Book Tests
Experiments in psychic research to exclude the working of
telepathy in mediumistic communications. In answer to questions
or for reasons of personal relevance, the communicator
indicates a certain book upon a certain shelf in the home of the
sitter and gives the text on a certain page.
In such experiments far more successes were registered than
chance would justify. The books selected are usually those of
which the communicator was fond in his lifetime, thus offering
another suggestion of personal identity. Many excellent cases
of book tests are recorded in Lady Glenconner’s The Earthen
Vessel (1921) and in Some New Evidence for Human Survival
(1922), by the Rev. Drayton Thomas. In the preface he wrote
to Thomas’s book, Sir William Barrett reported to have received
this communication from the deceased psychical researcher
F. W. H. Myers
‘‘There were some books on the right-hand side of a room
upstairs in your house in Devonshire Place. On the second
shelf, four feet from the ground, in the fourth book counting
from the left, at the top of page 78, are some words which you
should take as direct answer from him (Myers) to so much of
the work you have been doing since he passed over. Asked if
the name of the book could be given, the reply was ‘No,’ but
that whilst feeling on the cover of the book he got a sense of
‘progression.’ Two or three books from this test book are one
or two books on matters in which Sir William used to be very
interested, but not of late years. It is connected with studies of
his youth.’’
Barrett pointed out that Gladys Leonard, the medium who
brought in this communication from Myers, never visited his
house. He had no idea what books were referred to, but on returning
home found that in the exact position indicated, the
test book was George Eliot’s Middlemarch. On the first line at the
top of page 78 were the words ‘‘Ay, ay. I remember—you’ll see
I’ve remembered ‘em all.’’ The quotation was singularly appropriate,
because much of Barrett’s work since Myers passed over
had been concerned with the question of survival after death
and whether the memories of friends on earth continued with
the discarnate.
But the most remarkable part of the test was yet to be discovered.
Unknown to Barrett, the maid, when in dusting the bookshelves,
replaced two of Eliot’s novels by two volumes of Dr.
Tyndall’s books, namely, his Heat and Sound, which were found
exactly in the position indicated. In his youth Barrett was for
some years Tyndall’s assistant, and these books were written
during that time.
By what process does the discarnate intelligence find a relevant
passage in closed books One of the preliminary statements
that Thomas received from his father was that he
‘‘sensed the appropriate spirit of the passage rather than the
letters composing it.’’ After 18 months he appeared to acquire
a power of occasionally seeing the words by some sort of clairvoyance.
Giving the page number is one of the greatest difficulties.
The impression left on Thomas’s mind was that when a
page had been fixed upon as containing a thought suitable for
the test, the operator counted the pages between that and the
beginning. He usually started where the flow of thought began
and when it ceased and recommenced higher up he concluded
that he passed from the bottom of one page to the top of another.
This was how they computed the number of pages between
the beginning and the passage fixed upon for the test. When
verifying, one usually counted from the beginning of the printed
matter, disregarding fly-leaves and the printer’s numbering.
The experiments were just as successful when a sealed book
was used, which was deposited by a friend in Thomas’s house;
with an unseen bookshelf; with a parcel in which an antiquarian
at random packed in some books and which was unopened;
and with books placed in the dark in an iron deed-box.
If these results are to be explained by the medium’s supernormal
powers, she has to be endowed, as Thomas points out,
with such a degree of clairvoyance as would permit the making
of minute observations in distant places and retaining a memory
of things seen there; with ability to extract the general meaning
from printed pages in distant houses, despite the fact that
the books concerned are not open at the time; with ability to
obtain knowledge of happenings in the sitter’s home and private
life relating both to the present and to the distant past; and
with an intelligence which knows how to select from among our
host of memories the suitable items for association with the
book of passage, or conversely, of finding a suitable passage for
the particular memory fished from the depths of our mind.
Thomas’s own conclusion was that the book tests were obtained
by a spirit who gleaned impressions psychometrically and obtained
an exact glimpse now and again by clairvoyance.
The underlying idea of book tests goes back to the experiments
of Sir William Crookes. A lady was writing automatically
with the planchette and he tried to devise a means for the exclusion
of ‘‘unconscious cerebration.’’ He asked the invisible intelligence
if it could see the contents of the room, and on receiving
an affirmative answer, Crookes randomly placed his
finger on a copy of the Times (of London), which was on a table
behind him, without looking at it, and asked the communicator
to write down the word covered by his finger. The planchette
wrote the word ‘‘However.’’ He turned around and saw that this
was the word covered by the tip of his finger. This experiment
was first published in January 1874 in the Quarterly Journal of
The first plain book tests were recorded by Stainton Moses.
He wrote automatically, under the dictation of ‘‘Rector’’ ‘‘Go
to the book case and take the last book but one on the second
shelf, look at the last paragraph on page 94, and you will find
this sentence. . . .’’ The sentence was found as indicated. The
experiment was repeated a number of times.
Of other mediums, William Eglinton was particularly successful
in direct-writing book tests. Many cases are described in
John S. Farmer’s Twixt Two Worlds (1886). The page and line
were selected by tossing coins and reading the last numbers of
the dates. In some cases they were still further complicated by
prescribing the use of colored chalk in a set order of the words.
Book tests combined with incidents of xenoglossia are described
in Judge Ludwig Dahl’s We Are Here, published in 1931.
The Norwegian judge wrote of the mediumship of his daughter,
Ingeborg, and described how her two (deceased) brothers
‘‘were represented as going into another room and reading
aloud passages from a book still on the shelves, the number of
which was selected by one of the sitters—the medium successfully
repeating or transmitting what they read in a foreign language
and far beyond her comprehension.’’
Mrs. Henry Sidgwick, in her study of the problem of books
tests in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (April
1921), arrived at the conclusion, ‘‘On the whole, I think, the evidence
before us does constitute a reasonable prima facie case
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Book Tests
for belief in the perception of external things not known to any
one present, but known to someone somewhere.’’
Baird, Alexander T. One Hundred Cases for Survival after
Death. New York Bernard Ackerman, 1944.
Besterman, Theodore. Collected Papers on the Paranormal.
New York GarrettHelix, 1968.
Smith, Susy. The Mediumship of Mrs. Leonard. New Hyde
Park, N.Y. University Books, 1964.
Thomas, C. Drayton. Some New Evidence for Human Survival.
London Collins, 1922.