It is no longer possible to regard mediumship as a supernatural endowment. It is, as regards the psychic susceptibility upon which it depends, the common property of the race, and is therefore as natural as are the “gifts” of song or oratory, or the ability to paint or construct. – E.W. Wallace
The Bizarre Mediumship of One of History’s Greats
This article is an introduction* to the mediumship of one of the greatest physical mediums who ever lived: Daniel Dunglas Home.
Home was born in 1833 near Edinburgh, Scotland. At an early age, already displaying intuitive abilities, necessity forced him to go to New England to live with his aunt who took him in. However, unusual phenomena accompanied him there. Aged 17, Home had a vision of his mother’s death which was later verified. His fearful aunt threw him out of the house, thinking he had brought the Devil with him.
Thereafter he began giving séances for the friends he lived with. His mediumship would become near-legendary.
Early in his life, Home had men of both education and distinction convinced of his mediumistic abilities. Though he never accepted any payments for his séances, he did accept presents and sponsorship from his wealthy patrons—which included European royalty (we all need somewhere to eat and sleep, after all).
He conducted séances with the kings of Bavaria and Wurtemburg as well as William I of Germany and assorted nobility throughout Europe. Noted literati also consulted with him. To Lord Bulwer Lytton’s satisfaction, Home called up the spirit that influenced him to write his famous occult novel Zanoni.
In 1868, Home conducted experiments with Cromwell Varley, chief engineer of the Atlantic Cable Company. Afterwards he did so with members of the London Dialectical Society (a rationalist debating society) who held fifty séances with him in the same year at which thirty people were present.
Their report, published in 1871, attested to the observation of sounds and vibrations, the movements of heavy objects not touched by any person, and well-executed pieces of music coming from instruments not manipulated by any visible agency, as well as the appearance of hands and faces that did not belong to any tangible human being, but that nevertheless seemed alive and mobile. This report inspired Sir William Crookes to investigate Home for himself.
Sir William Crookes (1832–1919) is considered one of the greatest physicists of the 1800s and early 1900s, and was an early exponent of scientific investigation of psychic phenomena. He studied Home extensively—with other witnesses—and recorded phenomena that left his rational mind reeling.
Despite there being some level of merit to some of the criticisms of Crookes’ methods of investigation into Home, it is evident reading the literature that Home had truly astonishing abilities, and the “skeptics” of then—and now—simply have such irrational a priori bias towards these “paranormal phenomena” that no amount of evidence could (or will) move them. They are textbook cases of Funda-materialists (Moody’s term) and their objections overwhelmingly ring hollow.
The Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology records that the secretaries of the Royal Society “refused Crookes’ invitation to participate” in Crookes’ research on Home. His report was submitted to the Royal Society on June 15, 1871, but it was rejected simply because Crookes’ research verified that Home was legitimate—against their very strong preexisting bias against his phenomena.
In his second published paper of 1871, Crookes detailed confirmatory results of further experiments with Home, saying they confirmed “beyond doubt” the mysterious “force” Crookes saw as operating through Home in his mediumship.
The fact that all Home’s strange phenomena were observable to every witness present actually fulfils Bearden’s definition of normal “consensus reality”—nothing paranormal occurred in this sense, no matter how extraordinary the accounts may seem. We simply do not know how to fully explain what happened.
Home exhibited some phenomena reported of the “heretical” (and persecuted) Jansenists of early 17th century Paris who, in their convulsion-like states of devotion, were impervious to all manner of wounding, including blows from heavy hammers or sharp objects, as well as by fire. They could place their whole heads in roaring flames, handle red hots coals with impunity, and more.
They could not be cut, punctured, or strangled by the strongest men. In fact, their spiritual convulsions were so unbearable that they pleaded with witnesses to strike them as hard as they could with various implements—to provide some relief! Hence, they became known as the “convulsionaires.”
These major historical events were reported on by the intelligentsia of the time, including the eminent philosopher Hume, who acknowledged their veridical nature. They were precipitated by the death of Abbe Francois de Paris on May 1st, 1727.
First, miraculous healings occurred near his tomb in the parish cemetery, and thereafter the phenomena escalated to include the famous “devotional” mass convulsions; instances of levitation and clairvoyance were also documented along with the incredible physical imperviousness. One convulsionaire was lifted so forcibly into the air that witnesses could not hold him down.
This is reported in more detail in Talbot’s brilliant and seminal book The Holographic Universe.
Home too, during séances, was observed handling red hot coals with impunity, and moreover, somehow was able to transfer the ability to other witnesses with no known abilities, who could replicate his marvels. Fire and hot coals did not harm them—as long as they accepted the idea (believed) they would remain unharmed. (Note: I’m NOT suggesting trying these things out at home, folks.)
This imperviousness and other abilities of Home’s have been known to be shared by shamans as well. As a general rule, altered states of consciousness are consistently involved. (Continued below)
Some of the marvels witnessed by Crookes and fellow séance attendees included:
- Home (pictured above) levitating and, in fact, flying unaided in and out of windows of the house—three stories up (Home attributed his anti-gravitational capacity to his attendant spirits),
- Levitation of objects,
- Musical instruments playing music without human hands manipulating them,
- Bizarre temporary elongations of Home’s body,
- Handling of hot coals and fire imperviousness,
- Tongues and jets of fire from Home’s head,
- Luminous lights,
- Apparitions, and
- Physical manifestations of humanoid hands
This is not a complete list. Home himself was utterly opposed to fraud and deception and “was always willing to be tested under well-lit and closely supervised conditions.” Unlike so many con artists—then and now—he encouraged scrutiny and scepticism. Crookes had said of Home:
He sometimes, in the early days of our acquaintance, used to say to me before a séance, “Now, William, I want you to act as if I were a recognized conjurer, and was going to cheat you and play all the tricks I could. Take every precaution you can devise against me, and move about and look under the table or where else you like. Don’t consider my feelings. I shall not be offended.
I know that the more carefully I am tested the more convinced will everyone be that these abnormal occurrences are not of my own doings.”
Home was studied by other investigators, including Professor Alexander von Boutleroff, who arrived at similar conclusions to Crookes, and Russian aristocrat and psychical researcher Alexander Nicholas Aksakoff, who invented the term “telekinesis.”
Like fellow levitator Joseph of Copertino, Home fasted in order to purify himself. He stated that without heeding this provision, the spirits would not be able to “lift” him off the ground. The issue of purification of one’s body arises in many esoteric streams. In yoga, it is essential before embarking on a hardcore path of one-pointed training.
Theosophists like Leadbeater have advised against consuming white flour as it lowers one’s frequency, and many mediums (and spiritualists) appear to subscribe to a view that one should eat as little animal flesh as possible.
Depriving the body of food in general seems to make consciousness more receptive to “deeper” levels of reality, of itself (which includes facilitating mystical experiences as well as facilitating psi powers like clairvoyance).
Aldous Huxley believed that the high incidence of visionary experience in the Middle Ages was due to the forced undereating which affected collective neurochemistry. Grosso adds that “Native American shamans went for days without eating or drinking, tiring themselves in order to become more receptive to sacred visions and hallucinations. The Eleusinian rites included a nine-day fast capped by a potent entheogen, Joseph of Copertino fasted ‘relentlessly,’ and an aging Padre Pio was known to have eaten almost nothing.”
The ecstatic Catholic nun Therese Neumann ate literally no food for years, and not only thrived, but somehow gradually put on weight (as I detail in The Grand Illusion – Book 1).
In 1869 Viscount Adare—full name Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, fourth Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl KP PC— published a collection of what were letters to his father in the format of a book (never originally intended for public consumption). These detailed his observations of Home’s mediumship as demonstrated in his own home.
The experiments took place from 1867 and 1868 while Home lived there with Adare whose life spanned from 1841-1926. Various seance attendees of high reputation attended Home’s demonstrations.
Richet comments in Thirty Years of Psychical Research:
We may admit that Viscount Adare, Lord Dunraven, Mr. Jencken, Major Blackburn, and the other honourable and educated sitters would have needed to be terribly blinded by credulity to have failed in unmasking gross and palpable frauds continued for two years. And it must be remembered that when Crookes took many and rigorous precautions nearly the same phenomena were produced.
It’s worth revisiting parts of Richet’s extracts and commentary from Adare’s book, particularly regarding levitation and fire. Firstly flight:
On the 16th of December, at Buckingham Gate (p. 82) in presence of Viscount Adare, Captain Charlie Wynne, and the Master of Lindsay, Home elongated and rose into the air. Then he said, “Do not be frightened, and on no account leave your chairs.” Then Lindsay said, “It is too horrible. He has passed through the window to the next room, and is coming in at that window.”
Then, says Viscount Adare, we heard Home in the next room; he came back through the window, sat down, and began to laugh…We went into the adjoining room. I opened the window which he went through headfirst, his body being nearly horizontal and apparently rigid. Then he returned and we went into the next room. The rooms were on the third floor.
But for Richet (who, oddly, never explicitly mentions the Jansenists in his master work, but seemed aware of them),
The fire test is more astonishing still. At Norwood in the house of Mrs. Hennings, Home first gave Adare the power to raise a book [psychokinetically] by placing his hand flat above it: at one moment there was an interval of more than two inches between the hand and the book. Then he went to the fireplace, took out a burning coal twice as large as an orange, put it on his hand and walked about the room showing it. He then…replaced the coal in the fire, and kneeling down “placed his face right among the burning coals, moving it about as though bathing it in water!!”
Then he held his hands some time over the flame of a candle. He took the lighted coal again into his hands and blew on it to quicken it. “He asked me to touch it: I did so and took it into my two hands, he put his hands over it, and we held the lighted coal in our four hands; I hardly felt any heat.”
A similar experiment was repeated in a “remarkable” séance on April 3rd at Astley House. Richet tells us, “it is corroborated by Mr. S. C. Hall.”
A lighted coal was placed on Mr. Hall’s head, and his white hair was combed over the coal, and left four or five minutes: the hair was not burned: a few moments later this coal was so hot that one could not bear one’s face near it.
Richet said of the Home experiments:
In a fair number of cases hands were seen in full light. Home wished that all phenomena should take place in the light. “His powers were sufficient,” says Crookes, “to overcome this adverse influence.”
Crookes’ observations on the materialised body parts are salient and offer confirmation of certain recorded phenomena of spirit manifestation:
The hands and fingers did not always seem solid and as though alive. Sometimes they rather resembled a condensed vapour; a luminous cloud seemed to form round an object; it then condensed and took the form of a beautifully shaped hand, the flesh of which seemed as human as that of any person present. At the wrist or the arms it became vaporous and ended in a luminous cloud.
I have held one of these hands in mine, resolved not to let it go ; no effort or attempt was made to make me release it ; but the hand seemed to dissolve into vapour and so disengaged itself from my grasp.
In the annals of psychical research, Home is a standout, both for his mediumistic capacities and his stance against frauds and deceptions.
*This article is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Book 2 of The Grand Illusion (yet to be released).