The psychic phenomenon of skin writing, related to stigmata
but with one essential difference—stigmatic writings last for
months, years, or throughout a lifetime, whereas skin writing
disappears in a few minutes or in a few hours at the most. For
that very reason the possibilities of fraud in skin writing are
high. Given the sensitive skin of neuropsychopaths, writing
may appear in a few minutes after the letters are directly traced
by any blunt instrument or the fingernails.
As a preliminary to a skin writing demonstration, or pellet
reading, some mediums burn up the pellet on which a name
or question is written and rub their arm or forehead with the
ashes. The rubbing process may give a good opportunity for covertly
tracing the intended message.
However, in at least one case on record this tracing was reportedly
done via telekinesis. In 1869 Manuel Eyre testified
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Dermography
before a committee of the London Dialectical Society on his
experience with a Mrs. Seymour at Waukegan, near Chicago,
as follows
‘‘In trance she would hold out one arm, and with the forefinger
of the other hand make a rapid motion as if writing, the
movement of the finger being in the air about a foot from the
arm; a few minutes after she stripped off her sleeve, and there
on her arm, so distinctly written that it could be read across the
room, was the peculiar signature of the spirit giving the communication.’’
According to the American Spiritualist newspaper Spiritual
Telegraph, the writing on Seymour’s arm appeared in raised letters
and could both be seen and felt distinctly for 15 or 20 minutes.
Gradually it faded away, leaving the skin natural, smooth
and uncolored. Seymour appeared several times before an investigating
committee in Milwaukee, but the committee could
find no explanation.
In the case of a Miss Coggswell of Vermont, the writing appeared
on her arms and forehead in answer to mental questions.
Skin markings have also been produced by suggestion in
experiments with hypnotism. The part that suggestion may
play in such demonstrations was shown in 1933 at the Institute
Métapsychique International of Paris, where Olga Kahl produced
on her skin a mentally communicated word or image.
Psychologist Richard von Kraft-Ebing recorded that the
writing traced on the anesthetic right side of d’Ilma S. appeared
reversed on the left side.
Thomas Killigrew testified to the appearance of the names
of St. Joseph and the Virgin upon the hands of the prioress of
the Ursuline nuns at Loudun in France about the year 1635.
He said, ‘‘I saw her hand, white as my hand, in an instant
change color all along the vein and become red and all of a sudden
a word distinctly appeared, and the word was Joseph.’’
During a period of religious revival in Northern Ireland,
writing on the skin was a common occurrence.
In the case of mediums, the demonstration of skin writing,
while interesting, is of little value for contemporary parapsychology
because of the variety of mundane ways in which it can
be produced. It was reported occasionally in the nineteenthcentury
Spiritualist press, however. British medium Stainton
Moses reported October 12, 1873, that the following names
appeared on his arm ‘‘Imperator,’’ ‘‘Mentor,’’ ‘‘Solon’’ and
‘‘Plato.’’ Solon’s name was impressed with a capital Sigma. The
names were those of Moses’ spirit controls. Charles H. Foster,
‘‘the Salem Seer,’’ gave abundant demonstrations of the phenomenon.
Before the London Dialectical Society, Edward
Laman Blanchard told the story of how the name of his father
appeared in red letters on the arm of the medium and immediately
afterward, in answer to a question, the number 24 appeared
on the palm of his hand, indicating the number of years
since his father’s death. The phenomenon was very rapid, the
letters and numbers disappearing in the sight of those present
without the arm of the medium being withdrawn. A Dr. Ashburner
examined Foster’s skin letters under a magnifying glass.
He observed clearly that they were in relief and that the coloring
matter was under the skin. The color disappeared after two
or three minutes.
Foster’s biographer, George C. Bartlett, described an amusing
incident. A certain Mr. Adams came to consult Foster. He
saw the room was filled with spirits in Foster’s presence. About
two o’clock the next morning he woke up, complaining to Bartlett
that he could not sleep because the room was still filled with
spirits of the Adams family. They were writing their names all
over the seer. To his astonishment Bartlett counted 11 distinct
names, one written across Foster’s forehead, others on his
arms, and several on his back.
In 1926 psychical researcher Harry Price carried out a series
of careful tests on the psychic Eleonore Zügun and obtained
stigmatic marking phenomena under laboratory conditions.
On occasion, skin writing is pictographic. One such case was
reported in the American Spiritual Telegraph regarding the appearance
of a clearly defined human heart with a wound, as if
made by a bullet, on the arm of one Coggewell in answer to the
request by a sitter that his friend, who died when shot in the
heart, should manifest.
A more graphic phenomenon was exhibited in New England
by an African-American woman then working as a servant
to Lewis Burtis. As narrated by Emma Hardinge Britten
in Modern American Spiritualism (1870), red lines had formed
‘‘into a distinct and beautifully-represented picture of a kneeling
man, with a woolly head and African cast of features, a
chain round his waist terminating in two balls, which were ingeniously
fitted into the veins at the end of the arm, whilst above
the whole was written in fine character the words ‘A poor old
slave.’&43’’ The woman servant was nearly illiterate. Messages
frequently appeared on her arm while she was at her household
work and would disappear after having been read by the Burtises.
Dermography differs from stigmata, where as, for example
in the case of Thérèse Neumann and Padre Pio, actual bleeding
appeared on their hands and feet, indicating identification
with the suffering of Christ. Stigmata reproduces the wounds
of Christ as reported in the Bible’s New Testament.