Nineteenth-century psychical researchers posited the existence
of a psychic force, the existence of which had a direct inspiration
from the force described by Franz A. Mesmer in the
previous century and which was investigated by different researchers
and occultists under different names. The primary
reference to such a force was as a healing power and a hypnotizing
influence. It was soon discarded as having any relation to
hypnotism and now survives as a psychokinetic force. In addition
it was claimed by inquirers into Spiritualism that the
human organism, i.e., the sitters, is in some mysterious way
bound up with séance room phenomena. They posited the existence
of a psychic force which operated beyond the periphery
of the body, apart from any physical contact.
The researches of Baron von Reichenbach suggested the
term Odic force to Dr. E. C. Rogers of Boston in 1852, Asa
Mahan, also in America, and Count Agenor de Gasparin in
France, and they accepted it as such. Marc Thury called it ectenic
force. Mayo at the Royal College of Surgeons, London,
postulated on exo-neural action of the brain. Edward William
Cox recommended the term psychic force and this
rather vague inclusive term came into general use by psychical
research through the era of concentrated research on physical
In a letter to Sir William Crookes, Cox wrote in 1871
I noticed that the force was exhibited in tremulous pulsations,
and not in the form of steady, continuous pressure, the
indicator rising and falling incessantly throughout the experiment.
The fact seems to me of great significance as tending to
confirm the opinion that assigns its source to the nerve organisation,
and it goes far to establish Dr. Richardsons important
discovery of a nerve atmosphere of various intensity enveloping
the human structure. . . . To avoid the appearance of any foregone
conclusion, I would recommend the adoption for it of
some appropriate name, and I venture to suggest that the force
be termed Psychic Force; the persons to whom it is manifested
in extraordinary power Psychics; and the science relating to it
Psychism as being a branch of psychology.
Later he added
The theory of Psychic Force is in itself merely the recognition
of the fact that under certain conditions, as yet but imperfectly
ascertained, and within limited, but as yet undefined, distance
from the bodies of certain persons having a special nerve
organisation, a Force operates by which, without muscular contact
or connection, action at a distance is caused, and visible
motions and audible sounds are produced in solid substances.
The speculation of the existence of a nervous atmosphere to
which Cox alluded was expounded by Dr. Benjamin W. Richardson
in the Medical Times, on May 6, 1871. As it came from
a medical source, Crookes welcomed it, and noted in the Quarterly
Journal of Science,
I think I perceive what it is that this psychic force uses up
for its development. In employing the terms vital force, or nervous
energy, I am aware that I am employing words which convey
very different significations to many investigators; but after
witnessing the painful state of nervous and bodily prostration
in which some of these experiments have left Mr. Home [The
medium D. D. Home]after seeing him lying in an almost
fainting condition on the floor, pale and speechlessI could
scarcely doubt that the evolution of psychic force is accompanied
by a corresponding drain on vital force.
Joseph Maxwell observed,
Certain peculiar sensations accompany the emission of this
nervous force, and with custom the passage of the energy expanded
in a séance can be felt, just as the interruption of the
flow can be discerned.
Maxwell was inclined to discern four principal sensations in
connection with the generation of the force
1) The sensation of cool breezes, generally over the hands.
2) The sensation of a slight tingling in the palm of the
hand, and at the tips of the fingers, near the mounts.
3) The sensation of a sort of current through the body.
4) The sensation of a spiders web in contact with the hands
and face, and other parts of the bodynotably the back and the
loins. If the sensation of the passage of the current may be
feeble, it is not so with its abrupt interruption. . . . It may even
cause a sensation of sudden indisposition, if the interruption
coincide with the phenomenon in course of production. . . .
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Psychic Force
The sensation of the breaking of the current is distinctly felt;
and it is this which makes me think, that the feeble impression
of the passage of the current is not altogether imaginary.
The medium Gladys Osborne Leonard in her book My Life
in Two Worlds (1931) wrote of a visit to a materializing medium
He [the control] instructed the sitter who sat at the extreme
end of the left side of the horse-shoe, to release her left
hand and throw it out towards him. She did so, and we could
all see a stream of pale grey matter, like fog or steam from a
kettle, oozing from her fingers. It was shaped like rods, about
a foot long and an inch thick. The medium reached out his
hands carefully towards the end of the rods, and seemed to try
and coax the grey material to come farther away from the sitter,
towards himself. The rods thinned slightly, as he induced them
to extend, and after a couple of minutes the French control
said, speaking through the medium again No, not strong
enough, link hands up, and close in the power again.
Harry Price wrote in 1930
I cannot help wondering whether there is really anything
in the curious stroking movements which Rudi (or Olga)
[Schneider] makes during the height of the trance and when
she is leaving us. She gathers power she says, by drawing his
hands down my body and legs, or those of the second controllers.
She releases it at the end of the séance by similar movements,
but in a reverse direction.
On the basis of his observations in the Goligher Circle, W.
J. Crawford elaborated a more precise theory of psychic force
Operators are acting on the brains of the sitters and thence
on their nervous systems. Small particles, it may even be molecules,
are driven off the nervous system, out through the bodies
of the sitters at wrists, hands, fingers, or elsewhere. These small
particles, now free, have a considerable amount of latent energy
inherent in them, an energy which can react on any human
nervous system with which they come into contact. This stream
of energized particles flows round the circle, probably partly on
the periphery of their bodies. The stream, by gradual augmentation
from the sitters, reaches the medium at a high degree of
tension, energises her, receives increment from her, traverses
the circle again, and so on. Finally, when the tension is sufficiently
great, the circulating process ceases, and the energized
particles collect on or are attached to the nervous system of the
medium, who has henceforth a reservoir from which to draw.
The operators having now a good supply of the right kind of
energy at their disposal, viz., nerve energy can act upon the
body of the medium, who is so constituted that gross matter
from her body can, by means of the nervous tension applied to
it, be actually temporarily detached from its usual position and
projected into the séance room.
Crawford put both his sitters and his medium on the scale
and found that the loss of weight of the sitters was, at the end
of the séance, greater than that of the medium. The sitters lost,
on an average, 510 ounces and were more exhausted than the
medium. His speculations were favorably received by many
when published in his 1916 volume The Reality of Psychic Phenomena
as it seemed to accord with other observations.
For example, the control Walter, in the Margery sittings,
(see Mina S. Crandon) always stated that he used the
brain of the sitters. His assertion was no novelty. The control
of the great medium Home indicated the same source of power
at an early period.
Neurologist Charles Féré noticed that excitation of almost
any kind tended to increase dynamometrical power. The average
squeezing power exhibited by educated students was
greater than that of robust laboring men. Maxwell observed in
his 1895 sittings with the medium Eusapia Palladino that there
was a marked loss in dynamometric force not only on the part
of the medium, but also on the part of the sitters at the end of
the séance. Sometimes the loss amounted to six kilos on the
right side and fourteen on the left.
Admiral Usborne Moore complained of a drain on his vitality
after his direct voice séances with medium Etta Wriedt. One
of the reasons why Lord Adare retired from his researches with
D. D. Home was that the séances physically exhausted him.
Cromwell Varley, who assisted Crookes in his experiments
with the medium Florence Cook, always felt depleted, while
Crookes himself remained unaffected. James H. Hyslop had
to go to bed for two days after his first sitting with the medium
Leonora Piper. Richard Hodgson was also markedly affected.
Eugene Rochas said, in describing the case of levitation with
Eusapia Palladino in his home We ought to add that one of
the persons who was quite close to the table [Dr. Maxwell]; see
Mediums almost completely fainted away, not from emotion,
but through weakness, saying that he felt drained of his
strength as the result of Eusapias efforts.
The Nature of the Force
The method of the liberation of this vital force, the circumstances
regulating the quantity of the supply, its use by the invisible
operators of the séance room, and its relation to ectoplasm
remained elusive. Reportedly, the force was subject to an
ebb and flow. In some cases fasting or seclusion increased it, in
some others a hearty meal. Psychological factors also enter to
a great extent. In a calm, harmonious atmosphere it is more
liberally generated. The operators spoke of lines of force and
of a vibratory synchronization. They often asked the sitters to
change places, the resulting combination frequently being surprising.
Dr. Féré stated that all our sensations are accompanied
by a development of potential energy which passes into a
kinetic state and externalises itself in motor manifestations.
The observations on psychic force and its generation offered
a rationale for the disappearance of the reported phenomena
of the séance room when a skeptical observer was presentthe
cold and suspicious observer destroys the harmonious atmosphere,
disrupts the psychic forces, and hence cannot witness
strong manifestations. In the absence of sensations, he may not
contribute to the psychic power in the same proportion as other
sitters do. He may even have an effect of negative force.
It was also claimed that certain bodies and materials such as
tables, linen, wood, and dresses appear to conduct the force.
Perhaps this is why womens dresses so frequently bulge out
and approach the table during a séance. It also appears that
some of the nervous force or fluid settles in the séance room or
in the objects in use. According to the statements of controls,
once the séance room has become charged the manifestations
are easier to produce in that space at the next sitting.
Controls often protested against the use of the séance room for
other purposes. Again, in other instances, for reasons of their
own, they had no concern for the preservation of the remains
of the force.
Mrs. Stanhope Speer, in an account given to F. H. Myers,
described nocturnal disturbances in her house after a séance
with William Stainton Moses.
The servants heard so much pounding in the séance room
that they felt frightened and went to bed as quickly as possible.
We were told afterwards that so much power had been generated
that the spirits had to make the noise to get rid of it.
She also described a similar circumstance which occurred to
her and her husband. Their bedroom door was violently shaken
after they went to bed and they were afterward told that a
spirit had been attracted by the spiritual light over the house
and had used up power that had been left by shaking the doors.
P. P. Alexander, in his book Spiritualism; A Narrative with a
Discussion (1871), gave evidence of a physical phenomena that
transpired after D. D. Home had left the house of a scientific
friend and his wife. Chairs moved slowly across the carpet and
set themselves beside his own.
In the early mediumship of Agnes Guppy-Volckman (then
Agnes Nichols), powerful phenomena were witnessed in the
empty séance room afterward. Displacement of furniture was
recorded in the adjoining rooms. And Robert Cooper stated in
his book Spiritual Experiences, Including Seven Months with The
Brothers Davenport (1867)
Psychic Force Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
I have occasionally heard the furniture in the room where
we had been holding a séance, in motion after retiring to bed
. . . On leaving a room in which I had been with Ira Davenport
for the purpose of talking with the spirits in a chair followed me
into the passage, myself being the last to leave.
When a medium-visitor of Eugene Rochas was shown into
the room where the séance-suit of medium Auguste Politi was
lying folded up and where, unknown to her, the investigations
with Politi were going on, she became almost immediately controlled
by an adverse and highly disagreeable influence.
Rochas took up part of the suit and gave it to the medium. The
effect was instantaneous; the controlling influence became violent
and furious and was thought to be the spirit of a deceased
monk who sometimes got hold of Politi and damaged the conditions
as much as he could.
In one of W. J. Crawfords photographs, a vaporous substance
seems to connect the medium Kathleen Goligher with
the various sitters. Whether it was ectoplasmic emanation or a
nervous fluid he did not attempt to answer.
The problem with the hypothesized psychic force, quite
apart from the fraud committed by the mediums whose séances
were the source of speculation about it, was the inability of researchers
to find a way to have the force manifest in a way which
would register on an instrument for measurement. The disconnection
between the hypothesized source (cause) and the observed
occurrence (effect) left too many explanations, quite
apart from either fraud or psychic force, possible. Pierre Curie
was occupied with the idea of devising an instrument which
could register and direct the liberated psychic power. His death
cut short his experiments. Before such an instrument could be
devised, the era of the study of physical mediums ended. (See
Crawford, William J. The Reality of Psychic Phenomena, Raps,
Levitations, etc. London J. M. Watkins, 1919.
Crookes William. Some Further Experiments on Psychic
Force. Quarterly Journal of Science (October 1, 1871).
Leonard, Gladys Osborne. My Life in Two Worlds. London
Maxwell, Joseph. Metaphysical Phenomena. New York G. P.
Putnams Sons; London Duckworth, 1905.
Price, Harry. Rudi Schneider; A Scientific Examination of his
Mediumship. London Methuen, 1930.