|LE "PARANORMAL", NOUS N'Y CROYONS PAS. NOUS L'ETUDIONS.|
The Institut Métapsychique International (IMI) was born in 1919, in the heyday of spiritualism, with the explicit objective of conducting in-depth investigations of claims of the paranormal. The first formal studies were undertaken with Franek Kluski, a physical medium reputedly capable of producing detailed ectoplasmic materializations of animal or human forms.
In their investigations, the IMI researchers were above all aiming to obtaining Permanent Paranormal Objects (PPOs), i.e., objects which constitute indisputable evidence for a paranormal phenomenon. The sessions were designed by IMI director Dr. Gustave Geley, the neurophysiologist and nobel-prize winner Charles Richet, and the Count de Gramont of the Institute of France. They employed an adaptation of a method earlier introduced by spiritualists, in which paraffin was used to obtain a wax mould from the materialized ectoplasmic forms.
The sessions were held at the institute’s laboratory, locked from within once the medium and sitters entered. During the sessions, which took place in low red light, all sitters locked hands. Sitters on either side of Kluski gave frequent verbal reports, confirming their certitude that they are holding the medium’s hand. Kluski himself remained immobile throughout the séance, apparently in a light or deep trance.
The main experimental material was a tank placed 60 centimeters in front of the medium, containing a 10-cm layer of liquid wax that floated on electrically heated water. The medium’s task was to materialize ‘ectoplasmic hands’, mentally direct these toward the liquid paraffin, plunge them into the paraffin for a minute or so, and then deposit the paraffin ‘gloves’ next to the researchers. When sessions were successful, the resulting gloves were used to create more solid plaster moulds, the wax layer being removed by dipping the moulds into boiling water. Seven moulds of hands, one of a foot and one of the lower face were produced in this manner. The hand moulds took on various positions and were child-sized, yet they exhibited detailed markings of adult hands.
Two possibilities for fraudulent production are examined : wax moulds produced by sleight of hand during the séances, and moulds prepared in advance and surreptitiously smuggled into the laboratory. Both of these appear highly implausible. The controls introduced during the sessions and the size of the moulds exclude their fraudulent real-time production. The hypothesis that they were prepared in advance is also rejected because of a control introduced by the experimenters : ‘identifier’ chemicals were secretely added to the liquid paraffin just prior to the séances, and were subsequently detected in the actual paraffin gloves. Unless one assumes widespread experimenter fraud, the conclusion seems inescapable that the Kluski wax gloves are genuinely paranormal, constituting evidence for an extraordinarily developed form of psychokinesis.
THE KLUSKI HAND MOULDS
The Institut Métapsychique International (IMI) was founded in 1919, and declared a public utility foundation that same year by the French Interior Ministry. The explicit objective of the IMI, from the outset, was to conduct in-depth investigations of claims of the paranormal, whether in spiritualist, mesmeric or other contexts. Among its first Board members were the Italian Minister of Health Rocco Santoliquido (president), the physician Gustave Geley (director), Nobel-prize winner neurophysiologist Charles Richet (honorary president), Count de Gramont of the Institut de France (vice-president), astronomer Camille Flammarion, and other prominent figures of French society. The IMI quickly established solid links with psychical research centers throughout Europe, and began publishing the Revue Métapsychique, which became the main reference for Continental psychical research.
Among the first formal studies undertaken at the Institute were those with Franek Kluski (1874-1944), one of the most reputed and reliable physical mediums of this era. Kluski, aged 47 when the IMI investigations began, was well-educated, spoke several different languages, and, besides his professional activities, was a writer and poet. He reported having had many apparitional experiences in his childhood, particularly in cemeteries where he would take his young friends and together they would observe apparitions of his defunct parents or friends, but also apparitions of animals such as wolves, cats, and dogs. At age 27, following a duel, a bullet pierced Kluski’s heart, and he was considered dead by the surgeon. However, he miraculously came back to life, a few minutes later. As attested by an X-ray, the bullet was still present in his ribs, 20 years later, and he was prone to pain and extreme heart palpitations, especially following mediumnistic séances. Between age 20 and 46 Kluski focused mostly on his career and family, and lost interest in spirits and mediumship. However, in late 1918 he attended a séance by the polish medium Guzik, along with some friends. Following the séance and Guzik’s departure, the sitters wondered if they could nevertheless continue, and see if any phenomena would be produced. As it turned out, a number of phenomena did occur, including luminous forms, which seemed to focus on Kluski’s presence. While he at first refused to accept responsibility for the phenomena observed (he actually had a strong dispute with his friends over this), in subsequent sessions the phenomena returned, and he eventually accepted to work with researchers of the Polish SPR. This work was interrupted in the summer and autumn of 1920, when Kluski went to fight as a volunteer against the Bolsheviks who were attacking Warsaw. Following this, and despite his fragile physical condition, he decided to accept an invitation by Dr. Geley to come to Paris for several months. Richet and Geley were particularly interested in the polish medium, not only because of the strength of effects he reportedly produced, but also because of his approach. : Kluski was entirely cooperative with researchers, remained motionless during séances, and, unlike most physical mediums, seemed truly discrete and modest about his talents, shying away from publicity and eschewing any form of compensation, monetary or otherwise.
THE IMI SESSIONS : GENERAL SETTING AND PROTOCOL
IMI director Gustave Geley participated in many sessions with Kluski in Warsaw. Here, however, here I will be focusing mostly on the 14 sessions held in Paris, between November and December 1920. The medium’s poor health and fatigue apparently precluded a more sustained pace of experimentation, and frequent interruptions were necessary during the sessions themselves to check his physical state.
Sessions were held in the IMI laboratory, a 9-meters long by 5-meters wide room (Figure 1). The windowless lab had two doors, one leading to a hallway, the other to a court. Both doors were systematically locked from the inside once the medium and sitters entered the room. The medium had no access to the laboratory other than during the actual sessions. Besides Kluski and Dr. Geley, several observers were present, including Professor Richet, Mrs. Geley, the Count de Gramont, Camille Flammarion, Mrs. Flammarion, and the Count Jules Potocki.
Contrary with other mediums (like Eva C. who was completely stripped and searched), the experimenters judged unnecessary to physically search Kluski. Geley did note that the medium always wore tight-fitting clothing, and that he would spontaneously empty his pockets upon arrival at the lab. Also, both prior to and following the sessions, Dr. Geley would conduct medical examinations on the medium, and discretely use this opportunity to check for any suspicious objects.
Mediums typically used a dark cabinet to isolate themselves from the light and surroundings and go into a deep trance. Needless to say, this cabinet was often a prime suspect for concealed props. In Kluski’s case the cabinet was present, but it had mostly a symbolic function : the medium was seated just in front of it, and the cabinet’s curtains generally remained wide open, throughout the session.
Sessions could last an hour or two, with 15-20 minute breaks every half hour or so, generally at the request of the medium. The sessions took place in low red light, which was sufficient to distinguish the outlines of those present. All sitters locked hands during the sessions. The experimenters were very much conscious of the hand-substitution trick, and were specifically vigilant about any such attempt. Typically, Kluski’s hands (and not just the wrists) would be held by Dr. Geley on one side, and Charles Richet or Count de Gramont on the other. The experimenters also maintained permanent leg contact with the medium. All contacts were verified before the light was dimmed. Once the session had begun, the controllers would give frequent reports, checking and verbally confirming their certitude that they are holding one of Kluski’s hands.
It must be emphasized that the medium himself remained essentially immobile throughout the séance except occasionally, when the medium, in trance, would lean his head on the shoulder of one of his neighbors. Indeed, Geley notes that movements tended to interrupt the phenomena, and that the most impressive events occurred when Kluski was completely still, in deep trance.
RESULTS I : LIGHTS, ODORS, AND TOUCHES
The sessions yielded numerous reports of apparently paranormal phenomena involving a vaporous ectoplasmic substance which gave birth to visual, tactile and kinetic anomalies. As my focus here is on the wax moulds, described in the next section. I will mention these phenomena only briefly, citing Dr. Geley’s description of a typical séance. “First a strong odour of ozone is perceptible. This odour, analogous to that perceived in radioscopic practrice, is very characteristic... This premonitory symptom has never been absent in our experiments. The smell of ozone comes and goes suddenly. Then, in weak light, slightly phosphorescent vapor floats around the medium, especially above his head, like light smoke, and in it there are gleams like foci of condensation. These lights were usually many, tenuous, and ephemeral, but sometimes they were larger and more lasting, and then gave the impression of being luminous parts of organs otherwise invisible, especially finger ends or parts of faces. When materialization was complete, fully formed hands and faces could be seen. These hands and faces were often self-luminous.” (Geley, 1927, p.213).
The lights, which, upon observation seemed to be the tips of fingers, i.e., the visible parts of ectoplasmic hands, would often descend upon the sitters and caress them with a touch that was warm, giving the sense of a living hand. As Charles Richet describes, they were “very light touches, like those of a child or very young girl”. The touches were felt by those in proximity of the medium, and also those further away. They corresponded in time and location to the visual experience of the others observing. For example, Geley mentions : “I was holding Franek’s left hand and Count Potock his right, the control being perfect. Among other important phenomena which will be described in their place, I saw a hand at the end of an arm form under my eyes, cross the circle in front of Mr. Kluski and touch Mme. Geley, who was facing me.... Immediately after the contact felt by Mme. Geley the hand disappeared.” (Geley, 1927, p.218).
In sum, the observations during the sessions were coherent with past reports on Kluski’s and others’ physical mediumship, which claimed that the ‘ectoplasm’ frequently evolved into well defined facial features, or into hands that could move objects or touch participants. Geley gives a number of arguments against trickery for these phenomena. Insofar as, Kluski was alone (there was never any confederate in the sessions), the only possibility would be for the medium to have liberated a hand to create the effects. Apart from the fact that there were continuous checks of both his hands, and that the medium was totally motionless throughout the sessions, at least two arguments militate against this hypothesis :
a. The lights were often numerous, and moved well beyond arm’s length from Kluski ; they did not just move up and then fall down, but moved laterally across the room with apparent goal-directedness, to touch different participants. The touches were also felt by two individuals at once, including the sitters most distant from Kluski
b. The visual phenomena did not amount to simple light projections, but involved complex constructions which visually evolved over time ; furthermore, there was good agreement between sitters in terms of the details as to what was seen, and these corresponded in time with other sensory phenomena, such as touches. This renders unlikely any hypothesis based on trance-induced hallucinations
RESULTS II : THE WAX MOULDS
The IMI researchers’ true objective was to go beyond visual or tactile experiences, which, even if consensual, could be later construed as a collective hallucination of sorts. What they were really looking for was unambiguous and permanent evidence of ectoplasm - something akin to a Permanent Paranormal Object (PPO). In order to obtain a PPO, they opted for a method initially developed in 1875 by William Denton, an American geologist (Aksakof, 1906), who proposed using a bowl filled with hot wax to obtain instant moulds of purported materializations. A second bowl with cold water was used to quickly solidify the wax moulds, and finally, plaster of Paris was poured into the wax moulds to create a more sturdy object.
The system used at the IMI involved a circular tank 30 centimeters in diameter, containing several kilograms of wax that floated on electrically heated water, thus producing a 10-cm deep layer of liquid wax. The system was placed on a table, in the center of the circle formed by the sitters, 60 centimeters in front of the medium. Rather than using a second bowl for cooling, the IMI researchers preferred to allow the wax moulds to rigidify on their own, this being, as we shall see, a precaution against fraud. Following the sessions, the investigators would pour plaster into the fragile wax moulds, to obtain a more permanent object ; once the plaster hardened, they would simply plunge the ensemble into boiling water and strip away the wax layer.
Kluski’s task, then, was to not only to produce the ectoplasmic forms or entities, but but to also induce these to plunge an ‘ectoplasmic limb’ into the liquid paraffin, withdraw into the air to allow the wax to solidify around it, replunge to create a new layer, come out again, and finally deposit the resulting form next to the researchers and dissolve, leaving behind a thin wax glove that reproduced the original form.
While the olfactory, visual and tactile phenomena came soon after sessions began, it generally took 15 to 20 minutes before any sign appeared that a mould was in the process of forming. The experimenters would first hear the sound of the ‘hand’ dipping into the paraffin, and then feel it touch their own hands, moist with warm wax. It would then be heard dipping in the container again, and finally come out and deposit itself next to them. Once begun, this whole process would evolve quite rapidly - within 1 to 2 minutes. As Geley remarked this was quite surprising, given that paraffin’s normal time to solidify at room temperature is much longer. Kluski once told Geley that the ‘entities’ can control their temperature and accelerate the setting of the wax. Whether or not this is so, Geley did often note that, during the sessions, Kluski’s hands would suddenly get quite cold.
Here is a brief description of two IMI sessions with Kluski :
December 27th session
Just prior to beginning, Richet and Geley had secretly added a bluish coloring agent to the paraffin. Control of the medium was considered excellent, with controllers regularly checking and verbally reporting ‘I am holding the right hand’, ‘I am holding the left hand’. Splashing sounds were heard about twenty minutes into the session, and one to two minutes later two warm paraffin gloves were deposited next to the controllers. Both wax moulds had precisely the same bluish tint as that of the tank, strongly suggesting that these were indeed created during the séance, and not smuggled in by the medium. An additional control was the weighing of all substance. Prior to the experiment, the paraffin was 3.920 grams, while at the end of the session it weighed 3.800 grams. The two moulds weighed 50 grams, and there was considerable wax scattered near the medium (around 15 grams), on his clothing, and on the floor 3.5 meters away from him (about 25 grams). Insofar as the sum of these weights correspond very closely to the initial weight, this further establishes that the wax gloves were produced during the session. Finally, it should be mentioned that the wax moulds were less than a millimeter thick (thinner than a sheet of paper).
December 31st session.
Following recommendations of psychical researcher and illusionist Robert Toquet, Geley added a second substance to the paraffin mix : cholesterol. This was done immediately prior to the beginning of the session, in total secrecy. Cholesterol is completely colorless, but when it interacts with sulfuric acid it produces a characteristic reddish color which then turns brown ; by contrast, sulfuric acid added to plain wax yields no color changes. Following a rather unsuccessful first period and pause, the session resumed, with controllers regularly checking and declaring their hold on Kluski. The first sounds of spashing were heard, and paraffin was scattered on Richet, Count Potocki and Geley. The lights were quickly turned up and two moulds were found on the table, that of a child-sized foot (Figure 2), and that of a lower part of an adult face. These had the same bluish hue as the paraffin mix. Additionally, immediately following the session, Geley took samples from the foot mould, and added the sulfuric acid : the characteristic color shift was positive. This was the ‘acid test’, literally and metaphorically, establishing that the moulds were definitely produced during the session, from the researchers’ own paraffin and container.
All in all, 9 moulds were obtained over the course of 11 sessions. These included seven child-sized hand moulds, one child-sized foot mould and one adult-sized mould of a chin and mouth. Interestingly enough, although the hand moulds were small, they displayed the markings typical of adult living hands. Also important, there were some variations in size : the 3rd one, as Geley notes, is more than a centimeter longer than the 6th one. Kluski stated that he consistently obtains smaller moulds when he is tired or ill. In the later Warsaw sessions, attended by Dr. Geley, Kluski was much more vigorous and healthy, and the moulds obtained were indeed of normal adult size.
The Warsaw Sessions
Geley participated in a number of sessions in Warsaw, the next year. I will refer to these only briefly, for the sake of completeness. The sessions in Warsaw were conducted in Kluski’s home, which, of course, renders them less evidential than those at the IMI laboratory. Nevertheless, Kluski was again highly cooperative. Researchers thoroughly checked the room prior to commencing the session, locked the door, and maintained the usual hand controls (Geley himself always controlled one of Kluski’s hands). These sessions were highly successful, and showed a few striking elements that deserve note.
As mentioned already, most of the hand-moulds obtained were of normal adult size, and showed extremely fine detail (for example, see Figure 5).
Some of the wax gloves were even thinner than those at the Institute, i.e., less than a millimeter thick. As Geley points out, these had to be produced with just a single, very rapid ‘dip’ into the paraffin, the entire operation lasting less than a minute.
Several of the Warsaw moulds involved two interlocked hands, rather than a single hand (Figure 6) ; this, as we shall see, is significant in view of a fraud hypothesis.
Finally, in one session the researchers actually saw the production of the wax moulds. In other words, they witnessed a continuity between the visual apparitions of luminous hands and the creation of the moulds. As Geley describes it :
We had the great pleasure of seeing the hands dipping into the paraffin. They were luminous, bearing points of light at the finger-tips. They passed slowly before our eyes, dipped into the wax, moved in it for a few seconds, came out, still luminous, and deposited the glove against the hand of one of us. (Geley, 1927, p.234)
There are two conceivable means for fraudulently producing the wax gloves. Either they were made by sleight of hand during the sessions, or they were produced ahead of time and smuggled into the IMI laboratory. I will now examine these two hypotheses.
Fraudulent production of the moulds during the sessions.
It is quite obvious that Kluski could not fraudulently produce the moulds with his own hands during session. Leaving aside the accentuated vigilance of the controllers, and the fact that he remained totally immobile, the moulds obtained were visibly distinct from his own in every way, starting with the size : as mentioned, the wax moulds were child-sized. Kluski was not a midget, and there were no midgets attending the IMI sessions. As if it were necessary, Geley sent some moulds and Kluski’s fingerprints to the Criminal Identification Department of Paris and obtained a written statement from the Head of the department that the two did not match. Also annoying, in the context of a fraud hypothesis, is the small foot mould ; we would be rather hard pressed to imagine how Kluski (or anyone else, for that matter) would manage to repeatedly dip his foot in the wax, free it from the fragile wax mould, and then tie his shoes back on, without being noticed.
Could the moulds have been created using a prefabricated inflatable cast (e.g., made of rubber), which could be quickly withdrawn once the wax mould is formed ? This seems highly implausible. The Kluski moulds exhibit extremely fine detail, from palm lines to nails to fingerprints. Every professional that was interrogated stated that these moulds were first-generation, and definitely derived from a human hand - indeed a living hand, and not that of a corpse. Also, rubber and similar substances are not rigid, and would serve poorly as temporary casts for the hot wax. Indeed, simulations done at the IMI, to reproduce wax moulds out of rubber supports yielded rather pitiful results (figure 3).
What about the use of a prefabricated rigid cast, made from a human hand ? As mentioned, the wax moulds were exceptionally delicate : at most a millimeter thick. They were also totally seamless, i.e., without any evidence of having been put together from independent parts. Earlier researchers (e.g., Aksakof, 1906) had claimed that such moulds are in and of themselves impossible to reproduce through mechanical means - hence their claimed status as PPOs. In fact, the IMI researchers did succeed in producing apparently seemless wax moulds in the laboratory, by plunging a hand mould into warm wax, allowing the wax mould to cool, using a very fine razor to open it and extract the rigid hand cast, then joining the two halves of the mould and replunging them into warm wax to conceal the split and seal them together. This long process only succeeded when the wax moulds were 3 to 4 times thicker than the moulds obtained during the sessions ; otherwise, the mould would break into pieces as soon as they tried to cut it. So, could Kluski have used a hidden rigid cast to produce the wax in real time, during the session ? The IMI simulations suggest how difficult that would have been : Kluski would have had to free his hands, bring out the concealed prefabricated hand mould, dip it into the hot wax, allow time for the wax to cool off sufficiently to create a cast, split open the wax moulds to pull out the prefabricated cast, join the halves, dip them in the paraffin again to conceal the seam, and finally deposit the wax mould on the table. All this, of course, within 1 to 2 minutes, and without once, over the course of 11 successful sessions, being noticed by either of the controllers holding his hands.
A simpler alternative would have been to use a prefabricated soluble cast (e.g., made of sugar). It would considerably lighten the burden of the cheating medium if the original cast could just disappear without a trace. But for this to work, Kluski would need to dip the original cast along with the dripping wax moulds into a bowl of cold water (or some other solvant). As mentioned, the IMI researchers explicitly decided against using the cold water bowl as a precaution against this possibility.
It seems obvious to me that any real-time scenario amounts to accusing the controllers or others present as part of the fraud. This collusion would have to involve at least two of the sitters, as the perpetrator would have had to ‘break’ the circle in order to free his or her two hands. In the Warsaw sessions that produced double-hand moulds, sleight of hand would have actually necessitated the collusion of three individuals.
One final detail argues against the idea that the moulds were mechanically produced during the sessions. In all subsequent simulations at the IMI, the cooling of the wax moulds took 15 to 20 minutes in the air, and 7 to 8 minutes with the aid of a bowl of cold water. During the Kluski sessions, the entire process, from start to end, took 2 minutes.
I believe that the hypothesis that the moulds were fraudulently created during the session can be safely rejected.
Production of the moulds prior to the sessions
That leaves the second hypothesis : that the wax moulds themselves (and not just a cast) were created in advance, smuggled into the laboratory, and simply posed on the table without being noticed. It is clear that the the medium would have faced considerable difficulties in smuggling extremely fragile objects into the IMI laboratory, and pulling them out of his ‘tight fitting clothing’ without being noticed. How he would successfully do this over the course of 11 sessions seems still more mind boggling. But such considerations are really not necessary to refute the fraud-hypothesis here. Based upon the use of the coloring agents and the cholesterol, there is no doubt that at least three of the wax moulds (those for which the hidden controls were introduced) came from the researchers’ own wax. There is no reason to suspect that it was otherwise for the rest of the moulds. Once again, it appears that the only possible means for rejecting the materialization hypothesis, is to suppose that the researchers themselves had been part of a conspiracy to create convincing moulds. Interestingly enough none of those who have attempted to cast doubt on the authenticity of the Kluski moulds (e.g., Coleman, 1994 ; Polidoro and Garaschelli, 1997) have even tried to accuse Geley, Richet, and others of fraud. This is a pity, because their attempted counter-explanations are quite weak, and work only by ignoring or misrepresenting substantial parts of Geley’s account (see Barrington, 1994 ; Fontana, 1998).
Can the Kluski moulds thus be considered to be true PPOs ? If by this we mean an ‘impossible’ object, one which in and of itself constitutes irrefutable evidence for a paranormally created object, the answer is clearly negative. Although Geley had initially hoped to obtain objects impossible to produce through mechanical means, he went to great lengths to falsify his own expectations, and indeed was able to artificially produce analogous wax moulds in his lab (though, as mentioned these never approached the extremely delicate Kluski moulds).
The evidential value of the moulds thus depends upon the conditions in which they were produced. Geley cogently argued that the experimental controls and precautions employed during the IMI sessions conclusively demonstrate the paranormal origin of these objects. Eighty years later, I believe his conclusion still holds.
Aksakof, A. (1906). Animisme et Spiritisme : Essai d’un examen critique des phénomènes médiumniques. Ed. Paul Leymaire : Paris
Barrington, M.R. (1994). The Kluski hands. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 59, 347-351.
Coleman, M.H. (1994). Wax moulds of ‘spirit’ limbs. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 59, 340-346.
Fontana, D. (1998). Spirit Moulds : observations on Kluski and his critics. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 63, 43-45.
Geley, G. (1927). Clairvoyance and Materialization : A Record of Experiments. T.Fisher Unwin Limited : London
Polidoro and Garaschelli (1997). Spirit moulds : a practical experiment. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 62, 58-63.