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The Appearance Of Light Without Any Apparent Physical Cause

The appearance of Lights at Spiritualistic circles, apparently not due
to any physical cause, is very widely asserted. The character of the
Lights is as varied as it is possible to imagine. Faint, cloudy,
indefinite luminous appearances--brilliant stars which move or hover
among the sitters--globes or balls of light, like illuminated ostrich
eggs, or spheres of mother-of-pearl lit up from within--pillars of
light--are some of the many forms which this manifestation takes. But
anything approaching to scientific evidence of the reality of the
phenomenon is singularly scarce. And I am not aware that anything has
ever been done towards testing or endeavouring to ascertain the nature
of the light. One reason for this is, no doubt, that to investigate
light phenomena, the exclusion of other light is obviously requisite.
Hence the necessity for dark seances. The objection to a dark seance in
itself can of course have no scientific basis. But a strong feeling
against dark seances has arisen from the abuses to which they have led.
It is possible that the extent of the evil has been exaggerated, and has
thus produced an exaggerated prejudice against darkness as a condition.
It is, however, safe to say, that, even if promiscuous seances are ever
useful or wise, a promiscuous dark seance should never be sanctioned by
an earnest inquirer.

Orthodox science has not yet condescended to bestow any attention on
"spirit lights." I had the privilege of private acquaintance with Dr.
Tyndall, and once acted as his assistant at some lectures he gave in a
country place. I remember sending him a report of some rather remarkable
manifestations of light witnessed at a private seance in London, under
fairly good test-conditions. Dr. Tyndall was at the time engaged in some
special optical investigations, and I asked him to spend five minutes in
reading the notes enclosed. Dr. Tyndall's reply, in his laconic, jocular
style, was to this effect--"I have spent five minutes as you desired,
and it is a long time since I spent five minutes so badly!"

The best series of "light" phenomena, both as regards their varied
character, and as regards the observers, and the care with which
records at the time were made, occurred in the presence of Mr. W.
Stainton Moses. A special chapter is devoted to his general
experiences later on, but I will deal with the phenomena of lights
here, and make this the only illustration of this branch of the
subject. For the general credibility of the W. Stainton Moses
phenomena the reader is referred to the opening paragraph of Chapter
VI. The following pages are taken, by way of either extract or
abstract, from two articles on Mr. W. Stainton Moses by Mr. F. W. H.
Myers. They thus have the advantage of Mr. Myers' moral certificate,
so to speak, as to their value. The articles were published in the
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.[15]

Mr. Stainton Moses says that the first occasion on which large luminous
appearances were seen at the circle consisting of Dr. and Mrs. Speer and
himself was on 7th June 1873. They had become familiar with floating
masses of luminous vapour; and on several occasions, the masses
condensed, so to speak, until a distinct objective light was formed. On
that evening, however, a number of cones of soft light similar to
moonlight appeared in succession. There was a nucleus of soft yellow
light surrounded by a haze. They sailed up from a corner of the room and
gradually died out. They seem to have been carried in a materialised
hand, a finger of which was shown at request, by placing it in front of
the nucleus of light.[16]

Subsequently they saw another kind of light altogether. It was
apparently a little round disc of light which twinkled like a star. It
flashed with great rapidity, and answered questions by the usual code of
signals. On about half-a-dozen occasions a bright scintillating light
apparently resting on the mantelshelf was seen. It was about the size of
a pigeon's egg, and looked like a large diamond lit up with strong

Mr. Stainton Moses gives a description of "a most remarkable light, of
quite a different kind from any that he had ever heard or read of." It
appeared six times, diminishing in brilliancy on each occasion. Mr.
Stainton Moses says: "The light was first observed directly behind us--a
tall column about half an inch or rather more in width, and six or seven
feet high. The light was of a bright golden hue, and did not illuminate
objects in its neighbourhood. For a minute a cross developed at its top,
and rays seemed to dart from it." Dr. Speer, who had been watching the
strange phenomenon with absorbing interest, asked permission to examine
it more closely. Leave being given, he went to the light, put his face
close to it, and passed his hand through it. He detected no odour, and
the light did not disappear. No warmth came from it, nor did it
perceptibly light up the room. It remained visible until the seance was

The following graphic description shall be given in Mr. Stainton Moses'
own words:--

"The room, which had been filled (especially round me) with floating
clouds of light, grew suddenly dark, and absolute stillness took the
place of the previous loud knockings. It would have been a strange scene
for an ear-witness. The table, isolated, with no human hand touching it,
giving forth a series of mysterious thuds of varying intensity, some of
which might have been made with a muffled sledge-hammer, all indicating
intelligence--an intelligence that showed itself by deliberation, or
eagerness, or stately solemnity according to the nature of the
communication. Around the table three persons sitting with a hush of
expectation, and faces (if they could have been seen) of awe-stricken
earnestness.... The room shrouded in darkness, except at one end, where
shifting masses of luminous vapour now and again gathered into a pillar
which dimly outlined a form, and again dispersed, and flitted round the
head of one of the sitters. No scene could be imagined more calculated
to strike a novice with awe, none more solemn and impressive for those
who participated in it."[19]

Mr. W. Stainton Moses thus describes the formation of the lights at a
sitting on 9th August 1873:--

"I witnessed the formation of some eight or nine very beautiful spirit
lights. They formed quite close to me, and near my left hand, about a
foot from the floor, floating upwards till they reached the level of the
table and became visible to Dr. Speer. They were expressly made at my
side, instead of, as usual, at my back, so that I might see them. They
seemed to develop from a very bright speck, about the size of a pea,
until they attained the size of a soda-water tumbler, and showed a soft
luminosity like pale moonlight. They seemed to be covered with drapery
and to be held by a hand. They faded slowly out, remaining visible about
thirty or forty seconds, or perhaps a minute. The largest would be
about eight inches long."[20]

On 14th April 1874, Dr. Speer and Mr. Stainton Moses held a sitting by
themselves. Mr. Stainton Moses thus describes what happened:--

"To-night lights commenced again, but of a quite different character to
any we had seen before. They darted about like a comet, coming from the
side by the harmonium, or near the fireplace. They were evanescent, and
apparently of diffuse luminosity, within which was a nucleus of light,
not, however, visible to me. We had some ten or twelve of these, some
more brilliant than others, some visible both in the looking-glass and
in the glass of the book-case, and they were showing a trail of
reflected light on the table, when suddenly there arose from below me,
apparently under the table, or near the floor, right under my nose, a
cloud of luminous smoke, just like phosphorus. It fumed up in great
clouds, until I seemed to be on fire, and rushed from the room in a
panic. I was fairly frightened, and could not tell what was happening. I
rushed to the door and opened it, and so to the front door. My hands
seemed to be ablaze, and left their impress on the doors and handles. It
blazed for a while after I had touched it, but soon went out, and no
smell or trace remained. I have seen my own hands covered with a lambent
flame; but nothing like this I ever saw.... The lights were preceded by
very sharp detonations on my chair, so that we could watch for their
coming by hearing the noise. They shot up very rapidly from the

This sensational experience must conclude the evidence respecting the
lights, for the present. One more selection has, however, been made,
which is deferred to the special chapter on Mr. Stainton Moses'
experiences as a whole. The present chapter must be read in connection
with that chapter. It is admitted that the testimony quoted with regard
to the Lights does not reach the level of scientific evidence. At the
same time, when due consideration is given to the existing contemporary
records, and to the careful way in which Mr. Myers examined the whole
case, it is difficult to avoid the conviction that the Lights were
objective phenomena, not produced by any known physical cause. It is
much to be regretted that efforts were not made to secure a critical
study of the Lights by a competent scientific man.

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