Luminous Phenomena
A frequent occurrence in physical mediumship. On rare occasions
such phenomena have been witnessed in apparent independence
of mediumistic conditions.
The chronicles of religious revivals are full of instances of
transcendental lights. For example, during both the great Irish
revival in 1859 and the Welsh revival in 1904 there were multiple
accounts. A Mr. Jones of Peckham, editor of the Spiritual
Magazine (1877, vol. 18), quotes a leading official belonging to
the Corporation of London
‘‘Having heard that fire had descended on several of the
great Irish assemblies during the Revivals, I, when in Ireland,
made inquiry and conversed with those who had witnessed it.
During the open-air meetings, when some 600–1,000 people
were present, a kind of cloud of fire approached in the air, hovered
and dipped over the people, rose and floated on some distance,
again hovered on that which was found afterwards to be
another revival meeting, and so it continued. The light was very
bright and was seen by all, producing awe.’’
Of the Welsh Revival an interesting account was published
by Beriah G. Evans in the Daily News (February 9, 1905). The
lights he saw appeared for the first time on the night when
Mary Jones began her public mission at Egryn. The first light,
Evans writes, ‘‘resembled a brilliant star emitting sparklets. All
saw this. The next two were as clearly subjective, being seen
only by Mrs. Jones and me, though the five of us walked
abreast. Three bars of clear white light crossed the road in
front, from right to left, climbing up the stone wall to the left.
A blood-red light, about a foot from the ground in the middle
of the roadway at the head of the village street was the next
manifestation.’’
A Daily Mirror correspondent confirmed Evans’ account. He
said he saw both sets of lights. A third confirmation was published
in the July 1905 Review of Reviews by the Reverend Llewellyn
Morgan.
These lights seem to have been the result of an outpouring
of the combined psychic forces that religious ecstasy supposedly
generates. Religious enthusiasm and ecstasy in general have
often been reported to be accompanied by luminous phenomena.
The Bible says that Jesus was transfigured before his disciples
and that his face shown as the sun and his garments were
white as light (Matt. 172). As Paul walked to Damascus, he encountered
a light from heaven that shone around him (Acts
93). The saints and martyrs spoke of an interior illumination.
St. Ignatius Loyola was seen surrounded by a brilliant light
while he prayed and his body shone with light when he was levitated;
St. Columba was said to have been continually enveloped
in a dazzling, golden light, reminiscent of what is today termed
an aura.
William James quotes many interesting instances in Varieties
of Religious Experience (1902). In Cosmic Consciousness (1901), R.
Maurice Bucke speaks of his heightened state being heralded
by an influx of dazzling light. The body of the medium Leonora
Piper was described by the communicators as an empty
shell filled with light.
‘‘A medium,’’ said ‘‘Phinuit,’’ the spirit control of W. Stainton
Moses, ‘‘is for us a lighthouse, while you, non-mediums are
as though you did not exist. But every little while we see you as
if you were in dark apartments lighted by a kind of little windows
which are the mediums.’’
This light or flame, according to communications obtained
by Hester Dowden, appears to be pale, ‘‘a clear white fire’’ that
seems to grow more vivid as the medium gets into better touch
with the spirit world.
It has been suggested that spectral lights may have a psychic
origin. The fire of St. Bernardo was studied in 1895 in Quargnento
by a Professor Garzino. It was a mass of light that wandered
every night from the church to the cemetery and returned
after midnight. A similar light was observed at
Berbenno di Valtellina. The light passed through trees without
burning them.
The phenomenon has not been explained by reference to
known chemical laws. The main difficulty that such lights present
is the absence of a human organism to which their origin
could be traced. But such an absence is also noted in uninhabited
haunted houses where the human link is strongly emphasized.
As luminous phenomena emerged in a Spiritualist context,
many of the accounts were tied to the rather questionable phenomena
of materialization. Not a major concern of psychical
research, the strange—even extraordinary—luminous phenomena
reported by sitters could simply have been additional
phenomena produced as part of a total fraudulent event.
The Psychic Lights of D. D. Home and Stainton
Moses
Sir William Crookes, in Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism
(1874), relates the following
‘‘Under the strictest test conditions I have seen a solid luminous
body, the size and nearly the shape of a turkey’s egg, float
noiselessly about the room, at one time higher than anyone
present could reach standing on tiptoe, and then gently descend
to the floor. It was visible for more than ten minutes, and
before it faded away it struck the table three times with a sound
like that of a hard solid body. During this time the medium was
lying back, apparently insensible, in an easy chair.
‘‘I have seen luminous points of light darting about and settling
on the heads of different persons; I have had questions
answered by the flashing of a bright light a desired number of
times in front of my face. . . . I have had an alphabetic communication
given me by luminous flashes occurring before me in
the air, whilst my hand was moving about amongst them. . . .
In the light, I have seen a luminous cloud hover over a heliotrope
on a side table, break a sprig off and carry the sprig to
a lady.’’
Viscount Adare writes in his Experiments in Spiritualism with
D. D. Home (1870) ‘‘We all then observed a light, resembling
a little star, near the chimney piece, moving to and fro; it then
disappeared. Mr. Home said Ask them in the name of the Father,
the Son and the Holy Ghost, if this is the work of God. I
repeated the words very earnestly; the light shone out, making
three little flashes, each one about a foot higher above the floor
than the preceding.’’
The color of the lights was sometimes blue, yellow, or rose.
They did not light up their surroundings. Special effort was
necessary to produce an effect of illumination. When Ada
Menken’s spirit tried to make her form visible, writes Adare,
‘‘the surface of the wall to Home’s right became illuminated
three or four times; the light apparently radiating from a bright
spot in the centre. Across the portion of the wall thus illuminated
we repeatedly saw a dark shadow pass.’’
Adare saw the extended hand of Home become quite luminous.
On another occasion his clothes began to shine. Once the
top of his head glowed with light as if a halo surrounded it. The
tongues or jets of flame described by the Master of Lindsay
and Capt. Charles Wynne as issuing from Home’s head probably
refer to this experience. Lindsay and many other witnesses
often saw luminous crosses in Home’s presence. They were variously
globular, columnar, or star-shaped.
Reading a paper before the London Dialectical Society,
Lindsay said
‘‘I saw on my knee a flame of fire about nine inches high;
I passed my hand through it, but it burnt on, above and below
it. Home turned in his bed and I looked at him, and saw that
his eyes were glowing with light. It had a most disagreeable
appearance. . . . The flame which had been flitting about me
now left me, and crossed the room about four feet from the
ground, and reached the curtains of Home’s bed; these proved
no obstruction; for the light went right through them, settled
on his head and then went out.’’
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In a letter to the London Dialectical Society, Lindsay narrated
a further experience
‘‘At Mr. Jencken’s house I saw a crystal ball, placed on Mr.
Home’s head, emit flashes of coloured light, following the
order of the spectrum. The crystal was spherical, so that it could
not have given prismatic colours. After this it changed and we
all saw a view of the sea, as if we were looking down at it from
the top of a high cliff. It seemed to be the evening as the sun
was setting like a globe of fire, lighting up a broad path over
the little waves. The moon was faintly visible in the south, and
as the sun set, her power increased. We saw also a few stars; and
suddenly the whole thing vanished, like shutting the slide of a
magic lantern; and the crystal was dead. This whole appearance
lasted about ten minutes.’’
Many similar observations were recorded in the mediumship
of Stainton Moses. Stanhope Templeman Speer observed
that the light could be renewed when it grew dim by making
passes over it with the hand. The light had a nucleus and an envelope
of drapery. It seemed to be more easily developed if
Moses rubbed his hands together or on his coat. The drapery
passed over the back of his hand several times. It was perfectly
tangible. These large globes of light could knock distinct blows
on the table. A hand was distinctly generated in their nucleus.
These globular lights ceased after a time because the drain
on Moses’ strength was too great. They were supplanted by a
round disk of light that had a dark side, generally turned toward
the medium; the light side gave answers to questions by
flashes. On rarer occasions the light was a tall column, about
half an inch in width and six or seven feet high. The light was
of bright golden hue and did not illuminate objects in the
neighborhood. For a minute a cross developed at its top and
rays seemed to dart from it.
Around Moses’ head was a halo, and another cluster of light,
oblong in shape, was at the foot of the tall column. It moved
up and the big, luminous cross gradually traveled toward the
wall until it had passed over an arc of 90 degrees. Solid objects
afforded no obstacles to one’s view of the lights. If they appeared
under a mahogany table they could be seen from above
just as well as if the tabletop were glass. Sometimes as many as
30 lights were seen flashing about like comets in the room. The
big lights were usually more stationary than the smaller ones,
which darted swiftly about the room.
Accidents in Light Production
The chemistry for the production of these lights misfired on
April 14, 1874. Speer writes
‘‘Suddenly there arose from below me, apparently under the
table, or near the floor, right under my nose, a cloud of luminous
smoke, just like phosphorus. It fumed up in great clouds,
until I seemed to be on fire, and rushed from the room in a
panic. I was very frightened and could not tell what was happening.
I rushed to the door and opened it, and so to the front
door. My hands seemed to be ablaze and I left their impress on
the door and handles. It blazed for a while after I had touched
it, but soon went out, and no smell or trace remained. I have
seen my own hands covered with a lambent flame; but nothing
like this I ever saw. There seemed to be no end of the smoke.
It smelt phosphoric, but the smell evaporated as soon as I got
out of the room into the air. I was fairly frightened, and was reminded
of what I had read about a manifestation given to Mr.
Peebles similar to the burning bush. I have omitted to say that
the lights were preceded by very sharp detonations on my
chair, so that we could watch for their coming by hearing the
noises. They shot up very rapidly from the floor.’’
The next day, ‘‘Imperator’’ (Moses’ spirit control) explained
that the phosphoric smoke was caused by an aborted attempt
on the part of ‘‘Chom’’ (another spirit) to make a light. There
were, he said, ducts leading from the sitters’ bodies to the dark
space beneath the table, and into this space these ducts conveyed
the substance extracted for the purpose of making the
light. The phosphoric substance was enclosed in an envelope
that was materialized. It was the collapse of this envelope that
caused the escape of the phosphoric smoke and the smell. This
substance was the vital principle, he said, and was drawn mainly
from the spine and nerve centers of all the sitters—except those
who were of no use or would be deterrents to the process.
Another miscarriage of psychic light was described by W. H.
Harrison. It occurred at a séance with the mediums Frank
Herne and Charles Williams. Harrison said, ‘‘The name of the
spirit was then written rapidly in large phosphorescent letters
in the air near Mr. Williams. In the same rapid manner the
spirits next began writing ‘God Bless—’ when there was a snap,
like an electrical discharge, and a flash of light which lit up the
whole room.’’ At the end of the sitting a slight smell of phosphorus
was perceptible. However, a more likely explanation of
this phenomenon is that it was caused by the sudden striking
of a match, since suspicion of fraud is attached to the séances
of Herne and Williams.
The following description is from the Livermore records of
séances with Kate Fox (of the Fox sisters) ‘‘A spherical ovoid
of light rises from the floor as high as our foreheads and places
itself on the table in front of us. At my request the light immediately
became so bright as to light up that part of the room. We
saw perfectly the form of a woman holding the light in her outstretched
hand.’’
A Dr. Nichols, in whose house William Eglinton gave a series
of sittings, wrote of ‘‘masses of light of a globular form, flattened
globes, shining all through the mass, which was enveloped
in folds of gauzy drapery.’’
‘‘‘Joey’ ’’[a spirit control], wrote Nichols, ‘‘brushed the folds
aside with his finger to show us the shining substance. It was as
if a gem—a turquoise or a pearl—three inches across, had become
incandescent, full of light, so as to illuminate about a yard
round. This light also we saw come and go. ‘Joey’ allowed his
larger light to go almost dark, and then revived it to its former
brilliancy. I need hardly say that all the chemists of Europe
could not, under these conditions, produce such phenomena,
if indeed they could under any.’’ [Nichols’ account indicates
that he was duped by Eglinton’s trick.]
The spirit entity ‘‘John King’’ often brought a spirit lamp
when he materialized. Once, in a séance with Williams, the
lamp was placed in the hands of Alfred Smedley, who states in
his book Some Reminiscences (1900), ‘‘To my great surprise it was
like a lump of solid, warm flesh, exactly similar to my own.’’
Others observed that the lamp was often covered with lacelike
drapery. This is not surprising, since the appearance of psychic
lights often heralded materializations. A disk of light could
transform itself into a face, a star into a human eye. To the
touch, the light was sometimes hard, sometimes sticky, sitters
reported.
Later Observations
In a séance with Franek Kluski on May 15, 1921, Gustav
Geley recorded ‘‘A moment later, magnificent luminous phenomena;
a hand moved slowly about before the sitters. It held
in the palm, by a partial bending of the fingers, a body resembling
a piece of luminous ice. The whole hand appeared luminous
and transparent. One could see the flesh colour. It was admirable.’’
After another séance on April 12, 1922, Geley wrote
‘‘A large luminous trail like a nebulous comet, and about
half a metre long, formed behind Kluski about a metre above
his head and seemingly about the same distance behind him.
This nebula was constituted of tiny bright grains broadcast,
among which there were some specially bright points. This
nebula oscillated quickly from right to left and left to right, and
rose and fell. It lasted about a minute, disappeared and reappeared
several times. After the sitting I found that the medium,
who had been naked for an hour, was very warm. He was perspiring
on the back and armpits; he was much exhausted.’’
With the same medium, a Professor Pawlowski recorded the
appearance of a completely luminous figure of an old man that
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looked like a column of light. It illuminated all of the sitters
and even the more distant objects in the room. The hands and
the region of the heart were much brighter than the rest of the
body.
Admiral Usborne Moore stated that he had seen tongues of
spirit light issue from the body of the medium Ada Besinnet.
They were about one-third of an inch broad at one end and tapered
away, for a length of about one and a half inches, to nothing.
In a séance with the medium Indridi Indridason, Harald
Nielsson counted one evening more than 60 tongues of light
of different colors. ‘‘I could not help thinking of the manifestations
described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles,’’
he writes in Light (October 25, 1919), ‘‘especially as a very
strong wind arose before the lights appeared. Later on the
whole wall behind the medium became a glow of light.’’
An unusual type of ‘‘psychic’’ light was shown by the medium
Pasquale Erto (‘‘the human rainbow’’) in séances at the Metapsychical
Institute of Paris, the genuineness of which was later
doubted. Flashes like electric sparks proceeded from the lower
part of Erto’s body, lighting up the floor and sometimes the
walls of the room. He also produced luminous white rays up to
eight meters in length; luminous spheres from the size of a walnut
to an orange in white, reddish, or bluish color; zig-zag
flashes; and rocketlike lights. They were cold lights, devoid of
actinic rays.
Before each séance Erto was completely stripped and medically
examined in all cavities—mouth, ears, rectum, and even
urethra. Erto demanded absolute darkness and did not permit
hand control. Geley found out that the phenomena could be
produced by the use of ferro-cerium, and believed the medium
used this trick.
Erto’s phenomena were not unique. Maria Silbert occasionally
produced somewhat similar psychic flashes, but her mediumistic
reputation was far above that of Erto.
In the Boston séances of the medium ‘‘Margery’’ (Mina S.
Crandon) a glowing light was seen on Margery’s left shoulder.
On touch, no luminous material was rubbed off, and the light
continued to be seen through a black sock, though with decreased
frequency and brilliance. On examination the medium’s
left shoulder strap was found to be luminous. There was
a less distinct brightness on her chest and luminous patches on
her right shoulder that soon faded and went out. When the luminous
shoulder strap was brought into the séance room, a
sudden increase in its intensity was noticed. During a close examination
a whisper in the voice of ‘‘Walter’’ (the spirit control)
said ‘‘goodnight.’’ At approximately the same time, the light of
the shoulder strap faded except for one tiny luminous point
that seemed more persistent than the rest. At another time
Hereward Carrington, holding Margery’s left hand, noticed at
the end of the sitting that his hand was faintly luminous.
Charles Richet attempted to imitate psychic lights with a
neon tube six feet long and one inch in diameter. By rubbing
the tube he induced a frictional electric charge that made a brilliant
glow in the neon at the point of the tube where the hand
had made contact. It looked like a realistic psychic phenomenon
in the dark.
A Professor Dubois collected a number of examples to prove
that under exceptional, but not paranormal, conditions, the
human organism is capable of creating light. A woman suffering
from breast cancer, under treatment at an English hospital,
showed luminosity of the cancerous area strong enough to be
recognized from several paces away and bright enough to read
watch hands by at night from a few inches away. The discharge
from the tumor was also very luminous. Bilious, nervous, redhaired,
and, more often, alcoholic subjects have sometimes
shown phosphorescent wounds.
Geley, working with the now-obsolete idea of ectoplasm,
concluded that organic light and ectoplasmic light were rigorously
analogous. They had the same properties. They were cold
light, giving off neither calorific nor chemical radiations. Both
were nearly inactinic and had considerable powers of penetration
into opaque bodies. They impressed photographic plates
through cardboard, wood, and even metal. Geley believed it
likely that analysis of ectoplasmic secretion would reveal the
two constituents—luciferin and luciferase—in the luminous secretions
of Dubois’ cancer patient.
Julien Ochorowicz, in his research into the radiography of
etheric hands, found it significant that when an etheric hand
radiated light it did not, and apparently could not, materialize
at the same time. Upon materializing, it lost its luminosity.
Recorded experiences caution against generalization about
luminous phenomena. Many lights were found to be created
through fraud, and the ease with which the phenomena can be
produced chemically encourages caution in assessing the genuineness
of any claimed phenomena.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.