Matter Passing through Matter

views updated

Matter Passing through Matter

Matter interpenetrating matter has been claimed frequently as a séance -room phenomenon. It is involved in the marvel of apports and teleportation of the human body, and its validation under test conditions, which has never occurred, would help toward these greater phenomena becoming recognized. Robert Hare 's report of the passing of two small balls of platinum into two hermetically sealed glass tubes was not witnessed by others, and no repetition of the feat has ever been noted.

The possibility of such interpenetration is not generally admitted. The outstanding medium D. D. Home denied its possibility, and his controls declared that fissures or cracks are necessary to permit the passage of a solid body through another.

Sir William Crookes stated in "Notes of an Enquiry into the Phenomena called Spiritual" (Quarterly Journal of Science, January 1894):

"After several phenomena had occurred, the conversation turned upon some circumstances which seemed only explicable on the assumption that matter had actually passed through a solid substance. Thereupon a message was given by means of the alphabet: 'It [is] impossible for matter to pass through matter, but we will show you what we can do.' We waited in silence.

"Presently a luminous appearance was seen hovering over the bouquet of flowers, and then, in full view of all present, a piece of china-grass 15 inches long, which formed the centre ornament of the bouquet, slowly rose from the other flowers, and then descended to the table in front of the vase between it and Mr. Home. It did not stop on reaching the table, but went straight through it and we all watched it till it had entirely passed through. Immediately on the disappearance of the grass, my wife, who was sitting near Mr. Home, saw a hand come up from under the table between them, holding the piece of grass. It tapped her on the shoulder two or three times with a sound audible to all, then laid the grass on the floor and disappeared. Only two persons saw the hand, but all in the room saw the piece of grass moving about as I have described.

"During the time this was taking place Mr. Home's hands were seen by all to be quietly resting on the table in front of him. The place where the grass disappeared was 18 inches from his hands. The table was a telescope dining table, opening with a screw; there was no leaf in it, and the junction of the two sides formed a narrow crack down the middle. The grass had passed through this chink, which I measured and found to be barely one eighth of an inch wide. The stem of the piece of grass was far too thick to enable me to force it through this crack without injuring it, yet we had all seen it pass through quietly and smoothly; and on examination it did not show the slightest signs of pressure or abrasion."

However, some have argued for the reality of such a phenomenon. For example, the psychic researcher Camille Flam-marion described the passing of a book through a curtain in a séance with Eusapia Palladino on November 21, 1898. A book was held up by Jules Bois before the curtain at about the height of a man, 24 inches from each side of the edge. It was seized by an invisible hand, and Flammarion, who observed the rear of the curtain, suddenly saw it coming through, upheld in the air, without hands or arms, for a space of one or two seconds. Then she saw it fall down.

There is some similarity between this observation of Flam-marion and an account of Mrs. Speer (friend of William Stain-ton Moses ) dated October 17, 1874: "Before the meeting Mr. Stainton Moses had taken three rings from his hands and threaded them on to his watch chain; his watch was on one end of the chain and a small pocket barometer on the other; both of these articles he placed in side pockets of his waistcoat, the rings hanging midway on his chain in full sight of the circle. We suddenly saw a pillar of light advance from a corner of the room, stand between me and Dr. S. then pass through the table to Mr. S. M. In a moment the figure flashed back again between us and threw something hard down upon the table. We passed our hands over the table, and found the rings had been removed from the medium's chain without his knowledge."

Mr. F. Fusedale, testifying to the London Dialectical Society in 1869, submitted an account of spirit manifestations in his own house: "The children and my wife would see the things they [the spirits] took (in particular a brooch of my wife's) appear to pass through solid substances, such as the wall or the doors, when they were taken from them; and they would take things out of the children's hands, as if in play, and hide them, and then after a little time return them again."

In a séance with the Italian medium Francesco Carancini, a dinner plate, covered with soot and out of the medium's reach, was placed in a padlocked wooden box held by one of the sitters.

In experiments with Mary Baker Thayer, Robert Cooper found a Japanese silk handkerchief belonging to one of the sitters and flowers that came from nowhere in the locked box he brought to the séance, and the key of which he retained (Light, March 15, 1902).

Gambier Bolton (author Psychic Force, 1904) noted: "During my sixteen years of experiments, investigation into the question of the existence of this psychic force the apparent penetration of matter by matter had been such a common occurrence at our experimental meetings, that unless this happens to take place in connection with some unusually large and ponderous object that is suddenly brought into our midst, or removed from the place in which we are holding our meetings, I take but very little notice of it."

One of the occasions he took notice of came in a séance with the medium Cecil Husk. A light table was placed in the middle of the circle and was securely fastened by heavy baize curtains around the four sides, pinning the bottom of the curtain to the floor boards with drawing pins. The table was first heard rocking and tapping the floor boards, and in less than three minutes it had apparently passed through the curtain and was found in its old place, 21 feet away from the curtain.

After having been accused of fraud, the American medium Etta Roberts, in a test séance on September 3, 1891, was enclosed in a wire cage out of which many phantom forms issued. Finally Roberts herself stepped out through the padlocked and sealed door without breaking the fastenings. The same feat was witnessed by Dr. Paul Gibier, director of the Bacteriological Institute of New York, with Carrie M. Sawyer (Mrs. Salmon) in his own laboratory on three occasions. The trellis of the cage was found to be burning hot by several sitters.

Paranormal Knot-tying

Knots tied in an endless cord was the first phenomenon Johann Zöllner witnessed in his experiments with the medium Henry Slade. Zöllner made a loop of strong cord by tying the ends together. The ends projected beyond the knot and were sealed down to a piece of paper. In the séance room he hung the loop around his neck until the moment of experiment arrived. Then he took it off, placed the sealed knots on the table, placed his thumbs on each side of the knot, and dropped the loop over the edge of the table on his knees. Slade kept his hands in sight and touched Zöllner's hands above the table. A few minutes later four symmetrical single knots were found on the cord.

Zöllner's knot-tying experiment was repeated by Dr. Nichols with the medium William Eglinton in the presence of six observers. Nichols cut four yards of common brown twine from a fresh ball, tied the two ends together with a single knot, then passed each end through a hole in one of his visiting cards, tied another square knot, and firmly sealed this knot to the card. In daylight, the sealed card upon the center of the table, the loop hanging down upon the floor, a minute later five single knots were found tied in the string about a foot apart. (Both Slade and Eglinton were frequently caught in fraudulent medium-ship.)

Paranormal Release and Movement of Clothing

The release of the medium from strong bonds without disturbing the knots or seals was claimed by the Davenport brothers, although justifiable skepticism surrounds their stage performances. The psychic feat was also claimed by Sir William Crookes in his experiments with Florence Cook.

A kindred demonstration, of which the Davenport brothers were the greatest exponents, was the taking on and off of coats while the medium's hands were held. In a letter to the London Daily News, Dion Boucicault, the famous English actor and author, spoke of a séance at his house on October 11, 1864, in which, by striking a light, the participants actually witnessed the coat of Mr. Fay, the fellow-medium of the Davenport brothers, flying off. "It was seen quitting him, plucked off him upwards. It flew up to the chandelier, where it hung for a moment and then fell to the ground. Mr. Fay was seen meanwhile bound hand and foot as before."

Robert Cooper wrote in his book Spiritual Experiences (1867): "The coat of Mr. Fay has, scores of times, been taken from his back in my presence, and Mr. Fay at the time might be seen sitting like a statue with his hands securely tied behind him and the knots sealed. I have seen coats of various descriptions, from a large overcoat to a light paletot, put on in the place of his own in a moment of time, his hands remaining securely tied and the seal unbroken. I have known the coat that has been placed on Mr. Fay so small that it could only with difficulty be got off him. I have known a coat that was first placed on Mr. Fay transferred in a moment to the back of Ira Davenport, whose hands, like Mr. Fay's, were tied behind him, and the most curious part of the proceedings was that it was put on inside out. I have also known the waistcoat of Ira Davenport taken from under his coat, all buttoned up, with his watch and guard just as he wore it."

The same feat was witnessed in 1886 in Washington by Alfred Russel Wallace in a séance with Pierre L. O. A. Keeler.

Italian researcher Cesare Lombroso recorded a similar instance with Eusapia Palladino. An overcoat was placed on a chair beyond the reach of the medium whose hands and feet had been continuously controlled. Several objects from an inside pocket of the overcoat had been brought and laid on a phosphorescent cardboard on the table. All at once the medium began to complain of something about her neck and binding her tight. On light being produced it was found that she had the overcoat on.

Accounts of release from bonds and flying clothing must be treated with caution as they are stock feats of stage conjurers.

Ring Experiments and Chair Threading

Ring experiments and chair threading were claimed on many occasions. In October 1872 the Religio-Philosophical Journal of Chicago claimed to have witnessed this demonstration. The editor wrote: "We had the pleasure of attending a séance at which Capt. Winslow was the medium. The manifestations were very fine. One remarkable feat is the union of two solid iron rings, leaving them thus interlinked, and yet the metal perfectly sound."

In the majority of cases, however, this plain test was always shirked for the far less convincing demonstration of placing an iron ring on the sitter's arm after the clasping of the hands or of placing a ring too small to pass over the hand on the medium's wrist.

The medium Cecil Husk wore such a ring until his death. The Society for Psychical Research, London, investigated it and claimed that the ring could be forced off if the medium were chloroformed. George Wyld, a physician of Edinburgh, said the ring was specially made to Husk's order and secretly marked by him, and that he [Wyld] held the medium's hand tight while the ring was taken from him in the dark.

A similar wrought-iron ring was passed on to the ankle of the medium F. F. Craddock. It was very tight and caused him great discomfort and actual pain until it was filed off by a friendly blacksmith. Hearing of this occurrence, Gambier Bolton procured two welded iron rings, and visiting Craddock, he fastened his hands behind his back with strong tape, then led him to a chair and fastened both arms, above the elbows, to the back of the chair with strong tapes and double knots.

Bolton stated: "Placing the two rings at his feet, I turned to the gas pendant hanging over our heads and lowered it somewhat, and before I had time to turn round again I heard the well-known ring of two pieces of iron being brought into sharp contact with each other, and walking up to him I found both rings on his wrist. To make sure that my eyes were not deceiving me. I pulled them strongly, struck one with the other, and found that they really were on his wrists; and I then carefully examined the tapes and found them not only secure, but so tight that his hands were swollen as a result of the tightness with which I had tied them. I stepped backwards, keeping my eyes on him, when suddenly with a crash both rings fell at my feet. To have withdrawn his hands and arms and replaced them in that time was a physical impossibility. On attempting to untie the tapes I found that I had pulled the knots so tightly that it was only after cutting them with a finely pointed pair of scissors, that I was able to release his hands once more, his wrists being marked for some time with a deep red line as the result."

In his pamphlet Les Preuves scientifique de la survivance de l'âme (1905), Dr. L. Th. Chazarain wrote of his experience in meetings organized in Paris by Dr. Puel, director of the Revue des Sciences Psychiques : "I took the ring which had been laid on the table and passed it round her right wrist. Immediately afterwards I took hold of the corresponding hand, and waited, holding it firmly between my own. At the end of eight or ten minutes she uttered a cry, like a cry of pain or fright, and at the same instant she woke and the ring was seen on the ground." August Reveillac, observing the same effect, found the fallen ring, when picked up, almost burning hot.

Col. W. A. Danskin described a séance in Baltimore in How and Why I Became a Spiritualist (1869), in which a secretly marked iron ring, seven inches smaller than the circumference of the medium's head, was repeatedly placed around the medium's neck. From the Banner of Light (January 11, 1868), he reproduced the following testimony, signed by thirty-two names: "We, the undersigned, hereby testify that we have attended the social meetings referred to; and that a solid iron ring, seven inches less in size than the young man's head was actually and unmistakably placed around his neck. There was as the advertisement claims, no possibility of fraud or deception, because the ring was freely submitted to the examination of the audience, both before and while on the neck of the young man."

The medium was a 19-year-old boy. Danskin further wrote: "Once, when only three persons were presentthe medium, a friend and myselfwe sat together in the dark room. I held the left hand of the medium, my friend held his right hand, our other hands being joined; and while thus sitting, the ring, which I had thrown some distance from us on the floor, suddenly came round my arm. I had never loosened my hold upon the medium, yet that solid iron ring, by an invisible power, was made to clasp my arm."

The medium Charles Williams often demonstrated the ring test. In Some Reminiscences: An Account of Startling Spiritual Manifestations (1890), A. Smedley described several instances during which he used a ring that he secretly marked. On one occasion, for example, Col. Lean (husband of Florence Marry-at ) mentally asked the control "John King" to fetch the half-hoop diamond ring from his wife's finger and place it on his. The ring, wrote Florence Marryat, "was worn between my wedding ring and a heavy gold snake ring and I was holding the hand of my neighbor all the time and yet the ring was abstracted from between the other two and transferred to Colonel Lean's finger without my being aware of the circumstance."

In experiments with Maria Vollhardt in Berlin, two highly skeptical members of the Medical Society for Psychic Research, holding the hands of the medium at either side, found two unbroken wooden rings about their arms.

Robert Cooper, in a séance with the Eddy brothers, experienced an electric shock at his elbow and found two iron rings on his arm, which was held by the medium (reported in Light, March 15, 1902).

Count Perovsky-Petrovo-Solovovo took a marked ring to a séance with the Russian medium S. F. Sambor on November 15, 1894. The ring was placed on M. Vassilief's arm when he was holding the medium's hands (Rebus, No. 47, 1894). In séances with the same medium at the Spiritist Club, St. Petersburg, a Dr. Pogorelski suddenly felt a blow on his right arm (close to the shoulder) and felt a chair passed onto his right arm. He held Sambor's hands by interlacing the fingers so that "it was impossible for our hands to become separated, even for a hundredth part of a second, without my feeling it." The experiment was repeated with another sitter whose hand was tied to Sambor's by means of a nearly ten yards long linen ribbon on the ends of which seals were placed.

John S. Farmer, William Eglinton's biographer, wrote in his Twixt Two Worlds (1886) that in June 1879 at Mrs. Gregory's house, "in the presence of Mr. Eglinton and a non-professional medium, two chairs were threaded at the same moment of time upon the arms of two sitters, each of whom was then holding the hand of the medium. Mr. Sergeant Cox was holding the hand of Mr. Eglinton and the back of the chair passed through his arm, giving him the sensation of a blow against the elbow when it did so. When a light was struck the chair was seen hanging on Mr. Sergeant Cox's arm and his hand was still grasping that of Mr. Eglinton. An immediate examination of the chair showed that the back of it was in good condition, with none of the woodwork loose or broken."

In Planchette; or, The Despair of Science (1880), Epes Sargent quoted many testimonies of similar occurrences with Charles Read of Buffalo and other mediums. Gambier Bolton wrote of his experience with Cecil Husk as follows:

"With Mrs. Cecil Husk, on half a dozen occasions, in my own room and using my own chairs, I have held both hands of another experimenter with my two hands, about fifteen inches from the top of the back of one of the chairs, when with a sudden snap the back of the chair has passed over our wrists and has been seen by twelve to sixteen other observers hanging from our arms, in gas light, my hands never for an instant releasing those of my fellow-experimenters."

Well-documented experiments in the claimed demonstration of the passage of matter through matter were carried out in June and July 1932, in the "Margery" circle in Boston (see also Mina Crandon ). The phenomena, as reported by William H. Button in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (August-September 1932) consisted of the removal of a variety of objects from locked or sealed boxes and the introduction of various objects into such boxes. They were undertaken to confirm some of the results of the Zöllner experiments.

The most astonishing phenomenon of the "Margery" mediumship was the interlocking rings. Sir Oliver Lodge had suggested the paranormal linking of two rings made of different woods might provide an irrefutable evidence of psychic force. The rings were duly provided, one of white wood and the other of red mahogany. At a séance with "Margery" in 1932, the rings were interlocked. According to Thomas R. Teitze in his book Margery (1973), the Irish poet W. B. Yeats was present at this séance. The feat of linking two rings made from different woods was apparently repeated. One set was sent to Sir Oliver Lodge for independent verification, but unfortunately arrived cracked and broken, presumably damaged in the post.

Another set of interlocked rings of different woods was shown to the British Spiritualist journalist Hannen Swaffer when he visited the Crandons in 1934. The rings were photographed and show one of white wood and the other of red mahogany. They passed into the care of William Button, then president of the American Society for Psychical Research, and were kept in a sealed, glass-covered box. On a return visit to Boston in 1936, Swaffer asked to see the rings again, but when they were taken out of the box it was found that one of the rings was broken.

In 1979 the SORRAT group formed by John G. Neilhardt attempted to validate such paranormal linkages in an unassailable experiment. Since it could be argued that wooden rings might be cleverly separated along the grain and glued together again, parapsychologist W. E. Cox proposed seamless rings made from a single layer of ordinary leather. It would not be possible to cut and rejoin leather without trace of manipulation. In the event, the experiment was successful and film records show the paranormal materializing and dematerializing process. The linkages, however, were not permanent, as the leather rings separated again after a few seconds, a curious echo of the "Margery" experiments.


Richards, John Thomas. SORRAT: A History of the Neilhardt Psychokinesis Experiments, 1961-1981. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1982.

Teitze, Thomas. Margery. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

Transcendental Physics: An Account of Experimental Investigations from the Scientific Treatises of Johann Carl Friedrich Zöllner. Translated by Charles C. Massey. London: W. H. Harrison, 1882. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1976.