The existence of thoughtforms has been claimed by occultists,
especially theosophists. The idea of thought-forms has
supplied a realm for some interesting and curious speculations
by psychical researchers as they investigated the substance of
their designated study. The suggestion of psychical researcher
Sir William F. Barrett that the operator may so stimulate the
mind of the subject that he is able to see the thought-shape in
the former’s mind is similar to what theosophist A. P. Sinnett
claimed in his book The Occult World (1882) ‘‘An adept is able
to project into and materialize in the visible world the forms
that his imagination has constructed out of inert cosmic matter
in the visible world. He does not create anything new, but only
utilises and manipulates materials which Nature has in store
around him.’’
And there are other similarities. James H. Hyslop, in his
book Psychical Research and The Resurrection (1908), quoted a curious
communication from a private source. The communicator,
while commenting on the peculiarities of his spiritual life,
stated that he ‘‘sometimes saw, for instance, a man reading a
book, but when he approached to talk with him he found it was
only a thought.’’ Hyslop, however, did not agree with the
thought-form theory and suggested that the instance was a case
of veridical, or subjective hallucination in the spiritual life.
James T. Fields in a lecture on ‘‘Fiction and its Eminent Authors,’’
said ‘‘Dickens was at one time so taken possession of by
the characters of whom he was writing that they followed him
everywhere and would never let him be alone for a moment. He
told me that when he was writing The Old Curiosity Shop the creatures
of his imagination haunted him so that they would neither
let him sleep or eat in peace.’’
Vincent Turvey wrote in his book The Beginnings of Seership
(1911; 1969) about a discussion that took place between him
and a man from Christian Evidence Society on psychic matters.
The man insisted that Turvey’s psychic gifts were from the devil
and prayed that the devils should leave him.
‘‘On lying down in the afternoon in order to rest and meditate,
I suddenly saw three or four ‘devils’ in the room—typical
orthodox fiends. Men with goats’ legs, cloven hoofs, little horns
just over their ears, curly hair, . . . tails and clawlike hands. In
colour they were entirely brown, like ordinary brown paper. I
candidly profess that I was ‘a bit shaken’ . . . I pulled myself together
and rose into the ‘higher state of consciousness.’ In this
‘state’ I was able to see not only their fronts, but also their backs.
To my utter astonishment they were all hollow at the back, like
embossed leather, or the ordinary papier maché mask. Then
my guardians caused me to make a sign, say a word, or think
a sentence—what I do not know; but directly it was done or
said, these forms disintegrated or dissolved and vanished.’’
Thoughtforms are often perceived in the hypnotic state. Dr.
Lindsay Johnson, the celebrated British ophthalmic surgeon,
described in the May 21, 1921, issue of the Spiritualist journal
Light an experiment of Professor Koenig of Berlin, in a Paris
hospital at which he assisted. A peasant woman was hypnotized.
It was suggested that she saw an imaginary picture on a plain
sheet of paper. Twenty identical sheets of paper were produced
and a picture was suggested for each; a record was kept of the
picture and tiny identification marks added on the back of each
sheet. Johnson added five more sheets, shuffled them, and
handed them back one after the other to the subject. She described
the suggested picture in every case, but saw nothing on
Johnson’s sheets.
A Russian investigator, Dr. Naum Kotik, made similar experiments
in Wiesbaden with a fourteen-year-old girl Sophie
and drew the following inference ‘‘Thought is a radiant energy.
This energy has physical and psychic properties. It may be
called psycho-physical. Originating in the brain, it passes to the
extremities of the body. It is transmitted through air with some
difficulty, more easily through a metallic conductor and can be
fixed on paper.’’
Koenig’s and Kotik’s experiments echo the experience of
the engineer and psychical researcher René Warcollier. One
evening, partially waking, he saw a large quadrangular corded
package in a yellow packing paper on a chair. He inquired
about the package. There was no package on the chair but it
Thorogood, Brackett K(irkwood) Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
had been there some time before as described. If the image of
a package can impress a chair it is no more improbable that
thoughts may similarly impress a sheet of paper.
Hyppolite Baraduc informed the Academie de Médecine in
May 1896 that he had succeeded in photographing thought.
He experimented with many people. The subjects placed their
hands on a photographic plate in the dark room and were
asked to think intently of the object they wished to impress
upon the plate. Many curious markings were obtained, some of
them representing the features of persons and the outline of
Baraduc also contended that thought photography was possible
from a distance. He quoted the case of a Dr. Istrati who
promised a friend of his that he would appear on a photographic
plate at Bucarest on August 4, 1893, while he slept in
Campana. The distance was 300 kilometers. Before closing his
eyes, Istrati willed that his image should impress the plate with
which his friend went to bed. The result was achieved. The
plate showed a luminous spot, in the midst of which the profile
of a man could be traced.
Commandant Darget, of Tours, France, obtained several
good thought photographs in 1896. His procedure was to gaze
attentively at a simple object for a few moments in order to engrave
it firmly on the mind, then go into the dark room and
(1) place a photographic plate with the glass side against the
forehead for a quarter of an hour, mentally picturing the object
decided upon and strongly desiring to make an impression on
the plate, (2) Place the hand on a plate (or hold the plate in the
hand) for a quarter of an hour, operating as before, (3) Put the
plate into a developing bath, placing the fingers of one hand
on the edge of the plate for ten minutes. There should always
be the desire to imprint on the plate the picture of the object
which is very strongly thought of.
An interesting case was quoted by James Coates from the
November 1895 issue of the Amateur Photographer. W. Inglis
Rogers, the experimenter, gazed for a minute at a postage
stamp and then went into the dark room and gazed at a sensitive
plate for twenty minutes. When the plate was developed
two images of postage stamps were plainly visible.
Tomobichi Fukurai, a professor of Kohyassan University,
carried out important experiments with Ikuko Nagao. If she
concentrated on Japanese alphabetical symbols they were
found printed on photographic plates.
Walter Franklin Prince reported in the Journal of the
American Society for Psychical Research (April 1925) the case
of the Japanese artist Mikaye. Microscopic symbols were projected
by some capillary action from the tip of his brush filled
with fluid pigment. The artist simply held the brush downwards
and he made a mental image of the intended symbol to a large
In his researches with Stanislawa Tomczyk, Julien Ochorowicz
was deeply puzzled to find that in several of his radiographs
the medium’s ring appeared on the finger of her ‘‘etheric’’
hand. This seemed to indicate to him (1) That there is a
kind of link between the organism and the object it wears, (2)
That the occult notion that material objects have an astral body
is not limited to living bodies. The ring, however, did not always
appear on the radiographs. Ochorowicz tried to find out
whether objects frequently worn by the sensitive were more easily
produced on the plate than others. He chose a thimble that
she rarely used. The medium suggested that he should himself
retain the thimble on the finger of his left hand, holding her
with his right hand. ‘‘Perhaps,’’ she added, ‘‘the thimble will
pass from your body on to my finger.’’
The experiment appeared absurd, but he was willing to try
it. He took a plate from his box, marked it, and laid it on the
medium’s knees. She was seated on his right; with his right
hand he held up her left hand about sixteen inches above the
plate, the thimble being on the middle finger of his left hand,
which he kept behind his left knee. After a minute had elapsed,
the medium said that she felt a sort of tingling in the direction
of her forearm, where their hands met. She exclaimed ‘‘Oh,
how strange. Something is being placed on the tip of my finger
. . . I do not know if it is the thimble; I feel something keeps
pressing the end of my finger.’’
When the plate was developed, it showed the hand of the
medium, and on the middle finger was what he called, jokingly,
‘‘the soul of her thimble.’’ Ochorowicz asked in some bewilderment
if the image was a double of the thimble, or was it a photograph
of the idea of the thimble. A close examination of the
photograph and comparison with the thimble showed that the
two corresponded exactly, the one ‘‘was a true copy of the
other, precise in details and in dimension.’’
This exactness supported the idea of a direct impression
from some object rather than merely a thought-image. The finger
supporting the thimble was the palest of all the fingers,
probably, as Ochorowicz suggests, because the light by which
the radiograph was taken, proceeded from it. He inclined to
the conclusion that an etheric hand wearing an etheric thimble
produced the image, and that mental desire gave the direction
to the light that was necessary in order to make the details of
the thimble visible on the plate.
When he proceeded to test his conclusion, however, a
strange thing happened. Unknown to the medium, he held in
his left hand an Austrian five-crown piece. Presently she exclaimed
‘‘I see behind you a white round object . . . it is the
moon.’’ ‘‘At the same instant,’’ wrote Ochorowicz, ‘‘I saw a faint
but distinct light pass near my left hand, which held the coin;
it was not round, nor a flash, it was like a little meteor, like a
thin ray, lighting up the space round my hand on the side away
from the medium.’’ When the plate was developed it showed an
image of a full moon.
He considered it evident that this time a photograph of
thought obtained the existence of a quasi-physical intermediary,
since the image represented the medium’s conception of
something that existed outside her mind.
The image of the moon was once obtained previous to the
experiment. On the night of September 7, 1911, the medium
was much impressed by the superb sight of the starry heavens,
and particularly by the full moon, which she looked at for some
time with admiration. On the following day, instead of the little
hand, which was desired, a full moon appeared on the plate
against a background of white cloud. The cinematograph representations
of the eclipse of the moon on April 17, 1912,
showed the image of the moon slightly flattened in the direction
of the axis of rotation. This characteristic appeared in the
radiograph of September 7. The impression was double and it
looked as if the cloud had not been duplicated.
Some have suggested that the psychic extras obtained by
spirit photographers may be the thoughts of the sitters (though
most now agree that they were more likely the product of
fraud). Hereward Carrington offered some curious evidence
out of his experiences with Mrs. A. E. Deane as did Frederick
Bligh Bond, who experimented with the same medium. Bond
prepared a diagram of four by three squares and made, in one
of the twelve squares, a cross of two diagonal lines and drew a
small circle over the crossed lines. After he deposited this diagram
with the principal of the British College of Psychic Science,
he went to meet Deane. She drew upon a blackboard a
similar diagram and asked for a perfect circle over the center
of the two intersecting lines.
The camera was loaded by Carrington and he did the development
himself; Deane simply placing her hand during the exposures
on the camera top. The first plate showed the diagram
alone; the second had a sort of localized fog over the square in
question; the third, possessed a circular spot of intense blackness,
exactly over the intersection.
In a second trial, Bond hung a small picture frame upon the
wall of the studio and asked that an image, the exact character
of which he did not specify, might be recorded on the space
within the frame. The idea was to preclude any successful preexposure
of a plate for the purpose of fraud. He obtained a
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Thoughtforms
cloud of small size that on the first two plates was not quite
rightly centered, but was well within the center of the third
A Mr. Warrick, a manufacturing chemist, repeated the experiments
but used no camera, only sheets of paper that he had
specially sensitized. By impressing upon Deane the exact nature
of the image he wanted, and placing the paper beneath
Deane’s hands or feet, he obtained circles, squares, triangles,
or more complex images. Bond believed that his part in the
success was dependent upon a power of mental visualization
that he had special opportunities to cultivate.
Besant, Annie, and Charles W. Leadbeater. Thought-Forms
A Record of Clairvoyant Investigations. Adyar, Madras, India London
Theosophical Publishing House, 1901.
Darget, Commandant. Exposé des différentes methodes pour
l’obtention des photographies fluido-magnétiques et spirites. Paris,
Eisenbud, Jule. The World of Ted Serios ‘‘Thoughtographic
Studies of an Extraordinary Mind.’’ New York William Morrow,
Fukurai, Tomobichi. Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. London
Rider, 1931. Reprint, New York Arno Press, 1975.
Joire, Paul. Psychical and Supernormal Phenomena. New York
F. A. Stokes, 1916.
Kotie, Naum. Die Emanation der psycho-physichen Energie.
Wiesbaden, 1908.
Ochorowicz, Julien. De la suggestion mentale. N.p., 1887. English
edition as Mental Suggestion. N.p., 1891.
Schatzman, Morton. The Story of Ruth. New York G. P. Putnam’s
Sons, 1980.