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Thought-transference from the reverse aspect. The agent attempts to picture the contents of the subject's mind, i.e., to "read it," instead of impressing it with his own transmitted ideas.

In more modern society, where outbursts of ecstatic frenzy are and were ascribed to "demonic" possession, ecstatics are often credited with the power to read thoughts. Various psychic functionaries were supposed to possess the same faculty. In the religious revivals of the sixteenth century among the so-called Tremblers of the Cevennes, for example, thought-reading was one of the minor but very practical miracles that occurred. It was used for the detection of spies who frequently attended the meetings of the proscribed devotees.

In the fifteen century, Paracelsus had observed the phenomenon of thought-reading, and it was also reported by early experimenters in animal magnetism. More recently, Robert Baxter, a member of the Irvingite congregation, seized with Pentecostal fervor in 1831 and recorded that when he was possessed by tongues he could often read the unspoken thoughts of his hearers. Sydney and Lesley Piddington and Julius and Mrs. Zancig were two couples who also became well-known for their thought-reading abilities.

Thought-reading may occur through rapport with or the positive perception of the ideas existing in another mind. Musical strings furnish an analogy to the first mode. A note struck on one string will be taken up and echoed by another. In cases of mass panic, the sense of fear is communicated to surrounding people who may be ignorant of the original cause of the terror. It is often difficult, however, to differentiate between psychic contagion and the transmission of emotions or ideas by subconsciously perceived signs such as facial expressions and postures.

The advent of Spiritualism gave thought-reading a new driving force. It was now the spirits who read the thoughts of the sitters and replied to them with raps and table-turning messages. Sergeant E. W. Cox, an early investigator of the phenomena of Spiritualism, speculated:

"If the Darwinian theory be true, there must have been a time when man had no articulate speech. For intercommunication with his kind he must have then possessed some other faculty than language. Most probably that was what the intercourse of animals is, and the abnormal cases of thought reading that occur among ourselves may be possibly the survival of a faculty which has now almost vanished, because it has gradually fallen into disuse."

The term "thought-reading" is also popularly used for demonstrations by stage performers who actually use subtle codes for apparent telepathic communication, a practice described in a number of books such as Stuart Cumberland's 1888 text, Thought-Reader's Thoughts. It is possible that some tricks of stage performers may be similar to methods employed subconsciously by ordinary individuals who appear to manifest thought-reading or telepathic faculty. Some performers can do muscle reading, perceiving the subtle muscular movements when holding the hand of a subject or even pick up subconscious whispering.

(See Rev. Edward Irving )


Braddon, Russell. The Piddingtons. London: Werner Laurie, 1950.

Cumberland, Stuart [Charles Garner]. Thought-Reader's Thoughts: Being the Impressions and Confessions of Stuart Cumberland. London: S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1888. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.