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Psychic Experiments


Ernest Wood



Ernest Wood describes Psychic

Experiments carried out by members

of the Manchester Lodge of

The Theosophical Society circa 1905



The “Third Object” of the Society was: “To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.”


About twelve of us took part in the Third

Object group. Our aim was not to experiment with mediumship, but to see if we could obtain first-hand knowledge of clairvoyance and such faculties, under test

conditions. We had successful results from the very beginning.


The first experiment was the “battery of minds.” We all sat round in a semicircle, except one member who was seated at the centre of the circle and blindfolded with a thick scarf. I sat at the end of the semicircle, wrote the name of a simple object on a bit of paper and passed it round for all to read.


We all then concentrated on a picture of the object written down and tried to send it into the mind of the subject, whose business it was to keep the mind quiet but alert – like that of a person looking out of a window with wonder as to what might pass by – and to state whatever arose or appeared in the mind.


After a short time, the lady who took the first turn as subject said: “I am afraid I do not see anything at all. All that has happened is that I seemed to hear someone calling ‘Puss, puss, puss’.”


We were quite satisfied, for the word which I had written on the paper was “cat.” Then I wrote the word “watch,” and she was at once very accurate and precise: “I can see the dial of a watch.” Other members took their turns.


One gentleman received the messages with about fifty per cent of correctness. I

remember that in his case penknife came out as a table knife, and dog as a pug

dog. Of all the experimenters only two or three had a zero result in reception.

We tried many experiments in reading words written [82] on a paper placed inside

a closed envelope. The first time, I wrote HEAD. The subject spelt it out: “H –

then a vowel – two vowels – E and A -one letter more – I cannot see it clearly –

it is R, or rather D.”


On the next paper I wrote XMAS. Immediately on touching the paper she said, laughing, “O, Christmas.” “Got it in a Hash,” she added, “without seeing the

letters at all.”


Generally the letters were spelt out. When asked how she got the word, our subject said that in most cases she actually saw the letters. That must have been so, for on one occasion when I wrote the word STEAMER she spelt it quite methodically: “S-t-a-i-m – no – s-t-a-r, star.” This showed that there was some broken kind of sight. None of us had thought about a star, so it could not have been thought-transmission in this case.


In a variant of this experiment each member in the semicircle wrote his own word on a separate piece of paper. I collected the papers, shuffled them and handed one to the subject, without knowing what was written upon it. She took hold of

the paper and presently said: “I see a dragonfly.”


The word written on the paper was “fly.” In this case t here must have been

visualization of a thought rising from the written word.


One of the most interesting experiments gave us a probable answer to the question: Is the thought conveyed by some sort of wave in ether, like wireless telegraphy, or is something tangible transmitted from mind to mind, like a letter through the post? We obtained evidence of something tangible at least that the thought could impress itself on material objects and could be taken

from them by the receptive mind.


For these experiments I prepared a number of small pieces of paper by trying to

impress pictures upon them by thought; on one I would imagine a house, on another a tree, and so on. I wrote something in the corner of each paper in tiny almost illegible writing, so that I would know them again.


Then I shuffled these papers and put one out without looking. The subject said: “I can see a hen in a farmyard. She is surrounded by chickens and is scratching the ground to get something for them to eat.”


I looked at the paper. It was the one with the word “hen” written on the corner.

I had pictured simply the hen, not the chickens, the farmyard and the



At the second paper the lady shuddered: “Ugh! I do not like this. It reminds me

of vermin.” Then, after a moment: “I see an underground archway and a sewer. It

is swarming with rats.”


I had thought only of a rat, not consciously of any underground place. None of

us knew which paper had been put out. My thought must have impressed the paper

in some way, and that impression could be seen or received direct from the paper

by the sensitive person.


It is interesting to notice that in every case the sensitive added something to what was transmitted by the sender. When we experimented with proverbs instead of simple objects there was much scope for imagination. For example, “Too many

cooks spoil the broth” elicited quite a story: “I see a large room – a kitchen.


A lot of men are hurrying about and getting in each other’s way and spilling things. O! I know” – with a laugh – “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”


A different kind of experiment was that of sensing the presence of a person. The

subject was blindfolded, as before. Then one of the experimenters would quietly

stand near, while the rest of us remained at some distance. On one evening this was done fourteen times with our best subject, and every time she named the person correctly, frequently adding further information, such as: “You have been

in the presence of death, lately,” or “You have been sick so that you could not

eat” -remarks in every case admitted to be correct.


The fifty per cent gentleman was remarkably good in this experiment. Out of

seventeen trials he named ten correctly immediately, five correctly on the second attempt, after the word “No” had been called out once, and the remaining two on the third attempt. In a variant of this experiment we scattered chairs in different parts of the large room; then moved about, stamping and making clapping and other noises, until we suddenly sat down in the chairs which we happened to be near. Then the subject pointed to us individually and correctly named us all. When we asked for explanations of the process, the answer was: “I can see colours round you, and recognize you by those colours.” One curious detail was that when I stood near to the subject and strongly imagined myself to

be in a distant place, the subject could not identify me.


Outside the group another sort of experiment (highly recommended by Mr. W. T. Stead) was undertaken by myself and one of the members. We sat for ten minutes

each morning in our respective homes and alternately “sent” and “received” a thought, keeping a record, which we compared only at the end of six months.


It showed no results for about a month at the beginning, then some correct

transmissions in increasing frequency, until in total there was an average of more than ten per cent correct.


Our group ultimately broke up through the illness of some of its members and the

departure of others to new homes.


As far as I ever heard, ours was the only Lodge of the Theosophical Society in

the world in which such scientific experiments were conducted, under test

conditions. The prominent clairvoyants in the Society, Mrs. Besant and Mr.

Leadbeater, and in a minor degree two or three others, always said that they were not allowed by the Masters to give any definite evidence of their unusual faculties or powers.


Mme Blavatsky, however, had performed many remarkable experiments in the presence of numbers of persons who had signed their names to written statements of what they had collectively seen.


Most of the members of the Society accepted unquestioningly anything said to be seen by Mrs. Besant or Mr. Leadbeater. When, later, I was in intimate touch with

them, I learnt that they frequently received letters somewhat as follows: “It is not necessary for me to describe my trouble. With your wonderful powers you will

know everything when you receive this letter. Please help me, or advise me ...”


In reply to such letters they always explained that it was not right or

permissible to use psychic powers in matters which could be attended to by

ordinary physical faculties; it would be a waste of power; if the writer would

explain his case clearly, and briefly, they would see what could be done!


Some members declined to believe without evidence, notably Babu Bhagavan Das of

Benares, who used to say: “I am sorry. If you are not permitted to show, I am

not permitted to believe.”


In this he followed the tradition of the Indian yogis, who always show their powers to their prospective pupils, as I had occasion to learn in my own experience in India.





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