Community of Sensation
A sharing of sensations between hypnotizer and subject was
discovered by early experimenters in mesmerism. It meant
that the subject became insensible in his or her own body but
reacted to physical sensations experienced by the mesmerizer.
Taste and smell were most commonly transferred in this way,
but the transfer of sight and hearing was often reported.
Curious occurrences of the same phenomenon were claimed
by Dr. Paul Joire in an account of his experiments in exteriorization
of sensitivity. Community of sensation was established
between a glass of water or a ball of putty, vaguely resembling
human shape. If the putty was pricked, the subject experienced
the pain in a corresponding part of his body. This experiment
is similar to the black magic practice of making a small image
of an enemy and pricking it with pins.
Still stranger cases have been cited involving materialization
phenomena in séances. Ectoplasm, from which the
materialized shapes are reported by formed, is claimed to be
exuded by the medium, and the physical sensations of the
phantom figures are thus keenly felt by the medium. Stories of
the bad effects of ‘‘spirit grabbing’’ (attempts to touch the
materialized figures) are often recounted and tell of serious injury
to the medium as a result. Vivid descriptions can be found
in Elizabeth d’Esperance’s autobiography. Insistence by skeptics
claimed that materializations were only the medium or an
accomplice in disguise led to the necessity of such stories.
Apart from the materialization sessions, however, there are
a number of accounts of a community of sensation. Possibly, the
most gruesome instance was experienced in the course of a
hypnotic experiment by the celebrated Belgian painter Antoine
Wiertz (1806–1865) who wanted to know if thought persisted
in the brain of a decapitated man. According to Larelig’s
biography, Wiertz, with the aid of a prison doctor friend, hid
himself under the guillotine during an execution and instructed
his hypnotist, who was a party to the experiment, to command
him to identify himself with the criminal. Reportedly,
while the condemned man was led to the scaffold, Wiertz manifested
extreme distress and begged to be released.
‘‘‘It was too late, however—the knife fell.’ ‘What do you feel
What do you see’ asked the doctor. Wiertz writhed convulsively
and replied, ‘Lightning! A thunderbolt falls! It thinks! It sees!’
‘Who thinks and sees’ ‘The head. It suffers horribly. It thinks
and feels but does not understand what has happened. It seeks
its body and feels that the body must join it. It still waits for the
supreme blow for death, but death does not come.’&43’’
As Wiertz spoke, the witnesses saw the head, which had fallen
into the basket and lay looking at them horribly, its arteries
oozing blood. It was only after some moments of suffering that
the guillotined head at last seemed aware that it was separated
from its body. Wiertz became calm and seemed exhausted,
while the doctor resumed his questions.
The painter answered
‘‘I fly through space like a top spinning through fire. But am
I dead Is all over If only they would let me join my body
again! Have pity, give it back to me and I can live again. I remember
all. There are the judges in red robes. I hear the sentence.
Oh! my wretched wife and children. I am abandoned. If
only you would put my body to me, I should be with you once
more. You refuse All the same, I love you my poor babies. Miserable
wretch that I am I have covered you with blood. When
will this finish—or is not a murderer condemned to eternal
As Wiertz spoke these words, the witnesses thought they saw
the eyes of the decapitated head open wide with a look of unmistakable
suffering and of beseeching.
The painter continued his lamentations ‘‘No, such suffering
cannot endure for ever; God is merciful. All that belongs
to earth is fading away. I see in the distance a little light glittering
like a diamond. I feel a calm stealing over me. What a good
sleep I shall have. What joy!’’ These were the last words the
painter spoke. He was still entranced but no longer replied to
the questions asked by the doctor. They then approached the
head and the doctor touched the forehead, the temples, and
the teeth and found they were cold. The head was dead.
Wiertz painted three pictures of a guillotined head. According
to an account of his gruesome experience in Catalogue Raisonné
du Musée Wiertz, précédé d’une biographie du paintre par le Dr.
L. Watteau (1865), Wiertz had been closely following a murder
trial that ended in two men being sent to the scaffold. It is very
likely that one of them was the subject of his experiment.
Community of sensation is witnessed when the medium
through whom a recently freed spirit communicates takes on
the conditions of his last illness and suffers his agonies. In experiments
connected with psychometry this occurs frequently.
It may also occur in prevision. British psychic Vincent Turvey
said that when he foresaw a future event in which the subject
suffered pain, he experienced the victim’s sensations at the moment
of premission. (See also Wirdig’s Magnetic Sympathy)
Wiertz, Antoine Joseph. Antoine Wiertz, 1806–1865. Paris J.
Damase, 1974.