The following is one of the resources I'm using in writing my current book. I've posted it here for my own ease of access, and also in case anyone else is interested in it. The document is written by the famous 19th century medium Leonora Piper - her 'confession', as some have erroneously called it, to the New York Herald. It reads more as a woman tired of being treated like "an automaton" by the SPR, and wanting to get on with her life. For those who have surveyed the Piper evidence, there are interesting facts to be gleaned from it, such as the revelation that Mrs. Piper had previously studied French for two years - which would easily explain any French-language speaking by the control 'Phinuit' (commentary on Phinuit's ability to speak French varies in the SPR reports).
The title of the article in the New York Herald was
MRS. PIPER'S PLAIN STATEMENT
BY LEONORA E. PIPER.
The time having presented itself when it seems possible for me to be liberated from the Society for Psychical Research, I desire to state a few facts.
I will begin by saying that publicity has always been distasteful to me. My home duties have been and are the chief source of my greatest pleasure. But as my name has been before the public for fourteen years, while my case has been studied, and as the subject of psychic phenomena has, especially of late, aroused public attention, I believe it is right for me, in resigning from the service of the Psychical Research Society, to speak frankly to the public in my own individuality, in response to the request of the New York Herald.
In the service of the Society I have acted simply as an automaton, going into what is called a trance condition to be studied for purposes of scientific investigation, and also for the comfort and help of many suffering souls who have accepted the spiritistic explanation of the words which I unconsciously spoke while in this dreamy state.
It is undeniably true that many bereaved people have been at least temporarily comforted in sorrow. This is in itself a compensation for long devotion to this work. Apart from this, I do not feel that the world at large has derived a sufficient benefit from the many years' investigation of my case to warrant my continuing in it. Besides, personal circumstances are such that it would be impossible for me to do so.
After having given so many years of my life to this work. I now desire to become a free agent, and devote myself and my time to other and more congenial pursuits.
The world to-day knows that among scientific men the opinions on psychic phenomena are many and varied. I have always maintained that these phenomena could be explained in other ways than by the intervention of disembodied spirit forces.
The theory of telepathy strongly appeals to me as the most plausible and genuinely scientific solution of the problem. To strengthen this opinion are many authentic experiences which have all been satisfactorily explained by means of the telepathic hypothesis.
I am inclined to accept the telepathic explanation of all of the so-called psychic phenomena, but beyond this I remain a student with the rest of the world.
The lamented Phillips Brooks once said, after a sitting with me, when asked him for his candid opinion on the subject:
"It may be the back door to heaven, but I want to go in by the front door."
I also prefer to go in by the front door if I am fortunate enough to enter.
I must truthfully say that I do not believe that spirits of the dead have spoken through me when I have been in the trance state, as investigated by scientific men of Boston and Cambridge and those of the English Psychical Research Society, when I was taken to England to be studied. It may be that they have, but I do not affirm it.
In leaving the service of the Psychical Research Society I wish to state as clearly and definitely as possible my true position in regard to my relations with the society and my own views on the subject, which has aroused so much public attention during the last few years.
Only by the merest chance did I discover that I possessed a power wholly unexplainable to myself and mystifying to my family and friends. It was on account of my desire to understand the phenomenon and prove its nature that I gave myself up to scientific investigation and willingly placed myself in the hands of honored scientific men, who expressed the wish for me to do so, with the full understanding on both sides that I should submit to any form of test they might see fit to apply. In doing this, however, the thought of making it a remunerative occupation never once occurred to me, although since then I have as a matter of fact done so.
I must say that after having been associated with the society for about fourteen years I have no more definite knowledge concerning the subject than when I began.
During the experience of these fourteen years innumerable questions have been asked regarding my belief, some of which I will answer here and now:
"Are you a spiritualist?"
No. I have never considered myself one.
"Have you never had any convincing proof of the possibility of spirit return?"
I cannot truthfully say that I have.
"Were you ever thrown in company with mediums or spiritualists before you took up this work?"
I never knew anything about mediums or spiritualism. In fact, the subject never had any attractions for me.
"Then why have you remained with the society so long?"
Because of my desire to ascertain if possible whether I were possessed or obsessed.
"What position do you consider that you have filled with the society?"
Simply that of an automaton.
"You say you are not a believer in spiritualism. What then, is your opinion in regard to the utterances made by yourself while in a state of trance?"
I have often thought that if I could see myself as others see me, and hear my own utterances, I should be better able to form an opinion.
Many wise and good people have had sittings with me under the auspices of the Psychical Research Society, and some of them I have asked for an explanation when I came out of the condition. But I have never heard any explanation given, which seems to me conclusive.
For my own part, I cannot see how it can be scientifically proved that we can hold communication with the so-called spirit world.
As St. Paul says, spiritual things can only be spiritually discerned, much less handled.
On the other hand, I confidently feel that there is a grand, although mysterious, reality in the phenomenon which has arrested the attention of so many profound and brilliant intellects, and to which they have given so much time and thought. However this may be, I am glad that it has been of any comfort to people in sorrow.
But I believe that truth is a higher and deeper comfort than any such anodyne.
There have been many curious incidents connected with my sittings for the Psychical Research Society. They first heard of me in the simplest fashion. My home is in Arlington Heights, in what was once West Cambridge, not far from Harvard University. I was then living in Boston. My maid of all work told a friend who was a servant in the
household of Professor William James, of Harvard, that I went into "queer sleeps" in which I said "many strange things." Professor James recognized that I was what is called a psychic, and took steps to make my acquaintance.
He at once expressed a wish for me to connect myself with the Psychical Research Society, and that is the way my work began.
At first when I sat in my chair and leaned my head back and went into the trance state the action was attended with something of a struggle. I always felt as if I were undergoing an anaesthetic, but of late years I have slipped easily into the condition, leaning the head forward. On coming out of it I felt stupid and rather dazed. At first I said disconnected things. It was all a gibberish, nothing but gibberish.
Then I began to speak some broken French phrases. I had studied French two years, but I did not speak it well. After a while my automatic utterances announced the personality of one Dr. Phinuit, said to be a physician of France who died a long time ago. This so-called "control" returned, for several years, and was the one consulted by many people and first studied by the Pyschical Research Society.
All at once this went. It was gone like the snapping of the fingers. Then for a time a literary man who had died – the one called "Pelham" in the reports of the Society for Psychical Research – was impersonated. Friends of his felt assured that he talked to them by using my voice, or by automatic writing, while I was in the trance state, and to many of them these experiences seemed a sacred revelation.
A Boston lady who had many sittings with me used to get answers not from Phinuit, but from a supposed spirit friend, who is called T. in the reports of the Society for Psychical Research. In her report for the society she said:–
"T. was a Western man, and the localism of using 'like' as a conjunction clung to him, despite my frequent correction, all his life. At my sitting on December i6, 1886, he remarked:– 'If you could see it like I do.' Forgetful for the instant of changed conditions, I promptly repeated 'As I do.' 'Ah,' came the response, 'that sounds natural. That sounds like old times.' "
Professor Peirce had a sitting with me some years ago, and he said that he received no testimony or impression to strengthen the theory of a communication with the departed. He never for one instant felt himself to be speaking with any one but me. He said that if he had seen or heard anything else he would gladly have borne testimony to it; because "a real communication with the glorious dead would surely be the greatest conceivable satisfaction to one who could not be many years separated from the state in which they abide."
After Professor Shaler saw me he wrote to the Society for Psychical Research that he was "curiously and yet absolutely uninterested." He also said "close observation of the medium made the impression on me that she is honest."
It was at a residence in Boston that I wrote automatically about a certain famous man called in the report Mr. Marte. I wrote under the so-called control of Pelham, saying, after a reference to this Mr. Marte:–
"That he, with his keen brain and marvellous perception, will be interested, I know. He was a very dear friend of X. I was exceedingly fond of him. Comical weather interests both he and I–me–him– I know it all. Don't you see I correct these? Well, I am not less intelligent now. But there are many difficulties. I am far clearer on all points than I was shut up in the prisoned body (prisoned, prisoning, imprisoned you ought to say). No, I don't mean to get it
that way. 'See here, H., don't view me with a critic's eye, but pass my imperfections by.' Of course I know all that as well as anybody on your sphere (of course). Well, I think so. I tell you, old fellow, it don't do to pick all these little errors too much when they amount to nothing in one way. You have light enough, I know, to understand my explanations of being shut up in this body, dreaming, as it were
and trying to help on science."
I do not see how anybody can look on all that as testimony from a person in another world. I cannot see but that it must have been an unconscious expression of my subliminal self writing "such stuff as dreams are made of."
When I read over the reports of the Society for Psychical Research it all seems to me that there is no evidence of sufficient scientific value to warrant acceptance of the spiritistic explanation.
Andrew Lang contributed to the proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research for February, 1900, a criticism of the spiritist theory. He said that if students reject the idea that I am an impostor or in collusion with "Mrs. Howard," "we must try to produce some other hypothesis." Mr. Lang says he is inclined to explain the remarkable things that I say in trance, as well as the confused and muddled ones, by music reading or "telepathy a trois." He says he
believes "there is something here into which it may not be a waste of time to inquire."
A physician reported for the Society for Psychical Research:– "At my first sitting with Mrs. Piper, Phinuit said, 'Get the medium to cut off a lock of your hair for me to examine and then prescribe some medicine for you.' This was done and the medicine sent to me and I used it for a time. I took a small vial of it in my pocket before visiting Mrs. Piper again, as I wished Phinuit to tell me what it was. I took it from my pocket during the trance and handed it to her, when she removed the cork and wet her finger, either from the cork or vial, and placed it to her forehead. Phinuit remarked that it was all right, correctly prepared.
"lt contained among other things uva ursi and wild carrot. I now remember asking the question:- 'Why was it necessary for you to have a lock of my hair to examine before prescribing for me when you had me right before you?' His answer was to the effect that the medicine might be examined by him after its preparation to see that it was all right. He then instanced a case he had prescribed for, where a wrong salt was used by the apothecary to the injury of the lady having the seance. I made no further experiment as to the seat of the sense of taste."
Of course it is understood that in speaking of "Phinuit" in this way it was merely for convenience, to indicate the seemingly distinct personality who talked while I was in trance.
At another time some onion was put into my mouth. It was reported by the Society for Psychical Research that "Dr. Phinuit seemed to taste the onion. The tongue moved about in the mouth and smacked on the lips for several seconds."
I had among other sittings when in New York one at the house of a doctor. The "control" was the one known as "George Pelham." An Italian lady was the sitter. It was in the report that Pelham gave the first names of both sitter and communicator, very uncommon names. The name of her dead sister was given. The Italian words for "It is
well, patience, patience," were whispered by me at the end of
I never called the people who came to me "my sitters" but "my clients." The upstairs room, my working room, where I used to see them in my own home, I always called the red room, because of the color of the wall paper and decoration. I also have there my little writing desk and my sewing machine.
My last impersonations were called "Imperator," "Rector" and "Pruden."
In deciding to release myself from "Imperator" I do not wish to antagonize any student of psychical phenomena,either here or in Europe, but I do not believe that the genuine spirit of science can be antagonized, nor any of those who humbly love science as Professor Agassiz loved it, ever ready to "appeal to nature" and like him, look through nature up to nature's God.
Because the spiritistic theory does not appeal to me after my experience I do not deny to any mortal a perfect right to accept it, if it seems consistent.
I have never heard of anything being said by myself while in a trance state which might not have been latent in (i) my own mind, (2) in the mind of the person in charge of the sitting, (3) in the mind of the person who was trying to get communication with some one in another state of existence, or some companion present with such person, or (4) in the mind of some absent person alive somewhere else in the
Not one of us present may have been conscious of any knowledge of facts stated, yet somewhere in my mysterious subliminal consciousness, which was in abnormal activity when I was in condition, the knowledge might have rested unknown to myself in my waking life. It might in the same manner have been latent in the mind of one of those present and have been transferred by unconscious telepathy from one of their minds to my own.
The wonders of wireless telegraphy and the use of the X-ray developed of late years in the realm of physical science make me feel that it would not be becoming, for me to say what may or may not be possible transferrence of thought in the subjective mind by laws not yet formulated. My reading has not shown me that all the laws of the objective mind are understood.
I have said that if the knowledge of facts stated by me while in the condition was not latent with me or with any of those present in the room with me at the time of a sitting, it might still have, been in the mind of some other person alive somewhere m the world. It might have been latent, or it might have been active knowledge, and have been transferred to the mind of one of those in the room, then to my subjective mind, then automatically uttered or written by me. I do not find it is as hard to grasp this theory as that of a disembodied spirit telling the things.
If thought could be unconsciously transferred to me from a person in the room I do not see any reason why that person could not have received a thought message from somebody at a long distance and then telephoned it, so to speak, in thought, direct to me. If telepathy is possible between two people, why not among three, just the same as with telegraphy?
Everybody is familiar with the common coincidence of letters crossing between two people who had not written for a long time and who then wrote to each other at the same time. Distance does not seem to make any difference about such meetings, in, perhaps, the spirit; there are many instances of that sort of human wireless telegraphy; there are also instances of a third person learning by the same means of facts known to two other persons.
An interesting case of what seems like direct thought transference in the subjective mind was when I gave intelligible answers, in English, of course, while in the condition to questions asked of me by a sitter in Italian, a language I do not understand. All the communication seemed to be entirely between the subliminal thought of the sitter and myself. I sometimes think that may be the way we shall all talk to each other when in the future state.
It has sometimes happened that things I have said at a sitting were not at all consoling or important to those who were trying to satisfy their minds or hearts by these psychical experiments.
Once when an old Boston physician had a sitting with me it seems that I talked most about a pencil which was put into my hands, it having been the property of a deceased friend. When I came out of the condition he drew himself up in his chair and said, with excusable gruffness:-
"What made you talk about nothing but the top of an old pencil? Why didn't you talk about God and the angels?"
"What do you know about God and the angels?" I could not help retorting. He was good enough to smile, for of course the pencil was part of the scientific test and the other talk would not have been.
Once when another and still more famous Boston doctor came to see me, he said afterward that he "found Mrs. Piper huffy, but got on the good side of her by caressing her children."
A literary man said:– "I know Mrs. Piper is conscious, because she listened when the door bell rang." One sitter asked me if I had the face of my clock illuminated so that I could know when the hour was up, as I did not make it a practice to remain in the condition for more than an hour at a time. It has, however, at times been much longer.
Cultivated people have often been surprised at first meetings that I did not seem peculiar or unlike other women, and some of them expressed their wonder.
When I was taken to England the wife of one of the celebrated English men of science met me with the explanation to her husband:–
"Is this Mrs. Piper? You don't mean to tell me that this is Mrs. Piper!" Then to me:– "I thought you would be sure to be very fat, and like magenta color and wear friselettes!"
These words in her rich English voice made us both smile, but we afterward became good friends.
I have been so fortunate as to make good friends and pleasant acquaintances through my work. Some of them do and some do not believe that spirits have spoken through me. I do not think that even those who do have liked to see me mentioned in print, as I have been, as "the human telephone to the next world."
Such expressions were of course never used concerning me in the reports of the Psychical Research Society or in such articles as those of Mr. Lang, or of Professor Hyslop in the Literary Digest, the Arena, in Mrs. Katherine Tillman Bull's article in Harper's Magazine last year, or in any similar articles published at home or abroad. I am grateful for all thoughtful, profound or kindly intentioned articles. I am aware that I run the risk of the disapprobation of some people by voluntarily ceasing to be a "case" for study. But most students and lovers of science and humanity will, I hope, understand.
Phillips Brooks said in a public address:– "There is a belief in God which does not bring Him, nay, rather say, does not let Him come into close contact with our daily life. The very reverence with which we honor God may make us shut Him out from the hard tasks and puzzling problems with which we have to do. Many of us who call ourselves theists are like the savages who in the desire to honor the wonderful
sun dial which has been given them built a roof over it. Break down the roof; let God in on your life!"
He also said:– "How every truth attains to its enlargement and reality in this great truth, that the soul of man carries the highest possibilities within itself."
LEONORA E. PIPER.