Touches, Psychic
Tactile sensations represent an allied phenomenon to the
paranormal movement of objects. Spiritualists claim such
touches are intentional, just as the movement of objects is characterized
by perfect localization; the touch is invariably meant
for the one who receives it.
While the objects by which the sitters are touched may be
recognized, in psychic contacts the case is different, as there is
no apparent material means for their production. If the touches
are produced by rods of ectoplasm, they may cause an immense
variety of sensations according to the manipulation of
this substance. The tactile sensation is often announced in advance,
affected by psychic lights or luminous structures, and is
visible to others.
The effect of the sensation may be as though coming from
a soft object, for example, a rubber ball, an animal’s paw feathers,
gloves, fur, powderpuff, cobwebs, flowers, or fingers. The
touch itself may be sharp, soft, dry, wet, clammy, or cold. It may
be a tap, a caress, a stroke, a slap, a kick, a prick, a push, a
punch, or a kiss. The invisible operator may pull or rumple
your hair, she may rub your legs and search your pockets.
In 1905, in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques, psychical researcher
Charles Richet translated a Latin chronicle from
1656 dealing with the phenomena that happened to a young
girl named Regina Fischerin of Presbourg, Hungary. The
chronicle, which is still part of the records of the Venerable
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Chapter in the Archbishopric of Pest, gave report on the apparitions
of Jean Clement of Presbourg, who led an evil life. The
chronicle contained the following dramatic passages
‘‘Therefore, fearing that she might be the victim of an illusion,
Regina asked of the spirit, if it were truly a spirit, to touch
her with its finger. Immediately it touched her right arm and
she felt the contact instantly. There appeared immediately a
blister, giving her the same sensation of pain as though it had
been a burn; moreover, fully to attest the phenomenon, the
blister remained upon the skin a long time, and all the servants
of the house saw it. Thereafter, desirous to be sure that this was
not the work of an evil spirit, Regina demanded as proof that
the visitor was a good spirit to make the sign of the cross. ‘Here
then,’ said the phantom ‘what you ask!’ At once a flaming cross
appeared outside the cloak which enveloped the figure, and
with this it burned deeply the hand of the young girl, leaving
thereon a branded cross which everyone could see. . . .
‘‘A little later this spirit of Jean Clement recalled with remorse
a crime which he had committed during his life, declaring
that the money which had been secured from this crime was
not all spent [this proved afterwards to be true]; that part of it
had been used for his subsistence, another part had been otherwise
spent, but that some still remained and that this should be
restored from the possessions which he had left.
‘‘Regina demanded yet other proofs. Surely the proof of the
cross burned on her hand, and on her mantle was sufficiently
strong, but it did not suffice for the young woman, who, in
order to be absolutely sure that the strange visitant was truly a
good spirit, insisted that it should make the same Sign of the
Cross on a piece of money. The spirit obeyed, took a coin,
threw it on the ground, and snatching a piece of cloth from the
girl’s hands, threw this upon the coin; then, taking Regina’s
hand violently in his grasp, scorching her deeply as before,
burned thereon through the hand and the linen cloth upon the
coin the character of a triple cross. ‘Here is a further sign,’ said
he, and launched forth a flame with so much force that it
reached the heart of the young woman, while another jet of
flame crossed the entire room and struck the opposite wall.
Whereupon Regina fell unconscious. . . .
‘‘This affair seems extraordinary to us; firstly because a cross
and an exact form of the hand have been marked in every detail;
secondly, because this brand of burning did not extend beyond
limits of the marks, though, upon linen material, fire has
a tendency to spread. Finally, the right hand which was thus
branded in on flesh and cloth, was an exact replica of the right
hand of Clement, just as though he had been operating by his
own dead physical hand. And the proof of this is that, during
life, the tip phalange of Clement’s forefinger had been amputated
by a surgeon for a disease which was then known as
‘Worms’ and the absence of the finger-tip is clearly indicated
upon the branded hand.’’ (This account can also be found in
the English edition of Annals of Psychical Science, No. 4, April
1905).
Other chronicles contained similar accounts. In 1908 and
1910 Mrs. Zingarapoli, a Naples lawyer, published a dozen
such cases in Luce e Ombra. One was recorded from the seventeenth
century and the brands or scorch marks of the hands of
fire preserved at the Convent St. Claire at Todi. The exhibits
in Father V. Jouet’s Other World Museum at Rome comprised
photographic records of the marks. In another instance in
1853, a spirit left an imprint as if by an iron hand heated redhot
on the door of the convent of the Franciscan nuns of Saint
Anne at Foligno. When the grave of the deceased was reopened,
the hand was found to fit the scorch marks to perfection.
In William Howitt’s History of the Supernatural (2 vols.,
1863), a story was told of an apparition that appeared to the
grandfather and father of a fellow student of Johann H. Jung.
It stated in part
‘‘Yet there were circumstances which made the father and
son believe that he was far from his purification, for fire
streamed from every finger when he became angry at their resistance
to his wishes. Still more, when he touched the Bible it
smoked, and the marks of his thumb and finger shrivelled up
the leather of the binding where he held it, and also the paper
where he pointed out the place in the hymn ‘From guilt of
blood deliver me’ was black and singed. The Bible with these
marks is preserved in the family, and many creditable persons
have seen it and may still see it.’’
Howitt added
‘‘The fiery touch of the spirit which induced the father and
son to believe it a bad one, modern spiritualists can testify to
belong to many spirits. How often have we seen fire streaming
even from the finger of a medium How often have spirits, before
shaking hands with you, desired you, at Mr. Home’s, to lay
your handkerchief over your hand first How often have you
felt the touch of spirit fingers prick as from the sparks of electricity’’
Under the mediumship of the Rev. William Stainton Moses
there are two instances of somewhat similar character. According
to his note dated April 18, 1874, a psychic light touched his
fingers, which resulted in the skin being broken up and the
joint swollen. Mrs. Speer stated in her account in Light that a
spirit of low order was responsible for the injury.
In the second instance, W. B., a friend of Stainton Moses,
figured he had committed suicide. His portrait appeared on a
plate on May 16, 1876, when Moses sat for spirit photography.
On May 20, Moses woke up in the night and saw the spirit trying
to reach him; it struggled with two other spirits. He was inspired
with horror and revulsion. The spirit got nearer and
stretched out his hand. Moses did not remember any more. In
the morning, he found on his forehead an oblong dull red
mark in the exact place where his friend wounded himself. The
mark was a red discoloration and faded in two or three days.
The psychical researcher Frank Podmore quoted a similar
case in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (vol.
10, p. 204). A Miss M. P. was awakened in the night with a jump
with a horrible feeling that there was someone in the room. An
icy hand pressed against her face. The next moment her sister
cried out and complained of a violent burn on her cheek. ‘‘The
gas having been turned up higher, we saw on one side of her
face, a very vivid red mark, which rapidly took the form of a
hand, with fingers open.’’
The psychical researcher Ernesto Bozzano analyzed this
and many similar cases in the journal The Seer (1931) under the
title ‘Spirit Hands of Flame,’ and drew attention to the fact that
the elder sister felt an icy sensation and a minute later, apparently
by the same hand, her sister was burned. Bozzano asked
whether the opposed sensation felt by the two percipients
might not be explained by ‘‘a rapid change in the ectoplasmic
condensation of the phantom hand resulting from a sudden
modification of the vibratory tonality. This vibratory tonality,
under certain circumstances, seems to be very much more intense
either on living or inanimate matter, and as a result, like
fire, it would destroy living animal or vegetable tissue.’’
In a séance with Heinrich Melzer, the Dresden apport medium,
as reported in the June 1906 issue of Die Ünbersinnliche
Welt, a plant was apported. The sitter, at the very same instant
that he received the plant, felt the sensation of burning on the
thumb. When the light was switched on, the mark of a burn was
clearly seen and a blister formed immediately.
Emma Hardinge Britten in her book Modern American Spiritualism
(1870), vouched for the following occurrences in the
family of a well-known merchant of San Francisco in a séance
with the eldest daughter
‘‘Instantly, and while every eye was fixed upon her, she sank
back in her chair in a swoon and there, in the broad glare of
the sunlight, appeared on her face, which the moment before
was perfectly white and colorless, a large patch of wet, reeking
blood, one of her cheeks being marked exactly as if struck with
a bloody hand. On approaching the swooning figure, a second
patch appeared on the other cheek; and as she stretched out
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her hand as if to ward off an invisible foe, another wet and reeking
stain instantaneously became manifest on its palm.
‘‘The ladies present procured a washbowl and removed the
stains from the young woman’s face and hand; but though they
replaced her in the chair, restored her to consciousness and
never for one moment lost sight of her, nor suffered a single
movement to escape them, this terrible phenomena was repeated
five times in less than an hour.’’
The house in which this occurred was haunted, and the
scene of frightful disturbances at night. The younger children
always insisted that these frightful marks were made ‘‘by a
Spanish girl’’ who followed their sister about. She had her
throat cut. Another apparition who helped to make the marks
was their mother whom they represented as reproaching her
daughter with an infamous life. The fluid was several times analyzed
and found to be human blood. The phenomena lasted for
many months. Finally the police interfered and the circles were
terminated.
The issue of psychic touches has actually been discussed but
it is such an allusive phenomena that little can be concluded
from its occurrence. It has been noted that records of such occurrences
in modern séances have usually be in conjunction
with other fraudulent phenomena such as apports and materializations;
the mundane action of a sitter or accomplice in a
darkened room could account for the overwhelming psychic
touches. A variety of body sensations, from the ordinary to the
spectacular, can also be ascribed to actions completely internal
to the person himherself. It can even be argued that some
cases of burns and bleeding might be ascribed to autosuggestion
(or hypnotism).