When people think of psychical researchers, names such as Harry Price and even Harry Houdini come to mind. There was however one ‘true blue’ parapsychologist who made his mark in the field of psychical research. His name was Richard Hodgson.
Born in 1855 in my own hometown of Melbourne, he originally intended to work in the field of law. After graduating from the University of Melbourne, his interest in philosophy and debates about the very concept of the paranormal led him to being introduced by a fellow student into spiritualist literature and eventually found his way to his very first séance. Like many who would follow in his footsteps, he caught the paranormal bug and began what would become a life long association with psychical research.
He traveled to the UK where he studied at St John’s College in Cambridge. It was there he met Henry Sidgwick (who would become one of the founding members of The Society For Psychical Research) and studied philosophy under his guide. Professionally he went on to lecture on Philosopher Herbert Spencer in 1884, but it was his keen interest in investigating psychical phenomena which he paid the most attention to. It makes sense then that he was described by teachers as ‘inconveniently forthright’ and was said to be very passionate and relentless in his pursuit of paranormal phenomena with a boisterous personality to match his tall muscular frame.
In 1882, he joined the Cambridge Society For Psychical Research where he was involved in investigating the claims of mediums as well as exposing some of the fraudulent activity. After The Society of Psychical Research was founded by Henry Sidgwick (who remember he studied under and worked closely with), Hodgson became one of the first members. While he spent his time investigating phenomena, he himself said he had his own experiences.. He claimed he felt the touch of disembodied hands in the dark of his room at St Johns and also claimed to have a premonition about the death of 3 of his friends.
His first big case involved investigating the claims of Madame Blavatsky in India. In September of 1884, he spent 4 months with her before releasing a damming report exposing her fraudulence at the Adyar Theosophical Society as well as defrauding two of the prominent apostles in assisting her deception. He went on to investigate further mediums such as physical medium Eusapia Palladino and along with fellow researcher S. J. Davey, exposed slate-writing as merely a magic trick as opposed to a spiritualist technique through paranormal means.
In 1887, he became the secretary of the American Society for Psychical Research. It was here he was introduced to the infamous Leonora Piper. She was a popular trance medium that Hodgson became fascinated with. In their first session, her spirit control Dr. Phinuit accurately gave information about Hodgson’s family members who had passed, which piqued his interest. While he was initially skeptical, he was convinced she was not committing fraud and felt that Dr. Phinuit her spirit control was really some sort of second personality embedded deep within her subconscious and that she was using a form of telepathy to deliver the messages. In 1892, Dr Phunuit was relieved of his spirit control duties when a new spirit control by the name of ‘Imperator’, took over communicating in Piper’s sittings. The information given in these sessions was so specific and convincing to Hodgson, that he felt it was proof of survival after death and changed his outlook on life completely.
“ I went through toils and turmoils and perplexities in ’97 and ’98 about the significant of this whole Imperator regime, but I have seem to get on a rock after that, - I seem to understand clearly the reason for incoherence and obscurity, etc., and I think that if it for the rest of my life from now I should never see another trance or have another word from Imperator or his group, it would make no difference to my knowledge that all is well, that Imperator, etc., are all they claim to be and are indeed messengers that we may call divine. Be of good courage whatever happens, and pray continually, and let peace come into your soul. Why should you be distraught and worried? Everything, absolutely everything, - from a spot of ink to all the stars,- every faintest thought we think of to the contemplation of the highest intelligence in the cosmos, are all in and part of the infinite Goodness. Rest in that Divine Love. All your trials are known better than you known them yourself. Do you think it is an idle word that the hairs of our heads are numbered? Have no dismay. Fear nothing and trust in God.”
A memoir of Richard Hodgson 1844-1905 (Howe, M.A. De Wolfe 1906)
While he spent much of his time studying Piper (3 fulls days of the week at least), he still had an interest and skepticism towards psychical phenomena and continued his research in various areas including possessions, sightings of apparitions, and out of body experiences.
Not long before his death, he was quoted as saying “I can hardly wait to die” and 6 months later on December 20th, 1905, he suffered heart failure while he was playing a game of handball. Of course, Hodgson had long promised colleagues he would be back for a visit which were said to have been communicated through the famous Leonora Piper, however, the evidence was deemed inconclusive and the sessions ceased.
His spiritual beliefs no doubt offered him comfort on his journey to whatever is on the other side, and no doubt if anyone was going to make an effort to make communication it would be him. Did he truly come though? This we will never know. What will do know, however, is that like many of us, we are forever changing our views when it comes to the paranormal.
A memoir of Richard Hodgson, 1855-1905
by Howe, M. A. De Wolfe (Mark Antony De Wolfe), 1864-1960
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