site logo

The Confessions Of Medium

Spiritualistic Phenomena Explained on Theory

of Telepathy.--Interesting Statement of Mrs. Piper, the Famous Medium of

the Psychical Research Society.

The subject of spiritualism has been very thoroughly investigated by the

Society for Psychical Research, both in England and this country, and

under circumstances so peculiarly advantageous that a world of light has

been thrown on the connection between hypn
tism and this strange


Professor William James, the professor of psychology at Harvard

University, was fortunate enough some years ago to find a perfect medium

who was not a professional and whose character was such as to preclude

fraud. This was Mrs. Leonora E. Piper, of Boston. For many years she

remained in the special employ of the Society for Psychical Research,

and the members of that society were able to study her case under every

possible condition through a long period of time. Not long ago she

resolved to give up her engagement, and made a public statement over her

own signature which is full of interest.

A brief history of her life and experiences will go far toward

furnishing the general reader a fair explanation of clairvoyant and

spiritualistic phenomena.

Mrs. Piper was the wife of a modest tailor, and lived on Pinckney

street, back of Beacon Hill. She was married in 1881, and it was not

until May 16, 1884, that her first child was born. A little more than a

month later, on June 29, she had her first trance experience. Says she:

I remember the date distinctly, because it was two days after my first

birthday following the birth of my first child. She had gone to Dr. J.

R. Cocke, the great authority on hypnotism and a practicing physician of

high scientific attainments. During the interview, says Mrs. Piper, I

was partly unconscious for a few minutes. On the following Sunday I went

into a trance.

She appears to have slipped into it unconsciously. She surprised her

friends by saying some very odd things, none of which she remembered

when she came to herself. Not long after she did it again. A neighbor,

the wife of a merchant, when she heard the things that had been said,

assured Mrs. Piper that it must be messages from the spirit world. The

atmosphere in Boston was full of talk of that kind, and it was not hard

for people to believe that a real medium of spirit communication had

been found. The merchant's wife wanted a sitting, and Mrs. Piper

arranged one, for which she received her first dollar.

She had discovered that she could go into trances by an effort of her

own will. She would sit down at a table, with her sitter opposite, and

leaning her head on a pillow, go off into the trance after a few minutes

of silence. There was a clock behind her. She gave her sitters an hour,

sometimes two hours, and they wondered how she knew when the hour had

expired. At any rate, when the time came around she awoke. In describing

her experiences she has said:

At first when I sat in my chair and leaned my head back and went into

the trance state, the action was attended by something of a struggle. I

always felt as if I were undergoing an anesthetic, but of late years I

have slipped easily into the condition, leaning the head forward. On

coming out of it I felt stupid and dazed. At first I said disconnected

things. It was all a gibberish, nothing but gibberish. Then I began to

speak some broken French phrases. I had studied French two years, but

did not speak it well.

Once she had an Italian for sitter, who could speak no English and asked

questions in Italian. Mrs. Piper could speak no Italian, indeed did not

understand a word of it, except in her trance state. But she had no

trouble in understanding her sitter.

After a while her automatic utterance announced the personality of a

certain Dr. Phinuit, who was said to have been a noted French physician

who had died long before. His spirit controlled her for a number of

years. After some time Dr. Phinuit was succeeded by one Pelham, and

finally by Imperator and Rector.

As the birth of her second child approached Mrs. Piper gave up what she

considered a form of hysteria; but after the birth of the child the

sittings, paid for at a dollar each, began again. Dr. Hodgson, of the

London Society for Psychical Research, saw her at the house of Professor

James, and he became so interested in her case that he decided to take

her to London to be studied. She spent nearly a year abroad; and after

her return the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research was

formed, and for a long time Mrs. Piper received a salary to sit

exclusively for the society. Their records and reports are full of the

things she said and did.

Every one who investigated Mrs. Piper had to admit that her case was

full of mystery. But if one reads the reports through from beginning to

end one cannot help feeling that her spirit messages are filled with

nonsense, at least of triviality. Here is a specimen--and a fair

specimen, too--of the kind of communication Pelham gave. He wrote out the

message. It referred to a certain famous man known in the reports as Mr.

Marte. Pelham is reported to have written by Mrs. Piper's hand:

That he (Mr. Marte), with his keen brain and marvelous perception, will

be interested, I know. He was a very dear friend of X. I was exceedingly

fond of him. Comical weather interests both he and I--me--him--I know it

all. Don't you see I correct these? Well, I am not less intelligent now.

But there are many difficulties. I am far clearer on all points than I

was shut up in the prisoned body (prisoned, prisoning or imprisoned you

ought to say). No, I don't mean, to get it that way. 'See here, H, don't

view me with a critic's eye, but pass my imperfections by.' Of course, I

know all that as well as anybody on your sphere (of course). Well, I

think so. I tell you, old fellow, it don't do to pick all these little

errors too much when they amount to nothing in one way. You have light

enough and brain enough, I know, to understand my explanations of being

shut up in this body, dreaming, as it were, and trying to help on


Some people would say that Pelham had had a little too much whisky toddy

when he wrote that rambling, meaningless string of words. Or we can

suppose that Mrs. Piper was dreaming. We see in the last sentence a

curious mixture of ideas that must have been in her mind. She herself


I do not see how anybody can look on all that as testimony from another

world. I cannot see but that it must have been an unconscious expression

of my subliminal self, writing such stuff as dreams are made of.

In another place Mrs. Piper makes the following direct statement: I

never heard of anything being said by myself while in a trance state

which might not have been latent in:

1. My own mind.

2. In the mind of the person in charge of the sitting.

3. In the mind of the person who was trying to get communication with

some one in another state of existence, or some companion present with

such person, or,

4. In the mind of some absent person alive somewhere else in the


Writing in the Psychological Review in 1898, Professor James says:

Mrs. Piper's trance memory is no ordinary human memory, and we have to

explain its singular perfection either as the natural endowment of her

solitary subliminal self, or as a collection of distinct memory systems,

each with a communicating spirit as its vehicle.

The spirit hypothesis exhibits a vacancy, triviality, and incoherence

of mind painful to think of as the state of the departed, and coupled

with a pretension to impress one, a disposition to 'fish' and face

around and disguise the essential hollowness which is, if anything, more

painful still. Mr. Hodgson has to resort to the theory that, although

the communicants probably are spirits, they are in a semi-comatose or

sleeping state while communicating, and only half aware of what is going

on, while the habits of Mrs. Piper's neural organism largely supply the

definite form of words, etc., in which the phenomenon is clothed.

After considering other theories Professor James concludes:

The world is evidently more complex than we are accustomed to think it,

the absolute 'world ground' in particular being farther off than we are

wont to think it.

Mrs. Piper is reported to have said:

Of what occurs after I enter the trance period I remember

nothing--nothing of what I said or what was said to me. I am but a

passive agent in the hands of powers that control me. I can give no

account of what becomes of me during a trance. The wisdom and inspired

eloquence which of late has been conveyed to Dr. Hodgson through my

mediumship is entirely beyond my understanding. I do not pretend to

understand it, and can give no explanation--I simply know that I have the

power of going into a trance when I wish.

Professor James says: The Piper phenomena are the most absolutely

baffling thing I know.

Professor Hudson, Ph.D., LL.D., author of The Law of Psychic

Phenomena, comes as near giving an explanation of spiritualism, so

called, as any one. He begins by saying:

All things considered, Mrs. Piper is probably the best 'psychic' now

before the public for the scientific investigation of spiritualism and

it must be admitted that if her alleged communications from discarnate

spirits cannot be traced to any other source, the claims of spiritism

have been confirmed.

Then he goes on:

A few words, however, will make it clear to the scientific mind that

her phenomena can be easily accounted for on purely psychological

principles, thus:

Man is endowed with a dual mind, or two minds, or states of

consciousness, designated, respectively, as the objective and the

subjective. The objective mind is normally unconscious of the content of

the subjective mind. The latter is constantly amenable to control by

suggestion, and it is exclusively endowed with the faculty of telepathy.

An entranced psychic is dominated exclusively by her subjective mind,

and reason is in abeyance. Hence she is controlled by suggestion, and,

consequently, is compelled to believe herself to be a spirit, good or

bad, if that suggestion is in any way imparted to her, and she

automatically acts accordingly.

She is in no sense responsible for the vagaries of a Phinuit, for that

eccentric personality is the creation of suggestion. But she is also in

the condition which enables her to read the subjective minds of others.

Hence her supernormal knowledge of the affairs of her sitters. What he

knows, or has ever known, consciously or unconsciously (subjective

memory being perfect), is easily within her reach.

Thus far no intelligent psychical researcher will gainsay what I have

said. But it sometimes happens that the psychic obtains information that

neither she nor the sitter could ever have consciously possessed. Does

it necessarily follow that discarnate spirits gave her the information?

Spiritists say 'yes,' for this is the 'last ditch' of spiritism.

Psychologists declare that the telepathic explanation is as valid in

the latter class of cases as it obviously is in the former. Thus,

telepathy being a power of the subjective mind, messages may be conveyed

from one to another at any time, neither of the parties being

objectively conscious of the fact. It follows that a telepathist at any

following seance with the recipient can reach the content of that


If this argument is valid--and its validity is self-evident--it is

impossible to imagine a case that may not be thus explained on

psychological principles.

Professor Hudson's argument will appeal to the ordinary reader as good.

It may be simplified, however, thus:

We may suppose that Mrs. Piper voluntarily hypnotizes herself. Perhaps

she simply puts her conscious reason to sleep. In that condition the

rest of her mind is in an exalted state, and capable of telepathy and

mind-reading, either of those near at hand or at a distance. Her reason

being asleep, she simply dreams, and the questions of her sitter are

made to fit into her dream.

If we regard mediums as persons who have the power of hypnotizing

themselves and then of doing what we know persons who have been

hypnotized by others sometimes do, we have an explanation that covers

the whole case perfectly. At the same time, as Professor James warns us,

we must believe that the mind is far more complex than we are accustomed

to think it.