Crawford, William Jackson (1881-1920)

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Crawford, William Jackson (1881-1920)

Engineering professor at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, and researcher in psychic phenomena. Crawford was born in New Zealand. He received his doctorate from the University of Glasgow. He resided in Belfast when around 1914 he began to investigate the physical phenomena of Kathleen Goligher and the group around her, known as the Goligher Circle. His investigation continued until his death in 1920.

From his research, he developed a set of speculations on the scientific laws behind the phenomenon of telekinesis (now known as psychokinesis or "PK"), which he presented in his books, The Reality of Psychic Phenomena (1916), Experiment in Psychic Science (1919), and The Psychic Structures in the Goligher Circle (1921). During his research, he converted to Spiritualism, though his theories played down the role of spirits in favor of a psychic force.

Crawford first tackled the problem of the alteration of weight as objects were lifted and displaced. He found that the weight of the levitated table was beared by the medium. Her increase in weight was usually well within five percent of that of the table. The difference was beared by the sitters. Similarly, if the table was glued down to the floor by the psychic force, the medium's weight decreased in proportion to the pressure borne by the floor. The levitation itself was effected, he reasoned, by an invisible substance that streamed out of the medium's body and became more or less solidified into what he called "psychic rods." These rods, which consisted of ecto-plasm, found leverage in the medium's body and acted as cantilevers. If the weight to be lifted was too big, an elbow formation, transferring the pressure to the floor, was used. These psychic rods evolved with great rapidity and they could assume any shape and size. They were invisible but the ends were dense enough to be felt. This psychic substance according to Crawford, could rap, grip an object by suction, and perform delicate mechanical effects. If Crawford passed his hand in front of the medium's ankle, he could intercept the psychic rod and stop the raps. In so doing, he said, he felt something cold and clammy.

Putting the medium on a weighing machine he measured the amount of substance withdrawn for raps of varying loudness. The raps reacted on the medium's body, apparently in the region of the chest, but she was unconscious of the effect. He found that the withdrawal of ectoplasm was but a temporary loss. The medium, at the end of the séance, lost less in weight and was less exhausted than the sitters.

Crawford concluded from this that the psychic force that vitalizes the ectoplasm is drawn mostly from the sitters and used up. The sitters lost between five and ten ounces of weight. The maximum loss of weight, when ectoplasm was experimentally withdrawn in fluxes from the medium, was 54 pounds, nearly half of her normal weight. At the same time, the medium perceptibly shrank, her pulse gradually rose, and her muscles convulsed.

The flow of ectoplasm could carry particles of paint. By a colored track Crawford traced the flow from the ankles up to the hip and to the base of the spine. Powdered carmine was used for this purpose. When it was placed on the knickers, the track extended to the shoes and upward to the lower part of the trunk. This showed that the flow started from her trunk, passed down her feet, and returned. The fabric of her knickers and stockings was abraded in places. Crawford inferred that some frictional resistance was encountered. He also found that it was not the ectoplasm, but the medium which suffered from sudden exposures to light. By shielding her with black cloth he obtained many good flashlight photographs.

Crawford's conclusions were challenged by E. E. Fournier d'Albe in his book The Goligher Circle (1922). In 20 sittings with the same medium he obtained almost no results. He expressed the belief that the levitations recorded by Crawford were accomplished by the medium's legs.

Crawford committed suicide on July 30, 1920. Four days before his death he wrote, "I have been struck down mentally. I was perfectly all right up to a few weeks ago. It is not the psychic work. I enjoyed it too well. I am thankful to say that the work will stand. It is too thoroughly done for any material loopholes to be left."

In this belief Crawford relied in part upon the opinion of colleagues such as Sir William Barrett, who wrote on March 24, 1917, "I can testify to the genuineness and amazing character of these physical manifestations and also to the patient care and skill which have characterized Crawford's long and laborious investigations."


Barham, A. "Dr. W. J. Crawford: His Work and Legacy in Psychokinesis." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 55 (1988): 113.

Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Crawford, E. F. Experiment in Psychic Science. N.p., 1919.

. The Psychic Structures in the Goligher Circle. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1921.

. The Reality of Psychic Phenomena. London: J. M. Watkins, 1919.