Spirit Controls

George Pelham

          SOON AFTER Dr. Richard Hodgson moved to the United States from England and began investigating the mediumship of Leonore Piper he met George Pellew, an associate of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), of which Hodgson served as executive secretary. A member of a prominent New York family and a Harvard graduate with a law degree, Pellew was a writer and poet. He authored at least six books, including biographies of statesmen John Jay and Henry Addington and one on poetry. In February 1892, at the age of 32, Pellew died accidentally in a fall.

Hodgson later recalled having had several long philosophical discussions about the possibility of a “future life’ with Pellew, who told him that he could not conceive of an afterlife. However, he was open-minded on the subject and told Hodgson that if he should die before Hodgson and found himself “still existing,” he would attempt to let Hodgson know.

On March 22, 1892, a little over a month after Pellew’s death, Hodgson arranged a sitting for one of Pellew’s friends, John Hart, with Piper. Pellew’s actual name was not made public until many years later and Hodgson gave him the pseudonym “George Pelham.” Early in the sitting, Phinuit, Piper’s primary control, announced that “George” was there. Pellew’s real name was given as were the names of several close friends, including the sitter. Hodgson recorded that many personal references were made by Pellew and that Hart was very impressed, mentioning that various words of greetings and speech mannerisms were very characteristic of Pellew.

Some three weeks later, Jim and Mary Howard had a sitting with Piper. Apparently, they did not believe in such things, but were so bewildered by Hart’s account of his sitting that they decided to attend. As was the procedure, Hodgson did not tell Piper their names or give her any clue as to their connection with Pellew. Yet, Pellew communicated. However, rather than Phinuit speaking through Piper and relaying messages from Pellew, Pellew spoke directly to his friends.

“Jim is that you?” Hodgson recorded. “Speak to me quick. I am not dead. Don’t think me dead. I’m awfully glad to see you. Can’t you see me? Don’t you hear me? Give my love to my father and tell him I want to see him. I am happy here, and more so since I can communicate with you. I pity those people who can’t speak…”

Pellew went on to tell his friends that he was very limited in what he could do as he had just “awakened to the reality of life after death,” adding that he was greatly surprised as he did not believe in a future life. He told them it was all darkness at first and that he was puzzled and confused. He said that he could see Jim, but that his voice sounded like a big bass drum.

Over time it became evident that Pellew had become a “control” himself and did not require Phinuit’s help. It was not until Pellew began using her organism that Piper fully developed the ability of automatic writing. Hodgson reported that there were many times when Pellew would be communicating through Piper’s hand while Phinuit would be transmitting through her voice - each relaying information from different spirits on different subjects.

Until Pellew began communicating, Hodgson subscribed to the secondary personality and telepathy theories. That is, Phinuit, her control, was a fragmented personality buried away in her subconscious and this fragmented personality could, unknown to Piper’s primary personality, read the minds of the sitters. When information was transmitted that was unknown to the sitter, that theory began to fall apart. But, the spirit theory was apparently too simplistic for intelligent researchers to accept, and so a theory called “teloteropathy” developed. This theory held that it is possible to pick up thoughts from a person anywhere in the world. It was later expanded to suggest that there is some kind of cosmic reservoir where every thought or utterance ever made is recorded. It is now generally referred to as “super psi” or “super ESP.”

But the communication with Pellew caused Hodgson to abandon all other theories in favour of the spirit one. While the existence of Phinuit could not be verified, there was no doubt that Pellew had lived in the flesh. Moreover, there was too much individuality, too much purpose and persistence, expressed by Pellew to attribute it to telepathy of a limited or expanded nature. It was one thing for a medium to tap into another mind or cosmic reservoir for information, quite another for that other mind or reservoir to come back with the fullness of a personality rather than just fragmentary bits of information.

Hodgson noted that when someone Pellew had known when he was alive happened to be sitting, he (Pellew) would greet him or her by name. When someone unknown to him was sitting, he didn’t address the person by name. The non-recognition went against any telepathy theory.

Gradually, Pellew took over from Phinuit as Piper’s primary control and most of the information communicated came by way of automatic writing rather than through Piper’s voice. Phinuit continued as a secondary control and would sometimes complain that Pellew was too domineering.

Beginning in 1895, the quality of the messages began to deteriorate and there were indications that devious earthbound spirits were able to control Piper’s organism. Deceased writers Sir Walter Scott and George Eliot supposedly communicated directly through Piper’s hand, but the nature of the communication suggested impostors.

Pellew and Phinuit gradually gave way to “Rector” of the Imperator band of 49. Rector told them that Piper’s organism was weakening and needed a rest. Pellew remained and worked with Rector until April 1897. At that time, Rector cautioned Hodgson not to rely too much on Pellew as he was “too far away,” i.e., too advanced, to be effective.

“His spirit is pure, his mind sincere, his whole life here is one of honour and one to be respected by us all,” Rector wrote through Piper’s hand. Yet, we would speak the truth and say his work in your field is done.”

On June 8, 1897, Pellew warned Hodgson not to accept anything further as coming from him, implying that it might be an earthbound spirit posing as him. He added that he might not have the pleasure of seeing him for a long time. Rector cautioned Hodgson not to rely too much on Pellew as he was “too far away,” i.e., too advanced, to be effective. “His spirit is pure, his mind sincere, his whole life here is one of honour and one to be respected by us all,” Rector wrote through Piper’s hand. “Yet, we would speak the truth and say his work in your field is done.” However, Pellew apparently continued as an assistant to Rector for a number of years, at least until 1904.


Holt, Henry, On the Cosmic Relations (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1914).
Lodge, Sir Oliver, The Survival of Man (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1909).
Myers, F. W. H., Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols) (London: Longmans & Green, 1903; reprint, New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, Inc., 1961).
Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, December 1915.

Source: Michael E. Tymn, vice-president of The Academy of Religion and Psychical Research.



Some parts of this page The International Survivalist Society 2005