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Sir William Crookes' Psychical Researches


By Hereward Carrington, Ph. D.





Scientific Proof of Psychic Force or Spiritualism

The late Sir William Crookes, O.M., F.R.S., will always be regarded as one of the greatest scientists—as he was one of the greatest "psychical" students-of all time. His achievements in the fields of chemistry and physics alone insure the perpetuation of his name in scientific circles. He was the discoverer of the element thallium; he it was who first investigated many of the phenomena of radiation, which led to the ultimate discovery of the "Crookes tubes"-named after him-and which in turn have led to many important discoveries in the realms of chemistry, physics and medicine ( the X-rays, etc.). He made many valuable contributions to the study of radium; he invented the "radiometer," which we now see in nearly every oculist's shop; he wrote many standard works upon chemical analysis, sugar manufacture, dyeing, printing, metallurgy, sewage, diamonds, and many other topics-thereby establishing his name as one of the finest, most ingenious and most practical scientific minds in the world, and leaving to posterity a veritable monument, in the shape of lasting and valuable achievement, of great practical benefit and value to mankind.

Sir William Crookes, however, was known not only for his interest in the problems of physics and chemistry, but also by reason of his interest in "psychic" phenomena, and his book "Researches in Spiritualism" is a classical manual on the subject, oft quoted, and a model of clarity and impartiality. Curiously enough, his researches into the phenomena of spiritualism were being undertaken during the very years (1870-74) when, in the opinion of many physicists, Sir William was doing his best work in chemistry, so that the charge cannot be brought against him that "he only became interested when in his dotage"; on the contrary, he was then in his prime-about forty years of age. It is true that Crookes maintained his interest to the day of his death, but he wrote very" little upon the subject, contenting himself with patient research and investigation, which tended but to confirm his earlier researches.

A brief summary of these cannot fail to be of interest. The majority of these experiments which were chiefly conducted in Sir William's own home or laboratory-were made with the medium Mr. D. D. Home-a medium who produced extraordinary "physical" manifestations, and who was never detected in fraud in all his long career (Home was an intelligent man, who wrote several excellent books upon the subject himself).

One of the earliest experiments was that with an accordion, held lightly between the thumb and fingers of Home's hand by the end opposite the keys. His other hand was visible and rested on the table. The accordion, thus held, was placed within a circular wire cage, which could be charged with electricity, and of such a height that it would just fit under the table (see illustrations). Writing of these experiments, Sir William says:

"Mr. Home took the accordion between the thumb and middle finger on one hand at the opposite end to the keys.... Having previously opened the brass key myself, and the cage being drawn out from under the table so as just to allow the accordion to be pushed in with its keys downwards, it was pushed back as close as Mr. Home's arm would permit, but without hiding his hand from those next to him.

Very soon the accordion was seen by those on each side to be waving about in a somewhat curious manner; then sounds came from it, and finally several notes were played in succession. Whilst this was going on, my assistant looked under the table, and reported that the accordion was expanding and contracting, and at the same time it was seen that the hand of Mr. Home, by which it was held, was quite still-his other hand resting on the table.

"Presently the accordion was seen by those on either side of Air. Home to move about, oscillating and going round and round the cage, and playing at the same time. Dr. A. B. now looked under the table, and said that Mr. Home's hand appeared quite still, whilst the accordion was moving about, emitting distinct sounds.... But the sequel was still more surprising, for the medium then removed his hand altogether from the accordion, taking it quite out of the cage, and placed it in the hand of the person next to him. The instrument then continued to play, no person touching it and no hand being near it."

When Home had hold of one end of the accordion, Sir William Crookes took hold of one of the medium's wrists, and found that he was not moving a muscle. The next experiments were those with a "spring balance." A mahogany board. 36 inches long, was suspended at one end to a balance, supported by a firm tripod stand.

See illustration herewith. Any downward pressure upon the board was therefore registered by the spring balance. The other end of the board rested upon a knife-edge fulcrum on a solid table, and directly over the center of the fulcrum was placed a large glass bowl filled with water. Over this, in turn, but quite detached from it, being separately supported, was a metal cup, perforated, so as to allow the entrance of the water. The board, thus suspended, weighed six pounds.

It will be observed that by placing the fingers in the metal bowl no added weight was imparted to the board, since this would serve only to displace a small amount of water, which would be registered equally on both sides of the fulcrum.

Mr. Home was asked to place his fingers in the metal bowl, in the water, without touching anything, and requested to will the emission from his fingers of the "psychic force," in order to register a depression of the opposite end of the board near the spring balance. He did so, his hands and feet being carefully guarded (all these experiments being in good light). A pull of about 5,000 grains was registered! In a number of subsequent experiments, even stronger pressures were measured, which results were permanently recorded by means of a needle, making a graphic tracing of the various depressions and oscillations of the board. The manifestation of some kind of "psychic force" thus seemed to be establisht.

These, however, - were but the simple, initial experiments undertaken by Sir William Crookes, which proved to him the reality of "psychic phenomena." His subsequent researches were most striking, including such manifestations as the levitation or floating in space of the medium's body; the elongation of his body; the movements of objects without contact; playing upon musical instruments without any human hand being near him; the handling of red-hot coals without injury to the medium, and finally (with the medium Florence Cook) full-form materializations, which were seen and photographed by Sir William Crookes, and proved by him to be independent beings, separate from the body of the medium. Sir William thus enumerates the phenomena witnest by himself:

The movement of heavy objects without contact; raps; the alteration of weight of bodies; movements of heavy substances at' a distance from the medium; levitations of tables and chairs, without contact; the levitation of human beings; luminous appearances (lights); the appearance of hands; direct writing; phantom forms and faces; various phenomena indicating intelligence other than that of the medium. Regarding, for instance, levitation, Sir William Crookes says:

"On one occasion I witnest a chair, with a lady sitting on it, rise several inches from the ground. On another occasion, to avoid the suspicion of this being in some way performed by herself, the lady knelt on the chair in such manner that its four feet were visible to us. It then rose about three inches, remained suspended for about ten seconds, and then slowly descended... The most striking cases of levitation which I have witnest have been with Mr. Home. On three separate occasions have I seen him raised completely from the floor of the room. Once sitting in an easy chair, once kneeling on his chair, and once standing up. On each occasion I had full opportunity of watching the occurrence as it was taking place.... There are at least a hundred recorded instances of Mr. Home's rising from the ground, in the presence of as many separate persons, and I have heard from the lips of the three witnesses to the most striking occurrence of this kind—the Earl of Dunraven, Lord Lindsay and Captain C. Wynne - their own most minute accounts of what took place.

To reject the. recorded evidence on this subject is to reject all human testimony whatever, for no fact in sacred or profane history is supported by a stronger array of proofs.

"The accumulated testimony establishing Mr. Home's levitations is overwhelming. It is greatly to be desired that some person, whose evidence would be accepted as conclusive by the scientific world-if, indeed, there lives a person whose testimony in favor of such phenomena would be unequivocally taken—would seriously and patiently examine these alleged facts. Most of the eye-witnesses to these levitations are now living (at that time), and would, doubtless, be willing to give their evidence. But in a few years such direct evidence will be difficult, if not impossible, to be obtained...."

Other phenomena recorded by Sir William Crookes regarding the mediumship of Home are still more wonderful. For instance, on a number of occasions, Home took live coals from the fire, held them in his bare hands, and blew on them until the flames licked between his fingers, and the coal could be seen burning with a fierce heat in his hands. On several occasions Home asked one of his sitters to touch the coal to assure himself it was hot; he did so, with the result that a large blister was at once raised on the hand. On other occasions, however, Home would apparently communicate his "preternatural incombustibility" to one of the sitters. He would say, "Now, touch the coal!" and they would be enabled to do so with the same impunity as Home himself. These phenomena- incredible as they may appear- were vouched for by many witnesses, including Sir William himself, and seem to be among the best-attested of Home's phenomena. The only analogy we have is the so-called "fire walking ceremony" performed in India, Japan, the Fiji Islands, etc.-if we leave out of consideration the historic case of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!

Doubtless the most striking tests undertaken by Sir William Crookes, however, were those made with the medium, Florence Cook. These manifestations took place in Sir William's own home-usually in his laboratory—and were of the order of full form materialization. Florence Cook, the medium, would enter the cabinet,' and apparently go into a state of deep trance.

The room being in complete darkness, a white-robed spirit form, claiming the name of "Katie King," would emerge from the cabinet and be seen by the sitters—at times carrying on a conversation with them. Naturally, the question at once comes into the mind: Was fraud possible in this case? Was a confederate employed, or could the medium herself have played the part of the materialized spirit?

It may be taken as certain that no confederate was employed. The tests were conducted, as stated, in Sir William Crookes' own laboratory, and the doors were securely locked before the seance began. No; if any fraud was possible at these times, the medium herself was responsible for it. Could the medium have played the part of "Katie King"? Writing of this, Sir William says:

"... Katie is half a head taller than Miss Cook, and looks a big woman in comparison with her. In the breadth of her face she differs essentially in size from her medium, and the photographs show several other points of difference...."

"I have the most absolute certainty that Miss Cook and Katie are two separate individuals, so far as their bodies are concerned. Several little marks on Miss Cook's face are absent on Katie's. Miss Cook's hair is so dark a brown as almost to appear black; a lock of Katie's, which is now before me, and which she allowed me to cut from her luxuriant tresses, having first traced it up to the scalp and satisfied myself that it actually grew there, is a rich golden auburn...."

"One evening I timed Katie's pulse. It beat steadily at 75, whilst Miss Cook's pulse a little time after was going at its usual rate of 90. On applying my ear to Katie's chest, I could hear a heart beating rhythmically inside, and pulsating even more steadily than did Miss Cook's heart when she allowed - me to try a similar experiment after the seance. Tested in the same way, Katie's lungs were found to be sounder than the medium's, for at the time I tried my experiment Miss Cook was under medical treatment for a severe cough."

Sir William Crookes also took a number of flashlight photographs of Katie-one showing her standing beside him, and one showing Miss Cook, entranced, in the cabinet, with Katie, the materialized spirit, beside her. These phenomena, incredible as they may appear, were nevertheless seen and testified to by a large number of responsible people, and were observed by Crookes himself for many weeks consecutively, and tested in every way possible. These phenomena are among the most extraordinary in the whole history of spiritualism—the most incredible, and the best attested!

What are we to think of them? That is the question which has been asked for the past half century, and which still remains unanswered! They are the most startling manifestations which Sir William Crookes reported, and will remain forever associated with his name.



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