From Spiritualism, Raps or rappings are percussive sounds of varying intensity without visible, known or normal agency. These knockings have always accompanied poltergeist disturbances, even before the commencement of the modern spiritualistic movement. Thus they were observed in the case of the "Drummer of Tedworth," the "Cock Lane Ghost," and other disturbances of the kind, and also in the presence of various somanambules, such as the Seeress of Pervorst. With the "Rocherster Rappings" -- the famous outbreak at Hydesville in 1848, to which may be directly traced the beginning of modern Spirirtualism -- the phenomenon took on a new importance, rapidly increased to an epidemic, remained throughout the earlier stages of the movement the chief mode of communication with the spirits. Though it was afterwards supplanted to some extent by more elaborate and complicated phenomena, it continued to occupy a place of importance among the manifestations of the seance room.
The theories which had been advanced to explain the phenomenon are of historic interest. The cracking of knee joints, toe joints, the, snapping of fingers and the contraction of the respiratory muscles were variously called the Scientific solution to the mystery. To strengthen the position of the first attempt at scientific elucidation Professor Loomis published his discovery as to the effect of the vibrations of a dam over which water falls. These sounds are transmitted to a distance by the earth and produce Sudden alarming knocking sounds in dwellings.
It is doubtless true that raps were very often produced by fraudulent means. William Faulkner, a surgeon, testified before the London Dialectical Committee 1869 that he was in the habit of Selling trick magnets to produce rapping sounds at Spiritualistic séances. The magnets could be concealed about the person, or attached to furniture. By pressing a small brass button, raps could at all times be produced. Methods of fraud are described in Carrington's The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism, in Lunt's Mysteries of the Seance and in Abbott's Behind the Scenes with Mediums.
It is also true that underneath the scientific theories there was a physiological foundation as in a way it is the bodily mechanism of the medium which is responsible for the raps. Still it is one of the aberrations of scientific orthodoxy that when the Seybert Commission investigated the raps of Margaret Kane-Fox the evidence for the genuine nature of the phenomenon was ruled out because one of the members of the committee, when placing his hand on her feet, distinctly felt an unusual pulsation though there was not a particle of motion in it. Nobody seems to have recalled this discovery when the sensational confession of Margaret and Kate Fox reverberated in the Press and whereas previously the raps were ruled out because of their reaction on the medium's body, it passed unnoticed that the confession and its acceptance on face value confirms the occurrence of the very phenomenon which it attempted to demolish.
Why should spirits knock and rap? According to Andrew Lang: "Were we inventing a form for a spirit's manifestation to take, we never should invent that." He frankly admits that mediaeval and later tales of rapping have never been satisfactorily accounted for on any theory. His theory of "spectral aphasia" advanced as regards haunting may partially explain raps may be the easiest signs which a spirit wishing to effect the physical plane, may produce, though he may aim at a different effect.
At present there is a place for raps in medical science. A curious connection has been discovered between raps and chorea. In Psyche, March, 1882, Dr. Purdon reports the case of two soldiers in Guernsey, both of them of neurotic temperament, in whose presence rappings of an unnatural character were heard. Under the administration of iodide of potassium, salicylate of soda and arsenic in full doses the men wonderfully improved and the rappings became less frequent.
E. Howard Grey, in Visions, Previsions and Miracles in Modern Times, quotes a similar experience with a member of his own family. The attack commenced during the cutting of a child's permanent teeth, sometimes convulsions occurred in the night, and these generally seized upon the little girl about the same hour. "We were usually well prepared," he says, for these nocturnal troubles by explosive and other auditory sounds either on the wall or in the air. Sometimes a tinkling sound as of dropping water would be heard, but none was visible. They occurred when the child was asleep, also in her absence." When she was in bed upstairs they heard them in a room below, sometimes her mother heard them sounding like little taps on a newspaper she was reading. They did not exhibit intelligence. The last, or departing rap was especially loud. The cure was effected in a few months by the administration of bromide of potassium.
In speaking of the curious thrilling of the table in the presence of D. D. Home, Mrs. de Morgan writes in From Matter to Spirit: "The last time I witnessed this phenomenon, an acute surgeon present said that this thrilling, the genuineness of which was unmistakable, was exactly like what takes place in that affection of the muscles called subsultus tendinum. When it ceased the table rose more than two feet from the floor."
In the closing years of the medium Slade, loud raps were heard on the bedstead, walls and furniture while he was asleep. Chairs and other furniture moved about. The phenomena occurred even after he sank into senile dementia. The same phenomenon was observed around the death-bed of Margaret Fox. The mysterious illness of Mary Jobson started with loud rapping sounds. When D. D. Home was ill the same manifestation was continually witnessed. It is now an accepted fact that abnormal conditions often open up channels for supernormal phenomena. But the larger percentage of such manifestations involves no bodily affliction and whereas higher phenomena are often accompanied by utter exhaustion on the part of the medium raps seldom bring about a feeling of significant depletion. Simple as the phenomenon appears to he various important accounts reflect an astounding variety of manifestation.
The Varieties of Rapping Experience
Judge Edmonds heard raps on his own person. The Rev. Samuel Watson, a Methodist parson, had similar experiences. "The noise made on my shirt bosom," he writes, "resembled more the telegraph machine than anything else."
Abby Warner, of Massillon, O., was prosecuted in 1851 for disturbing the Christmas service in St. Timothy's Church by raps which sounded in her presence.
Considerable excitement was caused in New York in 1871 in the congregation of Henry Ward Beecher. In front of the rostrum at the reporter's table raps were heard for a succession of Sabbaths and slow and deliberate motion of the table was witnessed. It kept time with the preacher's words and assented to the reform demands of the Minister with great pushes and traveling to the opposite side as if to say: "That's so, that is the truth." (Crowell; Primitive Christianity, p. 499).
Mrs. Underhill, the eldest of the Fox sisters, writes in The Missing Link, that during the funeral of her second husband, Mr. Calvin Brown, raps were heard all over the room while S. B. Brittan delivered the funeral sermon and judge Edmunds the eulogy.
Robert Dale Owen recorded some very curious experiments in raps with Mrs. Underhill in 1861. He heard raps on the seaside in a ledge of rock. "Placing my hands on the same ledge, a few steps from Mrs. Underhill, and asking for raps, when this came audibly I felt, simultaneously with each rap, a slight but unmistakably distinct vibration or concussion of the rock." He heard raps on board of an excursion boat and later in a sailing boat sounding from underneath. He also obtained them in the open air on the ground, "a dull sound, as of blows struck on the earth; then I asked Mrs. Underhill to touch one of the trees with the tips of her fingers and applying my ear to the tree I heard the raps from beneath the bark."
In an account of a séance on February 22, 1860, in which psychic lights were seen, Robert Dale Owen writes: "While I was looking intently at such a light, about as large as a small fist, it rose and fell, as a hammer would, with which one was striking against the floor. At each stroke a loud rap was heard in connection. It was exactly as if an invisible hand held an illuminated hammer and pounded with it."
As to the objectivity of the raps produced by Katie Fox, Crookes said: "It seems only necessary for her to place her hand on any substance for raps loud enough to be heard several rooms off. In this manner I have heard them in a living tree, on a sheet of glass, on a stretched iron wire, on a stretched membrane, a tambourine, on the roof of a cab and on the floor of a theatre. Moreover, actual contact is not always necessary. I have had these sounds proceeding from the floor, walls, etc. when the medium's hands and feet were held, when she was standing on a chair, when she was suspended in a swing from the ceiling, when she was enclosed in a wire cage and when she had fallen fainting on a sofa. I have heard them on a glass harmonium, I have felt them on my own shoulder and under my own hand, I have heard them on a sheet of paper, held between the fingers by a piece of thread passed through one corner."
The membrane of which Crookes speaks was part of a complicated apparatus. A small piece of graphite was placed on it so as to be thrown upward by the slightest jar. The point of a lever registered in curves the amount of mechanical energy employed in the effect. As to the sounds, Crookes observed "delicate ticks, as with the point of a pin; a cascade of sharp sounds as from an induction coil in full work; detonations in the air; sharp, metallic taps; a cracking like that heard when a frictional machine is at work; sounds like scratching; the twittering as of a bird."
"We have been present with Kate Fox" writes J. J. Morse in The Two Worlds (Vol. 19, p. 340) "when the raps were heard on a sheet of paper, held between the thumb and forefinger of another person standing beside the medium, the paper visibly shaking from the violence of the raps produced upon its surface."
Lord Adare's father, in experiments with D. D. Home, heard raps upon the medium's hand when he placed it upon his head. Raps came on a sheet of paper which they held by the corners. Lord Adare heard raps under his feet and distinctly felt the jar while the raps were taking place. He saw a table leg rap. The spirits by raps joined into their conversation and signified approval in a most emphatic way. He was told to understand that by remaining in the earth's atmosphere spirits get so charged that it is a positive relief to make sounds. Sometimes they cannot help rapping, and cannot control them. They discharge their electricity by a whole volley of taps. The sounds may be single or combined knockings.
"It was the most singular noise," writes Stainton Moses on December 5, 1873, "that the combined knockings made. The room seemed to be full of intelligences manifesting their presence."
The sounds have distinct individuality. They have as permanent characteristics as the voice and the communicator is always known by his rapping style.
Dr. J. Garth Wilkinson wrote of an inward thrill going through the table and chairs and found the sensation best conveyed by the exclamation of his daughter: "Oh, papa, there is a heart in my chair."
"The departure of the spirits," writes J. H. Powell in Facts and Phases of Spiritualism, "was preceded by an indistinguishable number of raps, loud at first, then gradually faint and fainter until, like echoes on a hill, they faded away in the echoing distance."
In volume the sounds may grow from a tiny tick to a loud crash. But the crashing blows leave no mark, though normally the force would smash the table. The tonality of the raps differs according to the object upon which they resound. They may resemble the slight noises made by a mouse, a fretsaw, or the scratching of a finger-nail on wood or cloth and their rhythm is as varied as their tonality.
They often sound like detonations. There are instances in which the impression is borne out by effect. Archdeacon Colley, in a slate-writing experiment with Monck, placed his foot on the slate and felt a sensation of throbbing in the enclosed space-a heaving as when the confined steam lifts the lid of a kettle-and in a moment an explosion took place that scattered it in fragments over the carpet, like spray from a fountain. Such explosions and shatterings of the slate were frequently experienced in séances with Slade.
According to Mme. Blavatsky's biographers the founder of Theosophy was a powerful rapping medium in her 'teens. She caused raps inside the spectacles of a skeptical professor with such force that they were sent flying from his nose. In reply to a somewhat frivolous woman who asked what was the best conductor for raps, the table spelt out gold and the next moment the lady in question rushed out of the room with her hand clapped on her mouth as she had felt the raps on the gold in her artificial teeth.
Maxwell obtained raps in restaurants and railway refreshment rooms which were loud enough to attract public attention. In his Metapsychical Phenomena he gives the following description of experiences with Meurice: "The raps on the open umbrella are extremely curious. We have heard raps on the woodwork and on the silk at one and the same time; it is easy to perceive that the shock actually occurs in the wood-that the molecules of the latter are set in motion. The same thing occurs in the silk, and here observation is even more interesting still; and each rap looks like a drop of some invisible liquid falling on the silk from a respectable height. The stretched silk of the umbrella is quickly and slightly but surely dented in; sometimes the force with which the raps are given is such as to shake the umbrella. Nothing is more absorbing than the observation of an apparent conversation-by means of the umbrella-between the medium's personifications. Raps, imitating a burst of laughter in response to the observer's remarks, resound on the silk, like the rapid play of strong but tiny fingers. When raps on the umbrella are forthcoming, M. Meurice either holds the handle of the umbrella, or someone else does, while he simply touches the handle very lightly with his open palm. He never touches the silk."
His observations may be summed up as follows:
(1) Every muscular movement, even a feeble one, is generally followed by a rap. (2) The intensity of the raps did not seem to me to be proportional to the muscular movement made. (3) The intensity of the raps did not seem to me to vary in proportion to their distance from the medium.
He often questioned mediums about their sensations when raps were being produced. They all acknowledged to a feeling of fatigue, of depletion, after a good seance. This feeling is perceptible even to observers themselves. One of the mediums experienced a feeling akin to cramp in the epigastric region when the raps were particularly loud.
Mrs. de Morgan writes in, From Matter to Spirit that once, through typtological communication, she was informed that raps would come through herself that day. "This was not expected but it was worth trying, and I therefore went into an uncarpeted room barely furnished, and sat down by the table, on which I laid my arm. Very soon loud raps, which I called some of the family to hear, resounded on the table. There seemed to be power enough to rap the number of times desired, but not to indicate letters so as to spell anything. The sounds soon ceased and never returned. As each rap seemed to be shot through my arm it was accompanied by a feeling like a slight blow or shock of electricity and an aching pain extending from the shoulder to the hand, which remained for more than an hour after they had entirely ceased. This experiment seemed to prove that the nerves of the human body were necessary, if not for the production, at least for the propagation of the sounds."
In Crawford's experiments the loudness of the raps varied with weight and massiveness of the psychic rods.
He put the medium on a weighing machine and measured the exact amount of ectoplasm necessary for the increase of rapping strength. He also found that the raps react upon the medium's body but that she was not conscious of any stress. The reaction, however, was not always the case.
"As soon as the seance begins," he writes, "we hear noises, raps, rap, rap on the floor near the medium. They become louder and louder, on the table, on the chairs of the sitters. Sometimes they are like hammer blows, so loud that they can be heard outside, and they shake the floor and the chairs. They can imitate any different sounds, the step of a man, the trot of a horse, the rubbing of a match, or the bouncing of a ball."
Sir William Barrett sat in the Goligher circle and wrote: "Very soon knocks came and messages were spelt out as one of us repeated the alphabet aloud. Suddenly the knocks increased in violence, and being encouraged, a tremendous bang came which shook the room and resembled the blow of a sledge hammer on an anvil."
In Proceedings, S.P.R., 1907, XVII, p. 726, a most extraordinary case of rapping is described. Mrs. Davis received a letter from India with the request to forward it to Mrs. W. She, placed the letter on the mantelpiece. Some time after raps were heard. They seemed to emanate from the neighborhood of the letter. She placed it on another spot. The raps followed the letter. It was learnt afterwards that the letter announced the death of Mrs. W.'s husband. Hyslop, with a young non-professional lady, heard loud raps in a closed piano. He writes, in Contact with the Other World, "After getting raps under her feet I had her stand on a very thick cushion. When she was standing on the cushion, which was at least six or eight inches thick, the raps occurred exactly as before, with the same quality of sound. If made by the joints, the raps would have been muffled when the feet were on the cushion. I then had her stand with a foot on each of my hands, which rested on the cushion, and the raps occurred apparently on the floor with the same quality of sound as when her feet were on the floor. I then tried the steam radiator some distance away, and the rap had a metallic ring, as if on iron. I then tried the piano experiment again ... The raps were very loud, and made the string ring so that the sound could be heard perhaps a hundred feet away."
Sir William Barrett writes in On the Threshold of the Unseen: "On one occasion I asked for the raps to come on a small table: near me, which Florrie (the medium) was not touching, they did so; I then placed one of my hands on the upper and the other on the under surface of the table, and in this position I felt the slight jarring made by the raps on the part of the table enclosed between my hands. It made no difference whether Florrie and I were alone in the room, as was often the case, or other observers were called in."
The distance to which the sound of raps carry may be considerable. In Southend, on the seashore in bright moonlight, metallic raps produced on the rail in the presence of Stainton Moses and Dr. Speer were audible to both of them when they were 70 yards apart. They were apparently made in the space between them.
An interesting non-psychic method of procuring raps is described in Psychic Research, February, 1930, by Mr. John E. Springer, Attorney-at-law of Palo Alto, California. He writes: "In one face of a small cardboard box I cut an aperture the size and shape of my ear. When fitted to the ear the box sticks on securely and becomes a sort of sounding board. Upon retiring I affix the box to the ear which is not to rest on the pillow, and I will as strongly as possible that as I fall asleep I shall be awakened by a given series of raps upon the cardboard. It frequently, but not always-happens that when I reach the stage of drowsiness where unconsciousness is about to supervene, loud and clear raps upon the box in the predetermined series bring me back to wakefulness with a start. The raps may be subjective, but it is difficult for one who experiences them to escape from the conviction that they are objective psychic raps." Eusapia Paladino frequently rapped a certain number of times on the table with her fingers. Holding her hands about eighteen inches above the table the faint echoes of the raps were heard in the wood about two seconds later. She produced the same phenomenon with scratching sounds.
In the Margery seances the first raps were faint but definite, sounding like something soft inside a wooden box. Dr. Crandon listened to them through a stethoscope applied to the table. They were so magnified as to be unlike anything in his experience. Later they developed to a degree that Walter could render tunes or rhythmical phrases with a marked syncopation upon the cabinet, the table, the arm of Margery, the hands of the sitters, and even on the limited surface of a ring. Once he rapped out a popular tune unknown in his day and answered in explanation that they go everywhere, to our theatres and other places.
There are some rare cases on record in which raps were produced in the distance. The Seeress of Prevorst could cause raps in the houses of others. There were similar testimonies in Home's mediumship. Cromwell Varley stated before the Dialectical Society that he heard raps in his home after his arrival from a seance with D. D. Home. Next morning he received a letter from Home which disclosed that the medium knew of the occurrence.
Countess Panaigai wrote in a letter to Human Nature (Vol. XI.) that in a sitting with Home the name of her deceased child was rapped out and that Home predicted the hearing of raps in her own house. The prediction not only came true, but when a friend called her attention to it she found the little boot of her child, kept in a locked box in a bureau, from which the raps appeared to proceed, imprinted by a perfect star with a letter at each of the six points forming the name "Stella," as the deceased was called. Not even the family of the Countess knew anything of the box and Home, to whom she was an utter stranger, never was in her house.
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