Our intelligence and the ability to evaluate a report
More than once we have highlighted the limits and difficulties of our mind in assessing the truthfulness of what we are told about events not directly witnessed by ourselves. In particular, the events of the past cannot be reconstructed except through testimonies and clues, for a correct evaluation of which a level of intelligence is needed not everyone is gifted with. This is one of the reasons why, in many cases, the correct independent evaluation of documents is replaced by a generic collective opinion, the more dominant the greater is the number of those who share it. When the testimonies on paranormal phenomena are to be assessed, the psychic predisposition of each of us definitely takes the upper hand, leading to overestimating in one sense or another the testimonies in favor and those contrary to the reality of these phenomena. The issue of the evidence necessary to ascertain the genuineness of mediumistic phenomena has been dealt with several times – even within the SPR, since its origins – without being resolved once and for good.
Also in the case of the experiments carried out by William Crawford with the medium Katleen Goligher – of which we spoke in last month's page about the Alien matter – the reliability of the medium, and therefore the paranormal nature of the events (levitations, raps, etc.) object of the experiments, was questioned, on the basis of the single testimony of Edmund Fournier d'Albe (1868-1933), who in his book The Goligher Circle - May to August 1921 (which can be downloaded from the Library) gave a summary account of the séances in which he participated in that period at the Goligher circle, coming to the conclusion that the medium was cheating, with the complicity of the other members of the circle. This single testimony was enough to discredit the medium, even in the eyes of other personalities devoted to psychical research, consequently diminishing the interest in the long and patient experimental work carried out by Crawford. So, in our day, when we look for information on this case and on Crawford's work, the warning that is almost always highlighted is that «the medium was later exposed by Fournier d'Albe». A case that presents analogies with that of Eusapia Palladino, treated on this page. But can we get a sensible idea of how things really went?
Fournier d'Albe and the Goligher Circle
Before comparing the various testimonies, let me give some information on the eclectic personality of Edmund Edward Fournier d'Albe: born in London in 1868 to a German father and an English mother, he completed his schooling in Düsseldorf. He was a physical engineer, a chemist, an inventor and a scientific popularizer, but he also had deep linguistic interests, in particular for the Celtic language and traditions, for which he showed a genuine enthusiasm. He was founder and leader of the Pan-Celtic Movement, which aimed to enhance the identity of the Celtic nations, and in particular of Ireland. However, some of his eccentricities, and the fact that he was born in London of a family of French Huguenot origin, made that he was sometimes ridiculed – and in any case considered a foreigner – by those Irish people whose national cause he was pleading. In 1899 he taught mathematics at the University College in Dublin, and starting in 1910 he was assistant to the physicist Oliver Lodge at the University of Birmingham. In October 1914 he moved to India to teach physics at the University of the Punjab in Lahore. In 1927, after a stroke that left him with his right hand paralyzed, he retired, continuing to type and publish articles on topics of interest to him in specialized journals.
Fournier d'Albe's thought was first influenced by Herbert Spencer, whose vision of human evolution had reached a dominant cultural position in Victorian England. Later he became – with the physicist Oliver Lodge and the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace – one of the few English thinkers inspired by the philosophy of monism, which attempted to reconcile the scientific knowledge of the physical world with a universal vision of the creative Mind. This orientation gave rise to two works: Two New Worlds (1907) and New Light on Immortality (1908). Fournier d'Albe's interest in psychical research can be traced back to 1907 – or even earlier – when he began studying William Crookes' experiments on materializations. In the following years, his proximity to Oliver Lodge at the University of Birmingham probably stimulated his commitment to mediumship research. Around 1920 he translated into English the fundamental text by von Schrenck-Notzing, Phenomena of Materialization.
In May 1921 Fournier d'Albe was introduced into the Goligher Circle at the request of the editor of the books by William Crawford: «In view of the wide publicity secured by Dr. Crawford's researches and their great importance, his literary executor requested me early in 1921 to undertake a further series of researches with the same medium and circle, in order, if possible, to obtain an independent confirmation of his results and theories and to collect further data concerning the nature of these marvellous manifestations». (The Goligher Circle, page 6). He was introduced to the Goligher family by McCarthy Stephenson, who had previously collaborated with Crawford by attending several séances (article on Light, March 5th, 1921, page 148: Is Dr. Crawford's Evidence Convincing? - An Established Scientific Discovery). During their first meeting, Fournier d'Albe agreed on a fee of remuneration for the medium and the other members of the circle, so that – for a few months – all the séances were reserved exclusively for his investigations: «it was agreed that the medium should give no sittings to anyone but me». It should be noted that until 1919 neither the medium nor other members of the Goligher Circle had asked Crawford for any reward. Then, in March 1919, the researcher – on his own free will – had decided to compensate the Goligher family for the commitment shown in collaborating in his experiments (Fd'A, page 57). It may be that, after Crawford's death, Kathleen Goligher – who had now achieved some reputation as a medium – continued to hold paid séances. It was also agreed to include Crawford's widow, who had assiduously collaborated in her husband's experiments, in the group of the regular sitters.
Fournier d'Albe carried out his tests with the Goligher Circle during 20 séances: the first took place on May 16, 1921, the last on August 29 of the same year. The séances were mainly held in an apartment rented by Fournier d'Albe himself in Chichester Street, in the center of Belfast, and furnished so that one of the rooms could be used as séance-room. The quotations that will be used for the comparison of the testimonies are taken from the texts signed as follows:
The commitment and intellectual honesty of William Crawford
First of all, it must be confirmed that William J. Crawford was actually what he said he was: his existence, his studies, his work assignments, his marriage, his home, are proven by numerous documents that still exist (in this regard, you may consult the aforementioned site www.thecrawfordmistery.com). The research and experiments he carried out with the Goligher Circle cannot be doubted. Even before his RPP book was published, the reports of his experiments were published, almost always weekly, in the magazine Light: 37 articles starting from from June 12, 1915 (vol. XXXV, page 280) until April 29, 1916 (vol. XXXVI, page 139). Various other personalities took part, occasionally, in the séances of the Goligher Circle, witnessing Crawford's experiments and at times collaborating with him. In particular, I would mention the interventions of Sir William Barrett (1844-1925), the famous English physicist and parapsychologist, and of Whately Smith – who later changed his surname to Carington – (1892-1947), another well-known scholar of parapsychology, gifted with remarkable critical spirit.
Of the séances in which they took part, each of the two researchers wrote an accurate report, published in vol. 30 (1918/19) of the Proceedings of the SPR. On page 334 (Barrett's report) we read: «Through Dr. Crawford's kindness I was permitted to join the circle in Belfast, during the Christmas vacation, 1915, and was allowed to bring with me a medical friend, Dr. W., who kingly consented to make any pathological or physical examinations of the medium that might be necessary... the red light illuminated the room sufficiently to enable us to see the sitters and the table. The gas flame inside the red lantern was at my request subsequently raised, so that there was quite enough light to see the objects and sitters in the room». We will examine later the various statements regarding the room's lighting. Barrett then described the phenomena he could witness, including raps of strong intensity, levitations of the table and the attempts he made – unsuccessfully – to displace it from its position. The following evening there was another séance, for which Crawford had prepared his measuring instruments: after about half an hour of waiting, however, the operators warned that there would be no phenomena, because the medium's psychic forces could not be used, due to physical causes. As later ascertained by dr. W., the young lady's menstrual period had started. The séance was postponed for a few days, and Barrett was invited to participate, but due to other commitments he had to leave Belfast, and no longer had the opportunity to attend the Goligher Circle.
Much more detailed is Walter Whately Smith's analysis, presented as a comment on Crawford's first book, RPP, and published in the same issue of the Proceedings, on page 306. In addition to offering a complete report of the séance of December 9, 1916 (page 312 and following), in which he participated, Whately Smith examined all the possible chances of fraud (page 318 and following), explaining the reasons why he believed that – in this case – the physical phenomena he had witnessed should be considered genuine. Whately Smith's full article can be downloaded from the Library. Here are some of his observations regarding the lighting of the séance-room and the visibility of the medium and the sitters: «It is difficult to give any precise idea of the degree of illumination given by the gas. I can, perhaps, best indicate it by saying that it was a good deal stronger than I should care to use in a photographic dark-room... after about ten minutes, I could clearly see every object in the room unless it happened to be in deep shadow... The member of the circle were holding hands and all hands were clearly visible to me... The table... finally rose clear off the floor to a height of at least 12 inches... it did this some six or more separate times. On each occasion I bent down and looked clear under the table. I was particularly well situated for this observation... and thus to satisfy myself that there was nothing in contact with any of the legs».
In any case, none of those who took part in the séances, attending also Crawford's experiments, ever questioned the researcher's good faith and correctness. Any intention on his part in wanting to deceive the readers of his articles and books must therefore be ruled out. Indeed, we should regret the fact that our forma mentis, determined by the cultural distortion of our time (in which any form of deception is in deed allowed, tolerated, and considered natural, as long as it is successful), is also forced to take into account such a hypothesis, which does wrong to the memory of a serious and disinterested researcher. Crawford was well aware of the fraud allegations to which he exposed himself, regarding which he expressed himself in these terms (EPS, page 149): «Time should not be wasted in eternally seeking to verify the actuality of the phenomena. When the experimenter has satisfied himself that the phenomena with which he is dealing are genuine he should not seek to satisfy all the world, for that is impossible... Psychic phenomena are quite as real as any other and the man who nowadays denies their occurrence on a priori grounds is not worth wasting time upon».
The lighting issue in the séances with Fournier d'Albe
We therefore only have to verify whether – in the course of his experiments – Crawford was deceived by the medium and the other members of the Goligher Circle. Fournier d'Albe's claims about the medium's alleged fraud attempts have no value, as we will see shortly, firstly because they are not supported by any evidential confirmation (apart from the testimony of Fournier d'Albe himself), and then because referred to circumstances very different from those of Crawford's experiments. One often has the impression that those who question the reality of certain paranormal phenomena expect from others the same fideistic naivety that they attribute to those who believe uncritically to the reality of any kind of these phenomena. Instead, those who want to expose a fraud should be required to provide the same convincing proofs required of those who want to demonstrate the authenticity of the same phenomena, and at least a plurality of testimonies.
During his first séance, Fournier d'Albe obtained physical phenomena similar to those on which Crawford had carried out his experiments, as he himself recognized (Fd'A, page 9): «The table then began to tilt violently and to twist and slide about. Then it rose some 18 inches clearly into the air, remaining up for several seconds and then dropping suddenly. At St's (McCarthy Stephenson) request it was raised up, turned over towards the medium, turned over on to its top and dropped with its top on the floor. It was then seized and turned back in the reverse direction... I rose and grasped the table, and asked it to resist push and pull, which it did, as if held by a couple of strong men». At this point it would have been appropriate for Fournier d'Albe to repeat Crawford's experiments for verification. Instead he focused his attention on what he believed to be an insufficient illumination, and began to devise all sorts of strange experiments which, based on his personal considerations, should have established without a shadow of a doubt the genuineness of the phenomena.
About the fact that the lighting was insufficient to control everything, it may be that he was right, but it could also be that his eyesight was not at its best. According to his testimony (Fd'A, page 9 and 10): «The illumination was not sufficient to show anything below the level of the table top... The illumination was furnished by a box with sides of ruby glass, containing a batswing gas-burner. It sufficed to control most of the hands of the sitters, but none of their legs». But Fournier had also seen the table turning upside down and resting on the floor with its legs up, so at least in that case the visibility of the room's lower part had to be better. I have already quoted Whately Smith's remarks on the room's lighting at the séance he attended. Here is McCarthy Stephenson's testimony (Fd'A, page 71): «This all took place in good red light such as is used in a photographic developing room... When the fourth exposure was made the visibility was clear enough to enable everyone in the room to detect any movement of Miss Goligher or any member of the Circle, all of whom were sitting at some distance from the medium».
Another occasional participant in the séances so wrote (Fd'A, page 72 and 73): «The light used was an ordinary gas-jet behind red glass on a level with, or perhaps a little higher than, the tops of the sitters' heads. To me this light appeared quite sufficient to enable one to detect an arm or leg in contact with the table, as, from my position in the Circle, I could see the feet and arms of those opposite me and also those of the medium... While the table was raised I was allowed to walk around three sides of it, and made sure no one touched it. The fourth side was that towards the medium, and I understand no one is allowed between the medium and a raised table. I could see her and the space between her and the table quite distinctly, so that I satisfied myself she was not in contact with it». William Jolly, Mrs. Crawford's brother, wrote (Fd'A, page 74): «The light was always red, but sufficient for me to see my extremities under the small table, and I always had my hands passing round to detect possible fakes». Seamus Stoupe, a colleague of Crawford at the Technical Institute, also gave a similar testimony (Fd'A, page 75): «I was a frequent attendant at the Goligher séances in Dr. Crawford's time and assisted him with the photographic work... I cannot conceive how the phenomena witnessed by myself and Dr. Crawford on those many occasions could have been the result of trickery or fraud. The light was such that suspicious movements of any member of the group would certainly have been observed... I have seen the table rise on many occasions, when any assistance given to it by any member of the Circle either by their hands or by their feet or by a cord stretched between them is quite out of the question».
W. G. Mitchell, Vice-President of the Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures, who had attended a séance with the Goligher Circle, wrote that: «...Dr. F. (Fournier d'Albe) complains that "the light is always poor, especially below the surface of the table"... I must say I was exceedingly surprised to find so much happening in so bright a light. The illumination was located on the left-hand side of the chimney-breast, approximately about six feet from the floor, over the mantelpiece... The gas was turned about three-quarters on. The pictures on the walls were quite discernible, the sitters wore well under observation. I was particularly interested in the matter of lighting. I was much gratified to find Dr. Crawford's séance room so well lighted. I had a long conversation with him about it and I clearly recall all that he told me. He explained that he was puzzled about the effect that the light apparently had on the phenomena. He told me he had experimented by moving the light a few inches from its usual position, only to find th at the phenomena ceased. Just as soon as it was readjusted the phenomena again took place, and the intelligences intimated that the light must be in no way altered or they could not work. I, together with Dr. Crawford, stood at the farthest distance from the light and read some writing that I had with me; this to test the quality of the light in the room» (Fd'A, page 76).
It is important to remember that Crawford always maintained a very careful and – so to speak – respectful attitude towards what he called the operators, usually following the instructions they gave to him, and asking for their consent when he wanted to carry out some new experiment. This attitude of his was independent of whether he considered them to be autonomous intelligent entities (as he was inclined to think), or that they were attributed to an unconscious secondary personality of the medium: since he was interested in the results of his experiments, Crawford wanted to create the most suitable conditions for the phenomena to regularly occur, and he had noticed that the collaboration of the operators ensured the almost constant success of his experiments. This disposition was reciprocated by the young medium, who participated – in good mood and without complaining – in the séances and experiments he conducted, although being, among all the members of the Goligher Circle, the one that showed the least interest in mediumistic phenomena (something that was also confirmed by the subsequent events of her life).
A Londoner quoted only with its initials (B. Sc.), due to his important public position (Fd'A, p. 77), who had attended 5 or 6 séances of the Goligher circle, stated that: «...all this took place in a room where there was a lighted gas-jet surrounded with red glass, enabling everything to be seen – the relative positions of the sitters, the movements of the table, the bell, the trumpet – with three times the clearness, at least, with which one can see the objects in a photographic dark room. Once or twice an illuminated slate was put on the floor under the table, that being the least lighted spot in the room, and I saw the movements of the small hand-bell as it jumped and tilted and rang, silhouetted against the phosphorescent surface on the floor». Horace Leaf (1886-1971) – a well-known spiritualist, clairvoyant and psychometer, author of some books in the field of psychical research – also gave his testimony (Fd'A, p. 78): «Sufficient light is admitted to make all objects in the room visible, a fact which adds greatly to the scientific value of the proceedings, although too much light perceptibly weakens the energy». Ernest W. Oaten and Hanson G. Hey, respectively President and Secretary of the Spiritualists' National Union, signed the following statement (Fd'A, p. 79): «We have attended some of these séances, and beg to be allowed to state that on each occasion on which we have been present the phenomena have occurred in sufficient light to observe clearly all the sitters, including the medium».
Finally, here is another testimony of Sir William Barrett dated March 24, 1917 (Fd'A, p. 79): «The table then inverted itself, its four legs being in the air and the top resting on the floor. Grasping two of the upturned legs, I found the table resisted my strongest efforts to lift it, or even displace it, from its position. I could see that none of the feet of the sitters rested on the table, which appeared glued or bolted to the floor. After I had returned to my place outside the Circle, I distinctly saw the table rise from the ground and return to its norm al position with its legs on the floor. If the medium, or any of the sitters, had attempted to lift the table and replace it in its original position I should have seen their hands grasping the upturned legs of the table, but this was not the case». Various other statements, also by very robust people, testify to the attempts – always unsuccessful – to move the table resting upside down on the floor, despite the chair of the medium – a slender girl of normal weight – was never close to a wall, nor could anything be found on the floor that prevented the table from moving.
Fournier d'Albe's experiments
Starting from the second séance, Fournier d'Albe carried out a series of experiments designed by him which – according to him – should have proved beyond any doubt the mediumistic nature of the phenomena: «The guiding idea of the experiments was to study the properties of the "psychic structures" producing the phenomena while making their performances more and more evidential. I wanted to work up towards performances which would be impossible by ordinary means, so as to place their "psychic" nature beyond a doubt» (Fd'A, p. 13). This already gives us an idea of the substantial difference between the experiments devised by Crawford, aimed essentially at measuring the quantitative elements of the forces involved (so that he could then formulate an explanatory theory in the light of the acquired data and subsequent experimental confirmations), and the experimental naivety of Fournier d'Albe, who improvised a series of increasingly complex (and sometimes incomprehensible) experiments, without realizing that, lacking an adequate documentation, they could not have had any evidential value. Furthermore, nothing guaranteed that the medium's resources, or those of the operators, could successfully perform the complex actions devised by Fournier d'Albe's imagination, while Crawford had always limited himself to a restricted range of physical phenomena that could be performed regularly (and which also occurred in the first séances with Fournier d'Albe).
To give an example of the evidential difficulties to which Fournier d'Albe exposed himself, one of the experiments of the second séance was conceived as follows: «"...there are some objects under the table including a small wicker basket containing a tennis ball, a rubber ball of the same size, and a large cork. I wish you to take one of these objects out of the basket and drop it on the floor, preferably the tennis ball..." I entered the circle... and found the rubber ball on the floor near the medium's feet» (Fd'A, p. 11). This experiment shows in itself its uselessness and inconclusiveness because, despite having been a success (at least partially), it left Fournier d'Albe with the suspicion that the medium had moved the ball from the basket to the floor with her own feet, taking the wrong object because of the darkness. But it did not occur to him the fact that, even if the moved object had been the tennis ball (as requested by him as preferably), the suspicion of deception could not have been eliminated.
Immediately after, Fournier d'Albe performed another senseless experiment: «"Now I wish you to try to drop the tennis ball into my hand. I shall cover my hand with a red silk handkerchief and crouch under the table, holding my hand on the floor, palm upwards". After about five minutes, during which movements of the objects in the basket were heard, something dropped on the floor, just grazing my hand. I grasped it and found it was the large cork». Although Fournier d'Albe considered the result of this experiment as an unsuccessful attempt, it did not occur to him that – if there had been deception – it would have been very simple for the trickster to recognize by touch and choose one of the balls, instead of the cork, whose shape was not spherical and whose dimensions were smaller. Fournier then placed the objects in a milk jug, and asked for the cork to be pulled out: after a few minutes the sound of something dropping on the floor was heard, and, groping on the floor, the cork was found on it. But even in this case the experimenter was not satisfied, because he could not see well in the darkness, and the milk jug's mouth was wide enough to admit a clenched fist.
In short, one has the impression that Fournier d'Albe improvised his experiments without carefully designing them for a specific purpose: consequently, even when an experiment was successful, he had to raise the bar further because he realized that that experiment had served no purpose. Later, he began experimenting with the Morse code as a communication system (Fd'A, p. 15): «"I have here an apparatus by which I can ring a bell. I shall let you hear it (ring). You can do the same by pressing on the little hinged board under the table. Please try and do so". After about ten minutes there was a ring. "Splendid. Now for the code. It consists of short and long rings. The letter A, for instance, consists of a short ring followed by a long one, thus: - – (ring). Will you try and imitate this?" A fairly good repetition was given. "You should make the short a little shorter, thus:" (ring). This was immediately repeated, resulting in a correctly telegraphed A. The Morse Alphabet was given in this way from A to I». Commenting on this experiment, he himself had devised, Fournier d'Albe wrote that: «The Morse Code experiments disclosed no intelligence beyond that of the members of the circle. The ringing apparatus was well within reach of the medium's feet» (Fd'A, p. 17).
As he proceeded with his experiments, Fournier did not bother to verify those physical levitation phenomena carefully studied by Crawford, that still occurred: «To increase the power, I restored the cardboard screen round the lamp, but made the hole somewhat larger. The table was then violently agitated. Two of its legs were placed upright on my knees. I looked under the table top but could not see any 'structures' holding it. " Are you gripping the table by the legs?" (Answer): "Yes." "By all four legs?" "Yes." The table was then turned almost completely upside down, with the bottom of one pair of legs pointing towards K (Mr. W. Kerr, one of the sitters) and the edge of the table top resting on the floor near him. It was then pulled upright again. "I should like you to push the table towards me while I hold it." I held the table top with my left hand. The table was pushed towards me in the air with considerable force» (Fd'A, p. 16).
Fournier then wanted to attempt an experiment of dematerialization and materialization, which was not at all part of the repertoire of those studied by Crawford, and in fact was unsuccessful: «"Now I should like you to try to produce what I should call a self-evidential result, a result which cannot be produced at all by normal means. Against the table leg on the medium's left I have placed a flower vase with a neck which ends in a cup. In this cup I have placed a golf ball. I want you to try to get the golf ball into the bottle without breaking the bottle. The neck is one and a half inches (less, therefore, than the diameter of the golf ball), so that it could only be done by disintegrating the golf ball to some extent temporarily. I am told that something like this has been done before. Do you think you can do it?" (Answer): "Doubtful"» (Fd'A, p. 18). However, some of the experiments devised by Fournier d'Albe were successfully carried out by the operators, as he himself recognized (Fd'A, p. 19. Note).
Fournier also managed to take some photos of the plasma material, using what he called shadow photograph, that is, the technique of directly impressing the photographic plates exposed to light – by contrast between lights and shadows – without using a camera equipped with a lens: «The advantage of shadow photographs is that the light need not be so intense as in camera photographs. The effect on a sensitive medium should, therefore, be much less trying» (Fd'A, p. 22). In this way he managed to get some fairly sharp photos, reproduced in his book: «Both photographs were considerably over-exposed, but by suitably restrained development it was possible to bring out the second photograph satisfactorily. The fineness of the texture thus revealed is amazing, and could not have been expected by any member of the circle» (Fd'A, p. 24). However, the exposure to light needed to impress the plates caused the medium some stress, and after the June 16 séance the operators did not allow any more photos to be taken.
In the 13th séance (July 22, 1921), Fournier was convinced that he had observed the medium while blatantly cheating: «Asked for levitation of stool. Stool levitated. On bending down, head towards A's (probably Mr. Hunter) knee, I saw against the dim red background of the wall the stool held by KG's (the medium) foot and portion of leg. Attached a locater to the stool. The phenomenon was repeated. Again I saw the procedure, but stool was abruptly dropped and foot withdrawn. KG's leg was quite straight, swinging from the hip joint, and her body seemed immovable» (Fd'A, p. 34). Nobody doubts Fournier d'Albe's good faith, but on his observation we have nothing but his testimony, devoid of any other evidence or confirmation. If he always complained about the poor visibility in the lower part of the room, how could he be sure he had seen the medium's foot and leg, and not – for example – the plasma structure that levered on the stool to lift it? And, while admitting that in that circumstance the medium was actually cheating, by lifting a small and light stool with her foot, how could be explained in this way the phenomena of levitation and overturning of the heavier table, and the impossibility of moving it from his position by people much more strong than the medium? All phenomena that Fournier d'Albe had personally seen, witnessed by many other people.
Fournier d'Albe's conclusions
That the Goligher Circle in the last period – probably since its members had begun to receive fees for their mediumistic performances – had somewhat deteriorated compared to the years in which Crawford had carried out his experiments, had been observed by Whately Smith, who – after his second visit to the Goligher Circle in 1920 – stated that Goligher's mediumship could have become fraudulent, while reiterating that the phenomena he had witnessed in the séance of December 1916 were genuine. This at least is what was reported by William H. Salter – President of the SPR – in his Wathely Carington's obituary (Proceedings of the SPR, vol. 48, p. 202). Anyway, the relationship between Fournier d'Albe and the Goligher Circle deteriorated progressively, to the point that on August 26, 1921, after 19 séances, Fournier sent the medium a letter in which communicated her that: «...the results of my three months' experiments with you and the Goligher Circle have not furnished any definite evidence in favour of the psychic origin of the numerous phenomena witnessed by me. They are, therefore, of no scientific value, and I have decided to have no more sittings... Meanwhile, I enclose cheque in final payment for the series» (Fd'A, p. 43).
The medium was very upset by the attitude of Fournier, who, as he himself recognized, had witnessed many phenomena. McCarthy Stephenson convinced her to hold another test-séance, in which she would have her feet tied to the chair (as had already happened in some of the séances with Crawford). The séance took place on August 29, in unfavourable conditions due to a misunderstanding and mutual distrust, and was a complete fiasco: the medium agreed that her feet were tied, but no phenomenon occurred, not even a tiny rap. After that séance, Fournier d'Albe no longer met the medium. In an interesting article published in the Journal of the SPR (n. 55 - 1988/89), entitled Dr. W. J. Crawford, his work and his legacy in psychokinesis, Allan Barham wrote: «Perhaps upon reflection some time later, d'Albe realised what might have caused the unhappy outcome of the sittings. It may be significant that, in a letter to John Beloff dated 4 November 1963, Horace Leaf wrote, "I knew the Golighers before I knew Dr. Crawford, and know the facts about their dispute with Dr. Fournier d'Albe when they terminated their sittings with him. He asked me to persuade them to resume, but the brother-in-law, who acted as leader of the family in such matters, refused because he objected to d'Albe's attitude and method"» (page 127).
Anyway, at the end of his book on the Goligher Circle séances, Fournier d'Albe wrote: «During the first six sittings I had no doubt whatever of the good faith of the circle, nor of the thoroughness and accuracy of Dr. Crawford's investigations. In spite of this receptive attitude, I made no headway towards any of my objectives. The phenomena were plentiful but the results were inconclusive, and were not such as would silence criticism. There was one exception – the experiment of removing a button from a decanter containing a drop of mercury. As I did not then acknowledge the possibility of any sitter surreptitiously introducing a drop of mercury I regarded this as "evidential"» (Fd'A, p. 45). Instead, that Fournier d'Albe's attitude towards the medium and the members of the circle was critical and suspicious since the first séances – as it was fully legitimate, given that he believed that his task was to absolutely establish the genuineness of the phenomena – is evidenced both by the nature of the experiments devised by him, and by the long list of criticisms he made regarding Crawford's attitude towards the medium, the members of the circle and the operating methods adopted in the séances (Fd'A, p. 47-48).
Thus, his report ended with these words: «Such is the circle to which Dr. Crawford was introduced in 1914, at a time when invitations to the séances were distributed as a great favour to innumerable applicants. With that circle he experimented for four years without giving them any remuneration for their services. Generous payment to KG (Kathleen Goligher) and the family circle commenced in February, 1919, and was continued to the end. If the conditions described above are now insisted on in spite of a substantial remuneration, one can easily imagine the complete subservience exacted from an investigator who offered nothing except glory and the service of humanity. I have no reason to doubt the conscientious and accurate character of Dr. Crawford's observations and records. The tests to which he subjected the medium completely satisfied him as to her bona fides, so that he no longer thought it necessary to control the other sitters as well. He worked in an atmosphere of complete confidence, and seems to me to have established a habit of thought which became impervious even to fairly obvious evidences of artificiality» (Fd'A, p. 49). These are completely arbitrary, ungenerous and offensive opinions towards Crawford who, being dead, was not even able to defend himself.
The criticism towards Fournier d'Albe
On n. 21 of the Journal of the SPR (page 19), a review of Fournier d'Albe's book was published by Eric J. Dingwall, at the conclusion of which the author stated that: «...the fact remains that Dr. Fournier's book will be generally taken as a complete exposure of the circle and as a refutation of all Dr. Crawford's findings. Such a conclusion is warranted neither by the book itself nor by common sense. However unfortunate Dr. Crawford's conditions may have been he obtained results for which it is extremely difficult to account on any theory of fraud». Dingwall (1890-1896) was an anthropologist and psychic researcher, also interested in conjuring, who widely traveled in Europe and the United States to investigate various mediums. He was described as a sceptical enquirer and psychical investigator who spent many years exposing fraud and unscientific practices among psychic researchers. He also maintained a cautious attitude towards Crawford's experiments, but – as we will see shortly – bluntly criticized Fournier d'Albe's way of working.
As for the effects of Fournier's book, Dingwall was right: «...in the 12th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1922), in an article on psychical research, was the following: "The Goligher case appeared to provide the most impressive evidence ever obtained for the reality of Materialisation. Dr. Crawford's premature death in 1920 made it temporarily difficult to pursue independent inquiry into the matter; but at the end of 1921 further investigation by Dr. Fournier d'Albe proved that the manifestations were fraudulent" (Journal of the SPR, n. 55, page 127). And even today, in March 2020, on any site not well informed on the whole issue, it can be read that Fournier d'Albe exposed the medium and invalidated – once and for all – Crawford's investigations. For example, here is what can be read on Wikipedia under Edmund Edward Fournier d'Albe (Italian version): «So ended the Goligher Circle. It later declined any invitations for further research. Even the German physician A. von Schrenck-Notzing and the director of the London spiritualists were convinced that the system had been clarified and the buffoonery had ceased».
All this does not correspond to the truth: as far as von Schrenck-Notzing is concerned, it is enough to read his letter published on the magazine Light (July 29, 1922, p. 472), which is hereafter reported in full. «If anything could have strengthened my conviction of the correctness of Dr. Crawford's researches it has been Dr. Fournier d'Albe's work, "The Goligher Circle". The search by Dr. Fournier d'Albe for proof of fraud has not in my opinion succeeded. The belief of this enquirer in deception is not any proof of it. Even his optical perception of a limb of Miss Goligher which is credited with raising a small stool, is not free from being questionable. In the dark he observed a limb proceeding from the medium and believed it was a leg. Could not have been a question of something extruded in the form of a leg? Could not Fournier, in his prepossession, have exaggerated unwillingly the sense impression and overweighted its meaning towards his own view? This single observation is no proof; it can only be taken into account as a suspicious incident. That the sample of teleplasma has the structure of woven material advances proof no further. This happens with all materialising mediums.
«The conditions of the research at the Fournier sittings were in part not sufficient, so that in many cases indeed the possibility existed under these conditions that one or the other phenomenon coul be carried out by trickery. But possibilities are not facts of proof, and in my opinion it was an omission on the part of Dr. Fournier that he did not arrange the conditions of the research somewhat better. One sees in his whole proceeding a lack of experience at this kind of investigation. To this must be added the fact that his own researches are not described quite clearly enough; one can put before oneself no real picture of the situation. In addition, in a large number of his observations the data of the distance of the various articles from the medium are wanting. On the other hand, contrary to his subjective conviction, phenomena are described which the reader cannot conceive to have been produced by means of fraud; for instance, the removal of the tennis ball from the bottle. But even here the exact description of the experiment is missing. Dr. Fournier's twenty sittings are not able to produce a single convincing proof of deceit.
«But even supposing that Miss Goligher did in some instances help a little, which happens with nearly all genuine mediums, what did that prove? certainly such simple maneuvres of deception cannot rebut the positive results of Crawford, Hunter, Stephenson, Mr. Whately Smith or Professor William Barrett. In this field one has not to ask oneself what, in connection with any phenomenon, is false, incorrect or trickery, but exclusively whether at all with the person in question real supernormal effects, quite free from all doubt, have been established. The observation of one physical phenomenon free from all doubt cannot be weakened by a hundred negative instances with the same medium. When one regards as a whole the great mass of experimental data placed before us, the fact stands out beyond discussion that Miss Kathleen Goligher is a true medium with authentic phenomena». Equally obvious seems to me is the fact that Schrenck-Notzing has not endorsed the hasty conclusions that many have drawn from Fournier d'Albe's statements.
Similar to Schrenck-Notzing's criticisms are Dingwall's observations in his review of Fournier's book (Journal of the SPR, n. 21, p. 21): «Dr. Fournier's conclusion is, in short, that the circle is an organized gang of frauds, highly skilled and acting in concert. Dr. Crawford, he thinks, under the influence of spiritualistic traditions, was completely deceived throughout his six years' investigation, and in the course of his book Dr. Fournier hints at the sort of methods used by the family for bringing this about. The curious thing, however, about Dr. Fournier's book is that he has given no real evidence whatever that his conclusion is correct. It seems to be founded largely upon suspicious incidents and movements which might have a simple explanation. It is true that the shadographs of the plasma cannot be distinguished from shadowgraphs of chiffon, but then for all we know "plasma" may be exactly like chiffon. The only way of discovering whether plasma is or is not chiffon is to prevent real chiffon from being brought in, which Dr. Fournier found to be impossible for the most excellent of reasons. It is also true that he saw, or thought he saw, Kathleen Goligher's foot raising the stool, but for all we know it might have been a "pseudopod"... He does not say whether he could see Miss Goligher's two feet, one raising the stool and the other on the ground... Apart from these self-evident objections the book is full of omissions and inconsistencies, which imply that for some reason or other it was hurriedly put together and therefore left incomplete».
René Sudre (1880-1968), French journalist and scholar of mediumistic and paranormal phenomena, author of the Traitise on Parapsychology (1956), also criticized Fournier's method and conclusions in an article published in September-October 1922 issue of the Revue Metapsychique, translated into English on Light of January 6, 1923 (page 10). Among other things, we can read: «In the very first chapter of his first book, Dr. Crawford discussess frankly the question of fraud. He gives all the reasons, some moral, some technical, which, after six years of work with the medium, made him reject absolutely the hypothesis of fraud. It is all the more necessary to study these reasons carefully, because there has recently appeared a small book, written by Dr. Fournier d'Albe, in which it is insinuated that all the members of the Goligher Circle, with the exception of the experimenter, formed a family of tricksters... Dr. Fournier d'Albe now sees signs of fraud in everything: insufficient light near the ground; the singing of hymns for the purpose of drowing the noise of preparing tricks; the joining of hands to enable the circle to transmit messages; the fixed order of sitting to facilitate each class of phenomena being produced always in the same way; constant reference to the "operators" to avert any inconvenient investigation; and finally the fact that all the members of the circle are adept with their hands.
«But when one has carefully weighed all these grievances, one sees that they are of no great importance, and most certainly do not amount to any proof of fraud. It is with a light heart that Dr. Fournier d'Albe proceeds to demolish, as the result of some twenty sittings conducted with remarkable lack of method, the work carried out by Dr. Crawford for years, and established by so many searching tests and check tests. We know that ectoplasm often takes the form of a fabric, especially in the case of the materialisations of Eva C., which Dr. Fournier d'Albe strangely enough considers genuine. It is well known that mediums always make involuntary movements of feet or hands whenever they produce telekinesis. Crawford himself had remarked on this: "Things happen at the Goligher Circle wich to a superficial observer might appear suspicious. For example, it often happens that the medium's body (or parts of her body) make spasmodic movements when violent raps are being produced in the circle. These are simply reactions, but the fraud-hunter immediately attributes them to fraud... This accidental resemblance between genuine and simulated phenomena is very disconcerting for one who is making his first experiments. It has stopped many a promising work in the physical region". Apart from Crawford's testimony, all the witnesses to phenomena at the Goligher Circle are unanimous in rejecting fraud».
Finally, the medium lent itself to other investigations after a few years from the publication of Fournier's book. It should first be noted that before the séances with Fournier, but after Crawford's death, another experimental sitting was held in Belfast on September 6, 1920, during which McCarthy Stephenson obtained some photos in which a mass of plasma material emanated from the medium was visible. At this séance, which was also attended by Crawford's widow, some preliminary control measures were taken. Two lady doctors helped in searching the members of the circle before the sitting, and a professional photographer was in charge of the five cameras that were used. A detailed report of this séance, published by Stephenson on the Psychic Research Quarterly (n. 2, October 1920, p. 113) can be downloaded from the Library.
After the publication of Fournier's book, Kathleen Goligher retired from public séances, married and had two daughters. Her husband, Mr. S. G. Donaldson, had an herbalist shop in Belfast, but was also interested in psychical research, and managed to convince the medium to hold a cycle of private experimental sittings in which, in addition to himself, just a couple of trustworthy friends took part, including McCarthy Stephenson. The report of these séances was published by Donaldson in the magazine Psychic Science (vol. XII, n. 2, July 1933, p. 89) with the title of Five Experiments with Miss Kate Goligher (downloadable from the Library). The author reports that: «Since her marriage to the writer eight years ago (that is, in 1925), Miss Goligher has sat intermittently owing to her time being occupied with the nursing and care of two daughters». During the sittings various photos of the ectoplasm were taken, attached to the quoted article, but an interesting aspect is given by the fact that in two of the sittings only the medium and her husband were present: unless one wants to claim that both were in cahoots with each other, what sense would it make to think that the medium wanted to deceive her husband, succeeding in her intent?
Finally, information on another séance with Kate Goligher, which took place in Belfast on March 12, 1936, is reported in an article by McCarthy Stephenson published in Psychic Science (Vol. XV, n. 2, July 1936, p. 153). In addition to the author of the article and the medium, the father of the latter was present. The article includes two photos, and the enlargement of a detail, and there is an ectoplasmic mass at the feet of the medium, who seems to be in a trance. In any case, Kate Goligher had long since lost all interest in her mediumistic gifts, and – after the séancs with Fournier d'Albe – also the trust in the correctness of psychic investigators. When she was still very young she had willingly collaborated, perhaps with naive enthusiasm, in the experiments of Crawford – who had always treated her with a lot of respect – but over the years she no longer wanted to deal with anyone involved in psychical research, so much so that her granddaughters had no idea that her grandmother had been a rather famous medium in her youth.
In an article by Allan Barham published in the Journal of the SPR (n.55, 1988-89), Dr. W. J. Crawford, his Work and his Legacy in Psychokinesis, on page 131 we read that: «(in 1962) ...Mr. Donaldson's wife was not only alive, but was in fact none other than the medium herself, the former Kathleen Goligher. But in spite of John Beloff's efforts, and Mr. Donaldson willingness to help him, it proved impossible to arrange a meeting with her – she had lost all interest in the production of psychic phenomena, and in Spiritualism». John Beloff (1920-2006), professor of psychology at Edinburgh University, was President of the SPR from 1974 to 1976, and in 1961 had undertook a research to track down surviving people connected with the Goligher Circle and Crawford's experiments.
This concludes this summary report on the documents available on the Crawford case: every person with sufficient intelligence will agree that – regardless of the conclusions that everyone will want to reach – ascertaining the truth is a long and sometimes tiring process, which requires time, effort and dedication. Despite the best intentions and the purpose of being impartial, we still find ourselves having to use our mental resources, with all the limits that they impose on us, given that we are not allowed to ascertain the truth of the events happened in the past through direct knowledge, but only to approach it inductively. The process of ascertaining the reality of the facts on the basis of documents and testimonies is similar to that which takes place in the courtrooms – where proofs are presented and assessed and, in the end, someone issues a verdict – and clearly deviates from scientific research, in which each experiment should, at least theoretically, be repeatable under the same conditions, so that the validation of the results can be guaranteed by such repeatability.