|Some Psi Light Phenomena
by Anthony R. Utting
Reports of psi light phenomena, apparitions included, suggest that psi, whatever it may be in definable terms, can on occasion become known in the wave-bands occupied by visible light. This part of the measurable electro-magnetic spectrum covers shorter wavelengths than the brain-scans and allied investigations which are currently the acceptable scientific non-invasive methods of investigating the brain mechanics of human perception. The resulting assumption, that all perception and mental/psychical processes are generated by the brain, has become akin to dogma in majority scientific thought. Perhaps, though, the shorter length waves (Angstroms as opposed to metres) need a little more attention, in order to investigate what may derive from, or via, them in terms of ‘sense data’ to trigger our human perceptive faculties. Whilst the brain-scans yield very impressive data about what our brains are doing in defined circumstances, the relative ease of using the wonderful technology by which scans are undertaken may be suspected of skewing the consideration of the data available to the human senses in favour of the broader – and easier to access – end of the overall spectrum.
By crude analogy, how far would astronomy have progressed if only optical telescopes were used? Accordingly, I would like to draw attention to records of phenomena which suggest some consistency of pattern in the luminous spectrum. In particular, they have appeared without recourse to high technology, and arguably spontaneously in their particular contexts. My sources are; Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 57, January 1989, and also Vol. 59, October, 2011; An Extraordinary Journey (2010), an autobiography by Stewart Alexander, a physical trance medium; ‘The Scole Report’, Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 58, November 1999. Also I refer to two non-scholarly works by Dannion Brinkley, At Peace in the Light (1995), and Saved by the Light (1994), which, taken on their own terms, are interesting within the scope of the subject. This is, I own, a slight list of sources. It does, however, cover the main points I am going to make.
Let me start with Indridi Indridarsson. As the form of his name suggests, he was an Icelander. He came to sudden celebrity in 1905 when he demonstrated a degree of mediumship which, had he lived, would have made him a figure of wonder and controversy for the next half century at least. Unfortunately, he died in 1912. Some very credible, and tough minded, pillars of Reykjavik society examined his abilities with a commendable thoroughness. Needless to add, their efforts both then and when reported failed to please those who were not involved but, as is the way, knew that quite obviously the investigators had been tricked by means too trivial to be worth the trouble of spelling out for posterity. Lately, Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson and Dr. Loftur R Gissurarson investigated the Indridi phenomena and have published in the SPR Proceedings, Vols. 57 and 59 as mentioned above.
The setting for the first light phenomena associated with Indridi was one of the séances arranged for him to demonstrate his contact with ‘the spirits’. It is probably important to remember that for those who sat at these séances, there was assumed to be a clear gulf between the here-and-now and the other state/place where dwelled the ‘spirits’. In our own day such boundaries are rather blurred, knowledge of psychology and suspected types of consciousness having credited the here-and-now with a greater psi potential than would, I think, have been assumed by the sitters at the Reykjavik séances in 1905. It would not have occurred to them that their own psi potential, expressing itself individually or in some sort of group or collective form, might conceivably have had some contribution to the effects associated with the entranced Indridi. Nor can we say that their outlook was more, or less, accurate in this respect than might be our own! We can only consider the reports of these sessions as given in the SPR Proceedings.
“The phenomena comprised self-luminous ‘lights’.. (Vol. 57, pp. 72 ff) The sitters first saw them manifested as flashing lights or light spots in the air or on the walls of the séance room. The light appeared to be mostly ‘tongue-shaped’. During the evenings that followed, the flashes grew in strength and had different forms and colours – some were white and others reddish. Just before the clearest lights appeared Indridi was heard to groan painfully.” Hjorleifsson Kvaran, one of the investigators, writes, “They had somewhat different colours; some were very white; others were more reddish. Once, during an experimentation séance at my home, 58 lights were counted. These lights were of various shapes; some of the lights were round, while others were oblong. They were of different sizes: some were small, about an inch in diameter, but others were stripes of light around two to four feet long.” (Translation from the Icelandic by Gissurarson and Haraldsson. All other quoted passages will be from the same source, unless otherwise stated.) On other occasions, “There were a few times when a light spread on a whole wall behind the medium, which was about twelve feet wide and ten feet high. Sometimes it looked like a sort of net of light, with circular meshes: slightly darker circles around bright flashes. Again, the light was sometimes continuous, similar to the glow from a great fire. Those spreads of light were never as white as the small lights were, but were more reddish.” (Kvaran. 1906) Often peculiar clicks were heard accompanying the lights. The clicks followed each other very fast. Rev. Haraldur Nielsson, professor of theology at the University of Iceland, reported that strong gusts of wind seldom failed to blow through the room before the lights appeared. The wind was so strong that the hair waved on the sitters’ heads and the pages of notebooks, lying open on their knees, flapped vigorously. Indridi’s controls told him that the gust had to accompany the light phenomena. Also, production of light phenomena appeared to cause Indridi great pain, a feature to bear in mind.
The similarity, however superficial, between these accounts (a selection of many) and the record of the events at Pentecost suggests a conceptual ‘nettle’ which needs to be grasped and examined to consider a possible underlying supportive ‘mechanism’ expressible in human terms. In an inter-linear translation, the Pentecost events (Acts 2.1ff) are rendered thus, “..they were all together upon the very thing, and occurred suddenly out of the heaven noise as-even being borne of blowing violent, and it filled whole the house where they were sitting, and there were seen to them being distributed tongues as if of fire, and it sat down on each of them, and they became filled all of spirit holy, and they started to be speaking to different tongues according as the spirit was giving to be uttered to them.”
Both at Jerusalem (Acts 1.14. Luke 24.53) and at Reykjavik, a highly motivated and committed group of people were concentrating upon what was derived from the ‘other state/ place’ which transcended the here-and-now. (And still does, however it may be conceived.) Thus there was a high state of expectation; the disciples having enjoyed several encounters with the risen Christ, and the Reykjavik group being in regular touch with the ‘spirits’. Such a community of ‘energy’ (for desperate want of a better term) focussed by those present upon the goal of better contact with the ‘other state/place’, may have had some influence upon their normal human perceptions, and altered and/or enhanced them. The possibility may be argued at length - but not here. This ‘energy’ might be supposed to have permitted normally dormant features of the psyches of all involved to achieve a contact with whatever state/place exists beyond the here-and-now 3D+Time experience of the world we usually deal with, the wind and light resulting as an expression of it. We might argue for these phenomena to be an extension of the engaged psyches of those present, perhaps. Equally, the ‘other state/place’ may, in the favourable circumstances prevailing, have been able to use its own intelligence and volition to join with our here-and-now, directing such phenomena as would readily indicate its reality. These two possibilities overlap to some extent, are but two of many, and will depend for their appeal upon the views and experiences of those considering the human condition in relation to the total, absolute and ultimate possibilities which indicate God. So far as is evident, there were no atheists in the Reykjavik group. The disciples may certainly be assumed to be believers.
The wind and lights were not necessarily ends in themselves, however. The Reykjavik ‘spirits’ stated that they were trying to produce full materialisations, and eventually succeeded in forming a human figure within a column of light. Kvaran, in 1906, reported thus (Vol. 57. p. 74); “On two evenings one could clearly see a man standing in the light. He was slightly above average height, muscular, well-built, with broad shoulders. His back was turned towards us. Now one would naturally think it was the medium that we saw in the light. I would assert that it was not. I was certain, at least the other time that the vision was seen, that the medium was in the corner crying out loudly and screaming, some eight to ten feet from the place where we saw the man standing. The lights, as in all the major phenomena, seemed to cause him much pain. He began to shriek and scream when the lights were coming, and he continued to do so for as long as they continued. They came in bursts, with small pauses in between, and during the pauses the medium was calm. After the séances he said he felt as if he had been beaten up.”
The Light pillars were always accompanied by “a low, buzzing sound” (Vol. 57, p. 83). What might this have been?
Attempts were made to hold séances in subdued red light, but this seemed to reduce the power of the phenomena to a great extent. “In accordance with the wishes of the controls, who complained of the limiting influence of the light, we gave it up. On the other hand, they emphasized the importance of the greatest possible caution in order to exclude the slightest vestige of fraud on the part of the medium. That is why it soon became a custom that one of us sat down beside the medium and watched him carefully, placing an arm around his waist or holding one or both of his hands.” (Nielsson. Vol. 57, p. 71) Lights were switched on from time to time, but with ‘the spirits’’ permission. Even so, the sitters considered that the interval between the request being made, granted, and the resultant illumination was too short for Indridi or an accomplice to have been undetected in any trickery involving levitations, apports, independent voices, and other such phenomena. On one occasion an electric torch was accidentally switched on, eliciting the rebuke “You damned scoundrel!” from a disembodied voice, but Hannesson comments that “.. the torch flashed and lit up the whole inner area (i.e. a section of the hall made more secure by being contained within a net). Indridi was hanging limp in his chair in the same position as the watchman (next to him and holding him) had stated, and everybody sitting still in their own seats.” (Vol. 57. p. 122)
During the winter of 1906-07 materialisations of ‘spirits’ occurred. One such ‘spirit’, Jensen, “..always appeared in a luminous, beautiful, light pillar, just above the average height of a human figure, and slightly broader. Inside this light we saw a human form but it was not clear enough, for example, for the facial expression to be clearly seen. This light pillar was very white but with a little tinge of blue. It was very luminous but did not flicker. However, it did not radiate much light. We saw the medium when the light pillar stood near where he was sitting in a trance although otherwise there was darkness in the room.” (Thorlaksson. Vol. 57, p. 83). This luminosity of the pillar and the figure within it seems to have had no particular radiating power, but was a passive and limited light owing its brightness to its contrast with the dark room. Jensen has been identified by the authors as a (late) citizen of Copenhagen. One evening he reported that he had just visited that city, and there seen a fire at a specific location, at a given time, and effectively dealt with by the fire brigade. This was all verified subsequently. There was no means (e.g. cable, radio) by which this information could have come to Reykjavik in real time and by normal means (Haraldsson. Vol. 59, pp.195 ff.). This incident must surely rank as a ‘watertight’ instance of psi, be it classified as a spirit communication, ESP, or any other preferred paranormal means of information transfer.
The light pillar would seem to be composed of ‘ectoplasm’, however defined and produced. The lights themselves appear to be a form of it, or something closely akin to it. In Stuart Alexander’s An Extraordinary Journey, he recounts (p. 169) the appearance and development of a light column; “..we saw on the floor a white disc about two feet in diameter… I could see that the disc was linked to [the medium] who was in deep trance and knew nothing about what was happening… this disc began to evolve into a vertical white column which built to about five feet of solid white ectoplasm…the top part of it began to twist towards me and I could see that there was the semblance of a human face within it, but I could not recognise who it was..” This occurred in a sitting arranged in a semi-circle with the medium at its mid-point. When a cabinet is used by the medium, “Paranormal lights are frequently seen, usually appearing just in front of the cabinet, or occasionally, a soft light is seen originating within the cabinet. It has become common in recent years for ‘Dr Barnett’ (a control) to declare that it is he who cups a light in his hands and moves around the room to display it closely to the sitters in the front row. (p. 141)” Also, “.. ‘Dr Barnett’ appeared to be cupping a psychic light in his hands. Only those directly in front of him could see it clearly, and those behind not at all.” (p. 198)
This implies that the light probably has reality and is not hallucinated in some way by the individuals present. Also it would seem that the control has solidity, in that his body is opaque. Obviously all sorts of arguments arise, for and against the nature of the light/s and the ‘spirit’ control. Possible psychic/physical contributions to the proceedings by the sitters are not considered, either. These matters are not likely to be resolved by probing the printed page. Stewart Alexander reports what he has done/observed, and is sincere in his own interpretation of it all. He as alive to fraud as any sceptic.
Given a possible connection between light phenomena and the production of ‘ectoplasm’ (whatever this is), it seems appropriate to quote an account, by Ann Harrison (a prominent spiritualist) of ectoplasm produced by Stewart Alexander (op. cit. pp. 104-5). “..[the controls] asked us to test the red light (mounted on the underside of a glass-topped table in front of Stewart, so that they could assess the brightness that the ectoplasm would be able to stand during the séance. Then the ectoplasm was extracted.. via the navel, we were told, we could hear it fizzing and crackling [cf Indridi’s ‘rapid clicks when the lights were coming] … It sounded more like crinkly cellophane… [A control] asked us to turn out the light and asked me to put out my hand with the palm up…. My wrist was grasped by strong fingers so that I could not move it…I then felt something moving across my fingers. Its texture was like a small, thin plastic bag full of wobbly liquid. The ‘bag’ rolled up and down across my fingers and then suddenly it was gone… fingers grasped my wrist. This time what seemed to be a piece of thin but roughish ‘cloth’ was pulled across my fingers… And it felt quite different from a previous occasion when it had felt just like silk voile…[A spirit said] ‘Let us try it in what, I suppose, could be described as its dematerialised state. That is to say the state it takes before it takes on solid form. Give me your hand again… then across my hand came cool air… Very gently, a beautiful cool breeze [again cf Indridi] was flowing across my hand. The feeling was difficult to describe because it was nothing like somebody blowing on your hand, but more like the cold air that flows on you when you open a freezer.”
Once more, we may make of this what we will. The frustrating part of ‘ectoplasm’ production, as with any physical manifestations at a séance, is that the current Spiritist lore is averse to the proceedings being overlooked by infra red cameras in any form. The fate of Helen Duncan who was, we are told, in a trance state when police raided one of her séances in 1956, was to have received “.. electrical type burns to her breasts and stomach. These were believed to have been caused as a result of the shock sustained by the rapid return of the ectoplasmic energy to her body. Less than six weeks later she was dead, with the Spiritualist Movement firmly believing that she had been murdered as a result of rank ignorance.” (Alexander, p. 63) A ‘retired scientist’ warned off Stewart Alexander from IR surveillance, active or passive, in these terms, “..How does he [an IR advocate] know exactly what the nature of ectoplasmic energy is and how it may react to infra-red and what the consequences may be to the medium? Quite simply, no-one knows…. You, my friend, could literally be fried. (idem. p73).” Understandably, given the prospect of such a possibility, no-one capable of producing ectoplasm has so far felt inclined to experiment. The problem would seem to be the extent to which normal human faculties are ‘stretched’ extra-dimensionally (perhaps) in creating ectoplasm, and ‘active’ IR wavelengths (i.e. lamps), at least, upsetting some sort of natural balance in a medium’s vicinity to his detriment, no matter how hot and stuffy the séance room is in the first place. Since physical mediumship producing ectoplasm is nowadays scarcely heard of, the issue does not seem likely to be resolved very soon.
To digress from respectably scientific considerations of psi light phenomena, and to dwell a little on an account of “electrical type burns”, let us turn to one instance of their effect on an individual in psi terms. The account, which must be taken at face value since no probing has apparently been done around it, is provided by Dannion Brinkley, American author of At Peace in the Light and Saved by the Light, written for a ‘popular’ readership. Brinkley depicts himself as a product of small-town USA who did some ‘hooligan’ specialist Service in Vietnam, acquiring a good knowledge of electronics in the process. This he used to start up a couple of businesses, and life was going tolerably well for him until he was struck by lightning during the course of a telephone conversation. He suffered severe burns, and his nervous system was badly damaged. In its place he began to deal with life through some sort of ESP, e.g. “Once I awoke to find a nurse in my [hospital] room. I was sure she had been talking to me about her husband, and saying things that weren’t very nice. I spoke up immediately, ‘Just leave him,’ I said. She looked at me for a minute and began to rub her chin. ‘How did you know what I was thinking about?’ [she asked]” (At Peace, p. 21). A great deal more based around the same unintentional ‘mind-reading’ theme comprises the gist of Brinkley’s books. He also passes on information/revelation he received from ‘spirits’. Underlying the whole is his experience of another ‘place’ where there is great and loving light. This light seems to be, in his view, the ‘energy’ [ghastly term!] which takes over from his damaged brain and neural networks. It accords very well with other, better attested, accounts of light in psi and mystical experiences. My opinion, which is all I can advance, is that Brinkley is not writing 100% fiction. If so, light in some form or other has a basic and normal function in human perception, conscious and unconscious, which has only come to prominence in his case because of exceptional clinical circumstances.
In the SPR’s ‘Scole Report’ (see above) the investigators report some 33 separate types of activities by anomalous lights (pp. 190ff), e.g. darting around at great speed; entering and lighting up crystals; being visible to investigator A but not to investigator B who is sitting next to him; moving around inside a closed glass container; going into ping-pong balls, moving them around, and placing them in locations judged impossible to be accessed by fraud. These are just some examples, and parallels with some of the Indridi phenomena are evident. On the whole, these lights seem to be ‘real’ in time and space, rather than subjectively perceived. “So something must be going on..” as SPR investigator Rob Charman might put it!
And to pin down what that ‘something’ is, provides the motivation for all psychical research. In the case of light phenomena we have something – light – which we think we understand somewhat, and define physically in terms of wavelengths and particles (photons). If these comprise the only sort of light there is, it ought to be possible to find out under what circumstances it can sometimes appear to us without any obvious or so far discovered source. On the other hand, if some form of light is a phenomenon of the mind and/or brain, subjectively perceived only, by what means can a group of people all report the same appearance of it, and why can some then not perceive what is visible to their companions? Then there are the noises, air currents, and ‘ectoplasm’, all likewise physical and yet, perhaps only partly physical. What can be said with certainty of these? Are they entirely connected with light? If so, what sort of light do they prefer? Light or no, we are in the dark!
Clearly there is a pretty wide field for researches in and around light. Perhaps it is a trifle neglected in the psi context.