Book: "Psychical Research, Science and Religion"

Author: Stanley De Brath

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- Chapter 3 -

The Objective Facts (continued)


It would be a blessing if such a systematic constitution of the spiritual world, as conceived by us, had not merely to be inferred from the (too hypothetical) conception of the spiritual nature generally, but would be inferred, or at least conjectured as probable, from some real and generally acknowledged observation.

Kant, Werke, vol. vii, P. 32

1. Hyper-Physical Photography

          THIS is perhaps the most inexplicable of all the physical supernormal facts, and also one whose actuality has been most frequently established. It is conceivable that ectoplasm may be so imbued with life as to be "ideo-plastic" - expressing a formative idea latent in it; or, again, that in the cases where a recognized materialization is apparent there may be a living invisible, etherial form that takes up the ectoplasm as a microscopical preparation takes up a stain,(1) thus becoming visible; or that the ectoplasm is used as a sculptor uses clay; but the portraits of deceased persons that have been produced in great numbers must be due to some unknown form of actinism impressing the sensitive film. Not only such forms, but also direct writing, flowers, and designs are so produced, and that (sometimes) without exposure in the camera at all.

(1) For those who are unfamiliar with the process of microscopical preparations I may explain that a very thin slice of animal tissue presents a nearly uniform grey surface under the microscope. By adding carmine, methyl blue, eosin, osmic acid or some other stain, the nervous, muscular and fatty elements each take up a different colour, and so become distinguishable.

Mr. Traill Taylor, president of the London Photographic Society, in his lecture to the London and Provincial Photographic Association (reported in full in the British Journal of Photography, March 1893, and partly reproduced in Psychic Science, January 1925), averred that he had conducted prolonged experiments with Mr. Duguid as medium; that distrusting his own powers of observation while engrossed with the camera, he had taken with him two detectives to watch the proceedings for possible fraud; that apart from Mr. Duguid's presence in the studio, the latter was not allowed to operate or to touch the plates at all; that he brought his own stereoscopic camera, plates, and all accessories; but that nevertheless many "extras" appeared on the negatives, Similar experiments by Major R. E. E. Spencer and others are given in Sir A. Conan Doyle's book The Case for Spirit Photography (Hutchinson, 1919, 2S. 6d.); and a Society was formed at Birmingham, largely composed of sceptical photographers, expressly for the study of these supernormal pictures. At a recent meeting of this Society at the British College of Psychic Science (59, Holland Park, London, W. ii) they recorded the following Resolution:

The members present at this meeting desire to place on record the fact that after many tests and the examination of thousands of pictures, they are unanimously of opinion that results have been supernormally obtained on sensitive photographic plates, under reliable test conditions. At present the members do not undertake to explain how the results are obtained, but they assert that they have undoubtedly been secured under conditions excluding any possibility of fraud.

In November 1919 Dr. Geley and myself visited the mediums that have produced a very large number of these portraits - Mr. Hope and Mrs. Buxton - at Crewe. We took our own plates - one packet of ordinary Rapid and one of pan chromatic bought in London of Messrs. Griffin and Co., Kingsway; we signed each plate on taking it from the wrapper to obviate possible substitution, and closely supervised the whole process. Dr. Geley was familiar with photography and I have operated for over thirty years. We exposed four plates. On the two panchromatic plates there appeared clouds so dense as to obliterate the sitters partially or wholly (P1. 3); on the ordinary plates there were (1) a phrase in French, "Bonjour, vous etes le bienvenu" (P1. 4), and (2) the portrait of a lady who had been associated with my wife and myself for seventeen years, then six years deceased (P1. 5). This photograph did not reproduce any existing photograph but was instantly recognized by five persons who had known her well, including her own brother, a non-spiritualist and sceptically disposed. I have recently, with the kind co-operation of Mrs. McKenzie, of 59, Holland Park, and Miss Scatcherd (well known as experimentalists) carried out (July-September 1924) experiments with plates specially marked and sealed by the Imperial Dry Plate Company, Cricklewood, for such experiments, with the aid of these two mediums, who were, however, not permitted to touch the plates in any way, or to take any part in the manipulation, which was done entirely by myself. An excellent portrait of Dr. Geley appeared on one of the four negatives exposed (P1. 6) and a poor attempt on another. P1. 7 is an enlargement of the face in P1. 6. I have had similar results (some portraits and some unrecognised) on my own plates and with my own camera in presence of the same mediums; and one without the presence of any known medium at all.

The faces that appear are very frequently unrecognized and have no known connection with medium or sitters. P1. 8 is one of these. The photograph was taken at Hulham House, Exmouth, on my own plates, marked immediately on opening the packet and not touched by the medium in any way whatever, developed and fixed by myself. It was one of a series taken in rapid succession that morning, only one slide being used in a very simple camera, with the same sitters (Miss Chilton, Miss Harvey, another lady, and myself), the same background (interior of chapel), no screen, and no special arrangements. Different "extras" appeared from each exposure. As an experienced photographer I certify from close and critical examination of the camera, slide, and all accessories, that the normal process was in no way departed from. The exposure was fifteen seconds. The loaded slide never left my hands till put into the camera, was never out of my sight, was removed from the camera by myself, kept in my hands till opened; I took out the plates and developed them myself. Both had been exposed on the same sitters in the same way: one had only normal images, the other is P1. 8.

Dr. George Lindsay Johnson, F.R.C.S., testifies as follows:

"On my arrival from South Africa I was approached by certain persons requesting me to examine some of the phenomena of spiritualism with the object of putting them to such tests as would absolutely set at rest all doubts as to their reality or otherwise.(1) I accordingly began my investigations with the so-called spirit-photography.

(1) How often has this been done! It convinces those who see it and no others.

"A box of plates was bought by Miss Scatcherd at random from a respectable firm. Then the mediums (Mr. Hope and Mrs. Buxton), saying that the test proposed was of a severe nature and very rarely successful, asked their "spirit-guide" for instructions. This was done by holding plates to the medium's forehead. On one of these plates there appeared on development the following message:

"Friends all, it is with the greatest pleasure we greet you here again and shall do as we have done in the past our very best to help you, so carry out our instructions and success shall attend your efforts. Do otherwise and failure is certain. Seal with wax the box, and ask two good people to witness it. Then dip the box quickly, very quickly, in water, dry, and hold it on your lady medium's forehead. Then let your absent friend develop the centre four with a slow developer, and watch results. If nothing appears, develop the whole. God bless you. What a double victory it will be.

"T. COLLY (sic).

"This message was in fine lithographic handwriting, finishing up with two lines in the handwriting of the deceased Archdeacon Colley. The omission of the 'e' in the signature was afterwards explained as intentional.

"The instructions given were scrupulously carried out. The box was brought by Miss Scatcherd to the rooms of the Royal Photographic Society, and in presence of my friend and one other witness and three members of the Society, after close examination of the seals by all the witnesses, I broke the seals and removed the centre packet of four plates, which, in their presence, I placed in a large developing dish. On development a very fine image of a rose and leaf appeared on one of the four Plates, the remaining eleven being clear glass when fixed.

"Inasmuch as the box was sealed with six seals and the names of both witnesses written across it, no tampering with the contents could have been possible, especially as the box never left Miss Scatcherd's hands for an instant from the time it was purchased until it was opened in the presence of five witnesses at the Society's rooms, the instant before the contents of the centre packet were placed in the developing dish. As the seals were intact and we never removed our eyes from the box or the plates, I am at a loss to account for the rose on one of the plates except on the hypothesis that it was produced by some extra-mundane agency or by some mysterious intrinsic power possessed by the medium. All tricks, such as double exposure, exchange of plates, formation of an image by a mirror, reflected light, X-rays, or phosphorescent cards, were completely ruled out by the nature of the experiment, since only the plates in the centre of the packet bore any image, all the remaining plates being unaffected. All five witnesses testified in writing to the genuineness of the experiment. The formation of the Image cannot be explained by any physical method, and is inexplicable by trickery or by any method known to conjurors or to science."


"September 22, 1920"

Here we have all the elements of supernormality: (1) a promise purporting to come from unseen operators, given (2) on a photographic plate by direct writing, (3) without exposure in the camera; (4) the directions carried out by responsible persons expert in photography, (5) before competent witnesses; (6) the production of a perfect image in the middle of the sealed packet of plates without affecting those on either side of it, (7) without exposure to light at all till opened by red light for development; (8) development in the presence of witnesses; and (9) the promise fulfilled.

These cases, even if they stood alone, would demand the closest attention, for they indicate an unknown power; but they do not stand alone-they have been duplicated in one form or another many scores of times. It is truly extraordinary that the various Societies for Psychical Research should have paid so little attention to a phenomenon so easily controlled. Doubtless the reason is the prejudice excited by the fact that most disgraceful and heartless frauds have been perpetrated in this branch of the subject. All these depend on the "medium" being allowed to handle the plates at some stage of the process. Many of the theories advanced to account for fraud - (pinholes in the camera, images painted in the background with sulphate of quinine or other fluorescent solutions, etc.) - are quite unpractical. The frauds are, I believe, invariably done by easy photographic tricks, and are completely avoidable by the use of the experimenter's own camera, plates, and appurtenances, coupled with the precaution that the medium, whether suspected or not, must not touch the plates in any way.

2. Healing

I have some hesitation in placing this among verified objective phenomena for three reasons: (1) because it is subjective to the extent that cure is by interior forces; (2) because out of the abundant testimony to such cures it is comparatively seldom that reliable medical evidence is available; and (3) because when they occur they are usually claimed as religious "miracles," not at Lourdes only, but at other places where no careful records are kept.

Nevertheless, since the many successes of Dr. Coue, it is currently admitted by the medical profession that cures inexplicable by normal means do occasionally take place, and as some of these cures are supported by adequate medical testimony, and, finally, because (as will appear later in this book) there is a rational, though partial, explanation possible, I have decided to take the possibility of such cures as scientifically verified. The two cases here adduced are such as to preclude the common explanation of imaginative action. They are from the Reports of Dr. Boissarie, the Chef de Bureau des Constatations a Lourdes, and can be verified by anyone. The abridged accounts are as follows:

Varicose Veins. - Mr. X., aged 58, had for twenty-three years suffered from severely ulcerated varicose veins. His doctors considered them incurable. On his arrival at Lourdes, Dr. Roesch stated in his report that both legs were covered with enormous varicosities accompanied by the usual ulcers. Just above the inner ankle was a large and extremely painful swelling, and at the inner side of each knee was a huge venous swelling known as "the Medusa's head." Immediately he was placed in the water he felt a burning sensation as if a hot iron had been applied, and the varicose veins and ulcers completely disappeared. A day or two afterwards his doctor certified as under:

Right leg. - The skin is white and a considerable amount of fat can be felt under the skin. The veins are quite normal and all varicosities have disappeared.

Left leg - The same in appearance as the right leg. The veins in both legs are perfectly straight and normal. The perfect circulation implies the perfect restoration of the valves of the veins. All pain has vanished, and the patient can walk miles without the slightest difficulty or fatigue. His heart, which had greatly troubled him, as he often fainted from syncope, has at the same time become perfectly normal.

This condition has remained for seven years while under the observation of Dr. Roesch. We must therefore believe either that the valves of the veins were immediately reconstructed or that the patient, the nurses, the patient's own doctors and the doctors at the baths are in a conspiracy of misrepresentation, and that on an occurrence that took place in public, and could hardly fail to be refuted if untrue.

Suppurating Fracture of the Leg. - Pierre de Rudder, who lived at Jabbeke, near Ostend, had his leg broken by a falling tree. Dr. Affenaer reduced the fracture and placed it in a starch splint, both bones being fractured and protruding through the skin. The flesh turned gangrenous, a large ulcer formed on the dorsal part of the foot, the wound was full of pus, and Dr. Vassanaere and others, called to a consultation, advised immediate amputation; to which the patient would not consent. About the middle of January Dr. Verriest again advised amputation, without effect. In April the patient was taken to the Grotto at Lourdes. There was a gap of over an inch between the ends of the bones and foul pus poured from the wound. Arrived at the Grotto he felt something happening as he rested on the seat. He knelt down and got up unaided, his leg resumed its normal size, the wounds healed up and the bones were solidly united. De Rudder then got up and walked without crutches to the omnibus which took him back to Ghent. The next day Dr. Affenaer came to visit him; 

"he found the bones quite smooth at the scat of fracture, which was firmly united without any callus. The man lived for twenty-three years after, and during that time worked continually on his land without the least sign of fatigue or pain."

"As this case excited an enormous amount of interest throughout Belgium, Dr. van Hoestenberghe, after De Rudder's death, got permission to exhume the body, and he removed the bones of the legs, which are now in the possession of the Bishop of Bruges." 

These bones were photographed, right and left leg for comparison: the photograph shows deformity at the scat of the fracture, but perfect union of the bones; there is no shortening and only slight displacement from the straight. The medical gentleman who has so kindly brought this case to my special notice remarks:

How can we explain this case? We are confronted with the same difficulty as in the previous one. It is impossible to reject the direct evidence of so many competent medical men who examined the fracture both before and after the cure. Besides, we have the direct evidence of the united bones which were exhumed in the presence of a number of witnesses. We have no alternative but to admit the miraculous, although it goes dead against all our preconceived notions of the inviolability of natural laws to do so. Are we to believe that Nature's laws can be set aside, or are we to reject all human testimony and the evidence of the bones themselves? Or may it be that the miracle is the result of some unknown law of the spiritual world? When Dr. Verriest examined the fracture three months before the cure, he stated that there was a separation of three centimetres (1 1/3 inches) between the two ends. In the centre of the wound two bony fragments could be seen, blackened and necrosed, and bathed in pus. To obtain a natural cure the necrosed ends would first have to be removed, and by that time the separation of the bones would have amounted to three inches or more. How was this cavity filled up? The periosteum had long since been destroyed by the suppuration ... But here is another difficulty: where did the phosphate of lime come from to fill the gap? It could only come from the blood. Now the whole blood in the body only contains about 1.6 grammes of phosphate of lime, and the callus would require at least four times that amount. Where could it come from?(1) And further, what became of the sequestra? They must have disappeared, but where? And where did all the pus go to? It was so profuse that it poured over the cushions of the vehicle that brought him to the Grotto, much to the annoyance of the driver. And, lastly, the muscles during all these years after the fracture took place were atrophied and useless. How did they regain instantly their pristine vigour? No one is able to answer any of these questions, and yet the cure is incontestable.

(1) Possibly by abstraction from the healthy bone. In the photograph this tibia is thinner than the other.

So far Dr. Johnson's account: I agree that these questions, especially the latter ones, cannot be answered as yet; but it is useless to appeal to it "miracle." We need not abandon that continuity of natural law which is the root of all understanding because we do not know of any law adequate to account for such a healing. It is, however, worthy of remark that the healing power only restores the normal organization that the creative energy originally constructed. It does not vary the type.



Contents / Preface / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Appendix

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