Tyrrell, G N M - Psychical Research and Religion – Two cases of violent psychokinesis – stones and metal tools
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Psychical Research and Religion - G. N. M. Tyrrell
Several well-observed poltergeist cases offer points of interest and it is difficult to choose examples. Here are two perfectly independent cages which occurred in different countries, yet manifesting just the same features. To see the parallelism fully, the original accounts should be studied.
CASE NUMBER 1 [Journal SPR Volume xiii pgs 69-72]
The first of these poltergeists selected a blacksmith’s shop in Vienna for its escapades. It was investigated there in 1906 by a reliable observer, an Austrian member of the Society for Psychical Research, whom we will call Mr. Wienstadt.
This gentleman found the blacksmith much disturbed because tools, bits of iron, screws, his pipe and so on were flung about the place. When interviewed by the investigator, he was wearing a stiff hat for protection and had a lump on the back of his head where a piece of iron had hit him. One of his two apprentices (aged fifteen and eighteen) [there are not infrequently adolescents in these cases] had a red spot on his cheek similarly caused.
On his next visit, Mr. Wienstadt found that all the tools had been removed into boxes and placed outside the shop because a heavy hammer had several times whirled past the blacksmith's head.
On his third visit he found a policeman and several newspaper reporters, while the blacksmith, outside his shop, not daring to go in, railed at the authorities for allowing such impossible things to happen. It appeared that two petroleum lamps had been smashed during the night and seven window-panes broken.
During the afternoon, Mr. Wienstadt remained to observe and saw or felt thirty objects being thrown about; but he adds the comment:
"I never saw any of the objects actually fly; with most of them I heard only the fall, with some I heard a slight noise indicating the direction from which they came. Some dropped quite close to me, three struck me on the head.
"The first phenomenon that I witnessed there was a piece of iron about the size of a walnut touching me quite lightly on the top of my felt hat, and from there dropping on to the floor; I didn't know at first what it was that had touched me. The middle (top) part of my hat was folded in, almost touching the top of my head. The piece of iron must have jumped out again as otherwise it could not have fallen on to the ground. [It weighed 2 1/2 ounces.)
"Later on I was struck by a small blade of steel on the back of the neck, and the third time by a fragment of a clay pipe; this and some other small pieces which flew about I had deposited on a wooden shelf on the wall where they were well out of the reach of the boys' ordinary manipulation. There were several people present, watching through the window and standing in the doorway, but I do not think any of them can be connected with the phenomena. The more people came the scarcer they grew.
"The last happened at about 4.30. The smith had gone out of the shop soon after the 'spook' began, lamenting his fate and finding evidently some consolation in the curiosity of the neighbours to hear the latest developments. I stood most of the time in the middle of the shop, keeping my eyes on the boys, my back turned to the smithy. About 4.30 I watched the boys drilling a hole in a piece of iron, their hands and evidently their attention being fully occupied. Suddenly the younger of the two screamed out and was nearly bent double with pain and fright while an iron measuring instrument flew on to the floor; it had struck him pretty sharply on the left temple, causing a swelling and a drop of blood. I had noticed the instrument a little time before lying on the work-bench about a yard behind the boy.
"The objects that flew about in my presence were mostly light, their weight never exceeding about a quarter of a pound. I have read up most of the' cases in your Proceedings, and do not think I was in any way careless in my observations."
Mr. Wienstadt also says that as he sat in the smithy with no one at all between his right hand and the wall, a piece of iron struck him coming from the unoccupied end of the room. He also describes an incident with a small picture of a church, about 6 by 4 inches, which had been sprinkled with holy water and which some of the bystanders expected would be left alone on account of its holy character.
"I leant casually on the bench,” he says, “with my back to the wall, about a yard from the picture, and, as stated above, saw after a few minutes the picture fluttering to the middle of the shop in an almost parabolic direction. It did not fall, but behaved rather like a sheet of paper; it did not break on the floor. As a rule the objects, however, seemed to be thrown with considerable violence, . .“
The phenomena lasted about two months. Then a story appeared in one of the papers saying that the matter had been cleared up; the boys had been caught red-handed by the police and had owned up to being the cause of the whole disturbance. They had been sent away and nothing more had happened. Next day, one of the boys came to Mr. Wienstadt, asking for his help, and saying that he had never done anything wrong, denying that he had owned up to anything except that he, with his comrade, had once, after working hours, tried whether they could reproduce the phenomena. The case came into court, and the boys were dismissed with a slight fine. Mr. Wienstadt gave detailed answers to questions which were asked him. He also sent for inspection the piece of iron which had "felt like the lightest touch from a finger-tip" on his hat. The fact that boys are present when things are thrown about of course raises suspicion. In this case the disturbances stopped when the boys were sent away, which increases the suspicion. But one should not jump too readily to the obvious conclusion before studying a number of cases.
CASE NUMBER 2 [Journal SPR Volume xviii pgs 165-182]
Here is another one which compares interestingly with the above. It was investigated by Sir William Barrett, F.R.S. In the following abridgement, fictitious names have been substituted for the real ones. In the autumn of 1917, Mr. Jordan, of Weston Manor, on the outskirts of Easton, had a dug-out built in his garden as a refuge from air-raids. The dug-out, besides being below ground, was excavated into a small hill. The builder employed on the work complained almost daily that sand and stones hit him while he was at work, but no one paid much attention.
One day the owner of the house, Mr. Jordan himself, visited the dug-out while the builder and his assistant, a boy of sixteen, were away at dinner. He descended the steps into it and was emphatic that he was quite alone. After inspecting the work, he turned to leave.
"I closed the door at the bottom of the steps," he says, "and before taking my hand from the latch a stone came violently into contact with the inside of the door, and immediately afterwards three others in quick succession. I was somewhat startled, and did not move for a few seconds. I then cautiously proceeded to push the door open. Immediately another stone struck the door violently so that I again closed it. In quick succession from seven to ten stones struck the wall adjacent to the door, and also the door itself, and after waiting probably half a minute to a minute, one single stone hit the door.
I waited probably a minute and then cautiously pushed the door open and found the stones I had heard deposited immediately behind the door. As I pushed the door open the stones had to be pushed along the ground at the back of the door. I went into the dug-out again and satisfied myself that no person was near."
He adds that the stones varied in size from that of an orange to double the size. The builder said that spurts of sand would come from nowhere and put out the candles by the light of which he was working. Then stones would begin to fly about which would hit him but not the boy. The builder was bruised and often his head was cut and bleeding. He suspected the boy and said he had caught him once or twice throwing sand.
Then the candles were protected by being enclosed in glass jars, and the builder remarked to the boy: 'Now we've done them all right.' Instantly the jars were both knocked off by two stones which came from nowhere apparently. He said the two stones came together and not one after the other.
"On Monday," the builder proceeded, "I was standing in the dug-out with my head close to the ceiling and felt something like some dirt come on my head. I asked the boy what was on my head, at the same time putting up my hand to brush it away, and he roared with laughter as he said a brick was hovering there. As my hand got near it, it fell down and dropped on the ground near my feet. The brick must have come up off the ground, as there were no bricks anywhere else. The brick weighed about ten pounds."
This was written by the builder in a signed statement. A later witness considered that the builder's account of the events was exaggerated; but one may note the extraordinary parallel between this incident and the piece of iron which hovered on Mr. Wienstadt's hat.
The engineer in charge of the local electric power station was called in by the builder because the latter had a vague idea that electricity might have something to do with it. The engineer gives a full account of what he experienced with a plan of the dug-out. He says a heavy stone hit the builder when the boy was some distance away. On one occasion the boy himself was struck by a stone.
A Canadian soldier stationed near by testified in a sworn statement to having witnessed many of these phenomena, including spurts of sand, which, he said, came at an angle from the direction of the ceiling towards the candle and looked "as if it was shot from a pea-shooter."
A local tailor was another witness. He began by taking a high hand with the boy, whom he accused of being responsible for everything, and told him that there was to be no more nonsense.
Afterwards, in the dug-out, he received a handful of sand in his face and caught the boy in the act of throwing it, which, to him, was proof positive of the boy's complete guilt! The press took the view that the story was "bunkum"; while a few were inclined to think that it might be the work of German spies who were tunnelling under England!
There seems to be no doubt that stones and sand did fly about, for the bricks in the dug-out were chipped. We have the owner's evidence that they did so while the builder and the boy were not there. Finally a petroleum expert arrived and set the whole matter at rest (at least to his own satisfaction) by declaring that it was all due to an evolution of natural gas. Natural gas, he said, had been discovered not many miles away and could account for all the phenomena which could reasonably be believed. The rest could be put down to exaggeration on the part of the witnesses. The gas, he thought, would be methane. He said he detected traces of inflammable gas at the top of the alcove though he admitted that he had obtained no conclusive proof of the presence of methane.
He said: "The discharge of comparatively small quantities of gas would probably be quite sufficient to cause most of the phenomena described, but it is more probable that slight explosions, not necessarily accompanied by any loud sounds or well-marked flame, may have taken place also."
Only the front internal wall of the dug-out was lined with brick; the back consisted of alternate layers of stone and sand. "Pieces of the hard band," he says, “were projected violently, sometimes striking the brick wall and making distinct abrasions."
It is usually wise to accept the views of a specialist on his own subject; but one feels that one would like to ask this expert some further questions. If the pressure of gas in the wall was high enough to project stones across the dug-out with sufficient force to mark the brick wall opposite, how was it that the gas did not come out through the sand and fill the dug-out? Surely it must have done so; yet neither the builder nor the boy nor anyone else ever complained of gas.
Indeed, they worked by candle-light, and if the dug-out had been full of inflammable gas, they could hardly have escaped a serious explosion.
Perhaps the petroleum expert felt the force of this difficulty when he added that there might have been slight explosions not necessarily accompanied by any loud sounds or well-marked flame. But slight explosions where? Presumably in pockets in the sandy wall behind the stones that were shot out. But could explosions of gas shoot stones the size of an orange violently across the dug-out without making any noise or showing any flame?
It seems incredible.
Also, would not such explosions have brought down the sandy wall of the dug-out? Again, how did the gas behind the stones become ignited? Candles well in front of the wall could scarcely ignite the gas in pockets behind the stones. Again, all the witnesses, including the petroleum expert himself, agreed that most of the stones came from the sandy back wall of the dug-out. Reference to the plan given shows that stones from this back wall, in order to strike the door, as Mr. Jordan said they did, must have got round a double right-angle bend.
The natural-gas theory, therefore, leaves a good many pertinent questions unanswered. The boy evidently threw sand and may have thrown stones on occasion; but he cannot have done so when he was not there, and if the phenomena were genuine, any normal boy would try to imitate them.