Dr. William J. Crawford discusses his mediumship research
Posted on 19 December 2017, 11:07
In 1914, Dr. William J. Crawford, a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Queen’s University of Belfast, Ireland, began investigating the mediumship of 16-year-old Kathleen Goligher (below). The phenomena surrounding the young girl included communicating raps, trance voice, and table levitations. In all, Crawford had 87 sittings over some two and a half years with the Goligher Circle and detailed his research in four books: The Reality of Psychic Phenomena (1918), Hints and Observations For Those Investigating the Phenomena of Spiritualism (1918), Experiments in Psychical Science (1919), and The Psychic Structure of the Goligher Circle (1921), all published by E. P. Dutton & Co. of New York City.
Crawford (below) died by suicide on July 30, 1920. Skeptics suggested that his suicide was the result of realizing he had been duped. However, four days prior to his death, Crawford wrote to David Gow, the editor of Light, the following: “My psychic work was all done before the (mental) collapse, and is the most perfect work I have done in my life. Everything connected with it is absolutely correct, and will bear every scrutiny. It was done when my brain was working perfectly, and it could not be responsible for what has occurred….I wish to affirm my belief that the grave does not finish all.”
Born in New Zealand, Crawford received his D.Sc. from the University of Glasgow and authored a number of books, including Elementary Graphic Statics and Calculations on the Entropy-Temperature Chart, before undertaking his research of psychic phenomena.
This “interview” is based on the four books mentioned in the first paragraph. Except for words in brackets, inferred and inserted to permit a flow, the words are his. The questions have been tailored to fit the answers. Various English words, e.g., colour, sceptic, centre, etc. have been Americanized. When Crawford refers to “operators,” he is speaking of spirits.
Dr. Crawford, how did you become interested in psychical research?
“A number of us had been sitting round a small table in the usual way and had obtained the usual tiltings and usual mixed-up messages, when suddenly the table twisted round under our hands and did not stop until it had turned through nearly a complete revolution. It did this two or three times. The movement, which was so obviously not produced by any of us present and which we did not expect – this simple little turning movement – caused the first glimmer of doubt in my mind that all table tiltings, etc., were due to subconscious actions of the sitters, as I had strongly held up to that time. From that moment – now years ago – I decided to investigate the matter thoroughly.”
I believe you referred to the type of table phenomenon you initially experienced, where the sitters have their hands resting gently on the table, as “contact” type, while that involving a medium like Kathleen Goligher, when no one is touching the table as non-contact. Would you mind explaining the contact phenomenon?
“[In the contact phenomenon] the sitters, it is understood, are only touching the top of the table lightly with the palms of their hands or their finger tips. When the table thus moves about by the true action of psychic force upon it, it seems to possess a peculiar attribute of inherent liveliness and lightness, very obvious to the sitters, who soon become convinced that its motions are quite independent of muscular pressure. On the other hand, if the psychic force is absent or is not being applied, the table feels heavy and dead.”
What causes the table to move if muscular force has nothing to do with the matter?
“Up to the time of my experiments on table movements without contact, I do not think anyone had much idea. But I fancy the matter is a little clearer now. Arguing on the basis of non-contact phenomena, what probably happens is that psychic arms (or rods) – invisible and impalpable – project themselves from the person who is mediumistic, these arms being supplied with energy from the bodies of the sitters. Briefly, the medium supplies the psychic arm and the sitters the energy required to work it. If there is no medium present, no psychic arm can be projected and no phenomena can ensue though all the sitters may be able to give forth psychic energy in abundance…These invisible psychic arms probably grip the table by adhesion to its under surfaces or legs and thus bring about the movements which appear so mysterious.”
Would you mind describing the process involving Kathleen Goligher?
“The members constituting the circle enter the room and each sits down on his customary chair. They sit around in the form of a circle about five feet diameter and the table is placed in the center. The ordinary illuminant is turned off and a red light turned on. The sitters clasp each other’s hands in chain order and the séance commences. One of the members of the circle opens the proceedings with prayer and then a hymn is sung. In a few minutes, sounds – tap, tap, tap,—are heard on the floor close to the medium. These are the first ‘spirit’ raps of the evening. They soon become louder and stronger and occur right out in the circle space, on the table, and on the chairs of the sitters. Their magnitude varies in intensity from the slightest audible ticks to blows which might well be produced by a sledge-hammer, the latter really being awe-inspiring and easily heard two stories below and even outside the house. The loud blows perceptibly shake the floor and chairs. Sometimes the raps keep time to hymns sung by members of the circle; sometimes they tap out themselves complicated tunes and dances on top of the table or on the floor. Besides the ordinary raps the operators can produce various modifications and peculiar variations. For instance, they can imitate a bouncing ball so perfectly that one would be prepared to affirm a ball was really in the room. They can imitate to perfection the sawing of the table leg, the striking of a match, the walking of a man, and the trotting of a horse. They give double and treble knocks, i.e., two or three fast ones and one slow one. In fact, almost every variety and combination of rap it is possible to imagine is heard.”
How long does this rapping go on?
“After a quarter of an hour or so the rappings cease and another type of phenomenon takes its place. [It should be remembered] that the members of the circle are simply sitting on their chairs and holding each other’s hands in chain order and are only passive instruments in the hands of the invisible operators – whoever the latter may be. The little table is standing on the floor within the circle formed by the sitters and is not in contact with any of them or with any portion of their clothing. Suddenly the table gives a lurch or moves slightly along the floor. After a while it may give another lurch or it may rise into the air on two legs. These movements – which are executed, as I have said, without physical contact with the medium or the members of the circle – are the preliminary motions which usually take place just previous to the first levitation, i.e., before the table rises completely into the air of itself where it remains suspended for several minutes without visible support.”
Do you know how the rappings come about?
“[As I mentioned earlier], a psychic ‘rod’ (or arm) issues from the body of the medium; a semi-flexible rod, which is moved up and down and strikes the floor or table. [The operators] say that raps are produced in two ways: (1) soft raps, bouncing ball imitations, etc. – by beating the side of the rod on the floor, as one uses a stick for beating a carpet. (2) hard raps – by beating the rod on the floor more or less axially. I asked them the approximate dimensions of a rapping rod used to give a fairly hard blow. They gave a blow on the floor as a sample and then said that the diameter of the rod used in that particular case was about two inches and of uniform thickness over its length, until just before entering the body of the medium, where it increased to a diameter of about three inches.”
Is Miss Goligher in a trance when the various phenomena are produced through her?
“[No.] The medium was quite conscious during all my experimental investigations, and any fraud presented would therefore be in the nature of deliberate action. She herself was always keenly interested in the experiments, and has told me she enjoys such sittings much more than ordinary development séances…Many times I have observed the keenness with which she followed what went on, evidently forgetting for the time being that she herself was the prime cause of all the phenomena, and that without her there would have been nothing.”
So you recognize that there is such a thing as unconscious fraud with some mediums?
“While recognizing that both varieties of fraud exist, I am confident that they have been much overrated. Even at séances, such as the Golighers’, where everything is above suspicion, where all phenomena can be demonstrated with the greatest ease to be genuine to the last detail, things happen which to a superficial observer might appear fraudulent. For instance, sometimes the medium’s body, or portions of her body, make spasmodic kinds of movements when heavy raps or impacts are being experienced far out in the circle. These are simply the reactions due to the raps and are what we might expect. The seeker after fraud (who by the way is usually a person with no knowledge of science) immediately puts them down to imposture. My experiments, conducted over a long period of time and more thoroughly than any ever carried out hitherto, have proved to me beyond all question that the medium’s body is either directly or indirectly the focus of all the mechanical actions which result in phenomena. And not only is it the focus but it also seems to supply a kind of duplicate of portions of her body, which can be temporarily detached and projected into the space in front of her. Thus, things happen in the séance room which, from the nature of the case, sometimes bears a superficial appearance of fraud, though, in a properly conducted circle it is only superficial, and the true and genuine nature of the phenomena can always be discovered by a little investigation.”
What kind of person is Kathleen Goligher?
“She is an upright and honorable young woman, has received no monetary recompense for what she has done, and has always been willing to give me her services freely in the cause of science. Her mediumship is absolutely beyond dispute, as many people, some of them well known, are able with certainty to say. However, she knows it is my duty to set at rest the minds of those who are afraid of unconscious mediumistic action and the like; of those who, not having been able to attend her séances and see for themselves what actually happens, wish to know what precautions have been taken, and what independent witnesses have to say.”
Do you have an opinion as to whether these “operators” are spirits of the “dead” or some aspect of the subconscious?
“[The subconscious] is the alternative I had in mind all through my investigations. As months succeeded month, as each new phase of phenomena was presented, as each new experiment was done, I always said to myself, ‘Can this very determined work of seemingly intelligent beings be but a simulation after all? Can it be all a fraud? Is it possible that nature holds intelligences belonging to ourselves or otherwise, which could so persistently deceive? Why should our subliminal consciousness (supposing we possess such a thing) carry out for us phenomenal demonstrations on the lines of reason and intelligence, requiring effort and system, for the object of deceiving us?’ No! It seems most unlikely and repellant to our sense of the fitness of things. Nobody who has not delved deeply into psychic phenomena can have any conception of its tremendous variety and range. It includes telekinetic phenomena, apports, materialization, the direct voice, clairvoyance, clairaudience, trance, etc., etc. There are, in fact, dozens of phases of psychic action, all consistent in the inference to which they lead, namely, that man survives death, and inconsistent on any other hypothesis.”
This interview will be continued at the next blog post here on January 3. In the meantime, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to all.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Thanks to Spiritual Researcher for giving the link to Michael Nahm’s comments relative to my review of the four Crawford books in the SSE Journal. The corrections seem to be primarily technical ones, i.e., I referred to 87 “sittings” when it should have been 87 “experiments,” more than one experiment carried out at a particular sitting. Also, I said Crawford studied her over a 2 1/2 year period, when he actually observed her over some six years. I gather that the 87 experiments reported by Crawford were within the 2 1/2 years and that he had additional sittings and experiments with her. I mentioned Goligher’s four sisters, when it should have been three sisters and one brother. Clearly, I was careless in all that, but nothing that Nahm says seems to detract from Crawford’s credibility; if anything, Nahm adds to it.
I could have said much more in my review, but I believe I had a word-length limit and had already exceeded it with what I did write.
As for Wikipedia, does anyone really accept anything Wikipedia has to say about paranormal subjects? As SR points out, the Dingwall comment was hearsay. Dingwall, who had the reputation of being a debunker, would have had to have been a very old man when he told Blackmore, another debunker, about Crawford’s alleged confession. Such a confession is certainly not consistent with Crawford’s letter to David Gow, as mentioned above. Nor is it consistent with the observations of Sir William Barrett and Whatley Carrington, both of whom reported witnessing phenomena with Goligher, even if Carrington didn’t witness anything the second time he sat with her. It is not unusual for mediums to have days in which nothing happens or for them to lose their powers over time.
My guess is that Dingwall or Blackmore are confusing Goligher with Mina Crandon, aka “Margery,” who supposedly said something in jest to Eileen Garrett, which Garrett took to mean that she was admitting to fraud. Dingwall was involved in the Margery investigations. Here again, it is hearsay and very likely taken out of context. The evidence is overwhelming that Mina Crandon was a genuine medium and that he so-called fraud was the inability of some researchers to understand what was going on with the ectoplasmic arm that extended out from her body, the “Walter arm.” The researchers would have had to admit that Walter, a spirit entity, actually existed to give any credence to the phantom arm. They would have had to admit to spirits to prove or disprove spirits, turning the whole scientific method upside down.
Michael Tymn, Sun 31 Dec, 20:12
I don’t know why I feel that I need to comment about Michael Nahm PhD. but I get so weary reading comments from people who write superficial articles about parapsychological things to pad their writing credentials and then want to nit-pick articles by other people who try to provide some comprehensive depth and specificity to their articles. As an example of Nahm’s superficiality, here is a quote from Nahm taken from his web site. “Personally, I followed the development of a well-known physical medium for a number of years, and indeed, I found out that also this medium produced phenomena in a fraudulent manner. “ “Nevertheless, some mediums including the just mentioned swindler perpetuate the claim that they would be willing to be tested under increasingly strict control conditions. . . “
Come on now. These are absolutely worthless comments. If the biologist Nahm is such an ‘expert’ of parapsychological things how about a little specificity when he writes about them. Just name the “well-known physical medium”, tell us about the “phenomena produced in a fraudulent manner.” Then don’t use your own reference to a ‘just mentioned swindler’ when you haven’t “mentioned” who the “swindler” is and how he swindled anyone. Of course one can play it safe by not including any specificity in one’s writing so that no one will be able to criticize anything that you say.
After many years following reports of psychic phenomena and reading a multitude of books about them, I am getting sick and tired of newcomers to the field rehashing the same old hackneyed comments about fraudulent mediums based upon second or third hand information from evangelistic skeptics; such information often found on Wikipedia, one of the absolutely worst sources of information about non-mainstream topics.
Never!, Never!, Never!, use Wikipedia as a reference source of information about anything! - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Sun 31 Dec, 19:18
I believe Robert was talking about this paper, it is online.
He points out some minor mistakes you made. For example Goligher was investigated by Crawford for six years, not two and a half according to Nahm.
Michael Nahm is an interesting character. He has written articles denouncing physical mediums as frauds but he is a believer in psi phenomena and the afterlife.
On an unrelated note, on the Wikipedia article for Kathleen Goligher it says Crawford confessed the whole thing was trickery to Eric Dingwall. This account seems to be third-hand though taken from Susan Blackmore. I am not sure how reliable hearsay like this is. It is not possible to verify the claim because both Crawford and Dingwall are now dead.
Spiritual researcher, Sun 31 Dec, 04:10
The books are still available at bookfinder.com. Put William J. Crawford into the search.
Michael Tymn, Sat 30 Dec, 19:25
Just discovered your blog. Thanks for a very interesting read about Dr Crawford, who I have not known about before. Are any of these books still available at all?
sharon hobson, Fri 29 Dec, 21:36
Further to my earlier response, I searched my files for Michael Nahm’s commentary, but I was unable to find it. In fact, I couldn’t even find my original review of Dr. Crawford’s books. My books and references are a little disorganized at the time.
Michael Tymn, Thu 28 Dec, 20:26
Thanks for the comment. I don’t recall what Michael Nahm’s comments were, but I don’t think I agreed completely with him that they were errors. I assume I responded, but I am not a member of the SSE and don’t have access to their journals to check on this. Can you refresh my memory as to what the “errors” were?
Michael Tymn, Thu 28 Dec, 19:01
In 2014, Michael Nahm wrote that you have made some errors in your old article about Crawford.
Nahm M (2014). Commentary on the Essay Review „William Jackson Crawford on the Goligher Circle“ by Michael Tymn. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 28, 345-349.
Have you replied to Nahm’s criticisms?
Robert, Thu 28 Dec, 01:49
Sorry, but I am not familiar with the experiment you mentioned.
Michael Tymn, Fri 22 Dec, 20:33
Mike I too thank you for this story/review. I remember Carl Jung stating that when an electrical engineer tested the ions of a medium they were 60 times higher on her side of her body than the other people in the room. I picture the image of a vortex created by the people sitting in the circle holding hands and helping to create the energy required to lift the table. I’m curious to know that the rod that was inserted into the medium did he say into what part of her body the rod was taken in to? Thanks so much Karen
Karen E Herrick, Fri 22 Dec, 12:58
Thanks for your comment. I’m pretty sure it was suicide, since he left a suicide note. I don’t recall the reference, but my recollection is that he overdosed on some medication and that it was the result of domestic issues.
I agree with everything you write. Of course, Wikipedia doesn’t. Its writers seem seem certain he was duped. But, that seems to be their attitude on all mediums. On the other hand, Sir William Barrett reported in his book, “On the Threshold of the Unseen,” of joining Crawford in one sitting with Goligher and experiencing a very unusual table levitation. Will give details on this in the next post. Whatley Carrington also reported phenomena on his first visit with Goligher but none on his second. He indicated that her mediumship deteriorated between his first and second visit, and that is likely why Dr. Fournier d’Albe didn’t get much when he investigated her some years after Crawford.
The skeptics don’t appreciate the fact that harmony is an essential factor in the production of phenomena, and that a researcher out to prove fraud will affect that will bring negativity to the sitting which destroys the harmony. It sounds like a convenient excuse, but so many researchers observed this aspect of it. Hamlin Garland reported waiting up to four hours for the medium Mary Curryer Smith to acquire the harmonious and passive state necessary to produce phenomena. fter waiting those four hours and getting some fantastic phenomena, Garland arranged for the Smith to travel to Boston from Los Angeles to be examined by a group of scientists there. However, the medium produced very little for the group. Garland then arranged for a more private sitting with Professor Amos Dolbear of Tugts University. They sat for an hour or longer and Dolbear was ready to call it a night when all kinds of strange phenomena began taking place. So many researchers apparently didn’t have the patience for all that and called the person a fraud if nothing happened within 10 or 15 minutes.
Michael Tymn, Thu 21 Dec, 18:19
Thanks for the comment. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that Dr. Crawford’s suicide had to do with domestic problems, but I’m not sure.
Michael Tymn, Wed 20 Dec, 20:37
I look forward to your continued ‘interview’ with Dr. Crawford. I suspect that you have many recourses from which to draw your interview questions and answers. I have always found it best to go back and read those original texts and reports by psychic investigators to get a less muddled account of what actually was going on during the investigations. After reading several snippets from his books I have come to respect Dr. Crawford’s open mindedness regarding the phenomena he investigated and I think that he tried to proceed in a scientific way with his investigations of Goligher and other mediums.
In a way Crawford reminds me of James Hyslop in that they both seemed to have no interest is arguing whether spirits exist or not, Like Hyslop Crawford reportedly said, “Psychic phenomena are quite as real as any other, and the man who nowadays denies their occurrence on a priori grounds is not worth wasting time upon.”
This is very similar to Hyslop who said,” I regard the existence of discarnate spirits as scientifically proved, and I no longer refer to the skeptic as having any right to speak on the subject. Any man who does not accept the existence of discarnate spirits and the proof of it is either ignorant or a moral coward I give him short shrift, and do not propose any longer to argue with him on the supposition that he knows anything about the subject.”
Hyslop was a little bit stronger in his statement than Crawford but It appears that they felt the same about the matter. I have to chuckle at Hyslop’s comment as I think it betrays his strong-minded personality as someone who is set in his ways and not open to other views. But maybe that is how we all should think if we really believe in the existence of spirit entities and a spiritual reality.
Other good quotes from Crawford include,” The truth is that the human factor in psychic work is the most troublesome and unreliable. No physical phenomena can be produced without the aid of a human being (usually termed a medium), and in addition several other human beings (called sitters) are often required. If the experimenter can overcome the great stumbling block of the human factor, he will make progress and will find a use for his scientific knowledge. But until he learns, possibly only by long experience, how to control the human element necessarily concerned in his experiments, he will not make headway.”
Another good quote: “Time should not be wasted in eternally seeking to verify the actuality of the phenomena. When the experimenter has satisfied himself that the phenomena with which he is dealing are genuine, he should not seek to satisfy all the world, for that is impossible. He should go ahead and try to discover the mechanism of the phenomena and the laws regulating them.”
Crawford does not seem so entrenched or emotionally involved in his beliefs that he would likely kill himself over negative comments regarding fraud on the part of Goligher. Crawford’s writing seems so level-headed and ‘scientific’ , I would like to know by what means he committed suicide. Was there any possibility that it was not suicide? I am reminded of Edmund Gurney of the Frederic Myer’s circle who also was reported by some as having committed suicide but in that case there was at least one other good possibility concerning his death. Maybe there is another explanation of Crawford’s death at such a young age. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 20 Dec, 19:53
So well done, Michael. Thanks for unearthing these four books, all but lost to history were it not for you.
Incidentally, did you ever learn the cause of Dr. Crawford’s suicide?
Stafford Betty, Tue 19 Dec, 20:09
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