Dunglass Home Truths?

Gordon Stein. The Sorcerer of Kings: The Case of William Dunglass Home and William Crookes. Prometheus Books, 1993.

The author is bothered by the fact that Daniel Dunglass Home (1833-86) has the reputation of being one of the few physical mediums who has never been publicly exposed as a fraud. This, together with the fact that his phenomena were pronounced genuine by the eminent physicist Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), has moved him to write an exposé of these gentlemen, together with the medium Florence Cook, who was notorious chiefly for her apparent ability to materialise her spirit guide, 'Katie King'.

Eyewitness accounts of the various phenomena are examined in order to detect inconsistencies and to provide plausible explanations of how the tricks may have been performed. However, if you already believe that such carryings-on are just conjuring tricks, the most interesting chapter for you will be that concerning Crookes's motivations for getting involved in spiritualism. Stein suggests that one reason was grief over the death of his brother Philip in 1867, and he cites evidence that Crookes was an occultist (he joined the Theosophists in 1883). It was also likely that he saw the physical phenomena produced by mediums as being manifestations of a 'fourth 'state of matter'. Perhaps Crookes hoped to develop this idea in the hope of devising a theory that would link the physical world with the world of spirits in which he believed in a manner which would become generally acceptable?

The tension between religious belief and scientific theory was an important issue at that time, but Stein does not mention it. His principal motivation seems to be the desire that we should not believe any alleged paranormal phenomena to be genuine. In this he is supported in a foreword by James Randi: "Gordon Stein has given us here an effective weapon in the battle against irrationality and nonsense".  -- John Harney, from Magonia 50, September 1994.


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