Elongation of the Human Body

views updated

Elongation of the Human Body

A comparatively rare but by no means modern psychical phenomenon. The Neoplatonists observed it in certain obsessed men. The Neoplatonist Jamblichus (ca. 363 C.E.) in a work on divination writes: "The person of the subject has been known to dilate and tower to supernormal height." J. J. von Görres, in La Mystique Divine, Naturelle et Diabolique (5 vols., Paris, 1854) states that one night while the blessed Ida of Lou-vain occupied a bed with a very devout nun, Ida assumed monstrous proportions until she was lying in all but a very narrow strip of the bed. So great was the strain that the skin of one of her legs burst and she had a scar there from then on. Suddenly, her body began to diminish until at last it was reduced to an extremely minute size. The phenomenon was repeated as she returned from church with her friend.

Among modern mediums it was the famous D. D. Home (1833-1886) who most often demonstrated it. The expansions and contractions of his body were witnessed by 50 people at the very least. He felt exceedingly sick after elongations. His maximum growth was found by the Master of Lindsay to be 11 inches. On being questioned by the members of the committee of the London Dialectical Society, he said:

"The top of the hip bone and the short ribs separate. In Home they are unusually close together. There was no separation of the vertebrae of the spine; nor were the elongations at all like those resulting from expanding the chest with air; the shoulders did not move. Home looked as if he was pulled up by the neck; the muscles seemed to be in a state of tension."

Lord Adare saw a Mr. Jencken, a taller man, standing beside Home when the phenomenon took place. Home's feet remained fairly level on the ground. His unbuttoned coat showed a space of about four inches between his waistcoat and the waistband of his trousers. Lord Adare estimated the entire growth to be six to eight inches. Home appeared to grow also in breadth and size all over. If an observer placed a hand flat upon Home's waist, the observer felt the lower rib pass under his hand until it was some inches above it, the whole flesh and muscle apparently moving and stretching. On the contraction taking place, the lower rib came down until it pressed against the upper edge of the observer's hand and moved into its proper position.

After two elongationsat another timeHome was shortened to less than his natural height. He could also elongate his arms. Lord Adare placed himself in front of Home when he stood against the wall and made a pencil mark at the tip of his extended arms. First his left, then his right arm was elongated. When the distance between the pencil marks was measured, it was ascertained that the total elongation amounted to nine and one half inches. During this elongation Home's chest expanded greatly.

H. T. Humphreys, a journalist, published in 1868 the following account: "Mr. Home was seen by all of us to increase in height to the extent of some eight or ten inches, and then sink to some six or eight inches below his normal stature. Having returned to his usual height, he took Lord Adare and the Master of Lindsay and placing one beside each post of the folding doors lay down on the floor, touching the feet of one with his head and the feet of the other with his feet. He was then again elongated and pushed both Lord Adare and the Master of Lindsay backward along the floor with his head and feet as he was stretched out, his arms and hands remaining motionless by his side." The distance, as measured by Mrs. S. C. Hall, was more than 7 feet.

H. D. Jencken in his account in Human Nature (1869) also describes the elongation of Home's legs:

"The right leg of Mr. Home was then elongated about six inches, then shortened, the foot literally shrinking into the trousers. I carefully examined the leg from the ankle joint to the hip. The limb felt shrunk and withered and, gradually elongated, it felt as if it were being expanded by air being inflated. Whilst the leg was so shortened he walked about the room, proving that, though lessened in size, the function of the limb was unimpaired. The final and most satisfactory test, however, was the lengthening and shortening of the hand. I caused Mr. Home to place his hand firmly on a sheet of paper, and then carefully traced an outline of the hand, causing the pencil point to be firmly kept at the wrist. I am, I believe, rendering the first positive measurement of the extension and contraction of the human organism."

Home could also impart the power of elongation to others. Miss Bertolacci, a medium herself, was once elongated together with him. The phenomenon was also witnessed in the medium-ship of other individuals.

In an article in Light (May 10, 1902, p. 223), John E. Purdon writes that:

"On one occasion in my quarters at the Sandown Hospital, Isle of Wight, I held the feet of Miss Florence Cook firmly against the floor, and can certify that there was no lifting of the heels, either with or without her boots, and that there was such an elongation that my brother-in-law, the late assistant-surgeon, Mark A. Kilroy, whose hands were on her shoulders, cried out 'She is dragging me up to the ceiling.' As he was over five feet nine inches in height there could have been no posturing that would account for his experience. Further, I most distinctly remember Miss Cook coming back with a jerk to her normal stature. My wife, who was present and heard her brother make the above remark, fully endorses my statement."

Florence Marryat described a séance with Katie Cook in which the medium's arm, which she held, was elongated to such an extent that it reached the sitters on the other side of the table, where it would have been impossible for her own much longer arms to follow it. She believed that the limb must have been stretched to three times its natural length and in sight of everybody.

The mediums Frank Herne, J. J. Morse, Eusapia Palladino, and (in her early career) Rosina Thompson were also reported to have demonstrated the strange gift of elongation. In his book Modern Spiritualism (1902), Frank Podmore quotes Rev. C. J. M. Shaw for an account of the elongation in his house of a professional clairvoyant named Peters. The arm of the medium was said to have grown six inches.

Pepito Arriola, the Spanish infant musical prodigy, when three and a half years old, sounded full octaves on the piano. His hands did not stretch more than five notes. It seemed to the onlookers that his hand increased during the time he played.

In the case known as the Great Amherst Mystery (see poltergeist ), Esther Cox's body repeatedly puffed out to an abnormal size. She was screaming with pain, but the physicians could do nothing to relieve her agony. In a short time, however, the trouble always subsided.

In the case of Rosina Thompson, the elongation was said to be an attempt to quiet an "angry nerve," as the medium complained of violent neuralgic pains. The attempt was successful and the medium, on coming to herself, found all her pain gone.

There are difficulties in assessing the validity of the phenomenon of elongation. It is well known that there are variations in height when the musculature of the vertebrae are relaxed or tensed. The seventeenth-century British posture master Joseph Clark could voluntarily dislocate the vertebrae of his back and other parts of his body, exhibiting apparent deformity or variation in appearance. Some acrobatic entertainers can appear to lengthen or shorten their limbs through skillful manipulation of their muscles and clothing. On the other hand, one is reluctant to impute such deceptions in the case of saints of whom the phenomenon was reported, though, of course, in all cases a question of what the reporters observed remains pertinent.

In the case of mediums, the evidence is variable. Mediums like Herne or Palladino have been accused of fraud. On the other hand, D. D. Home, in spite of his many unusual feats, escaped any detection in fraud, and the claims of elongation in his case rest upon various reputable witnesses.


Dunraven, Earl of. Experiences in Spiritualism with D. D. Home. 1969. Reprint (enlarged), Glasgow: Society for Psychical Re-search and Robert Maclehose, 1924.

Marryat, Florence. There Is No Death. New York: John W. Lovell, 1891. Reprint, New York: Causeway Books, 1973.

Podmore, Frank. Modern Spiritualism. London: Methuen, 1902. Reprinted as Mediums of the Nineteenth Century. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1963.