Buchanan, Joseph Rhodes (1814–1899)
American professor of psychology and medical science born
in Frankfort, Kentucky, on December 11, 1814. He became
dean of the faculty and professor in the Eclectic Medical Institute
(which practiced natural medicine) in Covington, Kentucky,
and a pioneer researcher in the field of psychometry.
The discoverer of ‘‘phrenomesmerism,’’ Buchanan published
in 1843 a neurological map, a new distribution of the
phrenological organs. He anticipated Prof. Ferrier’s ‘‘center of
feeling’’ by localizing as early as 1838 the ‘‘region of sensibility’’
in which, in a state of high development, he found traces of an
unknown psychic faculty for which in 1842 he coined the word
‘‘psychometry,’’ the measuring of the soul.
Episcopal Bishop Leonidas Polk (General Polk during the
Civil War) told him of his curious sensitivity to atmospheric,
electric, and other physical conditions. If he touched brass in
the dark, he immediately knew it by its influence and the offensive
metallic taste in his mouth. Buchanan began to experiment
and soon found out that these sensations were not restricted to
the sense of taste alone. Students of a Cincinnati medical school
registered distinct impressions from medicines held in their
hands. To eliminate thought transference, the substances were
wrapped up in paper parcels and mixed.
Slowly the conviction forced itself on Buchanan that emanations
might be thrown off by all substances, even by the human
body, which certain sensitives might feel and interpret in their
normal state. He was staggered by the implication of such a
possibility and asserted
‘‘The past is entombed in the present, the world is its own
enduring monument; and that which is true of its physical is
likewise true of its mental career. The discoveries of Psychometry
will enable us to explore the history of man, as those of geology
enable us to explore the history of the earth. There are
mental fossils for psychologists as well as mineral fossils for the
geologists; and I believe that hereafter the psychologist and the
geologist will go hand in hand, the one portraying the earth,
its animals and its vegetation, while the other portrays the
human beings who have roamed over its surface in the shadows,
and the darkness of primeval barbarism. Aye, the mental
telescope is now discovered which may pierce the depths of the
past and bring us in full view of the grand and tragic passages
of ancient history.’’
To the subtle emanation given off by the human body he
gave the name ‘‘nerve aura.’’ In the Journal of Man, which succeeded
S. B. Brittan’s Shekinah, one of the first Spiritualist
monthlies, he published a complete exposition of his system of
neurology, or anthropology. The paper was mainly devoted to
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Buchanan, Joseph Rhodes
his psychometric experiments, in the course of which he came
to believe that an actual clue, something belonging to the person
of whom reading is given, is not always necessary and that
an index, which leads the mind of the psychometer to the subject,
may suffice. He observed
‘‘Acting upon this view I wrote the name of a friend and
placed it in the hands of a good psychometer, who had no difficulty,
notwithstanding her doubts of so novel a proceeding, in
giving as good a description of the character of Dr. N. as if she
had made the description from an autograph. After that experiment
I was accustomed to extend my inquiries to ancient and
modern historical characters, public men and any person in
whose character I was interested, as well as localities I wished
to have described.’’
Buchanan regarded psychometry as a human faculty that
did not involve the intervention of spirits. L. A. Coffin, however,
in her preface to Buchanan’s Manual of Psychometry (Boston,
1889) admitted that she was often impressed by spirits. This
was not incongruous, as Buchanan himself was an avowed Spiritualist.
He published an astounding narrative of his own experiences
in the Light of Truth, Columbus, Ohio, in 1899.
He stated that from 1849 to 1855 he was the only medical
scientist to defend the Fox Sisters and repel their assailants.
He told his friends that he was ‘‘as well acquainted with the spirit
world as they were with Europe.’’ This knowledge was derived
from instructions given by direct voices through Mrs. HollisBilling
(Mary J. Hollis) and from direct scripts. He was further
helped by psychometric explorations that he began in 1879–80
through Cornelia H. Buchanan. ‘‘The past was to her as open
a book as the present, and during the years in which she portrayed
historic characters of whom I knew nothing, I never
found her deviating from the truth as far as I could discover.’’
In the course of these investigations, Buchanan received a
direct penciled message signed by ‘‘St. John.’’ This was followed
by startling communications which, after having been
held in reserve for 17 years, were published in 1897 under the
title Primitive Christianity Containing the Lost Lives of Jesus Christ
and the Apostles and the Authentic Gospel of St. John. Buchanan stated
that he tested the St. John script, properly concealed,
through three psychometrists Cornelia H. Buchanan, Mrs. W.
R. Hayden, and Dr. James M. Peebles, and that all three
agreed as to its source, giving similar descriptions of a great
spirit devoted personally to Jesus Christ. The book was also
adorned by an engraving of the spirit form of St. John, which
Buchanan received between his own pair of slates held in his
On other occasions but in a similar manner, he claimed to
obtain between his slates a portrait of Moses and the Tables of
Law, pictures of Aaron, Helen of Troy, and John the Baptist,
and communications from Confucius. He asserted that subsequent
psychometric reading bore out, in each instance, the
genuineness of the manifestation. Buchanan died December
26, 1899, in San Jose, California.