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Observations placeholder

Tyndall, John – Science and the Spirits – 03 Auras and magnets



Type of Spiritual Experience


Baron Dr. Carl (Karl) Ludwig von Reichenbach (full name: Karl Ludwig Freiherr von Reichenbach) (February 12, 1788 – January 1869) was a notable chemist, geologist, metallurgist, naturalist, industrialist and philosopher, and a member of the prestigious Prussian Academy of Sciences. He is best known for his discoveries of several chemical products of economic importance, extracted from tar, such as eupione, waxy paraffin, pittacal (the first synthetic dye) and phenol (an antiseptic). He also dedicated himself in his last years to research a field of energy which he believed was emanating from all living things, which he called the Odic force.

It transpires from this conversation that the medium could see auras, which is somewhat fascinating.  Notice how this ability is neither investigated nor even further examined.  This would have been an ideal time to test the types of aura seen and the relationship between auras and health or for example moods.  But no, Tyndall’s objective is to attempt to prove her a liar using trickery.

She is very tactful in response to his question about the magnet “No; I am not en rapport with you”.  This is another way of saying that spiritually you are a dead duck and about as open and sympathetic to being communicated with as a spitting cobra.

But he comes a cropper here because we can now bring in Mr Alexander, who also spotted this little trick.

A description of the experience


Some time previously I had visited Baron Reichenbach, in Vienna, and I now asked the young lady who sat beside me whether she could see any of the curious things which he describes—the light emitted by crystals, for example?

Here is the conversation which followed, as extracted from my notes, written on the day following the seance.

Medium: - “Oh, yes; but I see light around all bodies.”

I - “Even in perfect darkness?”

Medium: - “Yes; I see luminous atmospheres round all people. The atmosphere which surrounds Mr. R. C. would fill this room with light."

I - “You are aware of the effects ascribed by Baron Reichenbach to magnets?"

Medium: - “Yes; but a magnet makes me terribly ill.”

I - "Am I to understand that, if this room were perfectly dark, you could tell whether it contained a magnet, without being informed of the fact?"

Medium.—"I should know of its presence on entering the room."

I – “How?”

Medium.—“'I should be rendered instantly ill.”

I - “How do you feel to-day?"

Medium,—“ Particularly well; I have not been so well for months.”

I— “Then, may I ask you whether there is, at the present moment, a magnet in my possession?"

The young lady looked at me, blushed, and stammered,

“No; I am not en rapport with you."

I sat at her right hand, and a left-hand pocket, within six inches of her person, contained a magnet.


Spiritualism:  A Narrative with a Discussion – Patrick Proctor Alexander
APPENDIX.  Professor Tyndall 'on science and spirits: ‘

In yet another instance, as it seems to me, Dr. Tyndall was not quite so above-board as he might have been. A young lady present (the Medium of the party, in fact) having asserted that she was made ill by the presence of a magnet, the little dialogue which took place between her and Dr. Tyndall was thus brought' to a conclusion: —

Medium: ‘I should know of its presence on entering the room.'
‘How ? ‘
Medium : ‘I should be rendered instantly ill.’
‘How do you feel to-day ?’
Medium : ‘Particularly well ; I have not been so well for months.'
‘Then, may I ask you whether there is at the present moment a magnet in my possession ? '
The young lady looked at me, blushed, and stammered, ‘ No, I am not en rapport with you.’
I sat at her right hand and a left-hand pocket within six inches of her person contained a magnet’

 Dr. Tyndall, however, as in the other cases, ‘kept the secret to himself,' and did not produce the magnet. On a point of gentlemanly tenderness to the lady, it no doubt was that he did not.

His gentlemanly feeling, unhappily, in this instance, expressed itself a little at the expense of Scientific strictness.

….we can fancy some of those concerned in the Seance retorting certain of his remarks about them in a way he might not quite like, yet might find it not easy to reply to. Against certain of these — very specially the Medium and a particular person, X. — he very plainly implies a charge of wilful imposture : his ' conviction,' not obscurely hinted, is, that in this practical sense they were - untruthful persons; and his little Paper is naught, except as proving them so to his own satisfaction, and that of his intelligent readers.

But X., as before the world and his friends, is probably as reputable a person as Dr. Tyndall — though inferior in Scientific attainment — and as little held capable of untruthfulness ; in which case, it seems to me, he might here have some word to say to Dr. Tyndall.

‘You broadly insinuate against me’ he might say, ' imposture and untruth ; I am conscious of my own truthfulness, but by no means quite so well convinced of yours. Your procedure has throughout been underhand ; you now promulgate facts, as explanatory of the phenomena, which you carefully " kept to yourself" at the time,  as unwilling that they should be tested, perhaps as afraid lest they might be so. That indeed they were facts at all, we have nothing but your bare word to certify. As to the magnet you say you had in your pocket, why the deuce didn't you produce it ? I desire evidence that you had it; and, failing such evidence, must meantime decline to believe you had. You very plainly hint I am fraudulent in the interest of a stupid imposture : I beg to return you the compliment; and see cause to suspect you of fraud, in the interest of the Science you are so proud of, which that so-called imposture might confound, if you failed before the world to discredit it.

The personal interest in the matter is obvious which might tempt you to unfairness in this matter; my personal temptation to unfairness on the other side, is, I venture to say, not by any means quite so obvious.’

To all which, what could Dr. Tyndall reply?

Solely, that he was known to be incapable of such fraud as that insinuated. X. would then of course rejoin, that he ' was known to be incapable, etc.’ ; and as neither of the gentlemen could possibly be at any loss for witnesses to his perfect integrity of character, here the matter must needs rest.

 I venture to think there must be something radically at fault in a method of Scientist investigation which, after a considerable circuit, lands us at so beggarly a result as this. I trust it is needless to say that no one can for an instant suspect a man like Dr. Tyndall of any such conduct as that above indicated ; not the less the retort (supposed) of X. is plainly, from his own point of view (supposed), a perfectly competent and legitimate one; and its competence, which cannot be denied, is the measure of the Scientific incompetence of Professor Tyndall's procedure.

The source of the experience

Tyndall, John

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