Spiritualists believed that light had a destructive effect upon
the physical phenomena of Spiritualism, which psychic research
attempted to document. Quite apart from the fact that
darkness hid much fraud, Spiritualists developed arguments to
suggest that light had an inherent inhibiting effect on psychic
phenomena. For example, it is known that light waves have
very rapid vibrations (the visible light waves are from 3900 angstroms
to 7700 angstroms; that is, the wave lengths range from
0.00000077 to 0.00000039 meters). Broadcasting practice
demonstrates that the fast vibrations tend to nullify the slower
vibrations on which radio is based. When the days are long and
the sunlight intense, radio reception drops down. With the oncoming
of night it improves again. With short waves which vibrate
faster, reception is better.
It is claimed that psychic vibrations are in the same position.
The slowest light vibration is red, and its destructive effect is
correspondingly less. Filtering of daylight by glasses of various
colors makes little difference. Cold light, devoid of actinic rays,
is the least injurious. ‘‘I have had many opportunities,’’ wrote
Sir William Crookes, ‘‘of testing the action of light of different
sources and colours, such as sunlight, diffused daylight, moonlight,
gas, lamp and candle light, electric light from a vacuum
tube, homogeneous yellow light, etc. The interfering rays appear
to be those at the extreme end of the spectrum.’’ He found
moonlight ideal.
Sulphide of zinc or calcium screens have also been tried.
They have the disadvantage that their illumination is poor unless
they are extremely large, and the intensity of their phosphorescence
rapidly diminishes. Gustav Geley experimented
with biological light. It did not appear to affect the phenomena.
However, the cultures of photogenic microbes are very unstable.
In Brazil, luminous insects were tried with some apparent
Meanwhile, some of the more notable mediums worked primarily
in lighted rooms and were able to produce extraordinary
phenomena. D. D. Home seldom sat in darkness. Eusapia
Palladino once levitated a table in blazing sunshine. French
psychic researcher Dr. Joseph Maxwell was probably right in
stating that the action of light is not such as to constitute an insurmountable
obstacle to the production of telekinetic movements.
The supposed problem of light was highlighted in an incident
reported in the issue of Psychic Research (January 1930).
According to a communication by Irving Gaertner of St. Louis,
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Light
Missouri, in a sitting with Eveling Burnside and Myrtle Larsen
in Camp Chesterfield, Indiana, a ray of light, owing to the turning
of a switch outside, penetrated through a crack between the
lower edge of the door and the floor into the séance room.
‘‘Agonized groans were heard (presumably from the entranced
medium, Mrs. Larsen) and one of the two trumpets
which had been levitated for the voice immediately fell at the
feet of Mr. Nelson. At the same moment, Mrs. Nelson received
an electric shock which formed a blister on one of her fingers,
resembling one which would be produced by a burning of the
skin. All the sitters testified to having felt the electric shock
both in the region of the solar plexus, the back and the forehead.’’
Larsen was reportedly discovered prostrate on the floor,
minus any heartbeat and her body rigid. It took considerable
effort to restore her to consciousness. Burnside, the other medium,
suffered from the shock for several days after the sitting.
Frederick Bligh Bond, editor of Psychic Research, speculated
about the nature of the electric shock ‘‘Is it the light, qua light,
which in this case causes the violent disturbance of conditions,
or is it light as an avenue of conductivity, linking the psychic
circuit to the current on the wires of the lamp in the hall’’
The dangers of the shock from unexpected light were considered
an interesting matter in J. Hewat McKenzie’s report
on the mediumship of Ada Besinnet in the April 1922 issue of
Psychic Science. The smallest red spark burning was sufficient to
prevent the medium from going into trance.
‘‘Upon another occasion, when drawing the electric plug
from the wall socket, behind a piece of furniture, and about 8
feet from the medium, the small spark, about 116 inch long,
which usually accompanies the withdrawal of a plug of this kind
when the power is on, was sufficient to create such a psychic
shock that the medium immediately fell forward on the table
in a cataleptic state.’’
That psychic structures may objectively exist beyond the
range of our optical capacity was demonstrated by quartz lens
photography. The quartz lens transmits ultra-violet rays to
make visible on the photographic plate things not visible to the
eyes. Mrs. J. H. McKenzie and Major Mowbray experimented
in this field with the mediums J. Lynn and Lewis. The quartz
lens not only disclosed fluorescing lights; vibrating, spinning
substances; and psychic rods, but also the dematerialization of
the medium’s hand when added force had to be borrowed.
Similar results were achieved by Daniel Frost Comstock in
séances with ‘‘Margery the Medium’’ (Mina Stinson Crandon)
in Boston. Several of his exposed plates showed curious, indefinable
white patches, one of which was fairly recognizable as
a human face, although it could not be identified. The most important
advance in this field of research was registered at the
Institut Métapsychique International in Paris with the mediumship
of Rudi Schneider in 1931.
Over the first half of the twentieth century, critics claimed
that the alleged destructive effect of light on psychic phenomena
and the health of the medium were a subterfuge to cover
fraud in the darkness of the séance room. In no case was any
true physical harm done to mediums by the shining of light,
and over the long run, physical mediumship of the type popular
in the early twentieth century disappeared under the scrutiny
of psychic researchers and the continued improvement of
observational techniques.