Matter Passing through Matter
Matter interpenetrating matter has been claimed frequently
as a séance-room phenomenon. It is involved in the marvel of
apports and teleportation of the human body, and its validation
under test conditions, which has never occurred, would
help toward these greater phenomena becoming recognized.
Robert Hare’s report of the passing of two small balls of platinum
into two hermetically sealed glass tubes was not witnessed
by others, and no repetition of the feat has ever been noted.
The possibility of such interpenetration is not generally admitted.
The outstanding medium D. D. Home denied its possibility,
and his controls declared that fissures or cracks are necessary
to permit the passage of a solid body through another.
Sir William Crookes stated in ‘‘Notes of an Enquiry into the
Phenomena called Spiritual’’ (Quarterly Journal of Science, January
‘‘After several phenomena had occurred, the conversation
turned upon some circumstances which seemed only explicable
on the assumption that matter had actually passed through a
solid substance. Thereupon a message was given by means of
the alphabet ‘It [is] impossible for matter to pass through matter,
but we will show you what we can do.’ We waited in silence.
‘‘Presently a luminous appearance was seen hovering over
the bouquet of flowers, and then, in full view of all present, a
piece of china-grass 15 inches long, which formed the centre
ornament of the bouquet, slowly rose from the other flowers,
and then descended to the table in front of the vase between
it and Mr. Home. It did not stop on reaching the table, but went
straight through it and we all watched it till it had entirely
passed through. Immediately on the disappearance of the
grass, my wife, who was sitting near Mr. Home, saw a hand
come up from under the table between them, holding the piece
of grass. It tapped her on the shoulder two or three times with
a sound audible to all, then laid the grass on the floor and disappeared.
Only two persons saw the hand, but all in the room
saw the piece of grass moving about as I have described.
‘‘During the time this was taking place Mr. Home’s hands
were seen by all to be quietly resting on the table in front of
him. The place where the grass disappeared was 18 inches from
his hands. The table was a telescope dining table, opening with
a screw; there was no leaf in it, and the junction of the two sides
formed a narrow crack down the middle. The grass had passed
through this chink, which I measured and found to be barely
one eighth of an inch wide. The stem of the piece of grass was
far too thick to enable me to force it through this crack without
injuring it, yet we had all seen it pass through quietly and
smoothly; and on examination it did not show the slightest
signs of pressure or abrasion.’’
However, some have argued for the reality of such a phenomenon.
For example, the psychic researcher Camille Flammarion
described the passing of a book through a curtain in a
séance with Eusapia Palladino on November 21, 1898. A book
was held up by Jules Bois before the curtain at about the height
of a man, 24 inches from each side of the edge. It was seized
by an invisible hand, and Flammarion, who observed the rear
of the curtain, suddenly saw it coming through, upheld in the
air, without hands or arms, for a space of one or two seconds.
Then she saw it fall down.
There is some similarity between this observation of Flammarion
and an account of Mrs. Speer (friend of William Stainton
Moses) dated October 17, 1874 ‘‘Before the meeting Mr.
Stainton Moses had taken three rings from his hands and
threaded them on to his watch chain; his watch was on one end
of the chain and a small pocket barometer on the other; both
of these articles he placed in side pockets of his waistcoat, the
rings hanging midway on his chain in full sight of the circle. We
suddenly saw a pillar of light advance from a corner of the
room, stand between me and Dr. S. then pass through the table
to Mr. S. M. In a moment the figure flashed back again between
us and threw something hard down upon the table. We passed
Mathur, Raghuvansh B(ahadur) Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
our hands over the table, and found the rings had been removed
from the medium’s chain without his knowledge.’’
Mr. F. Fusedale, testifying to the London Dialectical Society
in 1869, submitted an account of spirit manifestations in his
own house ‘‘The children and my wife would see the things
they [the spirits] took (in particular a brooch of my wife’s) appear
to pass through solid substances, such as the wall or the
doors, when they were taken from them; and they would take
things out of the children’s hands, as if in play, and hide them,
and then after a little time return them again.’’
In a séance with the Italian medium Francesco Carancini,
a dinner plate, covered with soot and out of the medium’s
reach, was placed in a padlocked wooden box held by one of
the sitters.
In experiments with Mary Baker Thayer, Robert Cooper
found a Japanese silk handkerchief belonging to one of the sitters
and flowers that came from nowhere in the locked box he
brought to the séance, and the key of which he retained (Light,
March 15, 1902).
Gambier Bolton (author Psychic Force, 1904) noted
‘‘During my sixteen years of experiments, investigation into
the question of the existence of this psychic force the apparent
penetration of matter by matter had been such a common occurrence
at our experimental meetings, that unless this happens
to take place in connection with some unusually large and
ponderous object that is suddenly brought into our midst, or
removed from the place in which we are holding our meetings,
I take but very little notice of it.’’
One of the occasions he took notice of came in a séance with
the medium Cecil Husk. A light table was placed in the middle
of the circle and was securely fastened by heavy baize curtains
around the four sides, pinning the bottom of the curtain to the
floor boards with drawing pins. The table was first heard rocking
and tapping the floor boards, and in less than three minutes
it had apparently passed through the curtain and was
found in its old place, 21 feet away from the curtain.
After having been accused of fraud, the American medium
Etta Roberts, in a test séance on September 3, 1891, was enclosed
in a wire cage out of which many phantom forms issued.
Finally Roberts herself stepped out through the padlocked and
sealed door without breaking the fastenings. The same feat was
witnessed by Dr. Paul Gibier, director of the Bacteriological Institute
of New York, with Carrie M. Sawyer (Mrs. Salmon) in his
own laboratory on three occasions. The trellis of the cage was
found to be burning hot by several sitters.
Paranormal Knot-tying
Knots tied in an endless cord was the first phenomenon Johann
Zöllner witnessed in his experiments with the medium
Henry Slade. Zöllner made a loop of strong cord by tying the
ends together. The ends projected beyond the knot and were
sealed down to a piece of paper. In the séance room he hung
the loop around his neck until the moment of experiment arrived.
Then he took it off, placed the sealed knots on the table,
placed his thumbs on each side of the knot, and dropped the
loop over the edge of the table on his knees. Slade kept his
hands in sight and touched Zöllner’s hands above the table. A
few minutes later four symmetrical single knots were found on
the cord.
Zöllner’s knot-tying experiment was repeated by Dr. Nichols
with the medium William Eglinton in the presence of six
observers. Nichols cut four yards of common brown twine from
a fresh ball, tied the two ends together with a single knot, then
passed each end through a hole in one of his visiting cards, tied
another square knot, and firmly sealed this knot to the card. In
daylight, the sealed card upon the center of the table, the loop
hanging down upon the floor, a minute later five single knots
were found tied in the string about a foot apart. (Both Slade
and Eglinton were frequently caught in fraudulent mediumship.)
Paranormal Release and Movement of Clothing
The release of the medium from strong bonds without disturbing
the knots or seals was claimed by the Davenport brothers,
although justifiable skepticism surrounds their stage performances.
The psychic feat was also claimed by Sir William
Crookes in his experiments with Florence Cook.
A kindred demonstration, of which the Davenport brothers
were the greatest exponents, was the taking on and off of coats
while the medium’s hands were held. In a letter to the London
Daily News, Dion Boucicault, the famous English actor and author,
spoke of a séance at his house on October 11, 1864, in
which, by striking a light, the participants actually witnessed
the coat of Mr. Fay, the fellow-medium of the Davenport brothers,
flying off. ‘‘It was seen quitting him, plucked off him upwards.
It flew up to the chandelier, where it hung for a moment
and then fell to the ground. Mr. Fay was seen meanwhile bound
hand and foot as before.’’
Robert Cooper wrote in his book Spiritual Experiences (1867)
‘‘The coat of Mr. Fay has, scores of times, been taken from
his back in my presence, and Mr. Fay at the time might be seen
sitting like a statue with his hands securely tied behind him and
the knots sealed. I have seen coats of various descriptions, from
a large overcoat to a light paletot, put on in the place of his own
in a moment of time, his hands remaining securely tied and the
seal unbroken. I have known the coat that has been placed on
Mr. Fay so small that it could only with difficulty be got off him.
I have known a coat that was first placed on Mr. Fay transferred
in a moment to the back of Ira Davenport, whose hands, like
Mr. Fay’s, were tied behind him, and the most curious part of
the proceedings was that it was put on inside out. I have also
known the waistcoat of Ira Davenport taken from under his
coat, all buttoned up, with his watch and guard just as he wore
The same feat was witnessed in 1886 in Washington by Alfred
Russel Wallace in a séance with Pierre L. O. A. Keeler.
Italian researcher Cesare Lombroso recorded a similar instance
with Eusapia Palladino. An overcoat was placed on a
chair beyond the reach of the medium whose hands and feet
had been continuously controlled. Several objects from an inside
pocket of the overcoat had been brought and laid on a
phosphorescent cardboard on the table. All at once the medium
began to complain of something about her neck and binding
her tight. On light being produced it was found that she
had the overcoat on.
Accounts of release from bonds and flying clothing must be
treated with caution as they are stock feats of stage conjurers.
Ring Experiments and Chair Threading
Ring experiments and chair threading were claimed on
many occasions. In October 1872 the Religio-Philosophical Journal
of Chicago claimed to have witnessed this demonstration.
The editor wrote ‘‘We had the pleasure of attending a séance
at which Capt. Winslow was the medium. The manifestations
were very fine. One remarkable feat is the union of two solid
iron rings, leaving them thus interlinked, and yet the metal
perfectly sound.’’
In the majority of cases, however, this plain test was always
shirked for the far less convincing demonstration of placing an
iron ring on the sitter’s arm after the clasping of the hands or
of placing a ring too small to pass over the hand on the medium’s
The medium Cecil Husk wore such a ring until his death.
The Society for Psychical Research, London, investigated it
and claimed that the ring could be forced off if the medium
were chloroformed. George Wyld, a physician of Edinburgh,
said the ring was specially made to Husk’s order and secretly
marked by him, and that he [Wyld] held the medium’s hand
tight while the ring was taken from him in the dark.
A similar wrought-iron ring was passed on to the ankle of
the medium F. F. Craddock. It was very tight and caused him
great discomfort and actual pain until it was filed off by a
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Matter Passing through Matter
friendly blacksmith. Hearing of this occurrence, Gambier Bolton
procured two welded iron rings, and visiting Craddock, he
fastened his hands behind his back with strong tape, then led
him to a chair and fastened both arms, above the elbows, to the
back of the chair with strong tapes and double knots.
Bolton stated
‘‘Placing the two rings at his feet, I turned to the gas pendant
hanging over our heads and lowered it somewhat, and before
I had time to turn round again I heard the well-known ring of
two pieces of iron being brought into sharp contact with each
other, and walking up to him I found both rings on his wrist.
To make sure that my eyes were not deceiving me. I pulled
them strongly, struck one with the other, and found that they
really were on his wrists; and I then carefully examined the
tapes and found them not only secure, but so tight that his
hands were swollen as a result of the tightness with which I had
tied them. I stepped backwards, keeping my eyes on him, when
suddenly with a crash both rings fell at my feet. To have withdrawn
his hands and arms and replaced them in that time was
a physical impossibility. On attempting to untie the tapes I
found that I had pulled the knots so tightly that it was only after
cutting them with a finely pointed pair of scissors, that I was
able to release his hands once more, his wrists being marked
for some time with a deep red line as the result.’’
In his pamphlet Les Preuves scientifique de la survivance de
l’âme (1905), Dr. L. Th. Chazarain wrote of his experience in
meetings organized in Paris by Dr. Puel, director of the Revue
des Sciences Psychiques ‘‘I took the ring which had been laid on
the table and passed it round her right wrist. Immediately afterwards
I took hold of the corresponding hand, and waited,
holding it firmly between my own. At the end of eight or ten
minutes she uttered a cry, like a cry of pain or fright, and at the
same instant she woke and the ring was seen on the ground.’’
August Reveillac, observing the same effect, found the fallen
ring, when picked up, almost burning hot.
Col. W. A. Danskin described a séance in Baltimore in How
and Why I Became a Spiritualist (1869), in which a secretly
marked iron ring, seven inches smaller than the circumference
of the medium’s head, was repeatedly placed around the medium’s
neck. From the Banner of Light (January 11, 1868), he reproduced
the following testimony, signed by thirty-two names
‘‘We, the undersigned, hereby testify that we have attended the
social meetings referred to; and that a solid iron ring, seven
inches less in size than the young man’s head was actually and
unmistakably placed around his neck. There was as the advertisement
claims, no possibility of fraud or deception, because
the ring was freely submitted to the examination of the audience,
both before and while on the neck of the young man.’’
The medium was a 19-year-old boy. Danskin further wrote
‘‘Once, when only three persons were present—the medium,
a friend and myself—we sat together in the dark room. I
held the left hand of the medium, my friend held his right
hand, our other hands being joined; and while thus sitting, the
ring, which I had thrown some distance from us on the floor,
suddenly came round my arm. I had never loosened my hold
upon the medium, yet that solid iron ring, by an invisible
power, was made to clasp my arm.’’
The medium Charles Williams often demonstrated the
ring test. In Some Reminiscences An Account of Startling Spiritual
Manifestations (1890), A. Smedley described several instances
during which he used a ring that he secretly marked. On one
occasion, for example, Col. Lean (husband of Florence Marryat)
mentally asked the control ‘‘John King’’ to fetch the halfhoop
diamond ring from his wife’s finger and place it on his.
The ring, wrote Florence Marryat, ‘‘was worn between my wedding
ring and a heavy gold snake ring and I was holding the
hand of my neighbor all the time and yet the ring was abstracted
from between the other two and transferred to Colonel
Lean’s finger without my being aware of the circumstance.’’
In experiments with Maria Vollhardt in Berlin, two highly
skeptical members of the Medical Society for Psychic Research,
holding the hands of the medium at either side, found two unbroken
wooden rings about their arms.
Robert Cooper, in a séance with the Eddy brothers, experienced
an electric shock at his elbow and found two iron rings
on his arm, which was held by the medium (reported in Light,
March 15, 1902).
Count Perovsky-Petrovo-Solovovo took a marked ring to a
séance with the Russian medium S. F. Sambor on November
15, 1894. The ring was placed on M. Vassilief’s arm when he
was holding the medium’s hands (Rebus, No. 47, 1894). In séances
with the same medium at the Spiritist Club, St. Petersburg,
a Dr. Pogorelski suddenly felt a blow on his right arm
(close to the shoulder) and felt a chair passed onto his right
arm. He held Sambor’s hands by interlacing the fingers so that
‘‘it was impossible for our hands to become separated, even for
a hundredth part of a second, without my feeling it.’’ The experiment
was repeated with another sitter whose hand was tied
to Sambor’s by means of a nearly ten yards long linen ribbon
on the ends of which seals were placed.
John S. Farmer, William Eglinton’s biographer, wrote in his
Twixt Two Worlds (1886) that in June 1879 at Mrs. Gregory’s
house, ‘‘in the presence of Mr. Eglinton and a non-professional
medium, two chairs were threaded at the same moment of time
upon the arms of two sitters, each of whom was then holding
the hand of the medium. Mr. Sergeant Cox was holding the
hand of Mr. Eglinton and the back of the chair passed through
his arm, giving him the sensation of a blow against the elbow
when it did so. When a light was struck the chair was seen hanging
on Mr. Sergeant Cox’s arm and his hand was still grasping
that of Mr. Eglinton. An immediate examination of the chair
showed that the back of it was in good condition, with none of
the woodwork loose or broken.’’
In Planchette; or, The Despair of Science (1880), Epes Sargent
quoted many testimonies of similar occurrences with Charles
Read of Buffalo and other mediums. Gambier Bolton wrote of
his experience with Cecil Husk as follows
‘‘With Mrs. Cecil Husk, on half a dozen occasions, in my own
room and using my own chairs, I have held both hands of another
experimenter with my two hands, about fifteen inches
from the top of the back of one of the chairs, when with a sudden
snap the back of the chair has passed over our wrists and
has been seen by twelve to sixteen other observers hanging
from our arms, in gas light, my hands never for an instant releasing
those of my fellow-experimenters.’’
Well-documented experiments in the claimed demonstration
of the passage of matter through matter were carried out
in June and July 1932, in the ‘‘Margery’’ circle in Boston (see
also Mina Crandon). The phenomena, as reported by William
H. Button in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical
Research (August–September 1932) consisted of the removal of
a variety of objects from locked or sealed boxes and the introduction
of various objects into such boxes. They were undertaken
to confirm some of the results of the Zöllner experiments.
The most astonishing phenomenon of the ‘‘Margery’’ mediumship
was the interlocking rings. Sir Oliver Lodge had suggested
the paranormal linking of two rings made of different
woods might provide an irrefutable evidence of psychic force.
The rings were duly provided, one of white wood and the other
of red mahogany. At a séance with ‘‘Margery’’ in 1932, the rings
were interlocked. According to Thomas R. Teitze in his book
Margery (1973), the Irish poet W. B. Yeats was present at this
séance. The feat of linking two rings made from different
woods was apparently repeated. One set was sent to Sir Oliver
Lodge for independent verification, but unfortunately arrived
cracked and broken, presumably damaged in the post.
Another set of interlocked rings of different woods was
shown to the British Spiritualist journalist Hannen Swaffer
when he visited the Crandons in 1934. The rings were photographed
and show one of white wood and the other of red mahogany.
They passed into the care of William Button, then
Matter Passing through Matter Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
president of the American Society for Psychical Research,
and were kept in a sealed, glass-covered box. On a return visit
to Boston in 1936, Swaffer asked to see the rings again, but
when they were taken out of the box it was found that one of
the rings was broken.
In 1979 the SORRAT group formed by John G. Neilhardt
attempted to validate such paranormal linkages in an unassailable
experiment. Since it could be argued that wooden rings
might be cleverly separated along the grain and glued together
again, parapsychologist W. E. Cox proposed seamless rings
made from a single layer of ordinary leather. It would not be
possible to cut and rejoin leather without trace of manipulation.
In the event, the experiment was successful and film records
show the paranormal materializing and dematerializing
process. The linkages, however, were not permanent, as the
leather rings separated again after a few seconds, a curious
echo of the ‘‘Margery’’ experiments.
Richards, John Thomas. SORRAT A History of the Neilhardt
Psychokinesis Experiments, 1961–1981. Metuchen, N.J. Scarecrow
Press, 1982.
Teitze, Thomas. Margery. New York Harper & Row, 1973.
Transcendental Physics An Account of Experimental Investigations
from the Scientific Treatises of Johann Carl Friedrich Zöllner.
Translated by Charles C. Massey. London W. H. Harrison,
1882. Reprint, New York Arno Press, 1976.