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A Theory Of Table-Turning
by [?]

The yearning of humanity for the supernatural, even for the pseudo-supernatural, is as pathetic as it is profound. Wherefore I regret that I can make no concessions to it. The following theory of table-turning came to me as I experimented, from my general knowledge of psychology. I have not compared it with the theories of the Psychical Society, which I have never read, preferring to jot down the impressions of an independent observer, which, if they should at all coincide with the explanations of the spook-hunters, will irrefutably demonstrate that their Society was founded in vain. If, moreover, as Mr. Andrew Lang has since pointed out, it coincides largely with the theory of Dr. Carpenter, so much the better.

What are the facts? If two or more people (according to the size of the table) place their hands in circular contact around a table, and possess their souls in patience for a delightfully uncertain period, sundry strange manifestations will occur. Even after the first few moments the more imaginative will feel the table throbbing, unsuspicious of the fact that it is the blood at their finger-tips. Presently, too, an uncanny wave of cold air will pass underneath the arch of their palms. This is, according to the professional witches of Endor, the frigid flitting of the spirits, but the most superficial meteorologist will expound it you learnedly. Your hand, passive and in a fixed position, heats the air under it, which, becoming lighter, is constantly displaced by the colder circumambient air. Finally, when everybody is wrought up to an exalted expectation of the supernatural, the table begins to oscillate, to move slowly to and fro, to waltz, and even to raise itself partially or wholly off the ground. Sometimes it taps instead of moving. Nor are these motions and these taps merely the intoxicated irregularities of an exuberant energy. They are coherent responses (according to a code agreed upon with the “spirit” in possession) to questions asked by one of the sitters. They are the expression of infinite and ungrudging information on almost every subject. Through this wooden language, through this music of the tables and this dancing movement of their legs, tabular information respecting your past or other people’s past and future lives, together with full details of the doings of the departed in those other spheres of heaven or hell which they adorn or illumine respectively, may be obtained at the lowest rates, and with only that reasonable delay which results from the exigencies of a letter-code. For the “spirits” of the table, be it understood, are unable to communicate with earth except by taps and movements for “yes” or “no,” or by rapping out numbers; so that they have to signify their meaning, snailwise, letter by letter. The “spirit” of the Planchette will indeed write you out sentences; but to that, like the actor in melodrama, I will return anon. In the stock seances, I know, spirits materialise themselves and glide white-sheeted through darkened rooms. But as my own seances and “spirits” were personally conducted by myself, the optical illusions of Messrs. Maskelyne & Cook, the Pepper’s Ghost of the dear old Polytechnic, had no opportunity of putting in an appearance. My spooks did nothing but answer questions, so that the very suggestion that they were spirits came entirely from me. In fact, they do but dance to the “medium’s” piping; and should he suggest that they are methylated, the chances are that not a few would cheerfully acquiesce in this description of themselves. In short, it is only the prepossession, the pathetic prejudice, in favour of visitors from other worlds that leads at all to the thought of “spirits,” drawing such a red herring across the track that the average observer, who is nothing if not unobservant, has all his partisan faculties of mis-observation brought into full play on behalf of the spirit-world. Doubtless the actual presence of “spirits” is the cheapest way of accounting for the phenomena. But one might as well call in “spirits” to explain the dancing of a kettle-lid. Not till every natural hypothesis has been exhausted is the scientific observer entitled to call in the supernatural. And in reality all that has to be explained is the mechanical movements of tables under certain specified conditions, the said movements having an apparent relation to will and intelligence.