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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2012

4 - Phantasms of the living and the dead


Phantasms of the living

A book on apparitions from the perspective of psychical research had been promised from the SPR as early as 1882, and in August 1883 a meeting was held by the Council to discuss what to do with the some 400 cases involving apparitions already collected. A resolution was subsequently passed which authorised Gurney and Myers to compose a book on apparitions which would be published with the support of the SPR. Gurney and Myers were joined in this enterprise by their fellow council member Frank Podmore. The resulting work, Phantasms of the Living, was a two-volume collection of 701 cases dating mostly from the later part of the nineteenth century, indicative of the reality of ghost-seeing, mostly visual, and coincidental with the death of persons; at around 1400 pages Phantasms is thus a veritable blue book on ghosts and ghost-seeing in late Victorian society. This would be the Society's first major intervention in contemporary print culture, a supernatural compendium in the guise of a collection of cases which were ‘spontaneous’ – that is cases taken from the field that were non-induced, uninvited and quite unlike the experimental research which had taken place at Dean's Yard, in Brighton, and at Barrett's rooms in Dublin.

Phantasms eschewed the supernatural in favour of the scientific-naturalist. The use of the word ‘phantasm’ served two functions. Firstly, it could refer to a much wider variety of apparitions that were not necessarily centred on the visual sense such as auditory, tactile or olfactory hallucinations.