Community of Sensation

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Community of Sensation

A sharing of sensations between hypnotizer and subject was discovered by early experimenters in mesmerism. It meant that the subject became insensible in his or her own body but reacted to physical sensations experienced by the mesmerizer. Taste and smell were most commonly transferred in this way, but the transfer of sight and hearing was often reported.

Curious occurrences of the same phenomenon were claimed by Dr. Paul Joire in an account of his experiments in exteriorization of sensitivity. Community of sensation was established between a glass of water or a ball of putty, vaguely resembling human shape. If the putty was pricked, the subject experienced the pain in a corresponding part of his body. This experiment is similar to the black magic practice of making a small image of an enemy and pricking it with pins.

Still stranger cases have been cited involving materialization phenomena in séances. Ectoplasm, from which the materialized shapes are reported by formed, is claimed to be exuded by the medium, and the physical sensations of the phantom figures are thus keenly felt by the medium. Stories of the bad effects of "spirit grabbing" (attempts to touch the materialized figures) are often recounted and tell of serious injury to the medium as a result. Vivid descriptions can be found in Elizabeth d'Esperance 's autobiography. Insistence by skeptics claimed that materializations were only the medium or an accomplice in disguise led to the necessity of such stories.

Apart from the materialization sessions, however, there are a number of accounts of a community of sensation. Possibly, the most gruesome instance was experienced in the course of a hypnotic experiment by the celebrated Belgian painter Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865) who wanted to know if thought persisted in the brain of a decapitated man. According to Larelig's biography, Wiertz, with the aid of a prison doctor friend, hid himself under the guillotine during an execution and instructed his hypnotist, who was a party to the experiment, to command him to identify himself with the criminal. Reportedly, while the condemned man was led to the scaffold, Wiertz manifested extreme distress and begged to be released.

"'It was too late, howeverthe knife fell.' 'What do you feel? What do you see?' asked the doctor. Wiertz writhed convulsively and replied, 'Lightning! A thunderbolt falls! It thinks! It sees!' 'Who thinks and sees?' 'The head. It suffers horribly. It thinks and feels but does not understand what has happened. It seeks its body and feels that the body must join it. It still waits for the supreme blow for death, but death does not come.'&43"

As Wiertz spoke, the witnesses saw the head, which had fallen into the basket and lay looking at them horribly, its arteries oozing blood. It was only after some moments of suffering that the guillotined head at last seemed aware that it was separated from its body. Wiertz became calm and seemed exhausted, while the doctor resumed his questions.

The painter answered: "I fly through space like a top spinning through fire. But am I dead? Is all over? If only they would let me join my body again! Have pity, give it back to me and I can live again. I remember all. There are the judges in red robes. I hear the sentence. Oh! my wretched wife and children. I am abandoned. If only you would put my body to me, I should be with you once more. You refuse? All the same, I love you my poor babies. Miserable wretch that I am I have covered you with blood. When will this finishor is not a murderer condemned to eternal punishment?"

As Wiertz spoke these words, the witnesses thought they saw the eyes of the decapitated head open wide with a look of unmistakable suffering and of beseeching.

The painter continued his lamentations: "No, such suffering cannot endure for ever; God is merciful. All that belongs to earth is fading away. I see in the distance a little light glittering like a diamond. I feel a calm stealing over me. What a good sleep I shall have. What joy!" These were the last words the painter spoke. He was still entranced but no longer replied to the questions asked by the doctor. They then approached the head and the doctor touched the forehead, the temples, and the teeth and found they were cold. The head was dead.

Wiertz painted three pictures of a guillotined head. According to an account of his gruesome experience in Catalogue Raisonné du Musée Wiertz, précédé d'une biographie du paintre par le Dr. L. Watteau (1865), Wiertz had been closely following a murder trial that ended in two men being sent to the scaffold. It is very likely that one of them was the subject of his experiment.

Community of sensation is witnessed when the medium through whom a recently freed spirit communicates takes on the conditions of his last illness and suffers his agonies. In experiments connected with psychometry this occurs frequently. It may also occur in prevision. British psychic Vincent Turvey said that when he foresaw a future event in which the subject suffered pain, he experienced the victim's sensations at the moment of premission.

(See also Wirdig's Magnetic Sympathy )


Wiertz, Antoine Joseph. Antoine Wiertz, 1806-1865. Paris: J. Damase, 1974.

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Community of Sensation

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