Donald West

Donald West

Professor West's main career has lain in the medical, legal and psychological study of crime. He is the Director of the Institute of Criminology, and Professor of Clinical Criminology at Cambridge, where he is a Fellow of Darwin College. He has written eleven books on various aspects of this subject and contributed to many specialised periodicals and symposia. He obtained in 1958 the McDougall Award for distinguished work in parapsychology. He was President of the SPR from 1963-5 and Chairman of the Society's Research Grants Fund.

The Psychology of Mediumship

- Donald West -

          THERE IS a firm tradition that psychic faculties manifest most readily in abnormal mental states. Although this belief is not supported by recent experimental evidence, it has had a great influence on the development of psychical investigation, especially in the investigation of trance mediums. Mediums of all times, from Greek oracles to contemporary Spiritualists, have been accustomed to going into a trance before delivering their messages. Many of the reported cases of spontaneous impressions are said to have come during dreams or dreamlike states. When hypnotism - or 'animal magnetism' as it was then known - came into prominence in the eighteenth century through the efforts of Dr Anton Mesmer, the hypnotic trance was commonly thought to confer extra-sensory powers. Some of the earliest experiments in extra-sensory perception were conducted by a French psychiatrist, Pierre Janet, with a hypnotic subject who was mysteriously sensitive to suggestion, even from a distance. Janet was able to put her into a hypnotic sleep at unexpected times merely by concentrating his thoughts upon her. The popular association of psychic powers and peculiar psychological states was further strengthened, though no doubt unintentionally, by F. W. H. Myers's posthumously published treatise on psychical research entitled Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death(1). In this book, Myers quoted many cases of persons carrying on purposeful activities without conscious deliberation - what he termed automatism. He began by considering the more commonplace examples of automatism, such as actions performed while sleepwalking, or the effortless composition of poetry under the spell of inspiration.

(1) Myers, F. W. H., Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, London, 1903; revised edition, New York, 1961.

A familiar example of automatism is the party game in which a glass tumbler is placed upside down in the middle of a circle of letters of the alphabet and everyone puts a finger on the upturned base. Soon the glass may begin to move, apparently of its own accord, touching, the letters one by one, and spelling out messages. An ancient variant of this game, which will work with one person, is to hold in the outstretched hand a hanging weight or pendulum - a key dangling on a length of cotton serves the purpose well allowing it to swing gently in one direction or another. By assigning different meanings to the directions in which the pendulum may swing or rotate, it can be made to give intelligent responses to questions. Even when there is no cheating, intelligent movements are still sometimes produced, without the persons who operate the glass or pendulum realizing that they are responsible for its movements. These are only rudimentary forms of the 'automatic' techniques that mediums use. In automatic writing, the medium holds a pencil lightly in one hand, letting it doodle away on the paper while he pays attention to something else. With practice, the doodles and scribbles give way to coherent writings and 'messages'. Automatic writing is not a prerogative of practising mediums; anyone can try it and with patience may well surprise himself by succeeding. It is a method that has been used by doctors with the mentally sick to get them to express the thoughts that are preying upon their minds.

In his treatise Myers discussed the use of hypnotism to bring about automatism in suggestible subjects, causing them to perform acts without knowing why they were doing so. He quoted experiments in post-hypnotic suggestion in which a subject is given some absurd task, such as opening an umbrella in the drawing-room, which he is told he must carry out at a specified time. The subject is also told that when he wakes up he will not remember being given this instruction. Although, in accordance with the suggestion, he does not remember the hypnotist's command, nevertheless the memory remains active in his subconscious and when the time comes he automatically goes through with the required action. Asked to explain himself, either he cannot do so, or else he tries to rationalize. He might say, for example, that he wanted to see if there were any holes in the umbrella.

Myers was one of the earliest to realize the importance of all these observations, and to see that, in order to produce the phenomena of automatism, a lot of creative mental activity must go on of which the individual is unaware. This led Myers to put forward the theory of the subconscious mind. In his day the idea of unconscious mental activity was unfamiliar, but today, as a result of the diffusion of psychoanalytical ideas, it has become commonplace. Myers thought that in the same way as a subject may perform some action automatically in response to a subconscious impulse, so he might conjure up a mental image or vision automatically without conscious deliberation. This seemed the obvious explanation of the vivid hallucinations experienced by some hypnotic subjects as a result of suggestion. On this theory, the visions that some persons are able to induce by gazing into a crystal ball are created in their own subconscious minds and do not come from outside themselves. The explanation is, of course, equally applicable to those visions of sleep, which we call dreams, as well as to the hallucinations and delusions of the insane. Myers also considered trance speech and automatic writing as practised by mediums, and concluded that these too were examples of automatism produced by the medium's subconscious. Nevertheless he believed in a psychic faculty, but he thought that it was essentially a function of the subconscious mind. It was fully in accord with Myers's views that dreams, visions, and automatic writings, all of which come from the subconscious, should contain extra-sensory impressions.

The spread of psycho-analytic ideas has taken away some of the magical attraction of automatic writing. Everyone knows now that it is just another way of giving voice to the 'subconscious'. We need not be Freudians to see that things spoken without reflection, or in jest, or slips of the tongue, are often a better expression of real feelings than the most studied formulations. On such occasions thoughts slip out that ordinarily we should refuse to acknowledge. The same is true of dreams. We don't accept responsibility for our dreams, so desires that we should hate to admit when awake can find fulfilment in dream fantasy. Similarly, after being hypnotized, or being given the 'truth drug' pentothal, or in automatic writing, in all of which situations the subject can disclaim responsibility, personal revelations frequently come forth. This is the reason why automatic writing is so often taken up with sexual topics and obscenities, for these are the very ideas that in the ordinary way the civilized person would be careful not to express too crudely.

Automatic writings, like dreams, are not always easy to interpret. Sometimes the writing is back to front, like blotting-paper impressions, and has to be held up to a mirror in order to be deciphered. The letters may be scrawled, and words and sentences may run into each other without breaks or punctuations. Ideas, instead of being set down fully and coherently, may be compressed into cryptic sequences of words and phrases. These difficulties are probably signs of the subject's resistance to the clear expression of the forbidden thoughts and feelings that strive to find an outlet in the script.

Automatic writing is an aid to the neurotic sufferer in so far as it enables him to put into words the conflicts that are the root of his distress. In recent years psychiatrists have combined the techniques of hypnotism and automatic writing(2). The patient is first put into the hypnotic state and it is suggested to him that he will be able to do automatic writing. This avoids the long wait while the subject tries to develop automatic writing on his own. It also has the advantage that the psychiatrist can use hypnotic suggestion to cause to appear in the writing topics which he knows to be of personal importance to the patient. In some experiments by Dr P. L. Harriman the subjects were normal students. Under hypnosis they were made to live through in imagination some difficult situation. They were told they would forget all about it on waking. The subjects had previously been trained in automatic writing, and after being brought out of their hypnotic state they were given paper and pencil and encouraged to write while at the same time engaging in desultory conversation. The automatic writings so obtained were frequently concerned with the anxieties and conflicts set up by the imaginary difficult situations. One student, who had been told by the hypnotist that he was summoned to the Dean's office, produced a screed containing a list of minor offences and neglected duties. He had in fact been guilty of them all.

(2) Wolberg, L. R., Hypnoanalysis, New York, 1945.

Not all automatic writing is of immediate psychological interest. It is common enough to get long screeds taken up with platitudinous moralizing, or verbosely expressed spiritual philosophy, most of it on a level inferior to what the writer could produce in a normal fashion. Automatic writing done by persons interested in Spiritualism sometimes purports to be dictated by an outside personality or spirit. The writing may be signed by some strange name and develop a style and character of its own, a sort of secondary personality. Myers took an intense interest in these secondary personalities. He quoted cases in which the secondary phase was not restricted to writing, but for periods banished the primary personality altogether, so that the individual lived a sort of Jekyll and Hyde existence, now with one character, now with another.

A case of this kind was Ansel Bourne, an American preacher. He was a rather unhealthy man who had since childhood suffered from depressed moods. When he was sixty-one, he lost his sense of identity, wandered off into a distant town, and set up as a store-keeper under another name. After six weeks he suddenly reverted to his old self and came back home. More interesting still, because it was studied by a medical man over a long period, was the case of 'Miss Beauchamp'(3). She developed a secondary personality called Sally, and there were changes from one to the other almost daily. Ordinarily Miss Beauchamp was a shy, submissive creature who took pains to conduct herself with propriety; but Sally was self-assertive, vain, spiteful, and mischievous.

(3) Prince, Morton, The Dissociation of a Personality, New York, 1906.

Sally affected to look upon Miss Beauchamp as a silly goody goody, and she liked to play pranks to annoy her, such as leaving nasty things in her bed.

Since the days when Myers and the early psychical investigators first took an interest in the phenomena of automatism and secondary personalities, there has been a change in the attitude of psychologists to such matters. Originally great interest was aroused by the mere possibility of mental dissociation. It seemed so extraordinary that the human mind could be split into two, the ordinary conscious self and the other subconscious self that is revealed through automatic writing and the like. Today it is no longer a marvel, for it is generally accepted that the conscious mind expresses only a fragment of the latent feelings, impulses, and stored experiences of the total personality. Automatism does not really reveal a different self, only a different facet of the personality. Moreover, the working of unconscious trends is recognized not only in such extreme examples as automatic writing and trance speaking, but in the everyday phenomena of dreams, and in the hosts of inhibitions, taboos, and prejudices from which even the least-neurotic of our race suffer. Since the coming of Freud, psychologists have transferred their attention from the mere fact of mental dissociation to its causes, so that now the centre of interest is the interplay of conflicting forces within the individual that results in the temporary repression of certain trends. It is clear that secondary personalities which manifest in automatic writings, or in hysterics like Bourne and Beauchamp, are not independent individuals, but dramatizations of repressed tendencies. This is the reason why secondary personalities often have characteristics seemingly opposite to those of the primary individual. In the case of Miss Beauchamp there is no doubt that Sally represented a side of her nature which she had repressed in the interest of maintaining her outwardly modest demeanour.

It is one of the doctrines of the Jungian school of psychologists that in his unconscious the individual harbours the opposite tendencies to those which he displays in his normal character. Every feminine woman has in her unconscious the seeds of a more masculine character, while the aggressive ruthless male unconsciously harbours the feminine virtues of submissiveness and loving consideration. That this Jungian theory has some applicability to the secondary personalities of mediums - the so-called spirit guides - was neatly demonstrated in the experiments of Whately Carington with the well-known trance medium, Mrs Osborne Leonard(4). When in trance this medium always spoke in a childish voice and manner, and was at these times supposed to be controlled by the spirit of a child named Feda. Feda's alleged role was to act as go-between for spirits who wanted to communicate with their relatives on earth, but who lacked the ability to speak through the medium directly. Whately Carington applied psychological tests to the medium both in her normal state and also when she was entranced and supposedly possessed by the spirit Feda. He wanted to find out whether the two would give responses as different as if they were two different individuals. He used a test originally devised by Dr Jung himself, known as the Word Association Test. A list of words is read slowly to the subject, who is asked to respond without thinking and as quickly as possible with the first word that comes into his mind. A stimulus word might be 'house', and the response 'home' or 'rent'. The time it takes a subject to respond is his 'reaction time'. This varies according to the emotional significance to the subject of the stimulus word. A word that really stirs him causes a very long reaction time. To the same set of stimulus words, the patterns of reaction times of two different persons are far less alike than the patterns obtained by testing the same person twice. It is not as good a test of identity as the fingerprint, but at least it is something to go upon.

(4) Carington, W. Whately, 'The Quantitative Study of Trance Personalities', Proc. SPR, xlii, 1934, pp. 173-240; xliii, 1935, pp. 319-96; xliv, 1937, pp. 189-277; xlv, 1939, pp. 223-51.

Carington discovered that the results given by Feda and Mrs Leonard were neither what one would expect from testing two different persons nor what one would normally get from testing the same person twice. Superficially their patterns were grossly dissimilar, but they were related to each other - that is, negatively correlated. Where the normal Mrs Leonard tended to give a long reaction time, the entranced Mrs Leonard gave a short one, and vice versa. In other words Feda and Mrs Leonard were not independent individuals; they were complementary characters. The result is in keeping with the theory that Feda is a dramatization of the medium's own subconscious trends. It is very difficult to reconcile these findings with a Spiritualistic interpretation.

The interposition of a habitual spirit guide provides an easy excuse for deficiencies in the spirit communications. The medium cannot be held responsible for the spirit guide's statements, and the presence of a seemingly foreign personality adds to the illusion that the medium in trance is in no position to know what is going on or to fish for information. Obscurities and mistakes can be blamed on the control. The spirit guide uses such circumlocutions as 'Now he is showing me what looks like a photograph'. So long as the spirit guide is in control, the sitter cannot question the supposed communicator directly. There is no doubt that spirit guides are used to create the impression of communications from another world, but at least, in Mrs Leonard's case, her guide Feda had the characteristics of a genuine secondary personality rather than a mere conscious pose. Sometimes the spirit guide is displaced, and the spirit communicator purports to control the medium directly. It is only fair to mention that Carington also tested several such direct communicators through Mrs Leonard, but his results were inconclusive.

Psychiatrists have ceased to regard states of hysterical mental association with much respect. If Ansel Bourne came to the notice of a doctor today, the first question would be what drove him into this escape mechanism. Did he, for example, have a nagging wife? A shot of pentothal or even a little 'shock' treatment would soon bring back his lost memories. Miss Beauchamp would hardly have persisted with her alternating personalities so long but for the interest shown in them by the investigator, Dr Morton Prince. Such hysterical poses are not deliberate, but they verge on malingering, and they thrive on sympathetic attention. If Spiritualists would cease to admire and encourage mediums in their trances and dramatic poses, the spirit guides might die a natural death, in the same way that the hysterical paralyses and shell-shock cases of the First World War went out of fashion in the second. In our modern culture it is only in the mental climate of Spiritualism that hysterical trance and possession are tolerated. Outside such circles no one develops delusions of spirit possession unless he is insane.

If Myers and the early psychical investigators neglected to study motivation, and so failed to discover the role of conflict in leading to mental dissociation, it is equally true that the early psycho-analysts, preoccupied with the neurotic conflicts revealed by their explorations, neglected the evidence for the existence, in the subconscious, of powers beyond those the individual can normally command. Freud certainly reported many cases of painful memories of early childhood recalled in the process of analysis, but he did not concern himself with the question whether, if the resources of the subconscious could be harnessed, powers of memory and learning could be generally increased. Clearly there are some mental tasks that are done better without conscious concentration. When trying to recall a forgotten name, it is often more effective to go on talking about something else until the name comes to mind, rather than to make a deliberate effort to recall it. Mathematicians sometimes puzzle over a problem without finding a solution and then, after a rest or a sleep, the answer comes without effort. The musician, executing from memory a complex composition, does not ponder over individual notes; they fall into place naturally while he is thinking of the sound of the piece as a whole. Some famous writers have said that on occasions their work seemed to write itself without their needing to think, almost as if they were possessed. In all these cases there is probably some degree of mental dissociation which serves to remove the inhibitory effect of conscious concentration, and release underlying abilities. The same thing happens more markedly in some cases of automatic writing and hypnosis. Under hypnosis, subjects have been made to regress to childhood, that is, to return to and re-live in imagination events of their infancy. Not only have such subjects been able to recall things that they thought they had completely forgotten, but they have been able to talk, act, draw, and write as they did in infancy. The simulation Will not bear too critical a scrutiny, for instance, articulation and vocabulary may regress unequally, but generally the performance far exceeds the clumsy imitations produced by deliberate conscious effort without the aid of hypnosis.

From time to time feats of this kind appear in the guise of spirit communications. In a famous American case(5) Mrs Tighe, of Colorado, was hypnotized by a friend, Morey Bernstein, and made to 'regress' farther back than her own infancy. She responded by producing 'memories' of a former incarnation when she was an Irish girl called Bridey Murphy, born in Cork in 1798 and died in Belfast in 1864. In attempts to check the details given, some points were confirmed (such as the existence in Belfast at the time of two grocers called Farr and Carrigan), others were challenged as anachronistic or impossible (such as her assertion at one time that her father and husband were both barristers), and still other points were unverifiable (such as the particulars of her birth, marriage, and death). Nevertheless, even if judged only on the level of an impromptu dramatization, Mrs Tighe's performance was certainly remarkable.

(5) Ducasse, C. L, 'How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today', Journ. Amer. SPR, liv, 1960, pp. 3-22.

An even more puzzling case was that of Mrs Curran(6). She was a middle-class American woman who in youth had had certain literary aspirations which came to nothing. She was introduced to automatic writing by way of entertainment at a party. She took it up on her own and astonished everyone by at once producing most interesting compositions. The writings were signed by 'Patience Worth', who claimed to be the spirit of an English spinster of the seventeenth century. Mrs Curran herself had never been to England; in fact she had never been out of the Middle West and had never seen the sea. Her chief interests were in music, and her knowledge of history was very meagre. So far as is known she had had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to make a special study of Elizabethan England, yet the Patience Worth writings kept up an extraordinary and seemingly archaic style, quite different from Mrs Curran's contemporary American. When some philologists examined one of her longer productions they found that ninety per cent of her words had Anglo-Saxon derivation. Professor F. C. S. Schiller remarked, 'When we are told further that the Authorized Version has only seventy-seven per cent of Anglo-Saxon, and that it is necessary to go back to Layamon (1205) to equal Patience Worth's percentage, we realize that we are face to face with what may fairly be called a philological miracle.'

(6) Prince, W. E, The Case of Patience Worth, Boston, 1927.

Patience Worth's writings had more than vocabulary to commend them. She used old English similes and sayings freely, and her incidental comments on farm life and countryside gave a flavour of genuineness to her descriptions of place and period. She showed a ready wit and could produce poems and epigrams of considerable merit on topics suggested on the spur of the moment by those present. She also wrote more studied works, long novels set in different historical periods, including one about Jerusalem at the time of Christ. These books won praise from literary critics unaware of their ambiguous origin.

If Mrs Curran had prepared herself by careful study over many years the writings would still have been remarkable, but so far as one can tell she never did any such thing. Her automatic writings began in 1913. G. F. Dalton pointed out(7) that a novel called By Order of the Company by Mary Johnston, published in 1900, featured a seventeenth-century Irish character named Patience Worth. Possibly Mrs Curran had read it and got the name from it, but she would have needed much more than that book to create the spirit Patience. One must suppose that in the course of her normal reading and conversation, and without realizing what she was doing, Mrs Curran had been noting and storing up every scrap of relevant information that came her way until finally it all came out in the automatic writing. Of course Spiritualists believe that Patience Worth was what she claimed to be, a spirit who was able to dictate directly through the medium Mrs Curran. Apart from its intrinsic improbability, this theory is not consistent with the known facts. If, as she claimed, Patience Worth was a simple peasant girl of the seventeenth century, how could she change her style and discourse at will in language of still more archaic flavour? Although the writings seemed far beyond Mrs Curran's capacity to produce normally they did have certain imperfections. Renee Haynes, who is certainly not prejudiced against the paranormal, writes as follows in a letter to the author:

(7) Journ. SPR, xli, 1961, p. 215.

I have had another look at the Patience Worth material published by W. F. Prince [8] ... No one familiar with the cadence, rhythm, structure, and atmosphere of seventeenth century writing could possibly believe these to be the work of someone then alive...

(8) Prince, W. E, The Case of Patience Worth, Boston, 1927.

Her grammar, though olde worlde, is inaccurate (cf. p. 307 'thou shouldst rest ye' instead of 'thee'; and again, p. 227 'His blood wert shed' instead of 'was'). Her history is telescoped (cf. p. 41 'my tea is brewed'). Tea was a great rarity in the seventeenth century and would not have come the way of a poor country girl...

Since Mrs Curran produced the writings, more than likely Mrs Curran herself should have the credit for the intellectual feats involved. To postulate a spirit intellect in the background is only to put the explanation one stage farther away. It is a great pity that Mrs Curran and her secondary personality, Patience Worth, were not thoroughly investigated by psychologists. Intelligence tests applied to them both might have gone a long way towards finding out whether Patience really had fundamentally superior abilities, or whether it was a case of exploiting to the utmost a restricted sphere of knowledge. It is well known that some mental defectives can perform complicated arithmetical calculations that would baulk the ordinary person. The reason is that such defectives develop one-track minds, and dwell upon figures for hours on end, memorizing big multiplications until they become adepts. A normal person who ruminated as long might do still better. Perhaps Patience Worth was the product of years of subconscious rumination.

No other case of automatic writing by an untutored hand has achieved the standard of Patience Worth, but there are cases that show more clearly how subconscious dramatization can build up a secondary personality with unusual abilities. There is the case of the medium Mlle Hélène Smith, who was studied by the French psychologists Flournoy and Deonna(9). In this case the hysterical origin of the 'spirit' was clearer because she failed to achieve the high degree of realism characteristic of Patience Worth. Hélène's supposed spirit control was called Leopold. He manifested through automatic writing and inspirational speech and in visions that came to Hélène during ecstatic trances. Leopold, like Patience Worth, dictated poems that were beyond the medium's capacity to compose in the ordinary way. He also purported to teach Hélène all about life on the planet Mars, including a Martian language with a picturesque calligraphy reminiscent of Chinese. That the medium was able to speak and write this language consistently was a considerable feat of memory, even though it proved to be composed mainly of distorted French roots strung together with hardly any grammar. In order to compose and retain this curious language, Hélène must have had the whole idea incubating in her mind - at any rate subconsciously - for a long while before it burst forth with the maximum of drama so characteristic of hysterics. The important point for psychical researchers is that here is a case clearly hysterical in origin, where an imaginary spirit personality was dramatized so ably that it seemed beyond the medium's powers. But it was not beyond her, for the reason that she was a hysteric who was practised in mental dissociation and in the free use of her latent powers of subconscious dramatization.

(9) Flournoy, T., From India to the Planet Mars (transl.), London, 1900.

Spiritualists believe that dead authors have sometimes returned and dictated posthumous works through mediums. One such case concerned Charles Dickens, who died suddenly leaving unfinished his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood(10). Four years later there was published a completion of the story, supposedly written automatically by the medium T. P. James, an uneducated mechanic of Brattleboro, Vermont. The style was in many ways an excellent parody of Dickens. Certain passages seemed flat and uninspired, but others were quite successful. Some Spiritualists hailed the 'return of Dickens' with enthusiasm, claiming that an uneducated man could not have produced such a parody unaided. However, as the case of Hélène Smith shows, one cannot easily set limits to what latent powers of dramatization may accomplish, and in this instance there is some direct evidence against the spiritistic interpretation. Many years after Dickens's death, a manuscript was discovered containing a later portion of the story of Edwin Drood. This portion does not feature at all in the James version. Moreover, Dickens's intentions as to the end of his story were very definite and well known to his son, Charles Dickens the Younger, and to his illustrator, Sir Luke Fildes. There are many indications in the completed portion of the novel that he was sticking closely to his declared plan. In the James version the plot is rather clumsily changed, and no use is made of various pointers to the solution of the mystery that Dickens had incorporated in the first half of the book.

(10) Flournoy, T., Spiritualism and Psychology (transl.), London, 1910.

A thorough appreciation of the possibilities of mental dissociation in phenomena like those of Mrs Curran, Mlle Smith, and T. P. James is an essential preliminary to an understanding of mediumistic cases. Without this background knowledge of the latent powers of dramatization, and their utilization to create the impression of an independent personality, there is a danger of accepting apparent spirit communications too readily at their face value.

An interesting case of a medium making use - apparently subconsciously - of unusual feats of memory in order to create the impression of spirit intervention was reported by an SPR investigator, Mrs K. M. Goldney(11). The medium was Mrs Helen Hughes, who frequently gave public demonstrations of spirit communication. She would stand on the platform and point out various members of the audience and give them 'messages'. In addition to the customary expressions of goodwill, these messages usually included mention of one or two names, supposedly relatives of the member of the audience who was being addressed. On the occasion in question, Mrs Goldney was in the audience, and Mrs Hughes pointed to a friend of Mrs Goldney who was sitting in the next seat. 'There is someone here who has come for you: Bessie - wait [apparently listening to a spirit communicator] - Bessie White. Do you know Bessie White?' Mrs Goldney's friend did not know the name, and Mrs Hughes said, 'No, wait, it is not for you but for the lady next to you' - indicating Mrs Goldney. After Mrs Goldney had rather hesitantly acknowledged this name, she continued, 'Bessie White and Alec - Alec White. Do you know him too?'

(11) Goldney, K. M., 'A Case of Purported Spirit Communication', Proc. SPR, xlv, 1939, pp. 210-16.

Mrs Goldney had had a private sitting with Mrs Hughes two years before. While apparently in deep trance, she had given Mrs Goldney many names and allusions which did not apply at all. Towards the end of the sitting she had mentioned two names, Bessie White and Alec White, which Mrs Goldney acknowledged, not because she really knew them, but because she wanted to see if the same names would be given to her again at a later date. Mrs Goldney attended various public meetings given by Mrs Hughes, but she never received any 'message' until this occasion, two years later, by which time she had forgotten all about the incident. It was only by looking through her old records that she was able to verify the origin of the two names. The incident is interesting because these names do not seem to have been a favourite standby, such as some mediums have for use with all and sundry. Moreover, it seems unlikely that Mrs Hughes kept a written note of the names, otherwise she would have used them long before. The most probable explanation is that the association between Mrs Goldney and these two names stuck in the medium's mind as a latent memory which for some reason emerged from her subconscious years afterwards.

The trances and other signs of mental dissociation often seen in mediums, though doubtless imitative and traditional, may also have a practical function. Myers and many after him have believed that such states facilitate psychic faculties. Experiments in the artificial induction of dissociation by hypnosis have so far failed to confirm this, but they have confirmed the release of potentialities of dramatization which readily deceive the unwary. The incredible claims occasionally put forward by psychologists and psychoanalysts, about subjects under the influence of hypnosis or drugs recalling the events of their own births, suggest that others beside parapsychologists need to exercise caution in this tricky field.


The above article was taken from Donald West's "Psychical Research Today" (1954, Duckworth).

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