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When Tables Attacked People: A life after death situation

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When Tables Attacked People: A Life After Death Situation


Some of the mediumistic phenomena of yesteryear were “absurd,” as Professor Charles Richet, the 1912 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, put it.  Nevertheless, he added, some were true, even if they were absurd.  Perhaps even more absurd than the many languages that came through the direct-voice mediumship of George Valiantine, as discussed in the prior blog here, is the phenomenon of tables attacking people, or, in some cases, just floating around the room.  One such phenomenon is reported by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack in her 2020 book, In Search of Maria B. Hayden, which is subtitled “The American Medium Who brought Spiritualism to the U.K.”

It was in October 1852 that Mrs. (later Dr.) Hayden first visited the Knebworth Park estate and house of the renowned British writer Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, (below) the author who told the world that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”  Lytton accepted many of the dictates of Spiritualism and was very much interested in Hayden’s mediumship. Lytton’s son, Robert, apparently corresponded regularly with the famous American poet, Robert Browning, and in a letter of July 19, 1854, quoted in the book, Robert told Browning, “[My father] made some querulous & impatient observations derogatory to the character of the spirits (questioning, too, I believe, their existence as spirits) just as he was leaving the room, when suddenly the Table (near which no person was standing) of its own accord, as one says, sprang at him like a dog. The Medium was no less astonished than himself – & suggested that ‘the spirits’ were angry with his language about them. ‘Then’ said he laughing, ‘they’d better spring at me again, I think!’ And immediately the Table flew at him, knocked him against the wall, and pinned him there so close, that as it was a large table, he was in danger of being crusht [sic], after three or four minutes, the table moved slowly back (with a sort of revolving orbit-like movement) to the original position!”  Robert Lytton added that in addition to himself, Mrs. Hayden, and a lawyer friend were present, all at some distance from the table. 



On another visit. Sir Edward was speaking reproachfully to Mrs. Hayden, commenting that he was wasting his time and money in attending her séances “when a large table in the room gave a sudden leap toward him. Presently it leaped back again, and ended by moving round and round, first slowly and solemnly and then swiftly.” It was further explained that Sir Edward and Mrs. Hayden were standing at the fireplace, some distance from the table when it went into action. On another occasion, Sir Edward begged the spirits to make a large lamp on the table rock to and fro, and the spirits apparently complied. 

Even more “absurd,” extending to the point of being “ridiculous,” a phenomenon took place with the mediumship of Mina Crandon, aka “Margery,” during June 1923 at the Crandon home in Boston, Mass.  It was reported that the discarnate mother of Dr. Frederick Caldwell, one of the sitters, took possession of the table and caused it to lurch toward Caldwell, then pushed him out of the den, through the dark corridor, and into the Crandons’s bedroom, and then chased him down the stairs, all the while smashing walls and causing other damage. According to Dr. Mark Richardson, a Harvard University professor of medicine who was also present, he and others stopped the table from doing further damage.


margery.jpg.7e7773bf48f76318d63570f421c3ed68.jpgMargery and Dr. Mark Richardson

In his 1917 book, On the Threshold of the Unseen, physicist Sir William Barrett recalled the sitting with Irish medium Kathleen Goligher, who was being studied then by Dr. William Crawford of Queen’s University.  The sitting involved a small family circle gathered in a room illuminated with a bright gas flame burning in a lantern.  “They sat round a small table with hands joined together, but no one touching the table,” Barrett explained.  “Very soon knocks came and messages were spelt out as one of us repeated the alphabet aloud.  Suddenly the knocks increased in violence, and being encouraged, a tremendous bang came which shook the room and resembled the blow of a sledge hammer on an anvil.  A tin trumpet which had been placed below the table now poked out its smaller end close under the top of the table near where I was sitting.  I was allowed to try and catch it, but it dodged all my attempts in the most amusing way, the medium on the opposite side sat perfectly still, while at my request all held up their joined hands so that I could see no one was touching the trumpet, as it played peep-boo with me.  Sounds like the sawing of wood, the bouncing of a ball, and other noises occurred, which were inexplicable.” 

The table then began to rise from the floor some 18 inches and remained suspended in the air.  “I was allowed to go up to the table and saw clearly no one was touching it, a clear space separating the sitters from the table,” Barrett continued the explanation.  “I tried to press the table down, and though I exerted all my strength could not do so; then I climbed up on the table and sat on it, my feet off the floor, when I was swayed to and fro and finally tipped off. The table of its own accord now turned upside down, no one touching it, and I tried to lift it off the ground, but it could not be stirred, it appeared screwed down to the floor.  At my request all the sitters’ clasped hands had been kept raised above their heads, and I could see that no one was touching the table.  When I desisted from trying to lift the inverted table from the floor, it righted itself again on its own accord, no one helping it.  Numerous sounds displaying an amused intelligence then came, and after each individual present had been greeted with some farewell raps the sitting ended.”
Barrett said that he could not imagine how the cleverest conjurer could have performed what he experienced, especially since it was clear to him that there was no elaborate apparatus in the room.  Moreover, Dr. Crawford had been observing the Goligher circle for six months or more before his observations.  “That there is an unseen intelligence behind these manifestations is all we can say, but that is a tremendous assertion, and if admitted destroys the whole basis of materialism,” Barrett added.

Back to 1852, Adin Ballou, a Unitarian minister who began investigating the strange phenomena a year or so earlier, wrote: “I have seen tables and lightstands of various sizes moved about in the most astonishing manner, by what purported to be the same invisible agency, with only the gentle and passive resting of the hands or fingerends of the Medium on one of their edges. Also, many distinct movings of such objects, by request without the touch of the medium at all. I have sat and conversed by the hour together with the authors of these sounds and motions, by means of signals first agreed on; asking questions and obtaining answers – receiving communications spelled out by the alphabet – discussing propositions sometimes made by them to me, and vice versa – all by a slow process, indeed, but with every possible demonstration of intelligence, though not without incidental misapprehension and mistakes.”

Judge John Edmonds, then chief justice of the New York Supreme Court, began his investigation of mediums about the same time as Ballou,  He wrote: “I have seen a chair run across the room, backward and forward, with no mortal hand touching it. I have seen tables rise from the floor and suspended in the air. I have seen them move when not touched.  I have known a small bell fly around the room over hour heads. I have known a table, at which I was sitting, turned upside down, then carried over my head, and put against the back of the sofa, and then replaced. I have seen a table lifted from the floor, when four able-bodied men were exerting their strength to hold it down….This is a very meager account of what only I have witnessed, aside from the countless incidents witnessed by others in different parts of the world. But here is enough to show that these manifestations were not made by mortals, but by a power which had all the attributes of the human mind and heart.”

Also during the early 1850s, Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, a lawyer who served as governor of the Territory of Wisconsin and as a U.S. senator for New York, upon hearing of Judge Edmonds’s experiences, undertook his own investigation. He reported a number of communication from his old friend John C. Calhoun, former vice-president of the United States who had died in 1850. When Tallmadge asked Calhoun the purpose of the communication, “My friend,” Calhoun replied, “the question is often put to you, ‘What good can result from these manifestations?’  I will answer it:  It is to draw mankind together in harmony, and convince skeptics of the immortality of the soul.”

Tallmadge explained “that these communications from Calhoun came through a large, heavy, round table, one at which 10-12 people could sit, by the tilting method (the alphabet recited by the sitters and the table would tilt at the correct letter). He observed the table move as much as three to four feet with nobody near it. During all these movements no person touched it, nor was any one near it,” Tallmadge explained.  After one sitting, he decided to see if he could move the table from a sitting position.  Applying as much force as possible, he was unable to budge it.  He then asked three women to assist him in moving the table.  “We lifted upon it until the leaf and top began to crack, and did not raise it a particle,” he continued. “We then desisted, fearing we should break it. I then said, ‘Will the spirits permit me to raise the table?’ I took hold alone, and raised it without difficulty!”

Tallmadge then asked the spirits if they could lift the table if he and the three ladies were sitting on it.  The spirits assented, but directed them to a square table in another room.  The four people climbed on to the table with Tallmadge in the middle.  “Two legs of it were then raised about six inches from the floor,” Tallmadge went on, “and then the other two legs were raised to a level of the first, so that the whole table was suspended in the air about six inches above the floor.  While thus seated on it, I could feel a gentle, vibratory motion, as if floating in the atmosphere.  After being thus suspended in the air for a few moments, the table was gently let down again to the floor.”

On May 9, 1874, Cambridge scholars Frederic W. H. Myers and Edmund Gurney     visited Anglican clergyman William Stainton Moses to observe his mediumship.  Myers reported that a table, untouched by human hands, rose from the floor and touched his throat and chest three times.  Then, he was raised to the table three times and twice levitated in the corner of the room.
Initially, Moses thought that his newfound “gift” was the work of the devil and wanted nothing to do with it, but communicating spirits informed him that the levitations and other physical phenomena were simply a way of making themselves known so that they could impart some higher teachings through him.  Moses developed into an automatic writing medium and over the next 20 years penned several books of profound wisdom from his spirit guides, much of it in conflict with his beliefs.

Charlton Templeman Speer, Moses’s biographer and friend, wrote that at least 10 different kinds of manifestations took place through Moses, including movements of heavy bodies, such as tables and chairs.  “Sometimes the table would be tilted up at a considerable angle; at other times the chairs of one or more of the sitters would be pushed more or less forcibly away from the table, until they touched the wall behind,” Speer wrote.  “Or the table would move away from the sitters on one side, and be propelled irresistibly against those on the other, compelling them to shift their chairs in order to avoid the advance of so heavy a piece of furniture.  The table in question, at which we usually sat, was an extremely weighty dining-table made of solid Honduras mahogany, but at times it was moved with much greater ease than the combined efforts of all the sitters could accomplish; and these combined efforts were powerless to prevent it moving in a certain direction, if the unseen force willed it to do so.  We frequently tested the strength of this force by trying to check the onward movement of the table, but without success.”

Were a famous British author, a respected Harvard professor of medicine, a renowned British physicist, a Unitarian minister, a chief justice of the New York Supreme Court, a
notable statesman, two illustrious Cambridge scholars, and an eminent Anglican priest all victims of hoaxes or were they hallucinating it all?  If we can’t believe them, who can we believe?

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.


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