Electric Phenomena
Phenomena with properties resembling electricity have
sometimes been observed in animal magnetism and also in
psychical mediumship.
Radioactivity was suggested when the medium Eusapia Palladino
impressed with her fingers photographic plates
wrapped in dark paper. The white fluctuating clouds or luminous
vapors in the séance room were believed to be additional
evidence of radioactivity, because it is a property of cathode
rays to excite the formation of vapor or mist when they traverse
a stratum saturated with humidity.
Enrico Imoda of Turin, Italy, wondered if the emanations
of radium, of cathode rays in a Crookes tube, and of mediums
were not fundamentally identical, in that the latter appear to
render air a conductor of electricity. He discovered that Palladino
had no influence over the electroscope in her normal
state. One evening, however, when she woke from a trance and
held her hands above the electrodes in the air, she was able,
after three or four minutes, to produce a lowering of the gold
In the experiments of W. J. Crawford, an electroscope was
immediately discharged when it was touched by a psychic rod.
The rods, however, could not conduct a low-tension electric
Fritz Grünewald, a Berlin engineer who designed precision
instruments, disputed the conductivity of the psychic fluid as he
obtained raps upon an electrometer needle carrying a charge
of 500 volts without producing the slightest discharge. The objection
would seem to be scientifically valid only if the raps were
physically struck upon the needle.
Psychical researcher Julien Ochorowicz came to the conclusion
that the ‘‘rigid rays’’ of medium Stanislawa Tomczyk did
conduct electricity. He formed an open electrical circuit of two
silver plates four millimeters apart, a voltaic pile, and a galvanometer.
Tomczyk was able to close the circuit by holding her
hands at either side of the silver electrodes at a distance of one
or two centimeters. He also found that the medium could decrease
the electrical resistance of her own body; his own resistance
was two or three times as great as that of the medium.
This confirmed the experiments of E. K. Müller of Zürich,
which led to the discovery of the ‘‘anthropoflux’’ (see emanations).
Ever since the psychogalvanic reflex was scientifically
demonstrated by O. Verdguth in 1909, it had been well known
that emotions produce changes in the electrical conductivity of
the tissues of the hand.
W. J. Kilner, who attempted to experiment with the human
aura, reported that it also was sensitive to electric currents; the
aura completely vanished under a negative charge.
Many mediums reportedly had electrical sensations before
their séances. Sensations similar to holding the poles of a
strong electric battery started eight or nine hours before the sitting
in the case of Elizabeth d’Esperance. The hair of Florence
Cook emitted sparks before a sitting. Mrs. J. H. Conant observed
an electrical fullness hours before a séance. One Professor
Winther wrote of an electrically charged atmosphere in séances
with Anna Rasmussen. Finally Lord Adare gives the
following account in Experiments with D. D. Home in Spiritualism
(1869) ‘‘My chair began to vibrate rapidly in the most violent
way; it gave me a curious tingling sensation up my arm to the
elbow and up my legs as though I was receiving an electric
shock.’’ He also quotes the following communication from the
control of D. D. Home ‘‘Remember, Dan must not sit on a silk
cushion while the hot weather lasts. To-night the atmosphere
is so surcharged with electricity that it appears to us quite thick,
like sand. We feel like men wading through a quicksand—
slipping back as fast as we advance.’’
Similar sensations to those recorded by Adare have been experienced
by people engaged in automatic writing when the
power bursts upon them. The emanoscope of E. K. Müller,
which detected the susceptibility of persons to electricity, disclosed
much more powerful reactions in the presence of the
medium Oscar Schlag than Müller had previously observed.
Several electric girls were known in the history of Spiritualism.
The name of Angelique Cottin is the most famous. An earlier
instance was furnished by two electric girls of Smyrna who
landed at Marseilles in November 1838. According to E. C.
Rogers in his book Philosophy of Mysterious Rappings (1853), various
men of science and professors visited the girls and ascertained
the following phenomena
‘‘The girls stationed themselves, facing each other, at the
ends of a large table, keeping at a distance from it of one or two
feet, according to their electrical dispositions. When a few minutes
had elapsed a crackling, like that of electric fluid, spreading
over gilt paper, was heard, when the table received a strong
shake, which always made it advance from the elder to the
younger sister. A key, nails or any piece of iron, placed on the
table instantaneously stopped the phenomena. When the iron
Eleazar of Garniza Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
was adapted to the under part of the table it produced no effect
upon the experiment. Save this singularity, the facts observed
constantly followed the known laws of electricity, whether glass
insulators were used or whether one of the girls wore silk garments.
In the latter case the electric properties of both were
neutralised. Such was the state of matters for some days after
the arrival of the young Greeks, but the temperature having become
cooler and the atmosphere having loaded itself with humidity,
all perceptible electric virtues seemed to have deserted
Catherine Berry, a developing medium of the 1870s, was
said to be the possessor of similar powers. A footnote signed by
‘‘Editor, Human Nature,’’ in Berry’s Experiences in Spiritualism
(1876), states ‘‘Mrs. Berry has the power of causing persons
with a mediumistic temperament to fall down, or reel about, by
the simple motion of her hand. At times, in her hands, a stick
becomes a ‘magic wand,’ causing objects to move in a surprising
Hector Durville, in his Traité Experimental de Magnétisme (2
vols., 1895–96) wrote of an infant, born at Saint Urbain in January
1869, who was always charged like a Leyden jar. No one
could go near the baby without getting a shock, more or less violent,
and luminous rays escaped now and then from the baby’s
fingers. The infant died in its ninth month.
The stage performances of Annie Abbot, ‘‘The Little Georgia
Magnet,’’ were unfavorably discussed by Sir Oliver Lodge
in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 5). The
demonstrations of Lulu Hurst (Mrs. Paul Atkinson) in New
York in 1884 were of a similar nature. By a mere touch of her
fingertips she repelled strong men and lifted Hardinge Britten
with his chair a foot from the floor by touching the back side
of the chair with one hand. Britten felt what was described as
the strength of a condensed cyclone. No psychic powers were
claimed by Lulu Hurst herself, however, in her Autobiography
(1897), and more mundane explanations of her performances
were proposed by Walter B. Gibson and J. N. Maskelyne.
Adare, Lord. Experiments with D. D. Home in Spiritualism. Privately
published, 1869.
Gibson, Walter B. The Georgia Magnet. St. Louis, 1922.
Hurst, Lulu. Lulu Hurst Writes Her Autobiography. Rome, Ga.,
Maskelyne, J. N. The Magnetic Lady; or, a Human Magnet Demagnetised.
Bristol, 1892.