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Proof of Spirits?  You be the Judge!

Posted on 25 July 2011, 14:04

“Show me the proof!” the skeptic, or pseudoskeptic, demands when it comes to various paranormal phenomena, especially those suggesting spirits of the dead. But, as Arthur S. Berger, a retired lawyer, points out in his recent book, Evidence of Life After Death, “proof” is subjective.  It is the “evidence” that must be weighed by the individual in arriving at his or her own estimate of “proof.”   

Berger analyzes 30 cases reported to the Survival Research Foundation and other research organizations suggesting spirits and the survival of consciousness at death.  He presents the arguments for survival, the counter-arguments, the arguments to the counter arguments and so on, leaving it to the reader to come to his or her own conclusion relative to proof.  One of the more interesting cases examined by Berger is referred to as “The Paraffin Glove Case.”  It is certainly one of the most intriguing cases in the annals of psychical research. It strongly suggests spirits, but, as with every case there is always room for doubt.  Here is a summary of that case:

The experiments were conducted during the latter months of 1920 by Dr. Gustave Geley, a French physician who taught medicine at the University of Lyons before becoming the director of the Institut Metapsychique International in Paris, where he devoted full time to studying mediumship and other paranormal phenomena.  The medium in this case was Franek Kluski, a 50-year-old Polish writer and poet who had discovered his mediumistic abilities just 18 months before Geley began studying him.

Charles Richet, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of medicine at the University of Paris and the 1913 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, assisted Geley in some of the 14 experiments with Kluski as did Camille Flammarion, a world-renowned astronomer.  All of the experiments were conducted in Geley’s laboratory behind locked doors under strictly controlled conditions.  There was no opportunity for the medium to smuggle anything into the room and the medium was always searched before entering the room.  With some mediums, so careful was Geley that he went so far as to require gynecological and rectal examinations to be certain nothing was smuggled into the room in an orifice of the body.  Because the ectoplasm produced by mediums is sensitive to bright lights, red lights were used, permitting adequate visibility, although it was inadequate for photography and there was concern that flash photography would injure the medium as it had reportedly done with other mediums (since the ectoplasm has to be reabsorbed by the medium).   

Kluski’s mediumship was of the materialization type, although he apparently was not developed enough, or strong enough, to produce full materializations.  Faces, arms, and hands were usually observed. “I saw a hand at the end of an arm form under my eyes, cross the circle in front of Mr. Kluski and touch Mme. Geley, who was facing me,” Geley recorded one of many observations.  “It was a masculine hand, very well formed. The wrist was slender, the forearm and upper arm were enveloped in white tissue with regular longitudinal folds.  Immediately after the contact felt by Mme. Geley the hand disappeared.”

Geley noted that Kluski’s ectoplasm was of the vaporous type rather than the more liquid form he had observed with other mediums.  “The usual course of the phenomena,” Geley wrote, “is as follows: First a strong odor of ozone is perceptible…The smell of ozone comes and goes suddenly. Then, in weak light, slightly phosphorescent vapor floats around the medium, especially above his head, like light smoke, and in it there are gleams like foci of condensation.  These lights were usually many, tenuous, and ephemeral, but sometimes they were larger and more lasting, and then gave the impression of being luminous parts of organs otherwise invisible, especially finger ends or parts of faces. When materialization was complete, fully formed hands and faces could be seen.”

Geley further noted that the lights represent the first stages of materialization.  They would sometimes disappear at once and sometimes proceed to characteristic human forms.

As Geley, Richet, and other researchers came to see it, the fact that many of the materialized forms were incomplete or fragmentary, sometimes very hokey looking, did not suggest fraud, as many skeptics assumed. Rather, they were simply indications that the medium was not strong enough or developed enough to produce complete materializations.  In fact, the incomplete and stranger manifestations seemed to run contrary to any fraud explanation as it is highly unlikely that a charlatan would have expected anyone to believe they were real in the first place.

Geley decided to see if he could get the “entities” – it would have been very “unscientific” for him to speak of them as “spirits” – to produce paraffin molds of their hands, feet, or even their faces.  “The procedure is to set a bowl containing paraffin wax, kept at a melting point by being floated on warm water, near the medium,” he explained. “The materialized ‘entity’ is asked to plunge a hand, foot, or even part of a face into the paraffin several times.  A closely fitting envelope is thus formed, which sets at once in air or by being dipped into another bowl of cold water.  This envelope or ‘glove’ is then freed by demateriazation of the member.  Plaster can be poured at leisure into the glove, thus giving a perfect cast of the hand.”

Communication from with the “entities” was carried out by loud raps, e.g., one rap for no, three for yes, and so many for each letter of the alphabet, and there was no question in Geley’s mind that there was some kind of intelligence operating.  At one sitting, the entities asked those in the room to sing, apparently because more harmony was needed, and as they sang, Geley and the others heard hand clapping, apparently from several entities.

To completely rule out any sleight of hand by Kluski – although Geley and the others were certain he was not a trickster – Richet held one of Kluski’s hands while Geley held the other during the experiment.  In their experiment of November 15, the hand of a child was produced in the paraffin.  In a later experiment, on December 27, Geley and Richet added some bluish coloring matter to the paraffin.  “This was done secretly, to be an absolute proof that the molds were made on the spot and not brought ready-made into the laboratory by Franek or any other person and passed off on us by legerdemain,” Geley further explained.  Two very good hand molds were obtained, one a left and one a right hand, both the size of children five to seven years old.”  He further noted that both had a blue tinge to them.

“In completing our investigations, we have verified that the lines of the hands have nothing in common with those of the medium” Geley wrote, mentioning that even though the hands were all smaller than Kluski’s he still had them examined by M. Bayle, a criminologist at the Paris police department, to confirm they had nothing in common. “The answer can scarcely leave room for doubt,” Geley concluded.  “They present all the characters of human members – perfect form, lines of the hand, nails, crinkles of the skin, marks of bony protuberances, tendons, and sometimes even the small veins on the back of the hands.  Nothing is wanting.  We have shown these casts to artists, painters, sculptors, and molders, and to many medical men.  The verdict of all has been unanimous – they are molds of human hands.”  Geley also noted that traces of muscular contraction indicate that the hands were “alive.”


And so what is to be made of the paraffin hands?  Is it evidence of spirits?  Does the evidence add up to proof for those with open minds?  As Berger points out, if a person is willing to accept the credibility of Geley, Richet, and the others conducting the experiments, it is very difficult to conclude that fraud was involved. Then again, there is a school of thought, one which Richet subscribed to, which holds that the subconscious mind is capable of producing such phenomena, even though science is incapable of understanding it.  Publicly, Richet, while recognizing the reality of various phenomena, rejected the spirit hypothesis, perhaps out of concern for his high standing in the scientific community, although there were indications that privately he accepted it.


“There is ample proof that experimental materialization (ectoplasmic) should take definite rank as a scientific fact,” wrote Richet, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on anaphylaxis, the sensitivity of the body to alien protein substance. “Assuredly, we do not understand it.  It is very absurd, if a truth can be absurd.”

Before he was killed in a 1924 plane crash, Geley concluded that the Self both pre-exists and survives the grouping which it directs during one’s earth life, “that it more particularly survives its lower objectification during this life.  This may at least be admitted, if not as a mathematical certainty, at least as a high probability.” 

And that “high probability” seems to equate to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard which Berger holds to in his book.  However, that is the standard in criminal law.  The “preponderance of evidence” standard of civil law is much easier to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, so even if there is reasonable doubt one can still conclude that there is a preponderance of evidence in favor of spirits. In effect, that means that the spirit hypothesis is more likely than the fraud, subconscious, or any other far-fetched explanation.

Still, the closed-minded “skeptic” insists that those esteemed men of science must have been duped somehow, because there is no spirit world and therefore fraud is the only explanation.  The regurgitation theory was advanced by some “skeptics.”  That is, the medium swallowed the material before going into the room and then regurgitated it after entering the room, the dim red light preventing the researchers from detecting it.  However, Geley and other researchers were aware of this theory and took special precautions to rule it out. With another medium studied by Geley, a hard-core materialist, upon hearing of all the controls exercised by Geley, suggested that perhaps the medium had a false tooth in which she smuggled various things into the room.  And so it goes, if there is a “will to disbelieve,” there is never enough “proof” for the “skeptic” and there apparently never will be. 

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.


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Are Poltergeists Real?  British Researcher Says Yes

Posted on 12 July 2011, 2:09

In a 1995 book titled Bizarre Beliefs, the authors emphatically stated that “there are no ghosts, no poltergeists, and no hauntings. They are all mistaken, imaginary or fakes.”  Much of mainstream science shares this view, but Guy Lyon Playfair, a British journalist, author, and psychical researcher, knows better, as he has been involved in investigating a number of poltergeists, including the Enfield Poltergeist, one of the most intriguing cases in the annals of psychical research.  He will agree with the “bizarre” part, but definitely not with the denial of such phenomena.

“Some take the easy way out of the dilemma and simply put their heads back in the sand,” Playfair writes in his book, This House is Haunted, which is about the Enfield Poltergeist, first published in 1980 and recently updated and republished by White Crow Books.
The Enfield case took place during 1977 and ’78 in the northern London suburb of Enfield.  It involved a divorced mother, Peggy Harper, and her four children, Rose, 13, Janet, 11, Pete, 10, and Jimmy, 7.  The phenomena included large pieces of furniture being overturned, objects flying through the air and floating through walls, dancing slippers, levitations, coins falling from the ceiling, strange voices that often responded to questions,  people thrown from their beds and chairs, mysterious writing on the walls, electronic disturbances, a number of ghostly apparitions, stones seemingly falling from the sky, excreta appearing in the sink and on walls, inexplicable outbreaks of fire, and mysterious knocks and footsteps.

As a member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), Playfair, a Cambridge graduate who spent many years as a freelance journalist for The Economist, Time, and the Associated Press, was, along with fellow SPR member Maurice Grosse, asked to investigate the anomalous activity at the Harper home.  Beginning in September 1977, the two researchers devoted some 14 months to investigating the case, often spending nights at the Harpers’ home and observing first hand some of the bizarre phenomena, which gradually declined and ended in early 1979.

I recently had the opportunity to put some questions to Playfair by e-mail.  Here is our exchange, with apologies to Playfair for converting the King’s English to the more crude American English.

Guy, your book gives a lot of detail relating to your observations in Enfield, but I am wondering if there is one thing among the many things you experienced and witnessed that stands out more than the others.

“Yes, indeed – what we call the passage of matter through matter, or if you prefer de- and rematerialization. I’ve observed this directly (on another case) and several times indirectly at Enfield – the book that turned up in the house next door and the cushion that appeared on the roof in full view of a tradesman who was walking towards the house, to name just two of the best witnessed incidents. This is a real challenge to science, and pretending the evidence isn’t there is not the way science
advances. I don’t just believe it happens, I know it does. I’ve seen it happen. It never seems to be discussed sensibly and it’s time it was. The scientific community has just ignored it.”

As you point out in the book, the two leading theories concerning poltergeists are that they are spirits of the dead or dissociated fragments of the personality of someone living in the home, in this case Janet, the 11-year-old. You concluded that the truth is probably a combination of the two.  Would you mind elaborating on that a little?

“I’m a writer with a journalistic background, not a scientific one, so I concentrate on reporting the evidence as accurately as I can and leave the theorizing to the scientists. I definitely think there has to be what we might call a discarnate component. I mean – how can a dissociated fragment of a living person make a book go through a wall? There has to be another level of reality and another dimension of space involved. That’s what makes people uncomfortable and go to the lengths that they do to deny the evidence. (I like making scientists uncomfortable).”

I was most intrigued by the voice or voices.  You describe them as being loud and guttural, nothing like Janet’s normal voice.  Ventriloquism was considered and ruled out. Although different entities communicated, did they all sound the same?

“Yes, they were intriguing. The speech therapist we brought in was totally freaked out. We established that Janet was using her false vocal folds (plica ventricularis), which you can’t normally use for long without doing damage to your vocal cords.
That’s just one of the things we discovered that should be of scientific interest and it’s a pity the so-called expert wasn’t interested. She just wanted to get out of the house. She might have written an interesting journal paper, but no doubt was scared of losing her job if she had.

“The voices did vary, yes. Some were very convincing, giving the impression of a confused earthbound entity, and saying things that proved to be true although nobody in the family knew it at the time, such as the bit about going blind and dying in the armchair downstairs, as the previous owner did. That was only verified years after the case ended. How would Janet have known that? But yes, some of the Voices did seem to be coming from bits of her unconscious. This deep voice coming from a young girl phenomenon is well known. Oesterreich’s ‘Possession Demoniacal and Other’ gives several examples from the 19th century. It does take time for science to catch up with real life.”

So much of this sounds like the Fox sisters of early Spiritualism history – knocks and raps, a man who had died in the house communicating, and then the newspapers offering bribes for a confession from the girls.  Why do you think the newspapers and so many of your research colleagues would prefer the fraud explanation?

“Yes, there were similarities, and I’m sure the family had never heard of the Fox sisters. They had never even heard of the word poltergeist. Janet called it the ‘polka dice’.  As for fraud, it’s quite right to be suspicious. The girls did play some tricks later on, we knew that at the time and they knew we knew. It was no big deal. And as they have repeatedly admitted, we always caught them. The tricks were a sign that things were getting back to normal. But if you go for a fraud explanation, you have to account for every single one of the hundreds of incidents we witnessed, and no critic has attempted to do that. Easier to mutter something vague about ‘later, the girls confessed…’ as if that explained away the whole case. I often wonder just how much evidence you need to change people’s minds.” 

You mentioned that just last year there was a breakthrough in poltergeist research, at least to the extent that the rapping sounds made by poltergeists are not the same as normal raps.  Would you explain a little more about that research?

“Yes. This is very important, and it’s rather a sad story. I’ll try to keep it short. In 1973, on a poltergeist case in Săo Paulo (Brazil), I managed to record some very loud bangs on the floor that weren’t made by anybody living. Then my colleague Suzuko
Hashizume and I decided to do some banging ourselves for comparison. I’d hoped that somebody could study the sounds and see if ours were in any way different from those made by the Thing. We never managed to do this, and we didn’t know that several other people had recorded poltergeist raps including the BBC. In 2009 a colleague from the Society for Psychical Research named Barrie Colvin decided to look into the matter, and I helped him compile a collection of about 12 tapes from different cases. He ran them through his oscilloscope and saw at once that the poltergeist raps were quite unlike normal ones. You can find the details in the Journal of the SPR for April 2010. That was the good news. The bad news is that we sent out a press release to about 35 papers, magazines, radio and TV programs hoping that they would be interested in our instrumentally recorded and easily repeated hard evidence for an unexplained effect.

They weren’t. Only two mentioned Barrie’s work, and they were the two where I had a personal contact. Many of them devoted whole pages to a book by Richard Wiseman that came out a few months later and rubbished the whole psi research scene. That’s what I’ve come to expect from the media today, although back in 1977-78 we had massive coverage of the Enfield case, mostly very positive. But that was before the professional wreckers moved in.”


In 2010 there was a major breakthrough in poltergeist research when Dr Barrie Colvin published the results of his study of tape recordings from a dozen cases in five countries in which rapping sounds presumed to be of poltergeist origin were recorded on tape. Comparing these with raps made by normal means, he found that the acoustic signatures were quite different, as can be seen in the above charts of raps recorded at Enfield. The bottom chart shows what three raps made by Playfair on the living room ceiling look like. The top chart shows the signature of a rap from the bedroom above, recorded on the same tape shortly afterwards. In all of the normal raps Colvin studied when he tapped wineglasses, struck piano keys, or made any other kind of percussive sound, the signature began at full amplitude and rapidly declined. All of the poltergeist raps he examined, without exception, did not, and reminded experts of signatures recorded during earthquakes. This discrepancy awaits explanation. Colvin’s findings were published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research and are reproduced here with his permission.

You wrote that it was becoming apparent to you at some point in your investigation that paranormal events only take place in the presence of people who believe them to be possible. Why do you think that is?

“I have no idea, but it’s something I keep noticing. Parapsychologists like to talk about the ‘experimenter effect’ which I am sure is much stronger than they think. All the really successful experimenters I know began their careers not just believing in the possibility of psi (telepathy, etc.) but knowing it from their own or their parents’ experience. Maurice Grosse had considerable experience of anomalous phenomena before he went to Enfield, as I also had from my time in Brazil.”

I gather that you have investigated other poltergeist cases, especially in Brazil. Were they similar to the Enfield case?

“No two cases are identical, but there does seem to be a poltergeist syndrome with about 15-20 common symptoms. You don’t get all the same symptoms on all cases but the symptoms themselves don’t vary much from case to case. You do get national variations – Brazilian poltergeists are far more violent and destructive than ours. Nearly all the cases I was involved in there showed signs of black magic at work, which British poltergeists don’t as a rule.”

Do you really think that science will someday have a better answer for us as to what poltergeists really are?

“Not if scientists continue to ignore the evidence, as they did when Barrie Colvin published his findings, and when I published mine thirty years earlier. In fact there is more than a thousand years of it. You may have gathered by now that I’m not very impressed by scientists.”

And what do you feel about the case now, more than 30 years later?

“Huge gratitude to Peggy H. for letting me invade her home for more than a year, and equally huge admiration for her immense resilience at a time of prolonged and severe stress that would have left many weaker women in hospital with nervous breakdowns, and equally grateful to Maurice Grosse for the way he managed to combine the roles of investigator, counsellor and friend of the family. Both are sadly missed. Disillusion with the scientific establishment for refusing even to examine instrumentally recorded and properly documented evidence for anomalous events, of which there is plenty from Enfield. The Greeks, of course, had a word for it - Misoneism (hatred of new ideas).”

This House is Haunted is published by White Crow Books and available in paperback and ebook formats from Amazon and all good online stores.

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.



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The Only Planet of Choice: Visitations – Many people use the word ‘Alien’ to describe a visitor from outer space. Extra terrestrial is another word, which is rather more user friendly. For the sake of the question and answer format, the word used by the questioner has been left, though even Tom questions our use of‘Alien’. Should we wish to foster openess between all beings of the Universe perhaps we should also look at our vocabulary? In a discussion between Andrew and Tom many years earlier, Andrew had asked Tom about UFOs and whether they were created manifestations. Tom had replied: “Many of the flying things that you call UFOs come from our place, but they come from other places also, and they do come in physical form. But many of them are not physical. They are like your movie screen”. Read here
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