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Robert Bell - Stranger than Fiction – 06 The table abruptly forces its way across the room, pushing on before it the persons who are on the side opposite to that from whence the impetus is derived



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Robert Bell, 'Stranger than Fiction', Cornhill Magazine 2 (1860), 211-24.

Of a somewhat similar character is another movement, in some respects more curious, and certainly opening a stranger field for speculation. Here, still drawing the picture from the reality, we must imagine the company seated at a large, heavy, round table, resting on a pillar with three massive claws, and covered with a velvet cloth, over which books, a vase of flowers, and other objects are scattered. In the midst of the seance the table abruptly forces its way across the room, pushing on before it the persons who are on the side opposite to that from whence the impetus is derived, and who are thrown into confusion by the unexpectedness and rapidity with which they are driven backwards on their chairs. The table is at last stopped by a sofa ; and as the sitters on that side extricate themselves, a space remains open of a few inches between the table and the sofa.

All is now still ; but the pause is of short duration. The table soon begins to throb and tremble ; cracks are heard in the wood ; loud knocks succeed ; and presently, after surging backwards and forwards three or four times, as if it were preparing for a greater effort, it rears itself up on one side, until the surface forms an inclined plane, at an angle of about 45°. In this attitude it stops.

According to ordinary experience everything on the table must slide off, or topple over ; but nothing stirs.

The vase of flowers, the books, the little ornaments are as motionless as if they were fixed in their places. We agree to take away our hands, to throw up the ends of the cover, so as to leave the entire round pillar and claws exposed, and to remove our chairs to a little distance, that we may have a more complete command of a phenomenon, which, in its marvellous development at least, is, I believe, new to us all. Our withdrawal makes no difference whatever ; and now we see distinctly on all sides the precise pose of the table, which looks, like the Tower of Pisa, as if it must inevitably tumble over.

With a view to urge the investigation as far as it can be carried, a wish is whispered for a still more conclusive display of the power by which this extraordinary result has been accomplished. The desire is at once complied with.

The table leans more and more out of the perpendicular ; two of the three claws arc high above the ground ; and finally, the whole structure stands on the extreme tip of a single claw, fearfully overbalanced, but maintaining itself as steadily as if it were all one solid mass, instead of being freighted with a number of loose articles, and as if the position had been planned in strict accordance with the laws of equilibrium and attraction, instead of involving an inexplicable violation of both.

The source of the experience

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