The Royal Society's Report on Spiritualism
Written By: Paranormal News
The 'Report on Spiritualism of the Committee of the London Dialectical Society' was published in 1871 by the Royal Society and was made public after a unanimous vote by its members. The committee involved in this report made it their goal to accept as much evidence as they could find on spiritualism, both from people who claimed the phenomena to be delusional as well as from those who expressed the genuineness in the gathered claims. As such, this committee set themselves the objective to investigate the following propositions:
Sounds occurred without being caused by muscular or mechanical action; movements of heavy bodies took place without it being the result of any muscular or mechanical action; sounds spelled out, through simple codes, the answers to questions in a coherent manner and correct answers were given to these questions even when known only by a single person; certain persons were required to be present accompanying such phenomena; and finally, assurance that this phenomena was not guaranteed when those persons were present.
The group itself was divided into sub-committees, each set up to investigate all of these separate claims, and with all of the scientific disciplines involved, many were highly skeptical. Regardless, the majority of the evidence gathered was found to be surprisingly in support of the genuineness of the phenomena as opposed to against it.
All of the evidence gathered from Sub-Committee 1 was done at the private residences of the members in order to ensure there was no possibility of pre-arranged contrivances or mechanics. All furniture was checked, tables measured, and the room was always properly lit by gas-light. No payment would be given to any medium, and the mediums tested had to be in a good social position and well-trusted to ensure no deception. The word 'medium' was understood to be an individual whose presence seemed to assist in the phenomena occurring. 80% of the the sub-committee believed most of the claims to be the result of delusion or imposture prior to their research. The results of their investigations, however proved to them that:
a) Under certain conditions, a force seemed to be exhibited which was sufficient to set heavy objects in motion without the use of muscles or by any physical contact whatsoever.
b) This force could cause sounds to proceed from solid substances without any physical contact, and those sounds also created vibrations which could be felt.
c) This force exhibited intelligence.
Out of forty meetings, thirty four were able to capture these various findings. They sought perfect assurance that no contact had been made to the objects making sounds or moving on their own. If any contact had been made, even from the edge of a dress, the evidence was thrown out.
In one instance, when validating that a table could move without anyone touching it in the presence of a medium, eleven members sat around the table kneeling on their chairs, feet pointing away, and both of their hands visible on the surface for all to see. In less than a minute, the table moved four times, once five inches, then twelve inches, then four inches, then six inches. Next, they moved their chair back one foot from the table, each person again kneeling on their chair with their hands held behind their back. The table moved again in four different directions. In total, the table was seen to move thirteen times in under 30 minutes. The table was then turned upside down and torn apart, none of the members finding anything out of the ordinary which would have caused such movement. Delusion was promptly ruled out of the question. As such, the committee stated their conclusion: motion may be produced in solid bodies without material contact, by some hitherto unrecognized force operating within an undefined distance from the human organism, and beyond the range of muscular action.
Sub-Committee 2 set about investigating the so-called “rapping” phenomena. They first stated to have numerous meetings at the private residence of the members who had held no previous séances. In addition, the meetings themselves were held without the aid of any professed medium. They assembled in the evenings, and did so by sitting around a dining table upon which everyone had been instructed to place their hands. In addition, the room was always well-lit, sufficient for reading and writing. They began to hear rappings at their first meeting, and they witnessed the same table-moving reported by the other sub-committee. In addition, the movement of the table ceased after a few times in favor of the rappings, which did not always proceed from the table, but also from the floors, walls, and ceiling, often coming from parts of the room that were requested. Sometimes the rappings sounded like detonations in the air, and the rythmic taps that they made were repeated on request. As such, the sound seemed to have its own intelligence. They also attempted to communicate with the rappings by passing their finger over an alphabet, as well as using a simple code—three taps for yes, two for doubtful, and one for no. Through this process, they were told by the rappings that they were spirits who had a relationship with people in the room. Furthermore, the rappings also seemed to have the ability to express character and emotion.
The group noted that in many instances, when they tried to shorten or anticipate words and ideas, the rappings replied negatively, correcting them for their errors. The spirits also requested certain seating orders at times, requesting for a light to be turned up or down, telling people to be quiet or hold hands. When they did so, the communication often intensified. At one point during a séance, the group sent away for a neighbor to confirm the activity who promptly entered, and the activity continued just as it had before.
During a meeting in which they held no séance and were not even sitting around a table but had been discussing the genuineness of the communications, they noticed rappings which eventually found their way to a piano, the strings of which were plucked on their own. When they examined the piano, they could not identify any specific cause.
On another occasion after concluding a séance, rappings were heard after they were serving drinks. When asked who they were, the group was told through the rappings it was the same spirits who they had spoken to earlier, but the spirits had such a good time they did not want to leave. One member drank to their health and asked them to respond, and the rappings did so enthusiastically, each eventually bidding the group goodnight.
At yet another séance, a question was posed, asking when the spirit had died. When they asked this, no response was given, no matter how many times it was asked. They group wondered if perhaps the spirits didn't consider death the same way that they did, as if the after-life was a mere continuation. When this was said, the spirits began rapping again enthusiastically. After this communication began, they pulled out additional facts. Bodily death was seen by the spirits as trivial in an importance and was seen more so as a birth into a new experience of existence. Spirit life, they were told, was in every respect human where they held friendships with one another. They had a great interest in earthly affairs but had no interest in returning to their former state, either. The spirits also claimed to have no prophetic powers. They were informed as well that two individuals at the meeting were mediums, and the others were mediumistic if they developed it over time. The spirits mentioned that they were familiar with the Dialectical Society but they did not know if it would have any favourable results. After the communication went on for awhile, the spirit was asked if it had sufficient strength to move the table. The alphabet was called for, and it spelled out 'unlink hands.' When everyone did so, the table lurched around suddenly, forcing some of the group out of their chairs. The spirit who did this claimed to be an acquaintance of a lady present, and he had died in a railway accident in America, but was quite fond of feats of strength.
No specific conditions could be found to incite the communications, and whether they adhered to a ritual or not didn't seem to matter. However, it seemed to be beneficial to orderly conduct the séance, by staying quiet but not passive, by silence in the house, and by having a moderate supply of light. They still were able to obtain communications even while laughing and going about their regular household routines. Sometimes, for no apparent cause, the rappings died away and they were no longer able to communicate, but when this happened, they would often reinvigorate and return full force. They also noted a failure to obtain communication in the dark, or without the presence of two of the ladies in their group. By performing what the spirits asked, the communications often intensified.
After their investigations, the group of scientists dismissed 'electro-biologic' or 'mesmerism' claims. They also stated a strong desire to communicate more often prefaced failure than success. Sometimes the communications were unsought. No influences impaired their powers of observation, and everyone's memory corroborated at a later time with the notes that they had taken.
The spirits also seemed to conserve energy as they did not like answering the same question twice, nor use the same words seldomly. Rarely were the raps meaningless and most contained original communication. Concise answers were given more than anything. Health, weather, and temperature did not seem to matter.
During one of the meetings, a spirit named Henry told the group that he wished one of his relatives who were sitting at the table would know that he loved her even though he neglected her and wished her to have all of his money. When asked what was the reason for the communication, he said he wished to show proof of a spiritual existence and to illustrate his love. The group asked if they should make steps to recover the money, but the spirit said no, money does not bring happiness. When they asked if he were angry about the money, the spirit spelled out “animosity does not exist in spirit-land.” He then bid everyone good night.
In another instance, a spirit with heavy thuds spelled out his own name as “Jem Clarke.” The lady at the séance stated her housemaid was named Clarke, and she was about to go away for an unknown reason. They asked if he were her guardian spirit, to which he replied with raps that this was indeed the case. They tried asking this spirit more, but with three heavy thuds, he went away.
This committee was designated to meet together regularly and try to understand “medium power”. The members here were a part of the other sub-committees in hopes that they could form a larger and more accurate picture than that which could have been drawn by being a member of only a singular sub-committee. This group tried to deduce whether or not pressure from member's hands, perhaps unconsciously or out of laziness, could make a table move during a séance. They determined the weight of force hands and arms had upon a table, and attempted to figure out how much force was needed to tilt that table 90 degrees. In one experiment it took 21 ½ pounds to do so, but it required something to hold the legs of the table in place. Pushing a table was found to be much easier than pulling it. With his hands placed on top of the table, one man did not exert enough force to tilt up the other end. In all, this sub-committee found that they could not properly duplicate the table-moving phenomena that had been reported by others through intention or involuntary muscle movements. As such, they felt genuine table-tipping raised important scientific and philosophic questions.
Nothing occurred worth recording with this committee—other than stating nothing occurred.
This sub-committee met D. D. Home for the purpose of investigating phenomena surrounding his mediumship. It included Lord Adare and Mr. Lindsay. Prior to the meeting, Mr. Home begged to change his clothes simply for the purpose of expressing to the group that he had no machinery of any kind. This was accomplished in the presence of two witnesses, one of whom noted how muscular and elastic he appeared to be. In the first séance on the 2nd of April, 1869, nothing unusual was witnessed, other than some slight rappings and slight movement in the table. One man could not control his arm very well and was handed a pencil. He wrote some irregular characters with which no one was familiar. After more than two hours, the group decided to quit.
In the following séance on the 9th of April, most of the members were present. Within 30 minutes, the group heard some slight rappings to come from where Home was sitting. One of the group went under the table to watch, at which point, the table moved slightly and the rappings continued. Mr. Home made a slight noise at some point and covered his face. Although a few more rappings were heard, the séance ended with nothing else noteworthy taking place.
On the 16th, Mr. Home again met with the committee, rappings again were heard which sounded much like fingernails, and one member showed that the table could move with ease on its castors.
During the final séance, the committee again recorded very little phenomena and Mr. Home was quite ill. The committee had hoped to see him levitate, but he stated he had no ability to perform a levitation at will and it was entirely up to his agency to produce it. Despite the failure to observe any of the phenomena, Mr. Home requested that the investigations continue with him at some later date.
This committee failed to observe any phenomena, either. It was recorded that one lady who met with the group claimed her two girls of 8 and 10 were mediums. The girls sat down near a chess table and proceeded to rock it back and forth deliberately. Much fun was had. End of that one.
DR. EDMUNDS DISCLAIMER
At this point in the report, Dr. James Edmunds M.D. M.R.C.S., inserted a communication of his own, acting as chairman of the committee. He raised an alarm, stating that the review of evidence received for the report had drifted into the hands of zealous spiritualists. As such, he felt obliged to state his dissension directly into the heart of the report. He felt the urge to admit his own infirmity while reviewing the evidence. He intended for competent observers to be selected for the committee, but felt that the beating heart of mankind's belief in the supernatural was still alive and well in all of the members, and as such, the balance towards objective reasoning was quite possibly upset. Men, he stated, had a longing for immortality, and as such, were beginning to find it answered in Spiritualism. Who wouldn't want to obtain a message from a long lost friend or relative? Who wouldn't want a confirmation of the continuation of miracles recorded in the Bible? Mediums seemed to hold the position where they could possibly rival priests, and priests, hearing of this, naturally assigned to Spiritualism a satanic influence as it eats away at the 'ancient strata of religious dogma.' Must we believe in every silly story that makes an appearance? He wondered. If someone suddenly begins to claim they saw a chair walk, it opens the floodgates of absurdity. To Edmunds, accepting that a chair could walk or that a group of well respected individuals said they had been chased by a headless horseman still required him to weigh it against the infinite amount of other evidence which said such things were impossible. To begin to accept an impossibility places a foot in the door where you eventually lose any foundation with material fact.
If the arch-bishop of Canterbury stated he traveled by train to London, no one would doubt it. If he said he traveled there by balloon, a few may wonder if this were true, but it is certainly in the scope of possibility. If he said, however, that he traveled through a 'telegraph wire', many would assume he lost his senses. If he said he did this by faith, and the reason he could not do it again was because of the presence of an unbeliever, herein, stated Edmunds, was the same case that one must deal with when it comes to spiritualistic phenomena. An extraordinary amount of evidence is thus required to confirm this third illustration.
On May of 1868, Edmunds explained that he and his wife had visited the Davenport Brothers at St. George Hall who were illusionists proclaiming to their audience that their powers came from Spiritualism. One of their most famous tricks was the 'box illusion' in which the brothers were tied in a box that contained musical instruments. Once the box was closed, the instruments would sound. When the box was reopened by Edmunds, it was revealed that the brothers were still tied to one another. Edmunds told the audience that he did not know how their tricks were done. A local paper reported this, claiming Edmunds was responsible for assisting in the deception, when this wasn't the case.
Later, Edmunds stated he was invited to a private séance with Mrs. Guppy and the Davenports but had not been impressed at all, as the entire affair seemed to be a complete contrivance filled with tricks and 'clever juggling.' In addition, at any time, the Davenports would declare that the spirits had left them when their performances had gone sour. Furthermore, the Davenports, although claiming to make themselves available for investigation, consistently failed to do so by providing excuse after excuse.
In another séance with Mrs. Marshall who was a paid medium, it was observed that Mrs. Marshall had been tapping the bottom of the table with her foot. Many of his friends who visited her were convinced that they were communicating with spirits of departed relatives. Every time a mistake was made, Mrs. Marshall claimed that they must have been communicating with a 'lying spirit'.
In June of 1869, Mr. Coleman who was a member of his committee proposed another meeting with Mrs. Marshall, but Edmunds had objected, given the fact that she was a paid medium in addition to the fact that he found her completely untrustworthy. But after it was proposed that they would see a table go up to the ceiling, he felt both of these objectives should be waved. Mrs. Marshall was able to tap out the names of persons, but only given that she could see the individual as he pointed at the alphabet. Other times, the spirit rappings which were heard seemed right to the same degree as blind luck and probability. Mrs. Marshall, at another point, went to a piano, and loud knocks were heard. Mr. Coleman asked Edmunds if he had any objections, and he pointed out Mrs. Marshall's dress was touching the piano, and her foot could have made precisely the same sound. When she moved away, the 'spirits' no longer made any sounds upon the piano.
Mr. Home, on the other hand, Edmunds found quite frank, despite the fact that they really didn't experience anything during those séances besides slight rappings and movement upon a table that could easily move on its own. Home, Edmunds noted, had an extremely elastic and muscular frame, and seemed to be an individual with 'exceptional mental gifts.'
On some other occasions, Edmunds offered money to any person who could read a note in his pocket, but no one was ever able to comply.
Edmunds thus summarized by saying that the phenomena associated with Spiritualism was little more than 'phantoms of the brain' or tricks from impostures. Other evidence gathered was more than likely due to nothing else other than 'unconscious action' caused by circumstances of where the séance was being held.
Finally, he stated that séances themselves can be extremely injurious to 'delicate people' and that they can 'unhinge the mind.' These sensitive individuals of high standing are, in turn, used by mediums to silence skeptics. Given that séances are sometimes performed more than once after previous ones failed, the information gathered could then be used in future séances to create a much greater effect.
COMMUNICATION FROM MR. JEFFREY
Next, a relatively interesting--almost bipolar--letter from Mr. Jeffrey was added, stating the following:
Trance utterances by mediums appeared to be incoherent and absurd.
Writing and drawings of mediums appeared to be guided by pen and pencil in the ordinary way, although some operators allowed themselves to be swayed by 'fantastic' impulses.
No rapping communications gave out information of practical value, or information that could not be known at the time.
Communications purporting to be from dead relatives, if they were to be accepted, were repugnant to the minds of the religious.
Theories given out to be examined by the committee were vague and contradictory, and the evidence given was not scientific.
The phenomena itself was wide open to imposture, and the faith of those who believed in Spiritualism too often got in the way of any true investigation.
Nevertheless, he summarized, remarkable phenomena had been witnessed, so he recommended investigations to be continued.
COMMUNICATION FROM MR. GEARY
A letter was added next to the report by Mr. Geary, stating that the inquiry into Spiritualism was incomplete, as the evidence gathered was mostly one-sided. Those who disagreed with the phenomena were placed to the side, or not invited to avoid any adverse influence on the manifestations. Nevertheless, tables moved and raps were heard claiming to come from another world. Nothing was witnessed that he would call unnatural or beyond the powers of humans. Geary stated he was a member of sub-committee number six, and the raps they heard were from a single individual who later confessed. What he found most remarkable, in the end, is that well-educated and otherwise sane men believed that spirits were responsible.
COMMUNICATION FROM MR. COX
Since Mr Geary, Mr. Jeffrey, and Mr. Edmunds chimed in and attached personal memorandums, Cox decided to jump in as well and do the same thing. He reiterated that Sub-Committee One had held 40 meetings to go over and ascertain evidence. Dr. Edmunds was Chairman of the general committee and, as such, was not a part of the investigations himself. Although Cox agreed with the majority of what Edmunds wrote, Dr. Edmunds himself was never present at the entire meetings of the sub-committee, and thus he had not seen any evidence first-hand. To Cox, the existence of a psychic force was proven beyond a doubt in the minds of the participants. “Because quacks sometimes commit frauds, the whole science of medicine is not, therefore, to be set down as an imposture.”
Mr. Geary, on the other hand, was only present at two occasions when tests were being held, so his examination, according to Cox, should be considered worthless. Cox reiterated he had started out his investigation with the assumption that table moving was the result of delusion, imposture, and/or unconscious action of the muscles. He believed his sub-committee illustrated the phenomena was not the result of any of these things. He himself found no evidence that spirits of the dead were responsible, but that living humans were the cause through their own psychic force, of which Mr. Crookes had decided to investigate on his own. The movement of the table, he added, was done at Dr. Edmunds house(!)—as such, the committee should have perfect assurance it was not the result of deception.
COMMUNICATION FROM H. G. ATKINSON, F.G.S
Atkinson piped in last within the report, mentioning that he had studied mesmerism, clairvoyance, electro-biology, and all the facts related to the inquiries from 1840 to 1850, but felt it had nothing to do with spirits of the dead, nor of a new psychic force. To Atkinson, it was all actions of the unconscious manifesting itself in a number of ways after having been somehow 'freed' from the conscious mind. As such, it was ordinary phenomena of our own complex nature. The more the senses close, the more the inner powers escape. He promised to work on his conclusions for the further advancement of science.
Reference Links: Report on Spiritualism of The Committee of the London Dialectical Society