I heard a voice whisper in my ear, 'He will go out of one window and in at another.' I was alarmed and shocked at the idea of so dangerous an experiment. I told the company what I had heard and we then waited for Home's return. Shortly after he entered the room. I heard the window go up, but I could not see it, for I sat with my back to it. I, however, saw his shadow on the opposite wall; he went out of the window in a horizontal position, and I saw him outside the other window (that is the next room) floating in the air. It was eighty-five feet from the ground." (Report, p. 214).

The discrepancies between this and the account given in the text may perhaps be explained as due to inaccurate reporting. It will be seen that both accounts suggest, without expressly stating, that Home floated outside the window in a horizontal position, whereas Lord Adare states that Home stood upright.

Lord Adare's account of the central incident is as follows:

"We heard Home go into the next room, heard the window thrown up, and presently Home appeared standing upright outside our window; he opened the window and walked in quite coolly."

Lord Adare adds an account of an incident at which he was the only spectator. After the levitation he had, at Home's request, shut the window in the next room, out of which Home purported to have been wafted by the spirits. On returning to the séance-room, Lord Adare continues:

"I remarked that the window was not raised a foot, and that I could not think how he [Home] had managed to squeeze through. He arose and said, 'Come and see.' I went with him; he told me to open the window as it was before; I did so; he told me to stand a little distance off; he then went through the open space, head first, quite rapidly, his body being nearly horizontal and apparently rigid. He came in again feet foremost, and we returned to the other room. It was so dark I could not see clearly how he was supported outside. He did not appear to grasp, or rest upon the balustrade, but rather to be swung out and in. Outside each window is a small balcony or ledge nineteen inches deep [i.e., apparently nineteen inches wide], bounded by stone balustrades eighteen inches high"[35].

[35] Lord Adare's testimony to this incident, in its original form difficult of access, will be found quoted in Mrs. Home's Life, p. 301.

In a letter written to Home, dated 2nd February, 1877, Captain Wynne, referring to this occasion, states: "The fact of your having gone out of the one window and in at the other I can swear to."[36]

[36] Life of D. D. Home, p. 307.

It is to be noted that, as we learn from Lord Adare's account, there was no light in the room during the séance, except such as came through the window (from a moon two days old); that Lord Lindsay had, at an earlier period of the evening, seen an apparition of a man sitting in a chair; that one of the spirits before the performance had announced what it was proposed to do; and, finally, that on a previous occasion a few days before, in presence of two of the same witnesses, Home had opened the same window, stepped on the ledge outside, and remained standing there, to the great alarm of Lord Lindsay, looking down at the street some eighty feet below[37]. The medium had thus, as it were, furnished a rough sketch of the picture which he aimed at producing.

[37] The last quoted incident rests on the authority of a letter from H. D. Jencken, printed in Human Nature, vol. iii. p. 50.

Whatever the nature of the complex illusion, however, whether of sense or of memory - or, as seems likely, of both - it is certain that it was shared in the retrospect by all the three persons present[38]. Actually, however, the collective part of the illusion is seen in analysis to have been of a comparatively unimpressive kind. From Lord Lindsay's account, the most detailed record which we have of the actual levitation, it would seem that Home, probably after having announced that the spirits were about to carry him through the air from one window to another, left the room. A sound was heard, which may or may not have been due to the cause which it suggested, the opening of the window in the next room. Shortly afterwards, Lord Lindsay, who had his back to the window, saw on the opposite wall a shadow, thrown by the faint moonlight, which suggested to him that Home was outside the window; and he appears to have accepted the assurance of the "spirits" that in fact the medium had been conveyed to that point through the air from the window-ledge of the adjoining room. Whether Lord Adare or Captain Wynne had their eyes turned towards the window, or, generally, upon what impressions of sense they based their conviction that Home had actually been levitated, does not appear. Remembering that the room was lighted only by a moon two days old, we are clearly not justified in attaching more weight to their general statements than to the detailed record of Lord Lindsay. How much that record is worth, as evidence for a miracle, the reader, with the depositions before him, may judge for himself.

[38] Dr. Carpenter, with that disastrous defect, whether of candour or care, which distinguished so many of his public utterances on the subject of Spiritualism, assumed that the third witness, Captain Wynne, had not shared in the illusion (see his article in the Contemporary Review for Jan., 1876). This drew from Captain Wynne the corroborative testimony quoted in the text.

The other incident presents a somewhat different problem. The room was again dark, the action was momentary, and the solitary witness, who had been told to keep his distance, was still labouring under the strong excitement induced by the previous performance. It would be impossible to lay much stress upon an observation made under such circumstances.

Unlike levitation, the phenomenon of elongation was a late product of Home's mediumship. I can find no record of its appearance before 1867. During that and two or three succeeding years several exhibitions were given, amongst the witnesses being Mr. H. D. Jencken, General Boldero, Mr. Ion Perdicaris, Lord Lindsay, and Lord Adare. The manifestation generally took place in a very subdued light. But Mr. Perdicaris has given me from memory an account of an occasion on which he saw Home elongated in a good light. The medium, however, on this occasion stood behind a chair, with his hands resting on the back, and the elongation amounted to a few inches only. Moreover, we have no contemporary record of the incident. So, in a case described by H. D. Jencken, ("Honestas"), when Home held a candle in his hand whilst undergoing elongation, the apparent increase of stature amounted only to about four inches[39].

[39] Human Nature, vol. ii. p. 611. See also ibid. vol. i. pp. 427 and 578; vol. ii. pp. 29 and 30. In vol. iv. p. 140 is a diagram showing the elongation of Home's hand. See also the accounts by Dr. Hawkins Simpson and General Boldero Journal SPR, 1889, pp. 123 and 125).

Lord Adare, in his Experiences, gives several instances of elongation, some in fairly good light; but his description of the manifestation and of the means taken to ascertain the reality and measure the extent of the elongation is not such as to produce conviction. The most striking account of the phenomenon is furnished by Lord Lindsay, in his evidence before the Dialectical Society's Committee, but the narrative was written some time after the event, and does not appear, since the dates and other details are wanting, to have been based upon contemporary notes.

The following is an extract from a paper written by Lord Lindsay, read before the Committee on the 6th July, 1869[40]:

[40] Dialectical Society's Report, p. 207.

"On another occasion I saw Mr. Home, in a trance, elongated eleven inches. I measured him standing up against the wall, and marked the place; not being satisfied with that, I put him in the middle of the room and placed a candle in front of him, so as to throw a shadow on the wall, which I also marked. When he awoke I measured him again in his natural size, both directly and by the shadow, and the results were equal. I can swear that he was not off the ground or standing on tiptoe, as I had full view of his feet, and, moreover, a gentleman present had one of his feet placed over Home's insteps, one hand on his shoulder, and the other on his side where the false ribs come near the hip-bone."

Later, in answer to questions, Lord Lindsay supplemented his evidence as follows[41]:

[41] Report, pp. 213, 214.

"The top of the hip-bone and the short ribs separate. in Home they were unusually close together. There was no separation of the vertebrae of the spine; nor were the elongations at all like those resulting from expanding the chest with air; the shoulders did not move. Home looked as if he was pulled up by the neck; the muscles seemed in a state of tension. He stood firmly upright in the middle of the room, and before the elongation commenced I placed my foot on his instep. I will swear he never moved his heels from the ground. When Home was elongated against the wall, Lord Adare placed his foot on Home's instep, and I marked the place on the wall. I once saw him elongated horizontally on the ground; Lord Adare was present. Home seemed to grow at both ends, and pushed myself and Adare away."

I cannot identify in Lord Adare's account of his experiences either of the occasions referred to in the passages last quoted.

The phenomenon of elongation was not peculiar to Home. As we have already seen, Herne and J. J. Morse are said to have been elongated in 1870[42]. Lord Adare tells us that at a séance at which Home was present he saw a young lady elongated to the extent of about three inches[43]. And I have lately received an account of an elongation, the medium being a professional clairvoyant named Peters, which took place so recently as May, 1900. The witnesses, who have all signed the account from which the extracts below are taken, were the Rev. C. J. M. Shaw, his wife, and brother. Peters was staying in Mr. Shaw's house, and at a sitting in the afternoon hopes had been held out of some remarkable manifestation in the evening. At the evening sitting, by direction of the "control," the shaded standard lamp by which the room was lighted was turned down very low. Mr. C. Shaw and his brother sat in easy-chairs (seats fourteen inches from the ground) on either side of the medium, who was standing. Mrs. Shaw sat opposite, facing the medium. Mr. C. Shaw's account continues:

[42] See above, p. 78.
[43] Experiences, p. 23.

"My brother placed his right foot on the medium's left foot, and I placed my left foot on the medium's right foot. (The medium was wearing ordinary boots.) And then my brother placed his right hand and I my left hand on the medium's waist, our other hands grasping (at first) the medium's hands.

"The medium's height, as measured by myself against the wall of my room, is 5 feet 7 ½ inches. The medium began to sway backwards and forwards (his face was towards Mrs. Shaw), sometimes falling so far backward that the back of his head nearly touched the ground. He then began to sway sideways - first one side, then the other - disengaging his hands from ours and placing them (below ours) above his hips. He then stretched his hands, with palms open, towards Mrs. Shaw, and fingers extended, straight out above his head, and with his head thrown back, the motion from side to side becoming less and less till it ceased altogether, appeared to be drawn upwards by his hands.

"Both my brother and I looked to see that we were still on his feet, and that our hands were on his waist; we were both conscious that the hands we had placed on his waist were being carried up as the elongation gradually took place. Keeping our eyes upon him, we found that we had to stretch our arms to their fullest extent (without rising from our seats) to retain their position on his waist. On my attempting to rise from my chair the 'Indian' requested me to remain seated. At last a point was reached when I called to my brother, 'If he goes any higher I can't reach,' my arm being stretched to its very fullest extent; at the same time I was conscious, and so was my brother, that our feet were still on the medium's feet. The Red Indian (who was controlling) called to us then to observe his hands, one arm (the hands and fingers were open and extended) being quite six inches longer than the other; from our position this was difficult for my brother and me to see, but was quite apparent to Mrs. S. Again our attention was directed to the fact that the shorter arm had been elongated to match the other. We had now arrived at the limit of our own powers of extension, and with a warning from the Indian the medium collapsed on to the floor. He subsided in a sitting position on the floor at the same point at which he was standing. Mrs. S., sitting (in front), had a good view of the whole process, and was able to note the elongation with reference to the background. When the medium's hands were first raised she saw them against the background of the red curtains of the bow window; she then noted their passing the line which marks a difference of six inches between the ceiling of the bow window and that of the room (the ceiling of the bow window being that much lower), and finally remarked his hands against the background of the ceiling itself. Taking into consideration the distance we had to extend our arms to keep our hands on his waist, one would judge the elongation to have been at the very least a matter of eighteen inches.

"There was no breach of continuity in the clothing apparent which one might have expected. After the sitting the medium appeared much fatigued, still, he endeavoured to show us another curious phenomenon. Rubbing his face violently with both hands, long streaks of light became visible through his fingers; this I clearly remarked, but it was not noticed by the others.

"We have tried since on two occasions to obtain a repetition of the phenomenon of elongation, but without success.

"I have written this account of the matter as it presented itself to my observation, and it is difficult to see how we can have been deceived.

"I may say that the medium himself drew our attention to the unusual length of his arms, and that, as far as our knowledge of him goes, we have never had anything to cause us to doubt his integrity. The medium laid down no conditions whatever (beyond requesting that the lamp be turned down) before commencing the séance.

"When the séance commenced at 9.30 the medium occupied the chair in which Mrs. Shaw afterwards sat. At about 10.15, for the experiment in 'elongation,' he changed his position and stood.

"The only chair near I pushed away when the medium began to sway backwards and forwards, fearing he would knock himself against it.

"The curtains of the bow window follow the shape of the bow, and were distant from the medium at his back quite eight feet, and on his left side a distance of about five feet, a small inlaid writing bureau with sloping lid separating him from the edge of the curtain on his left.

"After the medium fell, which he did in a sitting position on the floor, with his knees near to his chin, he complained of discomfort, etc., and stiffness, and asked if 'they had been elongating him.'"[44]

[44] I received an account of this incident verbally from Mr. C. J. M. Shaw in November, 1900; the written account above quoted is dated 6th February, 1901.

How far the supposed elongation in this case was pure illusion, and how far it may have been due to trickery, it is difficult to conjecture. But the description of the medium's violent swaying movements, and, still more, his attitude at the termination of the experiment, are consistent with the view that the "elongation" was effected by some simple mechanism, such as steel stilts, concealed in his boots and trousers. That Home, however, used concealed apparatus of the kind is, I should think, improbable. The evidence in his case, either from want of detail, length of time between event and record, or the attendant circumstances, such as feebleness of illumination, is so defective that it is easier to attribute the results recorded to illusion, which Home may no doubt have eked out on occasion by such devices as slipping his feet half out of his boots and standing on tiptoe, or supporting himself on convenient articles of furniture.

I have reserved for the last what is at once the least readily explicable and the best attested of all the phenomena presented by Home. The evidence for the fire-ordeal is abundant; it is in some cases of high quality; and, from the nature of the experiment, the illumination of the room was generally more adequate than in the case of the levitations and elongations.

Mr. Crookes thus describes two occasions on which he was a witness of the fire-ordeal. The first account is extracted from a contemporary letter to Mrs. Honywood, describing a séance which took place on April 28th, 1871:

"At Mr. Home's request, whilst he was entranced, I went with him to the fireplace in the back drawing-room. He said, 'We want you to notice particularly what Dan is doing.' Accordingly I stood close to the fire and stooped down to it, when he put his hands in. He very deliberately pulled the lumps of hot coal off, one at a time, with his right hand, and touched one which was bright red. He then said, 'The power is not strong on Dan's hand, as we have been influencing the handkerchief most. It is more difficult to influence an inanimate body like that than living flesh, so, as the circumstances were favourable, we thought we would show you that we could prevent a red-hot coal from burning a handkerchief. We will collect more power on the handkerchief and repeat it before you. Now!'

"Mr. Home then waved the handkerchief about in the air two or three times, held it above his head, and then folded it up and laid it on his hand like a cushion; putting his other hand into the fire, he took out a large lump of cinder red-hot at the lower part, and placed the red part on the handkerchief. Under ordinary circumstances it would have been in a blaze. In about half a minute he took it off the handkerchief with his hand, saying, 'As the power is not strong, if we leave the coal longer it will burn.' He then put it on his hand and brought it to the table in the front room, where all but myself had remained seated."[45]

[45] Proc. SPR, vol. vi. pp. 103, 104.

The next account is from Mr. Crookes' detailed notes of a séance which took place on the 9th of May, 1871. At the beginning of the séance the room was lit by four candles; a wood fire, somewhat dull, was burning in the grate. After various manifestations, two of the candles were extinguished. Mr. Home went to the fire, took out a piece of red-hot charcoal, which he placed on a folded cambric handkerchief, borrowed for the purpose from one of the guests. He fanned the charcoal to a white heat with his breath, but the handkerchief was only burnt in one small hole[46]. After this exhibition:

[46] Mr. Crookes tells us that he tested the handkerchief afterwards in his laboratory, and found that it had not been chemically prepared to resist the action of fire.

"Mr. Home again went to the fire, and after stirring the hot coal about with his hand, took out a red-hot piece nearly as big as an orange, and putting it on his right hand, covered it over with his left hand, so as to almost completely enclose it, and then blew into the small furnace thus extemporised until the lump of charcoal was nearly white-hot, and then drew my attention to the lambent flame which was flickering over the coal and licking round his fingers; he fell on his knees, looked up in a reverent manner, held up the coal in front, and said, 'Is not God good? Are not His laws wonderful?'"[47]

[47] Proc. SPR, vol. vi. p. 103.

Amongst the other persons who have left on record their testimony to this manifestation are Lord Lindsay, Lord Adare, H. D. Jencken, W. M. Wilkinson, S. C. Hall, W. H. Harrison, Mrs. Honywood, and Miss Douglas[48].

[48] See especially the Dialectical Society's Report; letters from "Honestas" (H. D. Jencken) in Human Nature, vols. ii., iii., iv.; Journal SPR for July, 1889; Spirit People, by W. H. Harrison; Miracles and Modern Spiritualism, by Dr. A. R. Wallace, p. 166, etc.

From the several accounts published it would appear that an exhibition of this kind, in this respect indeed resembling the levitations and the elongations, was only vouchsafed to a few privileged and, if the word may be allowed in this connection, "trained" witnesses. The experiment was obviously a delicate one, and peculiarly liable to miscarriage. Thus, it was checked on one occasion by one of the witnesses starting in alarm from his chair[49]; on another by the irruption of two uninvited witnesses[50]; it failed on two occasions at Glasgow because the conditions were "too positive," or the witnesses had too little faith[51].

[49] Life of Home, p. 388.
[50] "Uninvited," that is, by the medium (see Journal SPR July, 1889, p. 126).
[51] Human Nature, vol. iv. pp. 91 and 132.


It is to be remembered, further, that though Home was the chief exponent of this feat in modern times, it was by no means peculiar to him. In the annals of Spiritualism there are several records of similar manifestations through other mediums, chiefly in America. In England [Britain] rivals in this line were rare; but I have come across a case more recent than any of Home's. In a letter dated June, 1882, Mrs. William Tebb wrote to me:

"Only on Friday I was in a circle with five others, when one fell apparently in deep trance, and put his hands over a flame and held them for some time without apparent injury. He also held the flame close to his eyes, to our horror, and we had to beg for the fire test to be stopped. It seemed too much to risk the eyesight in such a way. The burning of the hands we had been able to bear. The man afterwards was apparently no worse."

But outside the ranks of spirit mediums there are many recorded instances. We need not go back to the Middle Ages for parallels. In the eighteenth century similar portents were exhibited both among the Cevennois[52] and the Governors of S. Medard[53]. In more recent times there have been, and no doubt still are, European jugglers who can handle red-hot iron, and play almost incredible tricks with burning substances. Their immunity from injury is understood to be due to careful preparation, the use of alum and other chemical substances, and, generally, to the nice adaptation of means to ends. But besides these stage performances, which are obviously mere feats of skill and endurance, there is, as Mr. Andrew Lang has shown, abundant evidence in modern times of fire-ordeals of a very surprising kind amongst uncivilised, or differently civilised races. We have the testimony of educated Europeans, who have not only seen, but in some instances have actually themselves undergone the ordeal. The chief evidence comes from the Society Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Japan, and Southern India. In some of these instances, according to the descriptions given by the European witnesses, the heat was very great, and the period during which the subjects were exposed to it relatively considerable. The insensibility even to severe pain which accompanies states of trance and ecstasy would no doubt account for the subjective immunity of the devotees; but it will hardly explain why the skin of the bare feet and legs was not scorched by the heat which, in some cases, according to the observers, kindled green leaves and melted solder on a thermometer case. A recent account, however, of the fire-ordeal in Tahiti witnessed by Professor Langley, of the Smithsonian Institution[54], suggests that the marvellous elements in the descriptions given by previous witnesses were possibly due mainly to defective observation. In Professor Langley's presence a native priest, followed by many other natives and ultimately by several Europeans, walked over a shallow pit filled, to the depth of about two feet, with stones, the lower layers of which were unquestionably red-hot and glowing. But Professor Langley observed that the topmost layer was far from being red-hot; that some of the stones could even be touched lightly with the hand; and that, as a matter of fact, the performers carefully picked their way, choosing apparently the coolest places. The stones were too hot for the Europeans to walk over barefooted, but not hot enough, it would seem, to injure the soles of their boots or the hardened native skin. Professor Langley's conclusion is that it was "a most clever and interesting piece of savage magic, but not a miracle"; and that the success of the performance largely depended upon the chief priest's choice of the stones, a porous basalt, which formed an extremely bad conductor of heat. This last observation is of interest in connection with Home's feats, for wood, coals, and coal-cinders form also very bad conductors, as anyone can satisfy himself by actual experiment. A coal, red-hot and blazing at one end, may be held in the bare hand without serious inconvenience, and may be placed on paper without burning it[55]. It is certainly noteworthy that the particular feat of Home's mediumship which is best attested and most difficult to explain should meet with corroborative testimony outside the pale of professional mediumship, unless we stretch that word to include Shamans, medicine-men, and Brahmin priests. But it is to be feared that the evidence points rather to a skilfully staged illusion than to a new fact in Nature[56].

[52] Mr. John Cavalier, who tells the story, was present with a great multitude and saw one Clary, habited in a white streight frock, mount upon a pile of wood, light it himself, and remain there, the flames rising above his head, until the wood was quite spent and there were no more flames. There was no mark of fire on his hair or clothes (A Cry from the Desart. London, 1707, p. 51).
[53] Marie Sonet, called the Salamander, on several occasions, in the presence of Carré de Montgeron and others, stretched herself on two chairs over a blazing fire, and remained there for half an hour or more at a time, neither herself nor her clothing being burnt. On another occasion, however, she thrust her booted feet into a burning brazier, until the soles of both boots and stockings were reduced to a cinder, her feet remaining uninjured (P. F. Mathieu, Histoire des Miraculés, etc., pp. 262-6. Paris, 1864).
[54] Letter in Nature, Aug. 22nd, 1901.
[55] From the pages of "Uncle Remus," no mean authority, it may be learnt that negroes will take up a live coal in their hands to light their pipes withal.
[56] For the evidence as to the fire-ordeal in modern times see Mr. Lang's Modern Mythology (1897), chap. xii.; Proc. SPR, vol. XV. p. 2, article by Mr. Lang on "The Fire Walk," and the references there given. See also Annales des Sciences Psychiques for July and August, 1899, article by Dr. Pascal on "Les Dompteurs du Feu"; and Journal SPR, November, 1900. The latter contains several descriptions of the feat as performed in India; and, in one or two of the instances there described, it would appear that the apparent immunity of the devotees may have been due to careful training and the use of certain skilfully devised precautions. But it is difficult to account in this way for Colonel Gudgeon's experience, who walked in a leisurely way and barefooted with three other Europeans over twelve feet of stones hot enough to bake bread; or for the ceremony at Fiji described by Dr. T. M. Hocken, F.L.S. (both these cases are quoted in Mr. Lang's article above referred to). In an article by R. C. Caldwell on "Demonolatry and Devil Worship" (Contemporary Review, Feb., 1876) a case is recorded in which the fire test failed. The priest in this case poured a cauldron of molten lead on his head, and died a few days later from the effects.


On the whole then, while the evidence at present adduced must, I submit, be held insufficient to substantiate the preterhuman or, at lowest, preternormal power over material nature claimed for Home and other mediums, it seems possible that the marvels reported were in some cases something more than mere conjuring tricks. At a conjuring performance the spectator's judgment is fooled, but his actual perceptions are probably unimpaired; there is fallacy, but it is of inference and interpretation, not of the senses[57]. In the performances, especially of Home, there appears at times to have been an actual sense-deception, of the type which is commonly known as illusion rather than hallucination; a sense-deception, that is, in which the foundation is laid by impressions received from the world without, though the superstructure may be of imagination all compact. When Lord Lindsay and his friends saw Home elongated or levitated, their perceptive faculties, it is suggested, were misled, in much the same way as Dr. Stoney's friend was misled, when he saw the imaginary tricycle accident, or the spectator at a materialisation séance when he greets the medium dressed up in a white sheet and a nightcap as his grand mother, or as the French sailors were deceived when they mistook the branch of a tree for a raft crowded with their shipwrecked comrades.

[57] It is possible, however, that even in an ordinary conjuring trick there may be sensory hallucination. Thus, when the conjurer pretends to throw the borrowed ring-across the stage, he moves his arm as in the act of throwing, and straightway a responsive tinkle is heard from the basin in which the ring is supposed to fall. That at the time the more suggestive spectators actually see the flash of the jewel in its imaginary transit would be difficult to prove; but it is certain that many of them will be found afterwards to have the fallacious memory of having seen it. See Jastrow, Fact and Fable in Psychology, p. 117, and the article by Mr. Triplett on the "Psychology of Conjuring Deceptions" there quoted. Mr. Triplett found that 78 children out of 165 whom he tested had the hallucinatory memory of seeing a ball thrown up in the air and disappear.

The conditions - the subdued light, the emotional stress and expectancy of the sitters - were propitious for sense-deceptions of this kind; and one other factor, illustrated by the example last quoted, may also have contributed to the result. The group of French sailors no doubt assisted and encouraged each other in the erroneous interpretation of what they saw, each contributing some fresh item of confirmation or enlargement. Something of the kind seems liable to occur in any group of persons occupied with common objects of thought or dominated by a common emotion. The ingenious French writer from whom the illustration is borrowed has propounded the theory that in any such group of human beings there is a psychic contagion at work which tends to produce uniformity in action and judgment. And not only, he argues, will the resulting acts and beliefs tend to be uniform, but they will represent the instinctive and subconscious rather than the rational elements of the individual minds composing the group. That a crowd is always more impulsive, more credulous, and more readily suggestible than the average of the individuals composing it is proved by the epidemic enthusiasms and epidemic hallucinations which are recorded at various periods of the world's history to have seized upon large groups of persons, most of whom probably if left to their individual initiative would have been shrewd enough or inert enough to resist the impulse[58]. M. Le Bon's theory was not apparently suggested by experience of spiritualist séances; but such experience certainly lends support to his speculations. After hours of waiting in the semi-darkness, in strained expectation, the hesitancy of the more cautious sitters may, it is conjectured, sometimes be overborne, and the unanimous testimony to the ensuing marvels reflect the hasty inferences and irresponsible judgment of the least critical of the spectators.

[58] Gustave Le Bon, Psychologie des Foules. Paris, 1895.

If such quasi-hallucinations did in fact occur at Home's séances, his unusual success in producing them may have been due to one of two causes, or to both in combination: to his own impressive power, or to the impressibility of his sitters. As regards the second point, it has already been remarked that the spectators of these higher marvels were few, and obviously selected with great care. The success of the fire-ordeal in particular appears to have depended very closely on the quality of the spectators. Moreover, there is a good deal of evidence to show that those who were admitted to Home's séances were highly susceptible to suggestions of various kinds, occasionally taking the form of actual hallucination. Both Lord Adare and the Master of Lindsay constantly saw figures which were unquestionably not material in the dim light of the séance-room. The Master of Lindsay and others saw the successive colours of the rainbow, and afterwards the picture of a landscape, in a crystal placed on Home's head[59]; it is noteworthy that at one of the sub-committee's séances with Home the Master of Lindsay's left arm became quite rigid[60]. Others of the attendants at Home's séances appear to have been hardly less impressible. The Hon. Mrs. E. and others saw at a dark séance troops of phantom figures, lights, and spirit eyes, all of which were invisible to another witness, Mrs. Honywood[61]. Lady D. is reported to have seen the apparition of a magnificent white flower, as large as a dinner-plate, with long purple stamens[62]. H. D. Jencken mentions having seen strangers to Home entranced at his seances[63].

[59] Dialectical Report, pp. 206 259.
[60] Ibid., p. 49. Note also that in his evidence the Master of Lindsay stated that in youth he had at one time been subject to the hallucination of a black dog (Report, p. 216).
[61] Ibid., pp. 128, 367.
[62] Ibid. p. 328. The evidence in this case is second-hand.
[63] Human Nature, vol. ii. pp. 88 and 144. H. D. Jencken elsewhere states that on one occasion Home, after passing into the trance, went round the circle "Mesmerising" the sitters. He then announced that he was about to be elongated, and they saw him elongated accordingly (quoted in Home's Incidents in my Life, Second Series, p. 177). At Mr. Crookes' séances some of those present saw hands which were invisible to Mr. Crookes himself; and General Boldero, in a letter to his wife, describing a séance with Home, writes that the ladies said they saw hands, "I myself saw something, but cannot exactly describe what it was" (SPR Journal, July, 1889, p. 125).


There are, then, some grounds for supposing that the habitués of Home's séances exhibited a suggestibility and a tendency to hallucination above the common. Partly this was due, it is likely, to peculiarities of temperament in the witnesses. But it seems possible that in part it may have been due to some power possessed by Home in common with other mediums. Madame Blavatsky appears to have possessed on occasion the power of causing the persons in her train to see visions and dream dreams[64]. And two or three persons have testified to having seen hallucinatory figures and heard sounds, which may also have been hallucinatory, in company of Miss Freer[65]. There is, then, some evidence for the view that a medium's equipment may include a faculty of inducing false perception in his clients.

[64] See a Modern Priestess of Isis, Solovyoff, translated by Walter Leaf, pp. 79-81.
[65] See instances given in The Alleged Haunting of B    House. London, 1899.

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

 

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