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Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research by Michael Sage

II Dr Richard Hodgson--Description of the trance--Mrs Piper not a good hypnotic subject.

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Before proceeding further, I must ask my readers' permission to introduce Dr Hodgson, the man who has studied Mrs Piper's case with the greatest care and with the most perseverance. Dr Richard Hodgson went to America expressly to observe this medium, and during some fifteen years he has, so to say, hardly lost sight of her for a moment. All the persons who have had sittings for a long time past have passed through his hands; he introduces them by assumed names, and takes all possible precautions that Mrs Piper, in her normal state, shall not obtain any information about them. These precautions are now superfluous. Mrs Piper has never had recourse to fraud, and everyone is thoroughly convinced of the fact. But the slightest relaxation of supervision would lay the most decisive experiments open to suspicion.

Dr Hodgson is one of the earliest workers for the Society for Psychical Research. He has been a terrible enemy to fraud all his life. At the time of the formation of the Society, Mme. Blavatsky, foundress of the Theosophical Society, was making herself much talked about. The most extraordinary phenomena were supposed to have occurred at the Theosophical Society's headquarters in India. Dr Hodgson was sent there to study them impartially. He quickly made the discovery that the whole affair was charlatanry and sleight-of-hand. On his return to England he wrote a report--which has not killed Theosophy, because even new-born religions have strong vitality--but which has discredited this doctrine for ever in the eyes of thoughtful people.

After this master stroke, Dr Hodgson continued to hunt down fraudulent mediums. He learned all their tricks, and acquired a conjurer's skill. It was he again who discovered the unconscious[4] frauds of Eusapia Paladino during the sittings which this Italian medium gave at Cambridge. When such a man, after long study of Mrs Piper's phenomena, affirms their validity, we may believe him. He is not credulous, nor an enthusiast, nor a mystic. I have written of him somewhat at length, because, by force of circumstances, his name will often appear in these pages.

To return to Mrs Piper and the phenomena which specially interest us. Mrs Piper falls into trance spontaneously, without the intervention of any magnetiser. I shall explain later, at length, what must be understood by "trance."

Professor Charles Richet was one of the persons who had a sitting with our medium while she was staying at Cambridge. He describes the trance in these terms:--

"She is obliged to hold someone's hand in order to go into a trance. She holds the hand several minutes, silently, in half-darkness. After some time--from five to fifteen minutes--she is seized with slight spasmodic convulsions, which increase, and terminate in a very slight epileptiform attack. Passing out of this, she falls into a state of stupor, with somewhat stertorous breathing; this lasts about a minute or two; then, all at once, she comes out of the stupor with a burst of words. Her voice is changed; she is no longer Mrs Piper, but another personage, Dr Phinuit, who speaks in a loud, masculine voice in a mingling of negro patois, French, and American dialect."

Sir Oliver Lodge, F.R.S., well-known among English men of science, and at the time Professor of Physics at Liverpool, describes the opening of the trance in very nearly the same words as Professor Richet in the remarkable report which he published in 1890 on the sittings he had with Mrs Piper. He also notices the slight epileptiform attack, although he adds that he is not "pretending to speak medically."[5]

The Phinuit personality, of which Professor Richet speaks in the passage above quoted, is what the Spiritualists call a "control." By "control" is meant the mysterious being who is supposed to have temporarily taken possession of the organism of the medium. Are these controls only secondary personalities, or are they, as they themselves declare, disincarnated human spirits, spirits of dead men who come back to communicate with us by using an entranced organism as a machine? In either case they must have a name. Phinuit has been one of Mrs Piper's principal controls, but he is far from having been the only one. On the contrary, they have been legion, and, what is strange, these controls appear to be personalities as distinct from each other as possible, each with his own style of language, his belief, his opinions, his tricks of speech or manner.