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Physicist Recalls Intriguing Physical Mediumship

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Physicist Recalls Intriguing Physical Mediumship

Posted on 16 August 2021, 8:59

When psychical researchers of the late 1920s and early ‘30s became frustrated at not being able to agree on the genuineness of various physical phenomena produced by several mediums, most notably, Mina Crandon, (aka “Margery”), George Valiantine, and Rudi Schneider, several of them formed a new field, called parapsychology.  Its focus was on extra-sensory perception and psychokinesis and away from anything even alluding to spirits of the dead or life after death. To even mention spirits or survival of the consciousness at death was to invite professional disdain and discourage any funding for research.  Nevertheless, physical mediumship continued here and there. We simply didn’t hear much about it and there was very little formal research in succeeding decades up to the present. 

All that didn’t stop Dr. Jan Vandersande, a physicist, from taking an interest in the matter. In his 2008 book, Life After Death: Some of the Best Evidence, Vandersande explores some of the most interesting cases of physical phenomena reported in the annals of psychical research while also reporting on his own observations of some genuine physical mediums. His interest began while teaching physics at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, during the 1970s, when he and his wife were invited to attend a séance with mediums Mickey and Sara Wolf. “We experienced trance mediumship, direct voice and trumpets flying around the dark room,” Vandersande said when I interviewed him in 2008, adding that they then sat with the two mediums every two or three weeks for about eight years. “Every time we sat with them their main guide (control), Brian, would speak through either Sara, who was in trance, or through the direct voice. His characteristic voice was always the same and easily recognizable. Also, the trumpet, with luminous paint spots on it, flew around the totally dark room quite rapidly, up to the ceiling then to the walls and then it would slow down and gently touch each of the sitters (usually between four and eight) on the knee or on the head.  Special sittings were held before Christmas, and ectoplasmic spirit children played musical toys that had been placed in the center of the circle and also unwrapped presents (which were also in the center of the circle). Then the children would touch the sitters who could feel their small fingers and hands.”

Vandersande & Thompson

Maintaining an interest in the subject over the years, Vandersande arranged for Australian trance medium David Thompson and his partner, Christine Morgan, also a medium, to visit them in Southern California in 2012 and again during January 2014, giving three demonstrations each time.  Because darkness is required, precautions were taken to rule out fraud, including a thorough search of Thompson before binding him to chair with leather straps and zip-lock ties, as well as gagging him so that he could not talk. All of the sitters, including Morgan, were required to hold hands, and Morgan wore a luminous broach which Vandersande, sitting across from her, could see, just in case someone claimed she was the real trickster.

“David has a band of spirit entities many of whom regularly materialize at his séances,” Vandersande’s notes read. “His main spirit control is William Cadwell, who materializes first at all his séances and appears to control what happens during the séance. After materializing, William started talking to the sitters while walking around. He spoke loudly and in a distinctive British accent that I found difficult to understand at times. William stepped on the piece of plywood (two feet by two feet), that we had placed at the center of the circle, making a distinct sound indicating that he was wearing heavy-soled boots (meanwhile David was wearing sneakers). He then started to answer questions of a general nature about the spirit world and about life.  After answering each question he would most of the time walk over to the sitter who had asked the question and ask if he could touch them. After the sitter said that he could, he put his hand on their head. The sitters who had that experience (from four to seven per sitting) described a very large hand (meanwhile David has very small hands). After he had answered a number of questions in each of the three sittings he walked back to the cabinet.”

Vandersande noted that as Cadwell got back to the cabinet, a red flash light was turned on so that the sitters could see Thompson still securely tied in his chair in the cabinet.  “This unexpected event clearly shows that it was not David pretending to be William, walking around the room and answering questions as some skeptics have maintained,” Vandersande explains in his notes.  “There is no way David, if he had been walking around, could have rushed back to the cabinet and re-tied himself in such a brief period of time. Also, the only way he could have seen in the dark would have been with night vision goggles and they were definitely not in the room (I checked that myself, as did the independent checkers).”

Next, an entity known as Timmy (Timothy Booth, who died in 1902) materialized and spoke with a very young, Cockney voice. Timmy then gave a demonstration in which the trumpets (with luminous paint on them), flew around the sitters. He explained that he had manipulated the ectoplasm exuded by Thompson to move the trumpets.  “The trumpets (two in the first séance, three in the second séance and only their single trumpet in the third séance) flew at great speed and with considerable precision, performing aerobatic patterns such as large and small circles, flying to the ceiling (from 10 to 12 feet high in a hotel conference room), the corners, all around the room and tapping each other in mid-air while I had the CD player play an Irish jig,” Vandersande’s report continues. “…Never at any time did the trumpets bump into any sitter or anything else in the room. There is absolutely no way any human, assuming they could see in total darkness, could move a trumpet in those random patterns, that fast and at that those heights, as all the sitters observed in the three séances.”

As the three trumpets were flying around the conference room during the second séance, Vandersande heard a thud to his left and leaves were touching his head. That was followed by a thud in front of him and then one to his right. As he was to discover, Timmy had moved three artificial trees, each about five-feet tall and in pots weighing 6-8 pounds, from three different places in the room to in front of him. “One tree was originally behind a large table so the table had to be moved by him in order to bring the tree to me,” Vandersande explains. “The other two trees were originally in two different corners of the room. Some sitters in the circle actually heard something fly over their heads. My two trumpets ended up in one of the trees between the branches… This phenomenon of moving heavier objects using ectoplasm is extremely impressive and in no way could have been done by anyone in the room in the pitch dark…”

Louis Armstrong, the famous musician known for his trumpet playing who died in 1971,  materialized in all three séances. “His voice sounded exactly like the very characteristic voice so often heard when he was alive on earth (a deep distinctive gravelly voice),” Vandersande notes, adding that he then played a harmonica for several minutes.  “You could hear him take a deep breath occasionally while playing. After that he left. I always get skeptical and nervous when famous people materialize but I now have a better understanding why they do it. To prove survival after death it makes more sense that someone who is well-known, has a characteristic voice and/or mannerisms, that just about everyone can recognize, materializes rather than an anonymous person.”

Timmy was followed in the third sitting by a Native American named White Soaring Bird, said to be Thompson’s gate-keeper or protector, who materialized and gave a blessing to the sitters, first speaking in his native tongue and then in English. 

Much more was reported by Vandersande, but space does not permit it here.  As mentioned in the prior blog about levitations, near the end of the second sitting, Vandersande and the others present heard a loud thud.  Thompson had been lifted over the sitters in his chair and deposited outside the circle, a distance of 15- to 20-feet from where he had been sitting. “The red flashlight was turned on and the tape on the door was removed and the door opened,” Vandersande’s report continues. “We all saw David sitting in his chair, tied up exactly as he was at the beginning of the séance except for the fact that his cardigan had been reversed. The cardigan was still buttoned and the five zip-ties were still in place exactly as when we placed them there. There is no way that David could have reversed the cardigan. [This] shows that the spirit entities have tremendous strength (using ectoplasm from David and likely the sitters as well). While the reversal/removal of the cardigan shows a de-materialization/re-materialization capability (or whatever technology the spirits used) that is way beyond the current laws of physics as we know them. It was truly an amazing phenomenon to have observed.”

Vandersande stresses that he carefully examined how Thompson was tied to the chair and is absolutely certain there was no way to remove himself, carry out the various phenomena, then return to the chair and tie himself back to the chair.

Victor and Wendy Zammit, authors of A Lawyer Presents the Evidence for the Afterlife,  estimate that they sat with Thompson at least 300 times between 2005 and 2014, before Thompson moved from Australia to New Zealand.  “In relation to his being levitated, it happened with David still unconscious at the end of every public séance,” Wendy informed me in a recent email. “He’s not the only one though – I’ve seen it happen with several other physical mediums. It seems that the spirit teams like to use up any remaining energy that way.”

Wendy Zammit mentioned that, according to Ron Gilkes at Jenny’s Sanctuary in the UK, Thompson was turned upside down in the chair while being levitated. The “spirits” then moved the chair so that Thompson’s head was in Gilkes’s lap before turning him right side up and depositing him some distance away.  “We were also present on at least two occasions where they levitated David, conscious and strapped into his chair, so that his head was almost touching the ceiling,” Wendy further explained, adding that, although it was dark, Victor was able to confirm the levitation, at the request of David, by reaching up and feeling the four chair legs and David’s feet.

Vandersande recalled that one of the women in attendance at the 2012 sittings happened to be a clairvoyant medium and refused to believe it was real, apparently not understanding that whatever is required for her kind of mediumship is not the same as that required for physical mediumship. I recall talking with a clairvoyant at a conference some years ago and she reacted in much the same way.  As she saw it, all that physical mediumship of yesteryear was just so much bunk.  It brings to mind the reaction of Sir David Brewster, a renowned British physicist, who observed D. D. Home being levitated.  Although seemingly quite impressed at the time, he later concluded that the only explanation was a trick he did not understand, or a delusion. “Spirit is the last thing I will give in to,” he was quoted.  Such a mindset continues to exist. 

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 book

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