Kilner, Walter J(ohn) (1847-1920)

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Kilner, Walter J(ohn) (1847-1920)

British physician who first studied the phenomenon of the human aura and its changes in appearance during sickness and health. Kilner was born on May 23, 1847, at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England. He was educated at Bury St. Edmunds Grammar School and St. John's College, Cambridge University, and was a medical student at St. Thomas's Hospital, London. In June 1879 he took charge of electrotherapy at St. Thomas's Hospital. In 1883 he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians, then opened a private practice as a physician in Ladbroke Grove, London.

Kilner took a scientific interest in the aura, believed to be a kind of radiating luminous cloud surrounding individuals, usually perceived only by clairvoyants. Kilner's interest was inspired in part by the work of Baron von Reichenbach, who claimed to perceive auras around the poles of magnets and around human hands.

In 1908 Kilner said he believed that the human aura might be made visible if viewed through a suitable light filter. He experimented with dicyanin, a coal tar derivative, and after careful study reported his findings in his book The Human Atmosphere (1911). This book was the first to approach the study of the human aura as scientific fact instead of questionable psychic phenomenon. The revised edition of Kilner's book was published in 1920, and some medical men endorsed his findings, although the theories were very unconventional for his time. Kilner died later that year, on June 12.

After Kilner's death, his findings were endorsed by the experimenter Oscar Bagnall in his book The Origin and Properties of the Human Aura (1937). A special photographic technique has since been devised by which it is claimed that the aura can be reproduced.


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

Kilner, Walter J. The Human Atmosphere. London, 1911. Reprinted as The Human Aura. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1965.