Monday, 17 September 2018

Demented Tables and Psychic Jazz

In 1920, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph ran a series of articles on psychic phenomena. The second of these articles looked at William Jackson Crawford’s (referred to in the article as J. N. Crawford for some reason) investigation of the Belfast medium Kathleen Goligher. Crawford had been working with Goligher and her family for six years, and in that time he had developed some interesting theories about psychic phenomena. 
The Goligher Circle
William Jackson Crawford
Of late years the purely physical manifestations of supposed spirit power have tended to go out of date; the best people in both worlds have discouraged them, and preferred to concentrate on voice-communications and automatic writing. But the physical phenomena have gained a revival of interest through the astonishing experiments during the last few years of Dr. J. N. Crawford of Belfast. He is a Spiritualist who has discovered in a Miss Kathleen Goligher a medium simply overflowing with “psychic force.” He holds séances with Miss Goligher and members of her family, at which the table, without being touched by the medium or anybody else, rises in the air, turns completely round, poises sideways on nothing, poises upside down on nothing, and generally performs every stunt of which an animated and demented table could be supposed capable.
Dr. Crawford’s belief is that these effects are obtained by means of psychic rods issuing from the medium’s body. These rods are operated by the attendant spirits on correct mechanical principles (Dr. Crawford is a Lecturer on Mechanical Engineering), and he issues requests to them regarding the manipulation of the rods as cantilevers, struts, and so forth; the spirits respond by raps according to a code, and endeavour to comply. The rods are invisible, but he says they feel cold and clammy, and attach themselves to the table by suckers (writers of ghost stories, please note). Other smaller rods cause raps, thuds, bangs, scrapings, drummings, and bell-ringings, all which miscellaneous din Dr. Crawford has carefully recorded on a phonograph. He has placed the medium on a weighing machine, and has found that during a séance she loses weight – sometimes by the stone – but recovers it all at the end; whereas the other sitters, at the end, are on an average half-a-pound lighter than they were at the start.
Possible Explanations
Several non-spiritual explanations of this psychic jazz may be suggested: --
(1)  That Dr. Crawford is spoofing the public;
(2)  That the medium and her family are spoofing Dr. Crawford;
(3)  That the medium hypnotises Dr. Crawford, or Dr. Crawford the medium; or that the whole party are suffering from collective delusion;
(4)  That the medium possesses and exudes some unexplored natural force, no more ghostly than electricity, but hitherto unknown to science.
Spoof explanations can never be wholly put aside where mediums are concerned; but Dr. Crawford seems sincere, like most Spiritualists, and he tells us that the medium is unpaid and quite a nice girl. The hypnotic explanation seems vague, and does not cover the party’s loss of weight; but I do not believe it is wholly inadmissible. Nor, I think, is the speculative fourth explanation. Dr. Crawford says that the force is operated by spirits. Being a Spiritualist, he would say so as a matter of course; it is the weakness of the spiritualists to prefer supernatural to natural explanations. In ordinary table-turning, questions are answered by raps which are not caused by spirits, but by the unconscious muscular action of the sitters. Similarly, perhaps, with this “psychic force,” which may be a sort of extension of muscular action possessed by a few persons, and responsive like it to the subconscious will of those who exert it.
I admit that this suggestion is highly speculative, but it is at any rate clear of the supernatural, and it appears to explain some features of séances, hauntings, etc., not so readily explicable in any other way.
 - Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 22 January 1920