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Interview with Dr. William J. Crawford – Part II

Posted on 01 January 2018, 10:37

Between 1914 and 1917, William J. Crawford, D.Sc., studied the mediumship of Kathleen Goligher, a Belfast, Ireland medium. He reported on his findings in four separate books.  This is the second part of a three-part “interview” based on Crawford’s words from those books.  The first part can be seen in the last post here.  The questions have been tailored to fit the comments.

During December 1915, Crawford invited Sir William Barrett, professor of physics at Royal College in Dublin, to join him.  At first, they heard knocks, and then messages were spelled out as one of the sitters recited the alphabet.  Barrett then reported observing a floating trumpet, which he tried unsuccessfully to catch. “Then the table began to rise from the floor some 18 inches and remained suspended and quite level,” Barrett wrote.  “I was allowed to go up to the table and saw clearly no one was touching it, a clear space separating the sitters from the table.” 

Goligher table lift

Barrett put pressure on the table to try to force it back to the floor.  He exerted all his strength but was unable to budge it.  “Then I climbed on the table and sat on it, my feet off the floor, when I was swayed to and fro and finally tipped off,” Barrett continued the story.  “The table of its own accord now turned upside down, no one touching it, and I tried to lift it off the ground, but it could not be stirred; it appeared screwed down to the floor.”

When Barrett stopped trying to right the table, it righted itself on its own accord.  Apparently, the spirits were having a bit of fun with Barrett as he then heard “numerous sounds displaying an amused intelligence.”

Barrett further stated:  “I can testify to the genuineness and amazing character of these physical manifestations and also to the patient care and skill which have characterized Dr. Crawford’s long and laborious investigations.”

Crawford brought in a scale large enough to hold the medium while she was sitting in her chair.  He discovered that when a table was being levitated, the weight of the table, usually around 16 pounds, was transferred to the medium through what he called “psychic rods” (ectoplasmic rods).  Most of the time, the transfer of weight would be a few ounces short of the weight of the table.  Further experimentation revealed that the extra weight was being transferred to the sitters in the room, who apparently furnished small amounts of the “psychic force.”  My “interview” continues. 

Dr. Crawford, do these levitations happen frequently in Kathleen’s mediumship?

“I have seen hundreds of levitations under all conditions; standard levitations such as that [just mentioned], abnormal levitations (such as where a stool rose four feet into the air and moved gently up and down for several minutes while we all examined it closely and while the medium was seated on a weighing machine) and freak levitations (such as where the table, being levitated, rocked in the air just like a small boat tossed about on choppy sea).  I have seen the table turn completely around in the air, and I have seen it levitated upside down and sideways.”

Is that the extent of the phenomena?

“[No.] After the exhibition of levitation ceases, the trumpet phenomena commence At the beginning of the séance a couple of thin metal cones which fit telescopically into each other and which we call ‘trumpets’ are fixed together and placed upright on the floor between the medium and her father.  The trumpets now begin to straddle over the floor with little leaps and jerks, remaining in a vertical position until the reach the table in the center of the circle where they fall or are sometimes seemingly pushed over, and are then drawn under the table.  A loud shuffling noise is now heard, for the operators are trying to detach the trumpets, a somewhat difficult process as they fit rather tightly together.  At length, however, the operators succeed in separating the two pieces, which are soon seen floating in the air, with their ends projecting from under the table.  The halves then beat time to time to a tune, like the batons of a conductor, after which a visitor is allowed to grasp the end of either and thus ‘shake hands’ with the invisible entities.  Sometimes the operators press upwards on the under-surface of the table with one or both of the floating trumpets, thus levitating it.  A little handbell is sometimes placed on the floor and this is often lifted and rung…Sometimes raps accompany the ringing of the bell.  The sitters are occasionally psychically ‘touched’ on various parts of the body.”

Some critics have a difficult time believing that spirits would be engaged in what seems to them as tomfoolery.  As I understand it, they are experimenting, just as you are? What do you say to this?

“I have asked the operators why they continue to demonstrate at seances month after month, year after year; does it not get tiring to them?  Would they not be better employed doing something else?  Their answer to this is that the mere fact of being engaged in producing the phenomena and thus doing useful work helps them in their own development.  For this and for other reasons I have rather come to the conclusion that one of the central ideas underlying the activities of the next state is that of service.  The operators say that there are different spheres within their world.  They say that they themselves belong to different spheres, some of them being in the second, some in the third and some in the fourth.”

You mentioned observing all this under a red light. How strong is the light?

“The light is usually strong enough – after the eyes get accustomed to its red color – to see quite plainly all the sitters. It is a subdued kind of light, issuing from a large surface of ordinary gas flame.  The only difficulty in the visibility is where a table or other large body casts a shadow over a portion of the floor. The hands of the sitters can nearly always be quite plainly seen, and it is a simple experiment, while the séance table is levitated a foot or more in the air , to ask the sitters to raise their hands (joined in chain order) up to the level of their heads, so that the observer can be quite sure that the hands have nothing whatever to do with the phenomenon.  The observer at this time may be within the circle, and he may move anywhere inside it so long as he does not get immediately in front of the medium…It is sometimes possible to see completely under it, as I have done, to see the feet and bodies of all present at rest and hands held together in chain order, while the table has been steadily levitated.”

According to Sir William Crookes, light did not seem to affect D. D. Home.

“A few mediums of the past have apparently been able to withstand the effects of the magnesium light fairly well.  At least no untoward results were reported.  But I am satisfied that its use is rather risky for the medium and that it should only be employed after careful thought and preparation and in conjunction with the desires of the operators.  For, whether [one] looks upon the operators as the spirit beings they claim to be, or as sub-conscious nuclei belonging to the medium or sitters, it is certain they are in charge of and produce the phenomena, and that, therefore, they may be trusted to know more about the dangers incurred by the medium than the experimenter.  Miss Goligher is a young woman and possibly her bodily functions are not yet fully developed, with the consequence that exposure to flashlight during the occurrence of the phenomena would be specially injurious to her.  At any rate the operators were always careful that nothing should be done which would in any way be likely to harm her.” 

I gather that the reason one cannot get directly in front of the medium has something to do with the psychic force flowing from her.  But can that space be observed to be sure she is not using her feet or some other form of trickery?

“I have spent many hours within the circle in all places around it, and I have continually worked under the levitated table and between the levitated table and the medium.  I have had complicated instruments below the table.  I have often placed my arm and hand in the space between the medium and the table and felt her feet and legs absolutely still during the course of experiments win which the table was levitated and the instruments were registering below it; and I say finally that if the medium had desired to impose, she could not, no matter how she tried, have kept the table levitated and the instruments registering at the same time, while my hands were on such instruments and I myself close to her feet and working between her and the table.” 

I know that Sir William Barrett, the physicist, was an observer.  Have other outsiders been witness to it?

“A great many people have been invited to visit the circle and witness the phenomena.  I think I can say that not one of all these has come away from it without the assurance that ‘there is something in psychic force,’ be he previously skeptic, believer, or a ‘sitter on the fence.’  Of course, the visitor is not always certain that the phenomena are produced by spirits of the dead; but at least he is sure of this, that they are genuine and in no way due to normal action on the part of the medium or members of the circle.”   

I recall reading in one of your reports that the psychic energy gets stronger as the séance goes on. 

[“True.]  About an hour and a half from the opening, the psychic energy available, to use a common term, is at a maximum and great forces are exerted.  For instance, although a heavy man sits upon the table it moves about the floor with great ease; or the table being levitated, a strong man pushing from the top cannot depress it to the floor; or the table moves to the side of the circle farthest from the medium and an experimenter is asked to lay hold of it and try to prevent its return to the center, but he is totally unable to do so; or the table’s weight can be temporarily so much increased that it cannot be lifted, or on the other hand so much reduced that it can be raised by an upward force of an ounce or two; or the table being turned upside down on the floor cannot be raised by a strong upward pull on the legs, being apparently fastened to the floor.”

As I understand your reports, this psychic energy, psychic stuff, plasma. or ectoplasm, whatever name be given to it, is not really visible to the naked eye, but that you were able to feel it.  Would you mind elaborating on that experience?

“On one occasion, while the table was levitated I placed my hand under it near the top.  As in previous tests, I felt no sense of pressure whatever, but I did feel a clammy, cold, almost oily sensation – in fact, an indescribable sensation, as though the air there were mixed with particles of dead and disagreeable matter.  Perhaps the best word to describe the feeling is ‘reptilian.’ I have felt the same substance often – and I think it is substance – in the vicinity of the medium, but there it has appeared to me to be moving outwards from her.  Once felt, the experimenter always recognizes it again.  This was the only occasion on which I have felt it under the levitated table, though perhaps it is always there, but not usually in such intense form.  Its presence under the table and also in the vicinity of the medium shows that it has something to do with the levitation; and in short I think there can be little doubt that it is actual matter temporarily taken from the medium’s body and put back at the end of the séance, and that it is the basic principle underlying the transmission of psychic force.  The table soon dropped when I moved my hand to and fro in amongst this psychic stuff.”   

Your books show photographs of ectoplasm.  How did that come about?

“Only [during the last six months or so of my investigation was it] possible to photograph the stuff which issues from the medium’s body.  (I call it ‘plasma’ for want of any better word), and from which the psychic structures are built up that produce the phenomena of raps, levitations, touchings, etc.  For about a year I took a photograph each séance night in the hope that success might ultimately be obtained.  The operators informed me by raps that success would finally come if I would be persistent enough.  The chief difficulty seemed to be in preventing injury to the medium.  The operators said it was necessary gradually to work her up to withstand the shock of the flashlight upon the plasma; nor is this to be much wondered at when it is considered the plasma is part of her body exteriorized in space.

Goligher ectoplasm

“After innumerable attempts, very small patches of plasma were obtained in full view between the medium’s ankles.  As time went on these increased in size and variety until great quantities of this psychic stuff could be exteriorized and photographed.  Then the operators began to manipulate it in various ways, building it up into columns, or forming into single or double arms, molding it into different shapes with which I had been long familiar in a general way from previous investigation.” 

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.

Next blog post (Part III of the interview): January 15 


Gavin, I think if you research sufficiently, you may come to the conclusion that the world you are describing as reptilian, if it exists, is something parallel to our own world, not part of the spiritual sequence described here. Yes, something scary and malevolent, but there’s no need to ascribe it to everything outside of what you currently see in front of you, as the reptilian fans seem to want to do.

Spiritualism and psychic studies in general would do well to remember the story of the blind men offering opinions on the elephant.

MichaelD, Mon 15 Jan, 14:42

Magnesium light refers to the flash, which at that time would have been magnesium powder in a metal tray, ignited to give a flash of light. Later they used magnesium foil or wool inside of flash bulbs. Same concept.

MichaelD, Sun 14 Jan, 16:19

I’m always astounded by the physical examples that have occurred due to the control of energy exerted by spirits.  With evidence such as this, why does the majority of the world’s population still think that this is our one and only existence.

Paul Hauser, Wed 10 Jan, 21:17


Thanks for the comment.  I really don’t know much about magnesium light.  I Googled it and magnesium seems to have offered a brighter and longer lasting light than other chemicals in the pre-electricity days.

Michael Tymn, Tue 9 Jan, 07:03

The comment on the psychic energy building up as the seance goes on makes sense.  In the article I did recently for the Spiritualist magazine on spirit photograph the medium quoted said to use over and over to build up the energy in the camera so a spirit photograph could be taken.  I like that they work on the other side to do service.  Nice - like 12 step programs and just life!  Mike do you know what “magnesium light is”  is it regular light?  Thanks so much for this Karen

Karen Herrick PhD, Wed 3 Jan, 17:48

I regret I didn’t cover physical mediumship in my book When Did You Ever Become Less by Dying? Afterlife: The Evidence. This would have been the tenth stick in the bundle and upped the odds against extinction to one in a billion.

There is only one way to come away from a study of these phenomena and not believe in survival: by somehow forcing yourself to forget you ever became acquainted with them.

Well done, Mike, and many thanks.

Stafford Betty, Tue 2 Jan, 18:33

Particles of dead and disagreeable matter.  Perhaps the best word to describe the feeling is ‘reptilian,’ and people are still of the mind set that they are dealing with human spirits!

Gavin Doyle, Tue 2 Jan, 11:51

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