Transvection and Ufology. Manfred Cassirer

From Magonia 28, January 1988

The archetypal midnight hag on her broomstick has a comic Disney touch about her, a fact which did not always escape earlier students who were not above lampooning it. But at one time she was a grim reality, even if there was the occasional judge who ruled that nocturnal flights were not illegal.

We are talking about the supposed phenomenon of ‘transvection’, which is closely related, if at all distinguishable, to a whole variety of other subjects (no less controversial) for which there is yet reasonably good evidence. They include: traction, levitation, teleportation, bilocation, out-of-the-body experiences, and UFO abductions.

witches

At an early date (10th century) the enlightened Canon Episcopi denied the existence of transvection, as a heretical throwback to heathenism. It explicitly denounced “wicked women … who profess that in the dead of night they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Diana, and fly over vast tracts of country”.

Such things, to be sure, are “only done in the spirit”, and foolish indeed is he who believes that such fond dreams involve actual bodily activity. However, it was taken quite literally by post-mediaeval demonologists. Guazzo in 1626 voiced the opinion that “Sometimes witches are really conveyed from one place to another by the Devil, in the bodily likeness of a goat or some other fantastic animal, and are indeed physically present at their nefarious Sabbaths”. It was, he added, a view “commonly held by theologians and lawyer among Catholics of Italy, Spain and Germany. It should however be noted that none of these ideas are indigenous to this country”. (Mexican magicians, according to the 16th century write Acosta, were also credited with aerial flights, metamorphosis at will into any shape, and ESP (Lawrence, p.67).

These ideas did not however meet with general acceptance even in the European countries of their origin, but it was argued in some quarters that even if only a illusion or dream, transvection was still to be construed as a crime of intent, deserving of summary punishment – in spite of St Augustine’s expresses relief at not being responsible for his dreams!

Tartoretti in 1749 objected that participants in the sabbath, “if they feasted at their meetings … ought to come back surfeited and happy, instead of hungry and tired” and again, that they should be “able to escape from prison” with the same ease as they apparently left their bedrooms at night (Gurney, p.175, n.6). Tartoretti evidently failed to take into account the well-known fact that the Devil’s food is worse than useless; in the words of one of the Pendle witches “… although they did eat, they were never the fuller nor better for the same.” (Anglo, p.237)

Late mediaeval writers like Ulrich Molitor enforced the idea that the Adversary could, even in one’s waking state, induce vivid hallucinations like nocturnal flights. As in saintly bilocation “at the precise moment that at man is in one place, nevertheless he is able to appear in spirit in another”.It mattered little to this argument, if such it can be called, whether the prospective travellers made their way on the traditional broomstick or some equally improbable implement (cleft stick, distaff or shovel) or even on an animal’s back.

Meanwhile the application of an ointment is frequently mentioned. A fifteenth century prince, as ‘illustrious’ as anonymous, persuaded at witch to apply it experimentally. Predictably “nothing unusual happened (Kitteridge, p.166) in spite of liberal helpings of the supposedly magical substance, although the woman professed great faith in its efficacy. In the case of Elizabeth Style, on the other hand, the flying ointment was said to have been effective in 1665.

Had not Jesus been carried to the top of a high mountain by the tempter, and was not Ezekiel taken up by his hair to be conveyed a long distance, to say nothing of Habbakkuk? Many divines – Luther, Bodin, Melanchton – though that this should not be taken too literally, and that one’s spirit only went to the sabbatha.

In 1560 Giambattista Porta once more demonstrated that the customary preparations for a trance-like state failed to dislodge the resting subject, while Dr Gassendi at least produced the illusion of transvection by administering drugs to a control-group. Among those with first-hand experience was Paulus Grillandus, the author of the influential Tractatus de Hereticis et Sortilegiis (1536), who had actually handled the ointment (Hoyt, p.61).

With regard to the subject of this study, one has to agree with Owen that there is no logical objection to the possibility of traction of the human body granted there is a force capable of moving inanimate static bodies. At its most effective level it may amount to actual levitation. In an extreme case Christina of Stommeln was with difficulty rescued from suffocation when a cloud suddenly descended on her while at prayer indoors and she found herself taken to a disused and muddy reservoir. The cover story was to put the blame on the Devil (who else?) trying to kill her by drowning (Thurston, p.13). Twice she is said to have been dragged from her bed, conveyed out of doors and tied to a tree.In the Bromley Poltergeist Case a certain Mr Elms was twice involuntary propelled forward in this writer’s direction by an intangible force (Cassirer).

In 1647 the Devil in the shape of a Master of Arts carried away a scholar of St John’s Cambridge; his gown was recovered from the river and he was never heard of again (Notestein, p.362).

When a man named Harrison mysteriously vanished in 1664, no one had yet heard of UFO abductions. Three people were hanged for his murder – rather prematurely as it turned out, since two years later the ‘dead’ man returned from Turkey, whence he had been spirited away by witchcraft. About the same time James Barrow of Southwark could not be apprehended by any means as he used to fade from the midst of his would-be captors like some latter day Elijah.

Towards the beginning of the twentieth century a mediumistically gifted boy in Iceland, Indri Indriasson, was thrown from his bed after first being lifted up and pulled down to the floor. In the next stage he was forced “head foremost through the door and along the floor in the outer room”; this in spite of clutching at everything in site and being firmly secured by his legs by two men. This form of violent traction was exceptional, but of short duration. The data are regarded as satisfactory by Owen (Owen, p.207).

The dividing line between traction and levitation is a thin one, and in the Icelandic case actual levitation is indicated when it is stated that the boy was “balancing” in the air with his feet towards the window”.

A mistaken belief in levitation can sometimes be induced by an illusion shared by saints, witches and mediums among others. Still, one feels that Cotton Mather’s subject, Margaret Rule, is too hastily dismissed by Owen on account of alleged ‘vagueness’ in detail of the data. Apparently she was afflicted with veritable bouts of levitation: “One of her tormentors pulled her up to the ceiling of the chamber and held her there before a very numerous company of spectators, who found it as much as they could all do to pull her down again.” (Hansen, p.217)

This seems therefore to have been a bona fide instance of the phenomenon for which Mather had gone to the trouble of collecting signed statements. Since none of her bodily parts were in contact with the bedstead, the raising of her body extending “a great way towards the top of the room”, is precluded from being diagnosed as an arc de cercle in a hysterical fit.

Levitation is also associated with physical mediumship, and one need only mention the names of Stainton Moses, D. D. Home, Mirabelli, and the Schneiders. The evidence in connection with Home is virtually unassailable and testified to by Crookes.Among Catholic saints, St Joseph of Copertino is outstanding, and the data relating to his levitating feats are convincing, and were a source of embarrassment to the Church in his lifetime.
“Alleged flights through the air to and from the witches convention may be set on one side as fictive”, warns Owen in his discussion of teleportation.
His point is well taken. Bozzano, however, quotes an apparently trustworthy report by a missionary about a witchdoctor whose “spirit traversed a very considerable distance at night. While his body remained in a cataleptic state, a mysterious ‘something’ impinged realistically on the consciousness of a far-away native, and a pertinent message was conveyed.Transvection was sometimes dismissed on the grounds that the experient’s physical body was observed to be asleep or entranced concomitant with the reported adventure in time and space.

Once more on the borderline of the various themes, the alleged suspension in space must perhaps be sometimes ascribed to skillful gymnastics. In certain cases of ‘hystero-demonopathic’ epidemics young girls emulated the agility of squirrels.Mary Longdon was hexed in 1661 according to Glanville’s Modern Relations. She was sometimes “removed out of her bed into another room”, apparently paranormally, or even carried to the top of the house”. Typical associated poltergeist phenomena suggest that this may have been a genuine case, though Owen has reservations.

With regard to the subject of this study, one has to agree with Owen that there is no logical objection to the possibility of traction of the human body granted there is a force capable of moving inanimate static bodies. At its most effective level it may amount to actual levitation. In an extreme case Christina of Stommeln was with difficulty rescued from suffocation when a cloud suddenly descended on her while at prayer indoors and she found herself taken to a disused and muddy reservoir. The cover story was to put the blame on the Devil (who else?) trying to kill her by drowning (Thurston, p.13). Twice she is said to have been dragged from her bed, conveyed out of doors and tied to a tree.In the Bromley Poltergeist Case a certain Mr Elms was twice involuntary propelled forward in this writer’s direction by an intangible force (Cassirer).

In 1647 the Devil in the shape of a Master of Arts carried away a scholar of St John’s Cambridge; his gown was recovered from the river and he was never heard of again (Notestein, p.362).

When a man named Harrison mysteriously vanished in 1664, no one had yet heard of UFO abductions. Three people were hanged for his murder – rather prematurely as it turned out, since two years later the ‘dead’ man returned from Turkey, whence he had been spirited away by witchcraft. About the same time James Barrow of Southwark could not be apprehended by any means as he used to fade from the midst of his would-be captors like some latter day Elijah.

Towards the beginning of the twentieth century a mediumistically gifted boy in Iceland, Indri Indriasson, was thrown from his bed after first being lifted up and pulled down to the floor. In the next stage he was forced “head foremost through the door and along the floor in the outer room”; this in spite of clutching at everything in site and being firmly secured by his legs by two men. This form of violent traction was exceptional, but of short duration. The data are regarded as satisfactory by Owen (Owen, p.207).

The dividing line between traction and levitation is a thin one, and in the Icelandic case actual levitation is indicated when it is stated that the boy was “balancing” in the air with his feet towards the window”.

A mistaken belief in levitation
can sometimes be induced by an illusion shared by saints, witches and mediums among others. Still, one feels that Cotton Mather’s subject, Margaret Rule, is too hastily dismissed by Owen on account of alleged ‘vagueness’ in detail of the data. Apparently she was afflicted with veritable bouts of levitation: “One of her tormentors pulled her up to the ceiling of the chamber and held her there before a very numerous company of spectators, who found it as much as they could all do to pull her down again.” (Hansen, p.217)

This seems therefore to have been a bona fide instance of the phenomenon for which Mather had gone to the trouble of collecting signed statements. Since none of her bodily parts were in contact with the bedstead, the raising of her body extending “a great way towards the top of the room”, is precluded from being diagnosed as an arc de cercle in a hysterical fit.

Levitation is also associated with physical mediumship, and one need only mention the names of Stainton Moses, D. D. Home, Mirabelli, and the Schneiders. The evidence in connection with Home is virtually unassailable and testified to by Crookes. Among Catholic saints, St Joseph of Copertino is outstanding, and the data relating to his levitating feats are convincing, and were a source of embarrassment to the Church in his lifetime.

“Alleged flights through the air to and from the witches convention may be set on one side as fictive”, warns Owen in his discussion of teleportation.

His point is well taken. Bozzano, however, quotes an apparently trustworthy report by a missionary about a witchdoctor whose “spirit traversed a very considerable distance at night. While his body remained in a cataleptic state, a mysterious ‘something’ impinged realistically on the consciousness of a far-away native, and a pertinent message was conveyed. Transvection was sometimes dismissed on the grounds that the experient’s physical body was observed to be asleep or entranced concomitant with the reported adventure in time and space.

Once more on the borderline of the various themes, the alleged suspension in space must perhaps be sometimes ascribed to skilful gymnastics. In certain cases of ‘hystero-demonopathic’ epidemics young girls emulated the agility of squirrels. Mary Longdon was hexed in 1661 according to Glanville’s Modern Relations. She was sometimes “removed out of her bed into another room”, apparently paranormally, or even carried to the top of the house”. Typical associated poltergeist phenomena suggest that this may have been a genuine case, though Owen has reservations.

An official report about a hexed girl, Francoise Fontain, asserts that she indulged in repeated flights of up to four feet, and

that it required the joint efforts of several men to bring her down. The circumstantial nature of the account makes a good impression. Summing up the evidence. Fodor says. “Transportation of human bodies through closed doors and over a distance is a comparatively rare but fairly well authenticated occurrence.”

Though most parapsychologists would stop short of wholehearted agreement with Fodor’s confident assessment, he is pointing the right way in describing it as “a composite phenomenon between levitation and apport”, for both of which there is valid evidence.

Modern sceptics may doubt that the Revd. Robert Kirke of Aberfoyle was truly carried off by fairies in revenge for revealing their secrets. It was believed that those abducted sometimes returned as ghosts. Witches, of course, had no difficulty in overcoming the physical barriers of their homes, and Vallée, referring to “the archives of the Roman Catholic Church”, surmises that “many accusations of witchcraft stemmed from the belief in strange beings who could fly through the air and approach humans at dusk or at night.” (Vallee, p.62) Collective sightings even in daylight of weird configurations are neither rare nor necessarily extorted by torture-chamber confessions, nor confined to any one age.

Did not the Prince of Apostles (very much unlike the witches) thwart every effort to keep him in prison? In more modern times miracles of this kind are still alleged in some numbers. The Davenport brothers, for example, were “transported a distance of miles”, while other mediums such as Mrs, Guppy, Williams Hearne, Lottie Fowler and ‘Dr.’ Monk did at least as well several times.Anthropological data lend credence to the seemingly incredible. The above mentioned African witch-doctor successfully contacted a native hundreds of miles away through rough terrain. De W De Windt knew of a medicine-man who disappeared from his tent while being watched, only to be found unconscious half a mile distant (Fodor).

Bilocation must be taken into consideration in spite of its apparent violation of natural law. Fodor defines it as “the simultaneous presence in two different places”, with the proviso “mostly in histories of saints. Under this heading we may include the adventures of the Ven. Domenica del Paradiso who escaped to a cave where she spent two nights (Thurston, p.1014). However, her absence failed to attract attention, as she was impersonated by an angel!

More amazing, yet at the same time better attested, are the feats of Sor Maria de Agreda who bilocated no less than 500 times (!) as far afield as Mexico, where she converted a native tribe and distributed rosaries (which as a matter of fact, had all vanished from her cell). There were moreover other supporting indications that her visits to distant lands were not mere flights of fancy (Thurston, p.127)

Fodor elsewhere relates the phenomenon of the doppelganger, a ‘double’ considered by him the “etheric counterpart of the physical body which, when out of coincidence, may temporarily move about in space in comparative freedom and appear in various degrees of density to others.”

Perhaps this accounts for the fact that Alphonse de Liguori was able in 1774 to attend at the death-bed of Clement XIV according to witnesses while being imprisoned at Arezzo. If one can accept Aksakov’s famous tale of the bilocation of Miss Sagée the school-mistress, this would amount to irrefutable evidence in favour of the syndrome. Closely related to this phenomenon are out-of-the-body experiences which traditionally least involve the concept of an ‘etheric double’ or ‘astral body’ supposedly “an exact replica of the physical body but composed of finer matter” (Fodor).

More objective evidence for such an idea is provided by the data for materialisation. If witches ever did traverse long distances (and one would dearly like to hear concrete evidence for this belief), an alternative incarnation would provide the ideal vehicle. Col. de Rochas conducted some suggestive experiments in this field in which a plastic phantom form was created. Induced projection of the ‘double’ is said to have succeeded in early tests, and more recently the modern output on the subject is extensive and a comprehensive critique may be found in the work of of Dr Blackmore.

The idea was ably championed by Ochorowicz: “The hypothesis of a ‘fluid double’ (astral body) which, under certain conditions detaches itself from the body .. appears necessary (my italics) to explain the greater part of the phenomena. Henri de Siemiraski, artist and scientist, also spoke of the pragmatic necessity arising from his experience of the “hypothesis of the duplication (dédoublement) of the medium” (ibid. p.137).

We have come at last to the aspect of the greatest importance to ufology: abductions by UFOs. This subject has become of increasing interest and significance. Recent monographs by Scott Rogo (1980) and John Rimmer (1984) have been devoted to it. Here the flight is of an involuntary kind, over which the subject has no control apart from possible acquiescence. “With ever-increasing frequency”, says C E Lorenzen (Story, p.2) “UFO researchers are encountering witnesses who claim not only to have sighted a UFO and its occupants, but to have been taken aboard”.

This strange experience, which seems to be subjectively psychogenetic follows a predictably stereotyped pattern, unaccountably anticipated by science fiction. Its innocent victims are subjected to traumatic and at the same time mystic happenings under bizarre circumstances with alleged time-losses, possibly triggered off by geophysical or even quite trivial stimuli. Teleported to a strangely unrealistic environment. Betty Andreasson has encounters with non-human beings in a religiously inspired setting.

NOTES

  1. For the most recent discussion of this enigma, see the Unexplained, 108, p 1250ff.
  2. De Rochas, p,170, Julian Ochrowicz, a most experienced researcher, was referring to the physical effects observed by him in his investigation of Palladino

REFERENCES

  • ANGLO S, The Damned Art, RKP 1977
    BLACKMORE S J. Beyond the Body, Heinemann, 1981
    BOZZANO, E, Vebersinnliche Erscheinung, Francke, Berne, 1948,
    CASSIRER, M, Mechanical Witchcraft, (unpub, ms.).
    CROOKES, W. Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism, Burns, 1874,
    FODOR, N, Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science, Citadel, 1974.
    GURNEY, E. and PODMORE F, Fantasms of the Living, Trubner, 1886.
    NANSEN, C, Witchcraft at Salsa, Arrow, 1911.
    HOYT C,A, Witchcraft, South Illinois Univ. Press, 1981.
    KITTREDGE, G.L. Witchcraft in Old and New England, Harvard 1928
    LAWRENCE, E, Spiritualism among Civilised and Savage Races, Black, 1921.
    NOTESTEIN W, History of Witchcraft in England, Crowell, NY, 1968.
    OWEN, A.R.G. Can We Explain the Poltergeist?, Garrett, NY, 1964.
    PODMORE,F. Modern Spiritualism, Methuen, 1962.
    RIMMER, J, The Evidence for Alien Abductions, Aquarian, 1984.
    ROCHAS, A. de. L’Exteriorisation de la Motoricité, Charconac, Paris, 1906.
    ROGO, S. Abductions, Signet, NY, 1980.
    THURSTON, H, Surprising Mystics, Burns & Oates, 1955.
    VALEE, J, Passport to Magonia, Spearman, 1970.

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