Personation
The portrayal of alien personalities by a temporary assumption
of their bodily and mental characteristics. It is a frequent
psychical phenomenon and differs from trance possession in
that it does not necessarily involve a loss of consciousness or
personal identity.
Personation is an impressive indication of the communicator’s
identity. It is an indication rather than proof, as experiments
in hypnotism suggest the need for careful consideration
in attributing the phenomena of personation to an outside intelligence.
Under the effect of suggestion, the subconscious displays
surprising histrionic abilities. The hypnotized subject is
not only capable of successfully imitating any suggested personality,
but may even sometimes take on animal similitudes.
Charles Richet hypnotized a friend and suggested that he was
a parrot. Richet asked him ‘‘Why do you look preoccupied’’
The friend answered ‘‘How can I eat the seed in my cage’’
Richet compared the phenomenon of personation to crystallization
from a saturated solution. Remembrances and emotions
concentrate upon the personality invented like crystals
form around a center.
Frank Podmore, in Modern Spiritualism (1902), quoted a curious
instance of personation verging on possession in which
the subject of personation was alive.
A Miss A. B. had a passionate love affair with a young man,
C. D., and continued to cherish the belief, even after the young
man broke off the relationship that he was still profoundly attached
to her. ‘‘A few weeks after the breach she felt one evening
a curious feeling in the throat, as of choking, the prelude
probably, under ordinary circumstances to an attack of hysteria.
This feeling was succeeded by involuntary movements of
the hands and a fit of long-continued and apparently causeless
sobbing. Then, in the presence of a member of her family she
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became, in her own belief, possessed by the spirit of C. D., personating
his words and gestures and speaking in his character.
After this date she continually held conversation, as she believes,
with C. D.’s spirit; ‘he’ sometimes speaking aloud
through her mouth, sometimes conversing with her in the
inner voice. Occasionally ‘he’ wrote messages through her
hand, and I have the testimony of a member of her family that
the writing so produced resembled that of C. D. Occasionally
also, A. B. had visions in which she claimed to see C. D. and
what he was doing at the moment. At other times she professed
to hear him speaking or to understand by some inner sympathy
his feelings and his thoughts.’’ Podmore believed the phenomena
to be a delusion.
An account of personation experiences was rendered by
Charles Hill-Tout, principal of Buckland College, Vancouver,
Canada, in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research
(vol. 11, pp. 309–16). On one occasion, during a séance, he was
oppressed by a feeling of coldness and loneliness, as of a recently
disembodied spirit. His misery was terrible, and he was
only kept from falling to the floor by some of the other sitters.
At this point one of the sitters
‘‘. . . made the remark, which I remember to have overheard
‘It is father controlling him,’ and I then seemed to realise who
I was and whom I was seeking. I began to be distressed in my
lungs, and should have fallen if they had not held me by the
hands and let me back gently upon the floor. As my head sunk
back upon the carpet I experienced dreadful distress in my
lungs and could not breathe. I made signs to them to put something
under my head. They immediately put the sofa cushion
under me, but this was not sufficient—I was not raised high
enough yet to breathe easily—and they then added a pillow. I
have the most distinct recollection of a sigh of relief I now gave
as I sank back like a sick, weak person upon the cool pillow. I
was in a measure still conscious of my actions, though not of my
surroundings, and I have a clear memory of seeing myself in
the character of my dying father lying in the bed and in the
room in which he died. It was a most curious sensation. I saw
his shrunken hands and face and lived again through his dying
moments; only now I was both myself—in some distinct sort of
way—and my father, with his feelings and appearance.’’
The flaw, from the viewpoint of the theory of an extraneous
influence, is that Hill-Tout personated his own father with
whose circumstances of death he must have been familiar. But
many mediums reenact the death-bed scenes of people they
have never heard of and furnish, in the process, evidential details.
This was a feature of the mediumship of a Mrs. Newell of
Lancashire, England. As a rule such re-enactments were accompanied
by great suffering. The medium seemed to experience
the symptoms of illness and the agonies of dying.
The American medium Mrs. J. H. Conant, was recorded
once to have shown the signs of hydrophobia; she foamed at
the mouth and snapped at the sitters. The man whom she personated
had died from the bite of a mad dog.
People who practice pychometry also exhibit this curious
phenomenon. The object which they hold as a clue may establish
a community of sensation with both men and beasts. Mrs.
Denton, in describing her impressions from a fragment of
mastodon tooth felt herself to be in the body of the monster,
although she could not very well personate it. Personation of
a dying animal, through telepathy, was illustrated by the vivid
dream of the novelist H. Rider Haggard on the night when his
dog Bob was struck and killed by a train.
If the assumption of the bodily characteristics of the departed
is effected by the adaptation of ectoplasm, as in materialization
séances, the case is known as transfiguration. (See also
personality; trance personalities)