Electric Phenomena

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Electric Phenomena

Phenomena with properties resembling electricity have sometimes been observed in animal magnetism and also in psychical mediumship.

Radioactivity was suggested when the medium Eusapia Palladino impressed with her fingers photographic plates wrapped in dark paper. The white fluctuating clouds or luminous vapors in the séance room were believed to be additional evidence of radioactivity, because it is a property of cathode rays to excite the formation of vapor or mist when they traverse a stratum saturated with humidity.

Enrico Imoda of Turin, Italy, wondered if the emanations of radium, of cathode rays in a Crookes tube, and of mediums were not fundamentally identical, in that the latter appear to render air a conductor of electricity. He discovered that Palladino had no influence over the electroscope in her normal state. One evening, however, when she woke from a trance and held her hands above the electrodes in the air, she was able, after three or four minutes, to produce a lowering of the gold leaf.

In the experiments of W. J. Crawford, an electroscope was immediately discharged when it was touched by a psychic rod. The rods, however, could not conduct a low-tension electric current.

Fritz Grünewald, a Berlin engineer who designed precision instruments, disputed the conductivity of the psychic fluid as he obtained raps upon an electrometer needle carrying a charge of 500 volts without producing the slightest discharge. The objection would seem to be scientifically valid only if the raps were physically struck upon the needle.

Psychical researcher Julien Ochorowicz came to the conclusion that the "rigid rays" of medium Stanislawa Tomczyk did conduct electricity. He formed an open electrical circuit of two silver plates four millimeters apart, a voltaic pile, and a galvanometer. Tomczyk was able to close the circuit by holding her hands at either side of the silver electrodes at a distance of one or two centimeters. He also found that the medium could decrease the electrical resistance of her own body; his own resistance was two or three times as great as that of the medium. This confirmed the experiments of E. K. Müller of Zürich, which led to the discovery of the "anthropoflux" (see emanations ). Ever since the psychogalvanic reflex was scientifically demonstrated by O. Verdguth in 1909, it had been well known that emotions produce changes in the electrical conductivity of the tissues of the hand.

W. J. Kilner, who attempted to experiment with the human aura, reported that it also was sensitive to electric currents; the aura completely vanished under a negative charge.

Many mediums reportedly had electrical sensations before their séances. Sensations similar to holding the poles of a strong electric battery started eight or nine hours before the sitting in the case of Elizabeth d'Esperance. The hair of Florence Cook emitted sparks before a sitting. Mrs. J. H. Conant observed an electrical fullness hours before a séance. One Professor Winther wrote of an electrically charged atmosphere in séances with Anna Rasmussen. Finally Lord Adare gives the following account in Experiments with D. D. Home in Spiritualism (1869): "My chair began to vibrate rapidly in the most violent way; it gave me a curious tingling sensation up my arm to the elbow and up my legs as though I was receiving an electric shock." He also quotes the following communication from the control of D. D. Home: "Remember, Dan must not sit on a silk cushion while the hot weather lasts. To-night the atmosphere is so surcharged with electricity that it appears to us quite thick, like sand. We feel like men wading through a quicksand slipping back as fast as we advance."

Similar sensations to those recorded by Adare have been experienced by people engaged in automatic writing when the power bursts upon them. The emanoscope of E. K. Müller, which detected the susceptibility of persons to electricity, disclosed much more powerful reactions in the presence of the medium Oscar Schlag than Müller had previously observed.

Several electric girls were known in the history of Spiritualism. The name of Angelique Cottin is the most famous. An earlier instance was furnished by two electric girls of Smyrna who landed at Marseilles in November 1838. According to E. C. Rogers in his book Philosophy of Mysterious Rappings (1853), various men of science and professors visited the girls and ascertained the following phenomena:

"The girls stationed themselves, facing each other, at the ends of a large table, keeping at a distance from it of one or two feet, according to their electrical dispositions. When a few minutes had elapsed a crackling, like that of electric fluid, spreading over gilt paper, was heard, when the table received a strong shake, which always made it advance from the elder to the younger sister. A key, nails or any piece of iron, placed on the table instantaneously stopped the phenomena. When the iron was adapted to the under part of the table it produced no effect upon the experiment. Save this singularity, the facts observed constantly followed the known laws of electricity, whether glass insulators were used or whether one of the girls wore silk garments. In the latter case the electric properties of both were neutralised. Such was the state of matters for some days after the arrival of the young Greeks, but the temperature having become cooler and the atmosphere having loaded itself with humidity, all perceptible electric virtues seemed to have deserted them."

Catherine Berry, a developing medium of the 1870s, was said to be the possessor of similar powers. A footnote signed by "Editor, Human Nature, " in Berry's Experiences in Spiritualism (1876), states: "Mrs. Berry has the power of causing persons with a mediumistic temperament to fall down, or reel about, by the simple motion of her hand. At times, in her hands, a stick becomes a 'magic wand,' causing objects to move in a surprising manner."

Hector Durville, in his Traité Experimental de Magnétisme (2 vols., 1895-96) wrote of an infant, born at Saint Urbain in January 1869, who was always charged like a Leyden jar. No one could go near the baby without getting a shock, more or less violent, and luminous rays escaped now and then from the baby's fingers. The infant died in its ninth month.

The stage performances of Annie Abbot, "The Little Georgia Magnet," were unfavorably discussed by Sir Oliver Lodge in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 5). The demonstrations of Lulu Hurst (Mrs. Paul Atkinson) in New York in 1884 were of a similar nature. By a mere touch of her fingertips she repelled strong men and lifted Hardinge Britten with his chair a foot from the floor by touching the back side of the chair with one hand. Britten felt what was described as the strength of a condensed cyclone. No psychic powers were claimed by Lulu Hurst herself, however, in her Autobiography (1897), and more mundane explanations of her performances were proposed by Walter B. Gibson and J. N. Maskelyne.


Adare, Lord. Experiments with D. D. Home in Spiritualism. Privately published, 1869.

Gibson, Walter B. The Georgia Magnet. St. Louis, 1922. Hurst, Lulu. Lulu Hurst Writes Her Autobiography. Rome, Ga., 1897.

Maskelyne, J. N. The Magnetic Lady; or, a Human Magnet Demagnetised. Bristol, 1892.

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Electric Phenomena

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