The metamorphic power ascribed to certain mediums to assume
facial or bodily characteristics of deceased people for
their representation. The phenomenon was described in detail
in the account of William J. Erwood in The National Spiritualist,
at a séance in 1931 with a Mrs. Bullock, a Chicago medium. In
the light, which showed every movement of the medium, he
claimed to have seen more than fifty faces in an hour and a half.
He writes
‘‘It was as though the medium’s face were of plastic material
being rapidly molded from one form to another by some master
worker in plastics. Oriental faces, Indians, calm, dignified,
serious, spiritual, in short, almost every type of face was depicted
during the most unusual séance. One of the most striking
was the impersonation of a paralysed girl whom I had known
in the States. The medium’s entire body, as well as face, was
twisted out of all semblance of its normal state, to depict the
condition of this victim of paralysis.’’
H. Dennis Bradley, in his book The Wisdom of the Gods
(1925), described an experience with the medium Mrs. Scales
‘‘Gradually the whole of the expression of the medium’s face
changed completely. It was a transformation. Whilst the outline
remained, the eyes and the expression became beautiful . . . At
first is was only with very great difficulty that the first few words
were articulated. It was as if they were produced with considerable
effort. Within a little while, however, the power strengthened
considerably, and the spirit of my sister was able to assume
complete control. It was my sister. It was her spirit, using
the organism of another physical body, and speaking to me in
her own voice.’’
Joseph Maxwell vouched for the following case of transfiguration
in sleep, narrated by one of his colleagues in the magistracy
‘‘On January 1, 1903, my father began to feel the first attacks
of the painful disease from which he died after six months
of terrible suffering . . . I watched him as he slept, and was not
long in noticing that his physiognomy gradually assumed an aspect
which was not his own. I finally observed that his face bore
a striking resemblance to that of my mother. It was as though
the mask of her face was placed over his own. My father had no
eyebrows for a long time, and I noticed above his closed eyes
the very marked black eyebrows which my mother had retained
to the last. The eyelids, the nose, the mouth, were those of my
mother. . . . My father wore his moustache and a pointed, but
rather short beard. This beard and moustache, which I saw,
helped, contrary to what might have been expected, in forming
the features of my mother. The appearance lasted for ten or
twelve minutes; then it gradually disappeared, and my father
resumed his habitual physiognomy. Five minutes later he
awoke, and I immediately asked him if he had not been dreaming,
especially about his wife. He answered in the negative.’’
The phenomenon was witnessed by a woman servant who
came into the room while it lasted. She was told ‘‘Jeanne, look
at Monsieur sleeping!’’ She cried out, ‘‘Oh, how he resembles
poor Madame. It is striking, it is quite extraordinary!’’
In the experiences of Allan Kardec, founder of French
Spiritism, there was an extraordinary case of a young girl of fifteen
whose metamorphic power extended to the duplication of
the stature, mass, and weight of deceased persons, especially of
her brother. Kardec recorded that another metamorphic
meduim, a Ms. Krooke, saw one evening her own face changed.
She observed a thick black beard and by it her son-in-law recognized
his dead father. A little later, her face changed into that
of an old woman with white hair. She preserved her consciousness
in the meantime, yet felt through her entire body a prickling
like that of a galvanic battery. No such miracles are recorded
in modern experience.
Transfiguration is most often reported as occurring in séances
in conjunction with materializations. It involves grave
risks for the medium, but no records of any harm have been reported.
There is an observation based on several accounts including
an experiment at the British College of Psychic Science,
a Spiritualist organization, with the medium Ada
Besinnet in 1921. A light was flashed on a face that was illuminated
by a spirit lamp. The medium was leaning over the table
and illuminated her own face with light held in her hand. The
light quickly vanished, as did the white drapery which draped
over her head. When awakened, she was in trance and complained
of great pain in the pit of her stomach; for three days
she was shaken with muscular contractions.
There are some past experiences on record of the disappearance
of the medium during materialization. In such cases,
Spiritualist argue, the entire bodily substance of the medium is
believed to have been withdrawn for the purpose of building up
phantom bodies. Such occurrences are also known as transfigurations.
More rational approaches to the séance have ascribed
more mundane causes to such occurrences.
Transfiguration Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Henry S. Olcott and John Newbrough experienced transfigurations
with the medium Elizabeth J. Compton. While
phantoms were parading in front of the sitters before the cabinet,
she vanished from the chair into which she was tied in such
a way that the least effort to face herself would have given her
away. Not only had her body vanished, but the fastenings,
threads, wax-ends, seals, and nails as well. Yet something must
have been left in the chair, for Olcott was strictly forbidden to
touch the chair when he was allowed to go into the cabinet.
Where was the medium According to Olcott and Newbrough,
she was transfigured into the phantom bodies. Many
of the phantoms were recognized as departed relatives and divulged
intimate knowledge of the lives of their relations. If they
were seized, and they were sometimes, they resolved into
Compton and always rendered her ill.
In 1890 Alexander N. Aksakof had a similar experience
with the medium Elizabeth d’Esperance, at a séance in Gothenburg.
While the phantom ‘‘Yolande’’ was outside the cabinet,
he slipped his arm through the curtains and felt for the medium’s
chair. He found it empty; at the same time his hand was
flung aside. At the very moment ‘‘Yolande’’ returned into the
cabinet, the séance came to an abrupt end and the medium was
discovered on her chair in her red dress (‘‘Yolande’’ was in
Through automatic writing, Aksakof, who did not tell of his
part in the sudden disturbance, was told by ‘‘Walter,’’
d’Esperance’s control, that if the contribution of the circle was
insufficient there might not be enough left of the medium to
be visible; the clairvoyant may still see the body, but in reality
there might not be much more in her place than her organs of
sense. In such cases, a simple touch may do the medium serious
When Aksakof asked what would happen if in such a case he
should pull the band of cloth which encircled the medium’s
waist, whether it would not cut her body in two, the answer was
yes. D’Esperance summed up her only sensations in this sentence
‘‘I felt as I were empty inside.’’
The existence of transfigurations is questionable at best, and
like many of the physical phenomena with which it was associated,
reports of its occurrence have become quite rare. Most psychical
researchers regard it with skepticism, suggesting that its
primary occurrences in séances were fraudulently produced.
Reported cases have been rare and it is unsatisfactory to attempt
to assess them long after the event.
Aksakof, Alexander. A Case of Partial Dematerialization of the
Body of a Medium. Boston, 1898.
Holms, A. Campbell. The Facts of Psychic Science. 1925. Reprint,
New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1969.