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

ome 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.