Faraday, Michael (1791–1867)
Famous British physicist, born in London on September 22,
1791. He became an assistant to Sir Humphry Davy and later
became celebrated for his brilliant discoveries relating to electricity
and chemistry. Faraday’s well-known saying, ‘‘Nothing is
too amazing to be true,’’ apparently was not meant to cover
table turning. It was, for him, too amazing to be true. His noted
theory that table movements were caused by unconscious muscular
pressure was first advanced in a letter to the Times of June
30, 1853. To prove it, he prepared two small flat boards a few
inches square, placed several glass rollers between them and
fastened the whole together with a couple of rubber bands so
that the upper board would slide under lateral pressure to a
limited extent over the lower one. A light index fastened to the
upper board would betray the least amount of sliding.
During experiments this is just what happened. The upper
board always moved first, which demonstrated that the fingers
moved the table and not the table the fingers. Faraday also
found that when the sitters learned the meaning of the index
and kept their attention fixed on it, no movement took place.
When it was hidden from their sight it kept on wavering, although
the sitters believed that they always pressed directly
downward. However, the pressure of the hands was trifling and
was practically neutralized by the absence of unanimity in the
direction. The sitters never made the same movement at the
same moment.
For this reason, and for the weightier one that tables moved
without contact as well, his theory was soon found inadequate.
According to Charles Richet, it was Michel Chevreul, the famous
French chemist, who originally evolved the theory of unconscious
muscular pressure. Chevreul’s book, however, did
Fancher, Mollie Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
not appear until 1854, a year after Faraday’s explanation was
In later years many attempts were made to prove to Faraday
the reality of psychic phenomena, but he was too obstinate.
‘‘They who say these things are not competent witnesses of
facts,’’ he wrote in 1865. To an invitation to attend the first séance
of the Davenport brothers he returned the answer, ‘‘If
spirit communications, not utterly worthless, should happen to
start into activity, I will trust the spirits to find out for themselves
how they can move my attention. I am tired of them.’’
Faraday was a member of the Sandemanians, an obscure religious
sect holding rigid biblical views. When Sir William
Crookes inquired of Faraday how he reconciled science with religion,
he received the reply that he kept his science and religion
strictly apart.
At the time of the Home-Lyon trial (see D. D. Home), a Professor
Tyndall, in a letter in Pall Mall Gazette (May 5, 1868),
wrote that, years before, Faraday had accepted an invitation to
examine Home’s phenomena, but his conditions were not met
and the investigation fell through. When the original correspondence
on the subject between Faraday and Sir Emerson
Tennant was published, it appeared that one of Faraday’s conditions
was, ‘‘If the effects are miracles, or the work of spirits,
does he (Home) admit the utterly contemptible character, both
of them and their results, up to the present time, in respect either
of yielding information or instruction or supplying any
force or action of the least value to mankind’’ Robert Bell, the
intermediary for the proposed séance, found Faraday’s letter
so preposterous that, without consulting Home, he declined his
intervention. Home, when he learned about it, was duly indignant.
Professor Tyndall—as an arch skeptic—commended Faraday’s
attitude, but those interested in psychical research assumed
the contrary position. ‘‘The letter,’’ writes Frank Podmore
in Modern Spiritualism (1902), ‘‘was, of course, altogether
unworthy of Faraday’s high character and scientific eminence,
and was no doubt the outcome of a moment of transient irritation.
The position taken was quite indefensible. To enter upon
a judicial inquiry by treating the subject-matter as a chose jugée
was surely a parody of scientific methods.’’
Faraday died August 25, 1867. In a series of séances between
1888 and 1910 in Spring Hall, Kansas, the presiding spirit
claimed to be Faraday, and his communications were published
in four books by A. Aber Rending of the Veil, Beyond the Veil, The
Guiding Star, and The Dawn of Another Life. A second set of communications
reportedly from Faraday were received by an
anonymous medium who called herself (or himself) the ‘‘Mystic
Helper.’’ The messages were received sporadically beginning
in 1874 and were finally published in 1924.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Mystic Helper, The. The Evolution of the Universe, or, Creation
According to Science. Los Angeles Cosmos Publishing, 1924.
Podmore, Frank. Modern Spiritualism. London Methuen,
1902. Reprinted as Mediums of the Nineteenth Century. New Hyde
Park, N.Y. University Books, 1963.