Schrenck-Notzing, Baron Albert von(1862-1929)
Schrenck-Notzing, Baron Albert von(1862-1929)
German pioneer of psychical research, a physician of Münich who specialized in psychiatry, which eventually led him into psychical research. He was born May 18, 1862, at Oldenburg, Germany, and educated at the University of Münich. He investigated the mysteries of somnambulism while a student, when, in hypnotic experiments, he succeeded in obtaining duplications of personality. He soon realized that there was a new realm of science awaiting discovery.
With a young woman of Münich, Lina M., he made experiments in thought-transference. They were described by Baron Carl du Prel in his books. Lina M. also presented the curious phenomenon of the transposition of the senses, when senses blocked from normal activity reappear and operate from another place on the body.
Magdeleine C., a musical medium, gave Schrenck-Notzing opportunity to study hypnotic alterations of personality. She was a dancer who, in trance, interpreted the feelings and reproduced the actions of various personalities and played any piece of music suggested mentally by a committee on the stage.
These cases, the study of which was described in Schrenck-Notzing's monograph Die Traumtanzerin Magdeleine C. (1904) marked the transition between his research on hypnosis and metapsychics. He resigned from the Gesellschaft für Wiessenschaftliche Psychologie, a Spiritualist society which Carl du Prel founded, established himself as an authority in sexual anomalies and criminal psychopathy, published essays upon the importance of suggestion in medico-legal practice, and wrote many other remarkable books.
By his marriage to Gabrielle Siegle in 1892, he suddenly became financially independent, and he surrendered his medical practice and devoted himself exclusively to research. With the awakening of his interest in metapsychics he founded the Gesellschaft für Metapsychische Forshung and began the study of telekinesis and teleplastics (or ectoplasm ) that rendered him famous. Up to the time of his death, there was no important medium in Europe with whom he did not conduct personal experiments.
He commenced with Eusapia Palladino, at whose séances in Rome he was present as early as 1894. He followed her all over Europe and invited her twice to Münich as his guest. But he did not declare his belief in the reality of her phenomena until 1914 and only published his Rome and Münich séance records in Physikalische Phenomena des Mediumismus in 1920.
For many years he studied the phenomena of materialization of Eva C. (Marthe Béraud), in Munich and at Juliette Bisson's house in Paris. His book, Materialisations-Phenomene, published in Germany in 1914, at the same time as Bisson's work in France, is amply illustrated with photographs. He discussed the phenomena, concluding, "I am of the opinion that the hypothesis of spirits not only fails to explain the least detail of these processes, but in every way it obstructs and shackles serious scientific research." However, he put forward the equally vague theory of teleplasmic (ectoplasmic) phenomena. (In recent years Eva C. has been shown to have been a clever fraud who seems, with Bisson's help, to have completely fooled Schrenck-Notzing.) The book evoked much public criticism. The pros and cons were summed up by Schrenck-Notzing in a later book, Der Kampf um die Materialisations Phenomene (Battle for the Phenomena of Materialization). The two main works appeared in English translation under the title Phenomena of Materialisation (London, 1920, 1923; New York, 1975).
A supplementary volume to the original book was published in 1922. In it the cases of Willi Schneider, Stanislava P., Maria Silbert and Einer Nielsen were presented. Schrenck-Notzing also sat with Stanislawa Tomczyk, Franek Kluski, Linda Gazzera, Lucia Sordi, and many other mediums. Their cases were reviewed in his book Physikalische Phenomene des Mediumismus (1920). He expressed his conclusions as follows: "The telekinetic and teleplasmic phenomena are not only different degrees of the same animistic process, they depend in the end upon physical manifestations in the subconscious sphere of the medium. The soi-disant occult intelligences which manifest and materialize themselves in the séance, never display any higher spiritual faculty than is owned by the medium and the sitters; they are wholly of oneiric type, dream personifications that correspond to detached memories, to beliefs, to all the miscellaneous things that lie dormant in the minds of the participants. It is not on a foundation of extra-corporeal beings that one will find the secret of the psycho-dynamical phenomena of these subjects, but rather through consideration of hitherto unknown transformations of the biopsychical forces of the medium's organism."
When he discovered the mediumistic gifts of the Schneider children, he trained Willi Schneider so that the same phenomenon could be repeated under similar conditions at specified times and before varying observers. The conditions of these experiments were very strict and the records considered unimpeachable. An electrical system of control made the phenomena apparently fraud-proof. Schrenk-Notzing's work was criticized by Harry Price, but supported by a group of scientists who witnessed the phenomena in 1922 and declared themselves completely convinced of the reality of telekinesis and ectoplasm. The book, Experimente der Fernbewegung, Stugggart, 1924, in which he summed up the story of these researches, is one of the most important works on telekinesis.
In Der Betrug des Mediums Ladislaus László, published in the same year in Leipzig, he described his experiences in Budapest with a pseudo-medium, László. At the conclusion of a series of four sittings he advised the sponsor of the medium, a Mr. Torday, of his uncertainties. Soon after László confessed to gross fraud. When Willi Schneider "lost" much of his power, the Baron trained his brother, Rudi. He discovered another subject, Karl Weber (Karl Kraus), a young man who produced levitations at will and while awake. He reported on him at the Paris Congress.
However, Malcolm Bird in Psychic Research (July 1930) accused Schrenk-Notzing of "extraordinary improprieties in the way of suppressing unfavorable evidence," and cited as one instance that Schrenk-Notzing had completely concealed at the Paris Congress that "Karl Weber" was identical to the notorious Karl Kraus.
In his last years, Schrenck-Notzing devoted much attention to the phenomena of haunting. He left behind a posthumous book, Gefälschte Wunder: Kraus-László-Schlag, in manuscript. In 1929, his widow published his collected articles; Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Parapsichologie devoted 47 pages to intellectual and more than 300 to experimental physical phenomena.
Another posthumous volume (Die Phenomene des Mediums Rudi Schneider ) was published in December 1932. As René Sudre pointed out in his memorial article in Psychic Research (May 1929), Schrenck-Notzing never made any attempt at an inner interpretation of the phenomena he observed. "He lacked the spirit of the philosopher. With him there existed no urgent need for construction; he felt only the urge of accumulating material."
He died February 12, 1929, at Münich, Germany.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Helix Press, 1964.
Schrenck-Notzing, Albert von. Materialisations-Phenomene. Munich: Ernst Reinhardt, 1914.
——. Phenomena of Materialisation. London, 1920. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Press, 1975.
——. Die Traumtanzerin Magdeleine C. Stuttgart, 1904. Sudre, Rene. "The Life and Works of Schrenck-Notzing." Psychic Research 23 (1929).
Tabori, Paul. Pioneers of the Unseen. London: Souvenir Press,1972.