‘Those are the mediums […].’ The spectacle, of about two hours’ duration, showed Palmieri sending his mediums to sleep by the use of his gaze, but in such a manner that they were still able to walk, answer questions and perform various acts. (424)
One of the most important events during Stanisław Wokulski’s stay in Paris is his participation in a séance conducted by Professor Palmieri. He is especially impressed by magnetic experiments with hypnosis. The word “medium” denoted a person susceptible to hypnosis and suggestion, supposedly able to respond to telepathy, capable of clairvoyance and of communing with ghosts during mediumistic or spiritistic séances.
A medium’s alleged supernatural talents included: levitation (the ability to make objects and bodies hover in the air without touching them); producing spectres or phantoms of people, animals and objects; thought photography (in which a photosensitive material revealed images identical to the imaginings of the medium); and creating material doubles, which allowed the medium to be in two different places at the same time. Mediums were also allegedly able to relay information from the visiting ghost to the participants, quote its words, or speak in the apparition’s voice.
A brisk trade in mediumistic paraphernalia developed in Warsaw in the era of The Doll. Various props used during séances were manufactured and sold: there were special tables, phosphorescent screens which cast light on the apparitions, and other objects which accompanied the séances. One could also take funeral photographs: in their background, behind the deceased, a ghost of someone they were close to would appear.
There were many methods of getting in touch with ghosts. Most frequently, mediums (and the participants of the séance) were put into a trance, a particular state in which supernatural stimuli could be felt; séances would predominantly take place in a darkened room, around a wooden, usually round table, in the evening or at night, in candlelight – all this was supposed to help the ghosts materialise.
The most eminent scholar of hypnosis, magnetism, and mediums of the time was Julian Ochorowicz: philosopher, poet and inventor working in the field of electroacoustics, and telephony. He was friends with Bolesław Prus, who immortalised him in The Doll as the engineer and inventor Julian Ochocki.
- W. Chłopicki, Z teki „spirytysty,” Warsaw 1897.
- J. Ochorowicz, Zjawiska mediumiczne, Warsaw 1913.
- H. Eysenck and C. Sargent, Explaining the Unexplained: Mysteries of the Paranormal. London, 1982.
- N. Ashby, Develop Your ESP: A Quick and Easy Way to Become Psychic, New York, 2004.