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Spectropia, the popular 19th-century method of conjuring demons and ghosts
08.08.2017
10:13 am
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The world is ever divided into the superstitious and the enlightened, and while the enlightened have shown the clear trend of being on the rise, it doesn’t always seem so. Ghosts and horoscopes and good-luck charms abound, and poindexterish explanations of why they are all poppycock merely tend to make one an un-adored party pooper—even though this is certainly the correct view.

There’s a tendency to consign all of pre-modernity to the superstitious (one might say “religious”) camp, but that really isn’t the case. Mathematicians and scientists have existed for the entirety of recorded history, which must be the case since language and writing technologies are products of the experimental mindset. The Enlightenment was a turning point, as rationality was increasingly given a central place in the arrangement of social affairs, and even if irreligious skeptics were (and are) outnumbered, you could still always count on finding someone in the vicinity willing to scoff at the hocus-pocus of superstition.

In the 19th century, some scholars were able to use interest in the paranormal to undermine its premises entirely. One such person was J.H. Brown, who published a book in New York City under the title Spectropia; or, Surprising spectral illusions showing ghosts everywhere and of any colour in 1864. The book was popular enough to merit a print run in London in 1865 and a Dutch edition in 1866.

Here is the cover of the U.S. edition:
 

 
To produce his popular occult-adjacent book, Brown relied on the optical phenomenon of “cone fatigue,” whereby prolonged exposure to an image of a specific color produces an afterimage (with reversed colors) in the eye for a few seconds after the initial image is replaced with a white field. A common example is an inverted image of the U.S. flag, which produces a more or less color-accurate version in the eye afterward.
 

 
Brown didn’t use the flag—he used pictures of demons and angels and skeletons. In the book Brown stated that his goal was
 

the extinction of the superstitious belief that apparitions are actual spirits, by showing some of the many ways in which our senses may be deceived, and that, in fact, no so-called ghost has ever appeared, without its being referable either to mental or physiological deception, or, in those instances where several persons have seen a spectre at the same time, to natural objects

 
Here are Brown’s instructions on how to see the “spectres”:
 
To see the spectres, it is only necessary to look steadily at the dot, or asterisk, which is to be found on each of the plates, for about a quarter of a minute, or while counting about twenty, the plate being well illuminated by either artificial or day light. Then turning the eyes to the ceiling, the wall, the sky, or better still to a white sheet hung on the wall of a darkened room (not totally dark), and looking rather steadily at any one point, the spectre will soon begin to make its appearance, increasing in intensity, and then gradually vanishing, to reappear and again vanish ; it will continue to do so several times in succession, each reappearance being fainter than the one preceding. Winking the eyes, or passing a finger rapidly to and fro before them, will frequently hasten the appearance of the spectre, especially if the plate has been strongly illuminated.
 
Here’s an amusing item from the New York Daily Tribune of September 13, 1864, in which the publisher introduces to the public “the new ghost marvel” that can produce “without apparatus, machine, or expense” all manner of demons and ghosts “upon the wall, the doors, the curtains, or any white surface whatever!!”
 

 
I figure this was sort of the Magic Eye of its day. Below are some of the images from Spectropia, but you can see the whole book at Public Domain Review.
 

 
More spectral demons and skeletons after the jump…....
 

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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08.08.2017
10:13 am
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Séance Fiction: Vintage ‘ghostly’ photos of ‘con artist’ spiritualist medium at work

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There are at least two unacknowledged prerequisites for a successful career as a spiritualist medium. Firstly, the ability to “deep throat”—essential for hiding the yards of cheesecloth, newspapers and other materials the medium will regurgitate during a séance as “ectoplasm.”  And the iron discipline not to laugh—no matter how ridiculous the situation.

Eva Carrière was adept at both and had a successful though highly controversial career as a spiritualist medium at the turn of the 1900s. Carrière was so convincing she managed to expunge any reference from her biography to her previous attempt at a career as a medium—which led her to be exposed in the press as a fraud.

This was in 1905 when Carrière first exhibited her psychic powers in Algiers. She gained considerable attention for her ability to apparently make the spirit of a 300-year-old Brahmin Hindu called Bien Boa appear at her séances. Bien Boa was exposed by a local newspaper to be no more than a cardboard cutout and an Arab coachman named Areski. To avoid the ensuing bad publicity, Carrière merely changed her name to “Eva C” which (somehow) worked and she was able to re-established herself as a highly respected medium whose believers included Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the renowned psychic researcher Baron Albert von Schrenck-Notzing. Of course, not everyone was so easily fooled. Harry Houdini described Carrière as a con artist—claiming her whole act was no more than cheap theatrical magic tricks.

In a bid to prove the authenticity of Carrière’s psychic powers, Baron von Schrenck-Notzing documented a series of test séances between 1909-1913. The results were eventually published in his book Phenomena of Materialisation in 1923. The Baron’s photographs of these sessions purported to show Carrière expelling ectoplasm and causing spirits to “materialise.”

Carrière’s séances were said to verge on the pornographic. She often stripped naked and demanded the participants insert their fingers into her vagina to ensure no ectoplasm or other materials had been hidden there. A similar examination was offered after each séance, but as the Public Domain Review notes:

Whether the audience members were obliging is up for debate, but reports that Carrière would run around the séance room naked indulging in sexual activities with her audience suggests perhaps so. One can imagine that this deliberate eroticisation of the male audience might go some way to explaining the ease with which these “investigators” believed the psychic reality of the seances. A decision of fraud on their part would distance their involvement somewhat from the special and heightened context of the séances and so cast their complicity in, or at the least witnessing of, sexual activities in the sober (and more judgemental) cold light of day.

When “spiritualist debunker” Harry Price examined Schrenk-Notzing’s photographs of Carrière’s alleged psychic powers, he dismissed them as tawdry fakes and denounced Carrière as a fraud. He also suggested the images of spirit faces were photographs clipped from newspapers. This was to prove a moot point.

In 1920 Eric Dingwall with V. J. Woolley of the Society for Psychical Research in London, investigated Carrière’s claims. An analysis of her “ectoplasm” was shown to be nothing more than “chewed paper.” The ghostly apparitions were photographs from the magazine Le Miroir—whose masthead was often visible in Schrenk-Notzing’s photographs.

Back issues of the magazine matched some of Carrière’s ectoplasm faces, including Woodrow Wilson, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria and the French president Raymond Poincaré. This is something Schrenk-Notzing tries to address in his book, but with not much success. A 1913 newspaper article explained how “Miss Eva prepared the heads before every séance, and endeavoured to make them unrecognizable. A clean-shaven face was decorated with a beard. Grey hairs became black curls, a broad forehead was made into a narrow one. But, in spite of all her endeavours, she could not obliterate certain characteristic lines.”

The Society for Psychical Research’s report proved Carrière was a fraud. However, it was covered up thus allowing Eva Carrière and her supporters like Baron Schrenk-Notzing to claim her psychic powers were genuine.
 
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March 13th, 1911.
 
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June 7th, 1911.

Many more of the Baron’s photos of ‘ectoplasm’ and ‘ghosts’ from Eva Carrière’s séances, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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04.14.2016
10:06 am
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‘Interview with a Poltergeist’: The story of the Enfield haunting

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The haunting began on a quiet summer’s evening, in August 1977, at the home of single-parent Peggy Hodgson and her four children in the north London borough of Enfield. The first sign that something strange had happened came around bedtime when shuffling and banging sounds were heard by Peggy’s two daughters Margaret (13) and Janet (11) in their bedroom. Peggy thought her children were acting up, and went upstairs to tell them to get to sleep. She entered the girls’ bedroom to see both of them were in their beds staring at the wardrobe and chest of drawers. When Peggy entered the room, the shuffling noise came from behind her. She turned to see a chest of drawers move away from the wall. Thinking it a joke, Peggy chastised the girls for playing tricks. Both Margaret and Janet said they had not done anything. Peggy pushed the drawers back against the wall. The shuffling sound came again, and the drawers moved away from the wall and quickly towards Peggy. This time she could not move them back. Banging was then heard on the wall and throughout the house. Peggy took the girls downstairs where the thumping and banging continued.

Terrified, Peggy took Margaret, Janet, Johnny (10) and Billy (7) to the home of her next door neighbors, Vic and Peggy Nottingham. Vic, a builder, decided to investigate and entered the house where he heard loud banging from different parts of the building, always moving, never in one place, as he later said:

“I went in there and I couldn’t make out these noises—there was a knocking on the wall, in the bedroom, on the ceiling. I was beginning to get a bit frightened.”

Unsure what to do, Peggy called the police thinking it was all a malicious hoax. However, during an interview with WPC Carolyn Heeps things began to get weird as a chair was witnessed by Heeps and the family levitating and moving across the room. Heeps gave a sworn affidavit confirming that “A large armchair moved, unassisted, 4 ft across the floor.” She checked the chair for possible wires or any devices that could have made it move. She found none. The police left stating the incident was not a police matter and were unable to do anything to help.
 
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Where’s Scooby-Doo when you need him? The Hodgson children.
 
The banging and strange incidents continued. Peggy had hardly slept and was deeply worried for her children—but no one appeared to be offering any real help. She therefore called the Daily Mirror who sent a reporter and a photographer to the house in Enfield. They set up in the living room but, after waiting several hours, nothing happened. Then, as they decided to leave, chaos broke out: LEGO bricks and marbles flew unaided through the air and were hurled around the room. Photographer Graham Morris took pictures but when developed none showed clearly what he, his colleague and the family had witnessed.

Events escalated and concerned for the family, the Daily Mirror called the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to investigate the case.

Maurice Grosse was an inventor and successful business who had recently joined the SPR. He had served as an engineer in the Royal Artillery during the war and had gone on to produce a variety of highly successful inventions—perhaps the most famous being his rotating advertising signs. A quiet, quizzical man with a very practical outlook, Grosse was sent by the SPR to investigate the claims. He was skeptical at first, but was soon convinced that the strange events at the house in Enfield were caused by a poltergeist focussed on eleven-year-old Janet Hodgson.
 
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A ‘possessed’ Janet Hodgson with Maurice Grosse.
 
Over the next 18 months, Grosse together with writer and parapsychologist Guy Lyon Playfair witnessed nearly 2,000 different “paranormal” incidents—from flying objects, levitation, items spontaneously combusting, to the most chilling of all: Janet projecting a “demonic” voice of the ghost of deceased former tenant Bill Wilkins, who could “talk” through Janet for hours at a time.

Most skeptics claim the children were responsible for the paranormal activity in the house—a claim which is troubling in itself as its suggests on one level that the experiences of children are not valid, or at best not to be believed. Moreover, it does seem unlikely that Janet and Margaret were able to sustain the level of “poltergeist activity” and “possession” for over eighteen months—a feat most adults would have found difficult if not impossible. The cause of the events has never been satisfactorily explained.

Since 1977, the Enfield poltergeist has been the subject of much scrutiny—most being skeptical of events—though those who witnessed and experienced the strange paranormal activity claim the events were real, as Janet Hodgson said in the documentary Interview with a Poltergesit in 2007:

“I know from my own experience that it was real. It lived off me, off my energy. Call me mad or a prankster if you like. Those events did happen. The poltergeist was with me—and I feel in a sense that he always will be.”

This is an extremely well-made and balanced documentary about the events in Enfield called Interview with a Poltergeist, in which all of the main players were interviewed—Janet and Margaret Hodgson, Maurice Grosse, Guy Playfair as well as doctors, members of the SPR and the resident skeptic, who generalizes rather than rebuts the examples given.

The story has inspired various motion pictures, TV dramas and most recently SKY TV’s superb three-part series The Enfield Haunting with Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson and Matthew Macfadyen, which I do recommend, details here.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.09.2015
04:29 pm
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Ghost of black-eyed girl seen for first time in 30 years
09.30.2014
09:45 am
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Black-eyed girl selfie

The reappearance last year of a ghoulish apparition at Cannock Chase in England has led to considerable media frenzy in the UK and an allegedly “in-depth investigation” by paranormal investigator Lee Brickley.

Last summer, Lee wrote of his receiving an email regarding a sighting of the ghost of a black-eyed child. According to Lee, this ghoulish spectre was first seen in Staffordshire in the 1980s. The sighting created worldwide interest in “the black-eyed girl,” which eventually led to the ghost becoming an Internet sensation.

In 2013, the ghost has been seen by a mother and daughter while walking through woods at Cannock Chase. The account given to Lee Brickley was very similar to previous reports of the “Black Eyed Child—who has coal-black pits for eye sockets.”

The woman (given the pseudonym Mrs. Kelly) was out walking in the woods with her daughter, when they heard horrific screams which seemed to come from a terrified child somewhere in the woods.

“We instantly started running towards the noise,” she said. “We couldn’t find the child anywhere and so stopped to catch our breath. That’s when I turned round and saw a girl stood behind me, no more than 10 years old, with her hands over her eyes.It was as if she was waiting for a birthday cake. I asked if she was OK and if she had been the one screaming. She put her arms down by her side and opened her eyes. That’s when I saw they were completely black, no iris, no white, nothing. I jumped back and grabbed my daughter. When I looked again, the child was gone. It was so strange.”

On his website, paranormal investigator Lee said the woman’s experience mirrors the earlier sighting:

“In the summer of 1982, my aunt was 18 years old, and she and her friends would often meet on Cannock Chase in the evening time, probably in much the same way many teenagers still do today. One evening, just before dark, she heard a little girl frantically shouting for help. Rushing to locate the sound, she stumbled upon a dirt track and caught sight of the girl, about six years old running in the opposite direction. When my aunt caught up, the girl turned around and looked her in the eyes, and then ran off into the dark woodland. Her eyes had been completely black with no trace of white. There was a police search but to no avail. At the time, no-one had any reason to believe anything paranormal was going on. The girl certainly appeared to be of flesh and blood.”

Brickley goes on to speculate about these “black eyed kids” writing:

... if you look around on the Internet and read a few books you’ll find many different theories as to their origins. Some people believe them to be extraterrestrials, vampires, ghosts and even inter-dimensional entities, but there is one immense difference between the sightings of black-eyed children around the world and the stories coming out of Cannock Chase: only on Cannock Chase do the sightings consistently happen during the daytime.

In the U.S many reports suggest that black-eyed children often appear in groups, regularly knocking at the door’s of unknowing victims and asking quietly if they may “come inside.” Some other stories tell the tale of these devilish children appearing in the back-seats of cars when a driver is travelling alone at midnight, or walking around on empty early morning streets asking anyone around for help, but I wonder what would happen if you offered them your assistance? What would happen if you let them inside your house? Not many people know, but there are a few reports knocking around, like this one, originally posted in pararational:

“......so I let them in, the one who needed the toilet just walked in and straight up the stairs so I shouted up its on the right, I don’t know why I didn’t find this strange but most toilets are upstairs and as he was young I didn’t think anything of it. I told the other one that the phone was down the hall, “thanks” he said and he started to walk down the hall, I followed him and then I suddenly came over with a really awful feeling like something bad was going to happen, I became very nervous and a bit shaky I still cant explain how that happened, the boy stopped at the phone and paused, “everything OK?” I asked, he turned to me and looked up and that’s when I saw his eyes, and trust me I will never get that picture out of my head, I was so scared that I couldn’t even scream as I turned to run down the hall the other kid was standing at the end.”

“I became very dizzy and struggled to stand up, he walked closer to me and said that they had been sent to collect me, I still couldn’t bear to look into his face, I pushed away from him and ran into my front room and slammed the door shut, I was in so much shock about what was happening I couldn’t think straight, this is something that you don’t even expect to happen even in movies. After standing against the door for around and hour or so I finally got the courage to make a run for the back door, so I ran to it and unlocked it, I ran to the back of my garden and jumped over the fence not once looking back…..”

Very frightening indeed…..

Of all the paranormal phenomena experienced on Cannock Chase, black-eyed children have to be the most eerie by far. The only advice I could offer anyone who comes across these unhallowed, unrelenting and unsympathetic strays is: start running while you still can!

Last year’s sighting of the Black-Eyed Child has now made the front covers of several UK newspapers (must be a quiet week…) as well as local papers—none of which mention that the sighting actually/supposedly took place in 2013.
 
Via the Daily Mirror

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.30.2014
09:45 am
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