Spirit Controls

Dr Phinuit

          LEONORE PIPER, the celebrated American medium, is said to have discovered her mediumistic ability in 1884, after being persuaded by her husband’s parents to sit with Mr. J. R. Cocke, a blind healing medium, because of a tumour. Cocke claimed to be controlled by a French physician named “Finny.” During her second sitting with Cocke, Piper, then 27, lost consciousness and was controlled by the spirit of a young Indian girl who gave the name “Chlorine.” Apparently, Finny was the same control later identifying himself as Doctor Phinuit, who replaced Chlorine. Whether Phinuit left Cocke for Piper or decided to use two organisms - Cocke for healing and Piper primarily for communication - is unknown.

Phinuit told Dr. Richard Hodgson, who was investigating Piper in the United States, that his full name while in the flesh was Jean Phinuit Sclivellee but that he was known as Doctor Phinuit. He said he had died at the age 70 “about” 1860. He gave his wife’s name as Marie Latimer. However, he later told Professor Oliver Lodge (later Sir Oliver), who sat with Piper in England, that his name was John Phinuit Schelevelle and his wife’s name was Mary. While Jean/John and Marie/Mary have the same meaning, it was never determined why he gave different versions of the name or different spellings of his last name. He told both Hodgson and Lodge that he had studied medicine at “Metz” in Germany. An attempt to find some documented evidence of Phinuit’s existence was unsuccessful.

According to William James, the distinguished Harvard professor who discovered Piper, Phinuit would often introduce other spirits and at times would give long lectures about things he (James) was certain were well beyond Piper’s intellect.

“The most remarkable thing about the Phinuit personality seems to me the extraordinary tenacity and minuteness of his memory,” James wrote. “The medium has been visited by many hundreds of sitters, half of them, perhaps, being strangers who have come but once. To each, Phinuit gives an hour full of disconnected fragments of talk about persons living, dead, or imaginary, and events past, future, or unreal. What normal waking memory could keep this chaotic mass of stuff together? Yet Phinuit does so… So far as I can discover, Mrs. Piper’s waking memory is not remarkable, and the whole constitution of her trance-memory is something which I am at a loss to understand.”

On September 6, 1888, J. Rogers Rich, an artist, had a sitting with Piper. He observed a remarkable change in Piper’s voice as it became unmistakably male and “rather husky.” He was at once addressed in French and he responded in French. Dr. Phinuit diagnosed Rich’s physical ailments for him and prescribed various herbs, giving the manner of preparing them. Phinuit told him that his mother was beside him and accurately described her. In a second sitting, a month later, Phinuit told Rich that his deceased niece was at his side. To test him, Rich asked the niece, who had lived all her life in France, for his name in French, to which Phinuit accurately relayed “Thames Rowghearce Reach” entirely in the French alphabet.

In another sitting, Phinuit’s foreign accent gave way to a pure English accent and Rich was greeted by his old friend, “Newell.” Rich noted that the entranced Piper was twiddling her fingers as if twirling a moustache, a habit very characteristic of Newell. Rich was later told by Phinuit that his sister was often in his surroundings and had much influence over him. Rich replied that he had never had a sister. Phinuit corrected him, saying that he had a sister who died in infancy before he was born. Rich questioned an aunt about this and was informed that it was true.

On December 21, 1889, Phinuit told Lodge that “Edmund sends his love.” Then, the personality possessing Piper seemed to change and Edmund Gurney, who along with Frederic Myers and Professors William Barrett and Henry Sidgwick founded the Society of Psychical Research in 1882, began speaking. Gurney had died in 1888 and had been introduced to Lodge by Myers.

Lodge questioned Gurney about both Piper and Phinuit. Gurney told him that Piper was a true medium. As for Phinuit, he said, “He is not all one would wish, but he is all right.” In another sitting, Gurney described Phinuit as eccentric and quaint but good hearted.

“I wouldn’t do the things he does for anything. He lowers himself sometimes; it’s a great pity. He has very curious ideas about things and people, he receives a great deal about people from themselves … and he gets expressions and phrases that one doesn’t care for, vulgar phrases he picks up by meeting uncanny people through the medium… A high type of man couldn’t do the work he does.”

None of the many investigators who observed Piper considered her a fraud, but most of them questioned whether Phinuit had ever lived. The early theory held by almost all the researchers was that he was some kind of “second personality” buried away in Piper’s subconscious. In addition to the fact that no record of his name could be found, there were strange inconsistencies, including his inability to speak French to some sitters fluent in French. The fact that he wasn’t sure about the year of his birth or death also went to his credibility, although other communicating spirits have said they lose a sense of time in the spirit world.

What seems to have swayed most of the researchers away from the secondary personality theory is the fact that beginning in 1892, Phinuit started turning over his “control” function to “George Pelham,” (a pseudonym for George Pellew), a spirit whose human existence was known to Hodgson and others. If Phinuit’s successor could be confirmed as having been alive in the flesh at one time, then why not Phinuit?

It was not until Pelham began using her organism that Piper fully developed the ability of automatic writing. Hodgson reported that there were many times when Pelham would be communicating through Piper’s hand while Phinuit would be transmitting through her voice - each relaying information from different spirits on different subjects. On one occasion, both of Piper’s hands were writing and a voice speaking from her - apparently three spirits communicating at the same time.

Gradually, Pelham took over from Phinuit as Piper’s primary control while Phinuit continued as a secondary control. Phinuit would sometimes complain that Pelham was too domineering.

“I never saw the like of that fellow George,” Phinuit grumbled to Hodgson. “There’s another here trying to say something but he gave no chance at all. When he gets hold he keeps hold I tell you Hodgson.”

Pelham and Phinuit gradually gave way to “Rector” of the Imperator band of 49, who had earlier controlled Rev. William Stainton Moses. Rector told them that Piper’s organism was weakening and needed more rest and better management. While Rector continued to use Piper’s organism, it was with more care than Pelham and Phinuit could provide. Rector said they were substituting a “softer melody” for the rough, inharmonious and uncultivated dialect, referring primarily to Phinuit. While not “earth earthy,” Rector said that Phinuit was too bound by the attractions of earthly minds. Phinuit made his last appearance on January 26, 1896.

In 1906, when Piper returned to England, Lodge asked Rector about Phinuit and was informed that he had advanced and gone on to other work.


Holt, Henry, On the Cosmic Relations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914).
Myers, F. W. H., Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (University Books, 1961).
Lodge, Sir Oliver, The Survival of Man (London: Methuen & Co., 1909).

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



Some parts of this page The International Survivalist Society 2005