Researchers

Nandor Fodor

Nandor Fodor


     NANDOR FODOR was born in Berengszasz, Hungary, May 13, 1895. He recalls that while at high school the chief of his class predicted: "Fodor, he will get somewhere!"

He studied law and took his LL.D. at the Royal Hungarian University of Science in 1917, acting as a Law assistant from 1917-21; he also received a Ph.D. He married Amaria Iren in 1922, and they had a daughter.

From 1921-28, the second chapter of his profession became journalism. Around 1921 he paid his first visit to America as a staff reporter on the New York Hungarian-language daily Amerikai Magyar Nepszava (American Hungarian People's Voice). The chance discovery of a book by the brilliant psychical researcher and writer Hereward Carrington fired the imagination of Fodor and gave a new direction to his interests. The book was Carrington's Modern Psychic Phenomena, published 1919, and Fodor recalls that he found it in a bookshop on Fourth Avenue, New York, in 1921; thereafter he also found his main vocation - psychical research. In a warm tribute to Carrington in Tomorrow (Winter 1959) Fodor wrote:

"This work was a revelation to me. From then on I spent my lunch money on books, feasting on psychic knowledge in preference to the nourishing food of the Hungarian restaurants near my work."

He approached Carrington for an interview for his newspaper; instead Carrington courteously invited him to a reception for the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and the most sincere and tireless worker for the cause of Spiritualism. At the reception Fodor was able to interview Conan Doyle.

Carrington had a profound influence on Fodor. They became firm friends, and although they did not meet again for ten years they corresponded and later collaborated. It is clear that from this time onwards Fodor took Carrington as a model for his own subsequent activities as writer and investigator of psychical subjects, although not yet free to concentrate his energies full time on these matters.

In 1926, while still a reporter in New York, Fodor also interviewed Sandor Ferenczi, leading psychoanalyst and associate of Freud. Although psychoanalysis was nominally unsympathetic to the occult, Ferenczi and even Freud himself were secretly sympathetic to certain psychical phenomena. Strangely enough, psychoanalysis was to be the second decisive influence in Fodor's life and he was destined to link its findings with psychical research.

In the following year, Fodor had what he calls his "first encounter with the dead" at a sťance with William Cartheuser, voice medium, in New York City. Fodor received a very moving and evidential direct voice communication from his dead father. Many years later, Fodor became disillusioned with the mediumship of Cartheuser, but never forgot the overwhelming emotional impact of that first sťance. He wrote a detailed account of it, published in his book The Haunted Mind (Helix Press, 1959).

In 1929, after an interview with the millionaire newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere, Fodor was fortunate enough to get a privileged position on his personal staff. Rothermere owned a chain of national British newspapers-the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Evening News, and Sunday Dispatch, and was deeply concerned in the restoration of Hungary. Fodor's new job took him to Great Britain. Here, as a secretary to Lord Rothermere, he was concerned with Hungarian affairs, such as the revision of the Hungarian Peace Treaty after World War I, but he found himself with plenty of spare time and a comfortable office in Fleet Street, London.

It was in this period that he compiled his famous Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science. It was a phenomenal undertaking for one man, and it took him several years. When it appeared, in 1934, Fodor himself explained how he came to undertake this task. He wrote:

I was struck by the fact, when I began my studies in psychical research eleven years ago, that the enquirer is faced by an endless repetition as he goes on.

I wanted a guide, and started to make an index of my own. From this, as time went on, the idea of an alphabetical encyclopaedia was born.

We have few comprehensive books on psychic science, and they are all coloured by too much or too little faith. Podmore's Modern Spiritualism* is a splendid work, but its narrow views, in the light of greater present knowledge, are irritating and occasionally infuriating.

* This classic work was reissued by University Books Inc. under the new title Mediums of the 19th Century in 1963, with an important Introduction by Dr. E. J. Dingwall. Podmore's opinions are certainly unjustly sceptical, but the book is valuable for its historical survey rather than its dogmatic opinions.

Conan Doyle's History of Spiritualism is too sketchy and inexact, Campbell Holm's Facts of Psychic Science only deals with phenomena, and, for the purpose I have in mind, in a not sufficiently comprehensive and discriminative manner. Carrington's Story of Psychic Science is more of a text than a reference book.

What we need is a standard work, which, in a dispassionate, detached and impersonal manner, presents all the facts of history, research, phenomena and mediumship, in which, at a minute's notice, we can lay our hands on every important fact...

This is a good description of the Encyclopaedia. There can be no doubt that after thirty years this book still stands as the key reference work on the subject for the period covered. When it appeared, it established Fodor's reputation overnight as an authority on psychical matters.

He was invited to lecture on Spiritualism and Psychical Research, and in February 1934 became Assistant Editor, under David Gow, of Light, the oldest British Spiritualist journal. It is still in existence, now published by the College of Psychic Science in London, and the Autumn 1964 issue carried a fine tribute to Fodor from Miss Mercy Phillimore, who was associated with his early work in Britain. In those days, although Fodor was a brilliant journalist and could read and write English with ease, he had difficulty in speaking the language. Miss Phillimore recalls:

He never failed to speak, and was first up when the chairman declared the discussion open. This was the occasion for a friendly titter from the audience, for his words gushed forth - indeed, splashed forth - in torrents at terrific speed, and in the whirl of sounds were many amusing mistakes. He was quite willing to learn about his errors of speech, and joined in the fun.

Through the help of the London Spiritualist Alliance, Fodor was able to take part in research experiments with mediums. His happy enthusiasm at being able to witness the phenomena which he had previously only studied in books is amusing:

The commotion caused by his excitement would not be believed by anyone who had not been present; his jumping and shouting filled the room with deafening noise. It was of course a great thrill for him to witness that of which he had read so much, and the first impact brought acceptance that the phenomena were genuinely supernormal.

Later on he became somewhat more cautious and sceptical.

The year 1934 was an important one for psychical research in Britain. On June 6, the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation was founded, to take over the work of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research which had been founded by Harry Price in 1925. Price presented the Council with his library, laboratory and equipment. He had carried out interesting investigations, but on the whole Spiritualists objected to laboratory tests by sceptical investigators and scientists. In a vigorous newspaper article, veteran Spiritualist Hannen Swaffer commented:

"... high-sounding degrees do not impress anybody except newspapers, and they have used it all before, as their files will show, about other institutes, all of which ended in the same way as I prophesy this one will - in nothing. Spiritualism would rather have one medium than the enquiries of a thousand scientists."

Early in 1934 another organisation came into being - the International Institute for Psychical Research, with a Council of both Spiritualists and non-Spiritualists, dedicated to a sympathetic and unprejudiced investigation of psychical phenomena. Professor D. F. Fraser-Harris was announced as Research Officer, but resigned through a misunderstanding with the Council. In his place, Dr. Nandor Fodor was appointed, and thus began his years of practical investigation into psychical phenomena. It was not until 1938 that Fodor too was involved in an unhappy misunderstanding with his Council.

Meanwhile he undertook a number of careful investigations into mediumistic transfiguration, production of apports, direct voice, levitation, hauntings, poltergeist and materialisations. He also edited a series of valuable Bulletins issued by the Institute. It must have been a great satisfaction to Fodor that the first of these, dealing with poltergeist phenomena, was a collaboration with his friend Dr. Hereward Carrington, who was Research Officer of the American Psychical Institute of New York. Later on, their modest 44-page booklet became the basis for a more substantial book Haunted People (New York 1951), British edition titled The Story of the Poltergeist Down the Centuries (London 1953).

Between April and May 1934, Fodor also wrote a series of popular articles on mediums, Spiritualism and Psychical Research, for the newspaper Bristol Evening World; these were reprinted in book form as These Mysterious People (London, 1934). This is perhaps the clearest, most reliable and readable popular work of its kind ever published, covering the important personalities and phenomena and forming one of the best general introductions to the subject.

During his time in Britain, Fodor met Dr. Elizabeth Severn, a well-known practicing psychoanalyst who had been a pupil of Sandor Ferenczi. This contact renewed his interest in psychoanalysis. At that time there was still considerable prejudice against the subject in Britain, since it dealt with the explosive question of sexual motivations. Fodor, however, believed that psychoanalysis could throw important light on psychical phenomena.

Although he seems to have had a natural flair for the subject, his psychoanalytical theories and investigations were too far ahead of their time to be generally acceptable, and some of his best observations were not vindicated until many years later. In the Introduction to The Story of the Poltergeist Down the Centuries (London, 1953), Dr. Carrington reviewed the developing tendency for psychical investigators to consider the emotional states and unconscious drives in mediumistic subjects, with particular reference to poltergeist phenomena. After referring to an early paper by Dr. James Hyslop, he commented:

"... Aside from a few clinical observations of Eusapia Palladino, this remained practically the only study of the sort until Dr. Nandor Fodor's psychoanalytical analyses of various poltergeist cases."

In 1944, Dr. John Layard, in a paper on "Psi Phenomena and Poltergeists" (Proceedings SPR, July 1934, pp. 237-47) concluded

"... all true poltergeist phenomena ... are purposeful and probably occasioned by conditions of unresolved tension in the psyche of those involuntarily producing them."

But this was a revolutionary concept in the 1930's when Fodor conducted his own investigations, and it needed great courage to maintain such views. He was bitterly criticised by Spiritualists for introducing a tabooed subject into psychical research.

Two of Fodor's important investigations were to have far-reaching results. These were the Ash Manor Ghost and the Thornton Heath Poltergeist, fully reported in Fodor's The Haunted Mind (Helix Press, 1959).

It was in 1936 that he investigated the strange dramatic story of the Ash Manor Ghost, in which it seemed that hauntings took place because of abnormal sexual relationships in the family concerned. Suppressed sexual energies appeared to provide an atmosphere in which a phantom could continue to manifest. Amazingly enough, the basic diagnosis of the case was through the spirit-guide of a brilliant medium whom Fodor brought into the case. This medium was Mrs. Eileen J. Garrett, who was later to head the Parapsychology Foundation in America.

The Thornton Heath Poltergeist, which he started to investigate February 1938, was a sensational affair of a woman who produced remarkable poltergeist phenomena and appeared to be the victim of vampirism. Whatever the objective nature of the phenomena, Fodor soon found that their occurrence was intimately related to the personal problems of the woman concerned. This presented a peculiar difficulty. As Fodor wrote in The Haunted Mind:

"The psychical researcher is forced to view his subjects as material for investigation, but not necessarily as human beings. The psychoanalyst can go further. His aim is to analyse, to find the fault, and then, if possible, to heal and bring about a new adjustment to life."

As an experimenter and observer it would have been unethical to change to an analyst-patient relationship without full understanding and agreement.

Before Fodor could resolve this delicate situation, the opposition to his psychoanalytical views exploded into a crisis affecting his own position as Research Officer of the International Institute for Psychical Research. Word of his sexual theories and findings leaked out, and this, bracketed with his vigorous exposure of mediumistic frauds, aroused intense antagonism. In an obscure work Consciousness Creative (Boston, 1937) he had contributed an essay which stated:

"For reasons of public propriety, mediumship is very seldom discussed from its most important angle: that of sex."

This was violently criticised in the popular Spiritualist press in Britain. Horace Leaf, a famous medium and Spiritualist author, came to the defence of Fodor, stating:

Owing to the peculiar nature of the subject, Dr. Nandor Fodor wisely restricted its publication to quarters which guaranteed that it would be read only by those interested in the more technical and scientific aspects of mediumship...

Dr. Fodor's article is written in a style suitable to the subject and carefully restrained in tone. A subject so delicate and so liable to misunderstanding demands scientific language, otherwise it would approach vulgarity. Dr. Fodor is to be congratulated on the excellent manner in which he has handled it.

In spite of this sensible and temperate attitude, a reviewer attacked Fodor in unrestrained terms:

Although he may not even suspect it, Dr. Nandor Fodor, Research Officer to the International Institute for Psychical Research, has confessed his amazing ignorance of the nature of psychic phenomena in a curious essay in a very curious book...

The reviewer went on to speak of "This insult to the great spirit guides ...". Further articles were published, baiting Fodor and questioning his competence, until one day in February 1938 he issued a writ for libel against the newspaper concerned. Other repercussions followed. J. Arthur Findlay, one of the most respected figures in the Spiritualist movement, was a chief shareholder in the company owning the newspaper and also Chairman of the International Institute, of which he was a founder. He felt he could no longer be associated with the Institute under these circumstances, and accordingly resigned from his position there. Meanwhile the Institute itself brought Fodor's investigation of the Thornton Heath case to a close, and in August 1938 the Council of the Institute sent a letter to their members which opened:

Dear Sir/Madam,

After carefully reviewing and considering the policy of the Institute, the Council have decided that the employment of a whole-time director of research is not justified. Accordingly they have terminated with regret the engagement of Dr. Nandor Fodor, who is no longer connected with the Institute in that or any other capacity.

Stung by this peremptory dismissal, Fodor wrote a spirited reply on September 2, also published in the journal The Occult Review (October 1938):

I have been on holiday in France. On my return I learned with considerable surprise that I was no more Director of Research for the International Institute for Psychical Research. The communique which you published last week was emphatic in stating that I was no longer connected with the Institute in 'that or any other capacity'. The public warning may make people wonder whether I have been guilty of misdemeanor or was expected to commit such under false pretenses. Let me make it first clear that I have been one of the founders of the International Institute for Psychical Research. I have directed its research for four years with considerable sacrifice. I have built the Institute with my sweat and blood. It belonged to me more than to any member of the Council. Yet the present Council of the Institute felt in no way obliged to inform me that my services would be no more wanted and to give me a fair chance of resignation...

Fodor went on to disclose that the Institute had also impounded the manuscript of his new book. He challenged the Council to inform the membership of the whole truth of the matter, and concluded: "I am entitled to satisfaction. I mean to get it." This was fighting talk!

During this period of an open break with Spiritualists he felt free to speak his mind on some of the lower levels of the movement. His own unhappiness at being forced into an invidious position was reflected in a new series of hard-hitting articles for The Leader, in which, with talented journalism, he now wrote of "shameless imposture." "I respect the deep religious convictions of sincere spiritualists," he declared, "but I cannot keep silent about some of our miracle-mongers." The series was announced: "BEGINNING THE GREATEST SHOWUP OF SPIRIT 'MIRACLES' EVER PRINTED." "I Expose the Shams of Spiritualism." Later headlines read: "I Unmask the Muslin and Cheese-cloth Ghosts ... "I Debunk These 'Gifts from Heaven'."

Spiritualists were alarmed at this tearing aside of the veils, and Fodor was reproached by his former associates. Answering the charge of now being a "very doubtful friend," he replied (Light, November 10, 1938):

"In Spiritualism, unhappily, one ceases to be considered as a friend if he speaks the unpleasant truth."

In what must have been the unhappiest chapter of his life, Fodor suddenly secured unexpected support for his position and recognition of his psychoanalytical insight from the highest authority. Professor Freud himself, then in Britain, graciously agreed to read Fodor's manuscript, and in the course of a letter dated November 22, 1938, he wrote sympathetically:

Your turning away from interest in whether the observed phenomena were genuine or fraudulent, your turning toward the psychological study of the medium and the uncovering of her previous history, seem to be the important steps which will lead to the elucidation of the phenomena under investigation.

It is very regrettable that the Institute for psychical research would not follow you. I also hold it very probable that your conclusions regarding this particular case are correct... (full German text and translation in article: by Fodor: "Freud and the Poltergeist," Psychoanalysis, Journal of Psychoanalytic, Psychology, vol. 4, No. 2, Winter 1955-56).

Fodor wrote a happy and generous letter to the Editor of The Occult Review, published in January 1939:

Sir,

I would be glad if you would allow me to state that my differences with the Council of the International Institute for Psychical Research have new been amicably composed.

The manuscript referred to in my letter of September 8th has now been returned to me, and I am making arrangements for its early publication. It will represent my personal views and will in no way bind the Council of the International Institute.

I understand that recognition is being paid to me for my past services in a statement which members will shortly receive. On my part I wish the Council good luck for their future work, and sincerely hope that their new policy will receive the same hearty support which I have enjoyed in the past four years.

The libel case did not end so happily. Fodor had complained of four articles which he said had libeled him. Judgment was given in March 1939. As a barrister Fodor partially conducted his own case, and was awarded minor damages of 50 guineas each in respect of two of the articles, the jury finding for the newspaper in regard to the other two. It might seem that the result was evenly divided, but to the newspaper it was a heavy blow which drained away vital funds and made bad publicity for Spiritualism. Fodor had vindicated his reputation but the gap between psychical researchers and Spiritualists had widened.

At this distance of time, all this might seem a series of trivial domestic issues, but in the small world of British Spiritualism and Psychical Research of the period, such issues were critical. I think it is a pity the matter ever came to Court. Perhaps some of the attacks on Fodor were extreme and his legal background would suggest an obvious remedy. But in those days Spiritualism had to be very much on the defensive and could only maintain its position by vigorous journalism - "challenges", "plain speaking without fear or favor," etc. - to strengthen the emotional solidarity of the Spiritualist rank and file. Behind all this lurked indignation at the precarious position of Spiritualists, the persecution of mediums, and the superciliousness of many cultured scientific investigators.

From Fodor's point of view he had felt his honor impugned, and his status as a competent researcher undermined. Since he was not a medical doctor or an accredited psychoanalyst his unique insights into relationships between mediums and psychoanalytical motivations were unjustly discredited. He too had to defend his position. The real fault lay in the narrow outlook of the times.

Very soon after the case Fodor returned to America. Here he practiced successfully as a psychoanalyst in New York, and resumed American citizenship. Here too he renewed contact with his old friend Dr. Hereward Carrington, with whom he had so much in common.

In 1934 Carrington had written to acknowledge a copy of Fodor's Encyclopaedia and to congratulate him on the "tremendous amount of work" that had gone into it. It was not until two years later that Fodor discovered that Carrington himself had been working on a similar project which he had generously yielded.

For Dr. Fodor, psychoanalyst, the atmosphere in America was more sympathetic to new ideas, and psychoanalysis itself firmly established. In this last phase of his life he was also able to combine his former interests of journalism and psychical research, but now the campaigning days were over and his contributions were acceptable in learned journals. He elaborated his stimulating ideas on connections between psychical phenomena and psychoanalysis. His studies in the field of meaningful dream analysis had added interest in that they drew upon his own personal experiences. He also wrote many articles for the fine journal Tomorrow, edited by Mrs. Eileen J. Garrett, whom he had known as a talented medium in Britain. As mentioned earlier, when Dr. Carrington died (December 26, 1959, aged 78) Fodor wrote a deeply-felt tribute in the Winter 1959 issue of Tomorrow.

During the last period of his life, Fodor considerably modified some of his earlier attitudes, and perhaps British Spiritualists were pleased to read his remarkably frank avowal in a Psychic Observer article in 1943:

My attitude to psychical phenomena has undergone a tremendous change since I left England. Then I was a psychical investigator, following the routine techniques. A free hand for the researcher is none for the medium. Now I am a psychologist and my attitude is exactly the opposite: a free hand for the medium, none for the researcher.

He confessed that he had "no more joy in tying up mediums and exalting instrumental findings," and commented, "I see now psychical research has tried to be too scientific for years and has gone bankrupt as a result. Mediums do not function well if they are used as guinea-pigs. They are human beings with the same virtues and vices as the researchers themselves."

It is this essential fair-mindedness, the ability to weigh his judgments carefully and even revise his views, that gives the work of Dr. Nandor Fodor such lasting value. In 1956 he wrote a fiery essay defending the late Harry Price from attacks upon him in a new book, while in 1963 he was equally indignant at the publication of Trevor Hall's controversial book The Spiritualists which attempted to discredit Sir William Crookes and the famous Florence Cook mediumship.

In a letter published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (December 1964) Mr. David Cohen, author of a book on Harry Price, wrote:

"Before his death, Dr. Nandor Fodor expressed to me in a letter his fear that fresh denigrations of dead researchers would follow after those of Price and Crookes, and now F. W. H. Myers has been included.... Who will be next on the list? Mr. R. S. Lambert's final words in his foreword should be heeded by all investigators: 'We need more tolerance, less cynicism and greater respect for human nature.'"

Dr. Fodor himself was responsible for nine important books and a great many valuable articles. In 1962 his book Mind Over Space (New York) reviewed the strange phenomenon of teleportation. At the time of his death his final work, The Voice Within, a study of Freud's early years, was unpublished. On May 17, 1964, Dr. Fodor himself crossed the frontier of that great unknown which he had studied and investigated for so many years of his life.

Books by Nandor Fodor on this website:

These Mysterious People

 

 

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