Paranormal breezes, currents of air, and cooling temperatures are frequently reported séance room phenomena, as well as being traditionally associated with the subjective effects of hauntings. It is an open question whether such temperature changes serve a direct purpose or are only by-products.
Such thermic manifestations are a great convenience both for the sitters and the medium, who sometimes report excessive perspiration. One the other hand, Celestine Sanders, a New York medium, used to feel so unnaturally cold during her séances that she enveloped herself in many coverings and shawls to counteract the effect. It is difficult to allot the parts that the sitters and the medium play in the phenomenon. Sometimes the source seems to be the medium.
The spouting fountain of air that psychical researcher Cesare Lombroso discussed in his account of séances with Eusapia Palladino issued from a depression on the medium's forehead. Hereward Carrington noticed that after a good séance the breeze was strong, and after a poor one it was altogether lacking. Yet the breeze was not generally an after-séance effect. It usually preceded and heralded strong physical phenomena.
The chilly feeling that accompanies apparitions may be the result of a sudden drop in the temperature. All those who saw the apparition of a wooden cross in a certain haunted house felt unnaturally cold.
"Walter," the spirit control of the medium Mina S. Crandon ("Margery"), said that cold breezes and drops in temperature were the result of some psychic emanation from the sitters' brains. "Walter" found immense pleasure in using the thermometer as an indicator of the physical conditions confronting him. He said that if he looked at it and it was steady, he used "Margery" alone, and if it was going down, he used the sitters' brains as well. If he used "Margery" alone no cold breezes or drops in temperature were produced.
"Walter's" statement contains nothing new for Spiritualists. A control of the famous medium D. D. Home said more than a half a century earlier: "It is through your brains that the atmosphere we make use of is thrown off." Lord Adare, in a séance with Home, heard the sound of a great wind. "We also felt the wind strongly," he wrote "the moaning, rushing sound was the most weird thing I ever heard."
Prior to the Spiritualist era, the seer Emanuel Swedenborg also encountered the phenomenon. He wrote in his Spiritual Diary:
"A spirit is compared to the wind (John iii, 8); hence it is that spirits have come to me both now, and very frequently before, with wind, which I felt in the face; yea, it also moved the flame of the candle, and likewise papers; the wind was cold, and indeed most frequently when I raised my right arm, which I wondered at, the cause of which I do not yet know."
The same experience has been recorded with many physical mediums. Sir William Crookes wrote in Researches into the Phenomena of Spiritualism (1874):
"These movements, and indeed, I may say the same of every kind of phenomenon, are generally preceded by a peculiar cold air, sometimes amounting to a decided wind. I have had sheets of paper blown about by it, and a thermometer lowered several degrees. On some occasions I have not detected any actual movement of the air, but the cold has been so intense that I could only compare it to that felt when the hand has been within a few inches of frozen mercury."
In the experiments at the Millesimo Castle with the Marquis Centurione Scotto, the psychical researcher Ernesto Bozzano recorded:
"On the evening of July 7, 1928, the heat was very oppressive … we happened to mention this disadvantage, and immediately blasts of unusually strong, icy air were felt by us all….There was a continual change in the direction from which these air currents came; sometimes they descended from the ceiling, then we felt them in front of us, or at our side, or blowing from behind us; sometimes they were like small whirlwinds. It felt as though several electric fans were working in the centre, outside and above the circle."
In the next séance, the phenomenon was repeated and perfected:
"Almost immediately we felt strong blasts of icy air which rapidly increased in force, giving one the impression of a powerful supernormal electric fan which periodically wafted its pleasant, cooling currents of air over the sitters…. These currents were so strong that our hair waved in the wind, and men's coats, and the lace on the ladies' dresses were blown about."
Bozzano added that not the slightest sound accompanied the production of this phenomenon. The breezes sometimes brought down the temperature of the séance room by as much as 20 degrees.
George Henslow described the sensations of the sitters of T. d'Aute Hooper of Birmingham, England, as of that of "an intensely cold dew or mist, as though a vapour of methylated spirit were floating about the room." While apports were being produced, "the sitters felt as if they were sitting up to their knees in cold water."
Measuring Temperature Differences
The psychical researcher Harry Price established a definite connection between the phenomenon of telekinesis and the drop in temperature. In his experiments with the medium Stella C. at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research he noticed a maximum drop of 20.5 degrees Fahrenheit. At the close of the séance the temperature was again normal. The medium's temperature was always higher at the end of the sitting, but she herself always complained of feeling cold. The rapidity of her pulse beats was always accompanied in the trance by a pronounced coldness in the extremities.
In the "Margery" séances, a maximum-and-minimum thermometer was employed to measure the temperature. In one case the initial temperature dropped from 68 to 42, a difference of 26 degrees. After the breezes had been blowing for a while "Margery" often complained of feeling as though cobwebs were on her face.
General experience regarding the nature of the cold breezes was curiously contradicted in an address by the British clairvoyant Robert King (Light, April 25, 1903). He stated that the peculiar cold air of the séance room is not a wind,
"… it does not move things. I have watched pieces of paper placed on the table when these cold airs have been playing around. If a wind of that intensity had been blowing, the paper would have been moved, so I rather incline to the opinion that this phenomenon is due to a difference in pressure caused by abstraction of etheric matter from the sitters."
Hack, Gwendolyn Kelley. Modern Psychic Mysteries. London: Rider, 1929.