Hereward Carrington

Hereward Carrington

A distinguished psychical researcher, author of many important and popular books on psychic subjects. After Dr. Hodgson died and the new ASPR was established under Professor Hyslop's leadership Carrington became his assistant and worked in this capacity until July 1908. In 1909 he was involved in the famous Naples investigation into the physical phenomena of Eusapia Palladino, along with W. W. Baggally and Everard Feilding. In 1921 he was the American delegate at the first International Psychical Congress in Copenhagen. Also in 1921, with an interested group behind him, he founded the American Psychical Institute and Laboratory. In 1924 he sat on the Committee of The Scientific American for the investigation of the phenomena of Spiritualism.

Genuine Telekinetic Phenomena

- Hereward Carrington -

          THROUGH THERE are many ways in which objects may be moved by fraudulent means, it is very doubtful whether these methods would account for all the phenomena witnessed in sporadic cases, of the poltergeist type, e. g., or whether we have to search further for a cause. The most obvious methods by which objects are generally conveyed from one place to another is by carrying them there, and we must be well assured that this has not been possible before we give credence to any force unknown to science. When the objects are actually seen to move or to fall from space (apparently) we have several alternatives to choose from: the objects may have been picked up and thrown by the medium or by some other person present, consciously or unconsciously. Or the movement may have been effected by means of a fine thread or hair attached to the object, and pulled by the medium. Or the medium may have moved it by means of the telescopic rod, often spoken of before. Truesdell worked the thread trick to good effect; so did Slade, and so did Doctor Monck, and numbers of other mediums. The scientific presumption, of course, is all against the existence of any such phenomena, and a most suspicious fact, in this connection, is that they are (and apparently always must be) sporadic, and never under the control of the medium. Whenever it has been asserted that these phenomena were controllable, it has been found that there was some error in the experiment which vitiated the result. One of the latest and most instructive of such cases is that afforded by the investigation of "Cheiro's" instrument to measure psychic force. "Cheiro" stated on pp. 158-62 of his Language of the Hand that he had invented an instrument which would register "cerebral vibrations," and that by merely willing, the person so trying could move the indicator-needle, and produce material evidence of the reality of thought! An investigation by two SPR members, however, showed that the results were due to other, normal, causes.[1]

[1] SPR Journal, Vol. VIII., pp. 249-50.

After all is said, however, I cannot feel that fraud can account for all the phenomena that have been observed in certain sporadic cases, or even in séances. Each person must form his or her own opinion on a subject of this character, of course, and that will be influenced largely by the amount of evidence that has been examined by them - dealing directly and indirectly with the subject. After going through all the evidence I could readily lay my hands upon, the distinct impression I received was that certain phenomena of the class known as "telekinetic" do sometimes take place, and that there must be some force in the world as yet unknown, and exercising at least a push-and-pull action (for the evidence for the more complicated phenomena is decidedly weaker, when it ought to be stronger) upon imponderable matter. To my mind, at least, it is by no means hard to conceive the existence of such a force, which, if it were governed by the same laws as all other physical forces, would certainly not run counter to anything science teaches to-day, and the question of its actual existence becomes only a matter of experiment and proof.

Dr. William A. Hammond proved, by a series of experiments, indeed, that certain electrical conditions of the body, e.g., would move objects without any contact on the part of the medium, merely by approximating the hand to that object.[2] But in this case, as in all others, we must set aside a priori considerations in discussing this question, which, after all, is merely one of evidence. The question is not whether some such force is rational or conceivable to us, but whether the facts in the case compel us to accept some such theory in order to explain them.

[2] Spiritualism and Allied Causes and Conditions of Nervous Derangement, p. 115, etc.

And here again, the evidence will be valued very differently by various persons reading the reports of the phenomena. But I cannot too strongly point out and insist upon the fact that, in considering the evidence for the supernormal, the mind is more convinced by a great mass of evidence than through any single case, no matter how perfect the conditions may appear in that instance. So that, in reading the cases I am about to cite, the reader must bear this fact in mind, and remember that if he wishes to obtain a real idea of the cumulative force of the evidence, he must wade through all that is obtainable and be prepared to feel that the single cases given in this or any other book are insufficient to induce belief, in and of themselves.

The first case I quote from Doctor Maxwell's Metapsychical Phenomena, p. 323: "The mantelpiece is covered with plush. On one corner there is a statuette in porcelain resembling the Thorn; the child is seated on a chair, and is pulling a thorn out of his foot; the statuette is five inches high. M. Meurice told me he was going to make this statuette move. I stood near him, with my hand on his back; I stooped down and looked fixedly and narrowly at the statuette during the whole operation. M. Meurice proceeded exactly as in the preceding experiments, and when his hands - joined together at the finger-tips - were at a distance of six inches from the statuette, the latter swayed, bent slowly forward, and fell over. I affirm most positively that there was no hair or thread or normal link of any kind whatsoever between the statuette and the medium's hands. I passed my hand all round the statuette, before the movement, during the movement, and after the movement; I thus verified by touch, what my eyes were witnessing." On the next page is recorded an experiment in which a piece of sealing-wax followed the fingers, in the same manner, and finally fell off on to the floor.

Here, then, we have the record of certain phenomena which are not attributable to any known force or agency, but rather to some force as yet unrecognized by science. If this is a fact, it is a most important fact, and in itself the Cui Bono? of the uninterested. It is true that this force is no proof of spiritism, as such; but that does not matter in the least. The interpretation may be what you like, the question for science is: do the phenomena occur at all? They are, at all events, phenomena that are only met with in the investigation of psychical research problems, for without their investigation, this force, if such it be, could never be discovered. Neither Sir William Crookes nor any of the scientific men who investigated these phenomena have been inclined to attribute the power to spirit agency. The question for them was always: Do the phenomena occur? And the answer to this question they realized could only be settled by observation and experiment, and not by a priori negation of their possibility!

The experiments of Sir William Crookes are so well known to all that it is not necessary for me to do more than refer to them here. They have been quoted so often before that they must be known, at least in outline, to all students of this subject. The experiments were most carefully conducted and seem to prove pretty conclusively that some force or power was at work, beyond the mere muscles of the medium. Doctor Maxwell has cited a number of very striking cases, in his Metapsychical Phenomena. I have quoted one of these above. Several remarkable instances will be found recorded in Jacolliot's Occult Science in India (pp. 232, 242, 243, etc.). A large collection of such cases occurring elsewhere than in a séance-room (which are always to be distrusted) will be found in Mr. Myers's two papers, “On Alleged Movements of Objects without Contact, Occurring Not in the Presence of a Paid Medium."[3]

[3] SPR Proceedings, Vol. VII., pp. 146-98, and pp. 383-94.

These cases are very remarkable, and lead us naturally into a consideration of the alleged "poltergeist" cases, of which so many have been reported in the history of this subject. The most striking and remarkable case of this kind I know, is "The Great Amherst Mystery," which I have quoted elsewhere. It is one of the most thrilling narratives imaginable, though the author endeavored to keep strictly to the truth, which is evidenced by the "duly sworn" statement, made before an attorney, "that the book was truth, and contained nothing but the truth," as he, the author, believed it to be. Several accounts of poltergeist cases, in which bells were rung, furniture upset and thrown about, crockery broken, fires lighted, etc., by no apparent cause, will be found in Vols. I. and II. of the SPR Journal, the results of the investigations of the Society's members. These are the new and well authenticated cases; numbers of others will be found recorded in Mrs. Crowe's Night Side of Nature, Lang's Dreams and Ghosts, etc.

Mr. Podmore summarized the evidence for these cases in a very fine article in Proceedings, Vol. XII., pp. 45-115.[4] In this paper, Mr. Podmore showed that a very large proportion of the phenomena were the result of trickery, and went on to argue that, this being the case, it was highly probable that they were all due to trickery in consequence! I must confess that, while I am heartily in sympathy with Mr. Podmore's general aims and methods in treating the question, his logic does not appeal to me in discussing some of these poltergeist cases. After a careful study of the evidence, the impression left upon the mind is that there is a certain residuum of genuine phenomena, mostly telekinetic in character, that have been imitated in certain cases and added to in certain other cases; but the residuum is there nevertheless. Of course it is impossible to argue the case unless the evidence is all before one, and has been carefully gone over, but, as stated, the general impression left on the mind (at least on my mind, for one must always speak for oneself in such matters) is that there was a certain amount of evidence for the supernormal, in these phenomena, though that evidence would not be convincing to any one per se. If telekinetic phenomena should be proved to exist, in short, these phenomena would weightily support that evidence; but in themselves they are not conclusive, as proving the supernormal. The real evidence, therefore, must be obtained from the more directly experimental cases, such as those previously quoted.

[4] V. also his Modern Spiritualism, Vol. L, pp. 25-43; and his Studies in Psychical Research, pp. 134-62.

In stating that there is a certain amount of evidence for telekinetic and other supernormal phenomena in these cases, I was not only governed by a consideration of the exactness of the observations made, since these were frequently very bad indeed, but by the actual character of the phenomena themselves. Just as, in considering the question of "raps," we found that there was a certain weight of evidence in favor of their genuine character, simply because of some peculiarity in the nature of the raps, that would be hard, if not impossible, to duplicate by fraudulent means; so here, there are certain phenomena noticed which, if they actually occurred, as stated, would be quite impossible to explain by any process of trickery. One of the most common of these is the fact, often noted, that the objects seen in flight, do not (very often) move as if thrown, but with a slow, gliding movement. This has been frequently observed. Mr. Lang, in his criticism of Podmore's Studies,[5] pointed this out, and severely criticized Mr. Podmore's method of dealing with these cases. Mr. Podmore replied that he did not consider his theory (that these were hallucinatory in character) as satisfactory either, "but I prefer it, as regards the cases just quoted, to any other hitherto advanced."[6] The controversy between Messrs. Lang and Podmore still continues, but for the present I must leave this branch of the subject and consider several other characteristics of telekinetic and poltergeist phenomena which seem to show that they are, sometimes at least, genuine, and not merely the results of fraud alone.

[5] Proceedings, Vol. XIII., pp. 604-9.
[6] Proceedings, Vol. XIV., p. 136.

In the first place, there is (generally) the pathological condition of the medium. In nearly all these cases, we read that the medium was in some sense defective or morbid, either as to the physical or the mental side of his make-up. Still, this characteristic might not, after all, serve as proof of the genuine character of the phenomena, as it might reasonably he urged that these characteristics, this abnormal bodily and mental condition, predisposed the medium to produce the phenomena by fraudulent means, consciously or unconsciously, simply because of the morbid state of mind accompanying these conditions. These semi-hysterical states would thus argue) not in favor of the phenomena, but against them. Nevertheless, there are some cases which cannot very well be explained in this way. Take, e. g., the following account of the medium's condition just before the occurrence of a burst of phenomena in the Amherst Mystery (pp. 37-8). "After sitting on the edge of the bed for a moment, and gazing about the room with a vacant stare, she started to her feet with a wild yell and said that she felt as if she was about to burst to pieces... While the family stood looking at her, wondering what to do to relieve her, for her entire body had now swollen, and she was screaming with pain and grinding her teeth as if in an epileptic fit, a loud report, like one peal of thunder, without that terrible rumbling, was heard in the room. They all, except Esther, who was in bed, started instantly to their feet and stood motionless, literally paralyzed with surprise."

It seems hard to believe that this state was feigned, or was the result of any fraud whatever. Take, again, the following case, in which the distinctive factor is the peculiarity of the phenomena observed. The Rev. R. A. Temple, when visiting the Teed home (where the Amherst phenomena occurred), stated that he saw, among other things, "a bucket of cold water become agitated and, to all appearances, boil, when standing on the kitchen table" (p. 51). This is an almost unique occurrence. Not quite so, however, for I find the same phenomenon recorded on p. 235 of Jacolliot's Occult Science in India. We there read: "The fakir stood motionless (with his hands extended over a vase full of cold water). The water began to be gently agitated. It looked as though the surface was ruffled by a slight breeze. Placing my hands on the edge of the vase, I experienced a slight feeling of coolness, which apparently arose from the same cause... Gradually the motion of the waves became more violent. They made their appearance in every direction, as though the water were in a state of intense ebullition under the influence of a great heat. It soon rose higher than the fakir's hands, and several waves rose to a height of one or two feet from the surface. I asked Covindasamy to take his hands away. Upon their removal, the motion of the water gradually abated, without ceasing altogether, as in the case of boiling water, from which the fire has been removed. On the other hand, whenever he placed his hands in the former position, the motion of the water was as great as ever." This corroborative testimony from two such widely separated sources as India and Nova Scotia seems to me to be most interesting and suggestive.

Again, the character of certain sounds heard, would seem to indicate that some sort of hallucination, rather than actual sounds were heard, judging from the description. Thus: "A trumpet was heard in the house all day. The sound came from within the atmosphere - I can give no other description of its effect on our sense of hearing."[7] This closely corresponds to the trumpet sounds frequently heard in the séances of W. S. Moses; for we find that, in these séances, very much the same phenomenon was observed. Says Mr. C. T. Speer,[8] "... We had a sound of which it is extremely difficult to offer an adequate description. The best idea of it I can give is to ask the reader to imagine the soft tone of a clarionet, gradually increasing in intensity until it rivalled the sound of a trumpet, and then, by degrees, diminishing to the original subdued note of the clarionet, until it eventually died away in a long-drawn-out melancholy wail."

[7] The Great Amherst Mystery, p. 123.
[8] Spirit Teachings, p. xv.

This account would certainly seem to suggest hallucination. We know that these sounds are frequently hallucinatory in character, as is evidenced by the phenomena of haunted houses. Frequent illustrative cases could be given. I content myself by quoting one, which has the advantage of being observed by a scientific witness. Miss X. writes:[9]

[9] Alleged Haunting of B― House, p. 119.

"This morning's phenomenon is the most incomprehensible I have yet known. I heard the banging sounds after we were in bed last night. Early this morning, about 5.30, I was awakened by them. They continued for nearly an hour. Then another sound began in the room. It might have been a very little kitten jumping and pouncing, or even a very large bird;. there was a fluttering noise, too. It was close, exactly opposite the bed. Miss Moore woke up, and we heard it going on till nearly eight o'clock..." This account would seem to indicate hallucination, at least in part. The theory advanced by the Hon. John Harris to account for the facts, in the face of the evidence, seems to me perfectly absurd.[10]

[10] Inferences from Haunted Homes and Haunted Men. By the Hon. John Harris.

Finally, there is the evidence afforded by certain impressions and feelings of the medium, experienced when the phenomena are taking place. If the medium is honest, there is no reason to neglect these subjective impressions; in fact, they may prove to be of the very greatest use in ultimately solving these problems. I shall give a few typical examples of the sensations experienced by mediums, when phenomena are occurring, leaving out of account all such dubious statements as those made by professional mediums, etc.

These sensations are noticed by all "dowsers" or, at least, a very large number of them. I have mentioned this phenomenon in the chapter on raps, and so shall not discuss it at any length here. Doctor Maxwell gives several instances in his book. "One of the most intelligent mediums I have come across describes it as a sensation of cramp in the epigastric region; it seems to him, at times, as though he were on the verge of fainting" (p. 119). Then again the "cold breeze," so frequently spoken of in ghost stories, is very often experienced in the séance-room. In the Moses case, these breezes were very numerous. The feeling is recorded several times in Occult Science in India. Reichenbach mentions it in his Researches in Magnetism, etc., p. 59 (though his results could not, apparently, be duplicated by either the English or American SPR).[11] At all events, these phenomena, Whether objective or subjective, indicate some abnormal bodily condition, and, because of that fact, point away from fraud, pure and simple, as an explanation for all the phenomena recorded at séances. If this is once admitted, then the study of the mental and physical conditions of the medium at a séance becomes a scientific duty, for there is evidently something here to be investigated. If the scientific world had come forward boldly, years ago, as it should have, we might by now know something of the conditions then manifested, instead of remaining in our present state of ignorance.

[11] See Proceedings, Vol. L, pp. 230-7; American Proceedings, pp. 116-27.

And this brings me to a consideration of how the phenomena of telekinesis may conceivably be produced - granting that the phenomena are ever genuine at all. To those who are convinced that such phenomena ever do occur in a genuine manner, their explanation becomes both interesting and scientifically important. Tentative theories as to the modus operandi involved are advanced in several books that have been published of late years. Let us for a moment consider these.

Looked at from one point of view, indeed, there is nothing so very wonderful in telekinetic phenomena, after all. No actio in distans is necessitated or called for, and there is no law of the physical world that would be violated by its acceptance; it is only a question of whether it is a fact or not. It is quite conceivable, at least, that the nervous force which actuates the body might, under certain exceptional circumstances, extend beyond the periphery of the bodily frame, and exert an influence over the external, material world. Indeed, as Doctor Maxwell pointed out, "it is not even necessary to suppose that the nervous force acts beyond the limits of the body, if we admit that the experimenters create around them a sort of 'magnetic field.' The nervous force would reach a maximum of potentiality in the experimenters or in the medium; the objects placed within the field would have a different potentiality; according to the conditions, we would have phenomena of attraction Or repulsion." Still, it is probable, as Sir Oliver Lodge pointed out,[12] that these phenomena, if proved to be realities, will require an extension of our views of biological, if not physical law. It is only in the presence of a living being that these actions occur, and the power which enables such movements appears to be a modified or unusual display of vital power, directing energy in an unusual way along unrecognized channels, but otherwise affecting much the same kind of movement as can be caused by the action of ordinary limbs. Thus, instead of action at a distance in the physical sense, what I have observed may be said to be more like vitality at a distance the action of a living organism exerted in unusual directions, and over a range greater than the ordinary." It is, in short, as Mr. Myers suggested,[13] "A mere extension to a short distance from the sensitive's organism, of a small part of his ordinary muscular power."

[12] Journal, vol. VI., pp. 334-5.
[13] Human Personality, Vol. II. 208.

Still, the phenomenon may not be altogether so simple as might appear from these quotations; the phenomenon may prove to be far more complicated in character, and involve far more of the "unknown" in its explanation than we at present conceive. Let us consider, with Professor Flournoy, the possible nature of telekinetic action. In discussing this, he writes:[14]

[14] From India to the Planet Mars (not to he confounded with Gratacap's Certainty of a Future Life in Mars, a work of fiction), pp. 377-8.

"It may be conceived that, as the atom and the molecule are the centre of a more or less radiating influence of extension, so the organized individual, isolated cell, or colony of cells, is originally in possession of a sphere of action, where it concentrates at times its efforts more especially on one point, and again on others ad libitum. Through repetition, habit, selection, heredity, and other principles loved by biologists, certain more constant lines of force would be differentiated in this homogeneous primordial sphere, and little by little could give birth to motor organs. For example: our four members of flesh and blood, sweeping the space around us, would be but a more economic expedient invented by nature, a machine wrought in the course of better adapted evolution, to obtain at the least expense the same useful effects as this vague, primordial spherical power. Thus, supplanted or transformed, these powers would thereafter manifest themselves only very exceptionally, in certain states, or with abnormal individuals, as an atavic reapparition of a mode of acting long ago fallen into disuse, because it is really very imperfect and necessitates, without any advantage, an expenditure of vital energy far greater than the ordinary use of arms and limbs. Unless it is the cosmic power itself, the amoral and stupid 'demiurge,' the unconsciousness of M. de Hartman, which comes directly into play upon contact with a deranged nervous system, and realizes its disordered dreams without passing through the regular channels of muscular movements."

In considering the difficult problem of the intelligence involved in these phenomena, i.e., its origin and nature, I quote the following passage from Doctor Maxwell's book, which will, I am sure, be found highly interesting and suggestive to my readers. Doctor Maxwell advances the following theory, which is certainly illuminating. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that telekinetic and other kindred phenomena do sometimes occur at séances, he suggests that the intelligence shown at such times is not that of some “spirit,” but somehow a "compound of the elementary consciousness of the sitters." He then goes on: "This hypothesis does not appear to me to be demonstrated, but some of my experiments have made me think of its possibility, and I consider it ought to be submitted for examination. Things seem to happen as though the nervous influx of the sitters created a field of force around the experimenters, and more especially the medium. Each experimenter would then act as a dynamogenic element, and would enter, for a variable part, into the production of the liberated energy. This energy would act beyond the apparent limits of the body, under conditions analogous to those governing its intercorporal action; that is to say, it would remain, to a certain extent, in connection with the superior or inferior nervous centres, conscious or unconscious. In this case, we could understand how the energy appears to depend, to a certain extent, upon the will of the sitters or the medium. We can even explain that it should appear to manifest an independent will, if its production were due to the activity of the nervous centres, the action of which is independent of ordinary consciousness. In that hypothesis, none of the sitters would recognize the trace of their normal personality in the evolution of the phenomena; and this is what generally happens. Sometimes, however, the medium or one of the sitters has the feeling, more or less precise, that a phenomenon is about to take place... In this case, the nervous energy, employed to realize the phenomenon, would be in connection with the conscious nervous centres of the medium only, and she would appear to the sitters to be subjected to an extraneous personal will... Such appears to me to be the genesis of the personification, in the greater number of the cases observed by me. There are others, however, where this explanation is less satisfactory."[15]

[15] Metapsychical Phenomena, pp. 166-7.

I conclude this theoretical discussion of the subject by quoting a passage from a report of Sir Oliver Lodge. In discussing telekinetic phenomena, and the fact that frequently associated with the actual movement of an object, there is a "sympathetic" movement on the part of the medium, though this movement has really nothing to do with the actual movement, as can be proved by the senses of touch
and sight, he goes on:[16]

[16] Journal, SPR., Vol. VI., p. 333.

"The fact, just recorded, that the medium's body under goes sympathetic or corresponding movements or twitches is very instructive and interesting. Sometimes, when she (the medium) is going to push a distant object, she will make a little sudden push with her hand in this direction, and immediately afterward the object moves. Once this was done for my edification with constantly the same object, viz., a bureau in a corner of the room... When six or seven feet away the time-interval (between the push and the movement of the object) was something like two seconds. When the accordion is being played, the fingers of the medium are moving in a thoroughly appropriate manner, and the process reminds one of the twitching of a dog's legs when he is supposed to be dreaming that he is chasing a hare. It is as if Eusapia were dreaming that she was fingering the instrument, and dreaming it so vividly that the instrument was actually played. It is as if a dog dreamt of the chase with such energy that a distant hare were really captured and killed, as by a phantom dog; and, fanciful as for the moment it may seem, and valueless as I must suppose such speculations are, I am, I confess, at present more than half-disposed to look in some such direction for a clue to these effects. In an idealistic interpretation of nature it has by many philosophers been considered that thought is the reality, and that material substratum is but a consequence of thought. So, in a minor degree, it appears here; it is as if, let us say, the dream of the entranced person were vivid enough to physically affect surrounding objects, and actually produce objective results; to cause not only real and permanent movements of ordinary objects, but also temporary fresh aggregations of material particles into extraordinary objects; these aggregations being objective enough to be felt, heard, seen, and probably even photographed, while they last."

With these profoundly interesting remarks, I close this chapter, since I have discussed these theories at greater length than is warranted in a book of this character. Those of my readers who are interested in following up the theoretical and speculative side of the question I would refer to F. W. H. Myers's Human Personality, Vol. II., pp. 505-54.


Hereward Carrington's "The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism Fraudulent and Genuine" (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920).

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