William JacksonCrawford (1881–1920) was a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, whose contribution to psychical research lies in his controversial studies of the Goligher Circle.
W. J. Crawford was born on February 28, 1881, in Dunedin, New Zealand. He moved to Great Britain in 1899 at age 18, settling first in London and later in Glasgow. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Glasgow in 1903 and began to teach at technical colleges. In 1907 he was appointed lecturer at the Technical Institute in Belfast, and in 1912 he became an extramural lecturer at Queens University. He received his doctorate in science from the University of Glasgow in 1911.
It is not known how Crawford became interested in psychical phenomena. He may have been the “Crawford” who attended a Séance with “Eva C.” (see BERAUD, MARTHE) in 1914. In any event, it was in that year that he persuaded a spiritualist family in Belfast to let him attend their home circle, at which physical phenomena occurred. The Golighers were spiritualists who held Séances as part of their religious observance, but they had no objection to Crawford’s studies. The Goligher Circle, as the group came to be called, consisted of Goligher, a working man; his four daughters; his son; and his son-in-law. All four daughters were mediums, but one, Kathleen, was the most powerful. In 1914, she was about 16 years old.
The phenomena produced by the Golighers were of the standard spiritualist type. A table placed in the center of the circle would rise in the air (see Levitation), and a TRUMPET placed below it would fly about. The Golighers communicated with the spirits whom they believed to be responsible for these effects through Rapping, which sounded on the table or walls. Kathleen would sometimes go into trance and speak for them as well. The light was usually dim, although good enough to read by, and Crawford and other observers believed that it allowed them to see what was going on well enough to rule out trickery.
In his investigations, Crawford put his engineering expertise to good use. He put Kathleen’s chair on a scale in order to gauge her weight in relation to that of the levitated table, and found that both Kathleen and the chair increased in weight proportional to the table when it was lifted off the floor. He used an instrument designed to measure the elasticity of gases to track the psychokinetic force he hypothesized was emanating from her body and causing the table to rise. This revealed that the force operated on a “cantilever principle,” angling downward as it left Kathleen’s body (from the region of her lap), then making a right angle with the floor, and rising to push up the table from below.
A Belfast woman with a reputation as a psychic claimed that she could see these “psychic rods,” or Pseudopods, and they were at times visible to others. The psychic rods developed quickly, assuming various shapes and sizes. The similarity of Crawford’s observations with Kathleen Goligher to those made of Marthe Beraud and Rudi Schneider (see Schneider Brothers) is striking. Crawford set up a battery of five cameras, with which he was able to record some of the psychic rods, which bear comparison with Beraud’s Ectoplasm. Some 25 photographs of these formations appear at the end of Crawford’s Psychic Structures of the Goligher Circle (1921).
Although Crawford did not become a practicing spiritualist, he believed “unseen operators” were responsible for producing the psychic rods. In this he differed from the investigators of Beraud and RUDI SCHNEIDER, who concluded the Ectoplasm and psychokinetic effects were somehow produced by the medium, without the assistance of discarnate spirits.
A variety of outside observers attended Crawford’s Séances with the Golighers, including the president of the Glasgow Society of Conjurers, and concluded that the phenomena were genuine.
Sir William Barrett, a physicist who lived in Belfast, looked into Crawford’s work on behalf of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1915. He took with him a friend, a “Dr. W.” At the Séance they attended, knocks soon came and answered questions. Some knocks were very loud, and one, in response to a request by Dr. W. for an increase in volume, was so loud it caused the room to shake. Various imitative sounds, such as the sawing of wood, the boring of timber, and a bouncing ball, were also heard. The trumpet moved about, while Barrett and Dr. W. were encouraged to try to catch it. The table levitated to a height of 18 inches and stayed suspended in the air. They found that they could not push it down, no matter how hard they tried. Barrett then climbed onto the table and rode it, until he was thrown off.
When Barrett and Dr. W. returned the next day, they were informed by knocks that no phenomena would be forthcoming, due to “physical causes,” evidently having to do with Kathleen. Indeed, when Dr. W. examined her after the Séance was over, he found that she had begun her monthly period.
The only other SPR researcher to investigate the Golighers during Crawford’s lifetime was W. W. Carington (who was then calling himself W. W. Smith). He had a series of sittings in 1916, with another in 1920. He later wrote that in 1916, he was persuaded that what he saw was genuine, but that by 1920, he believed the phenomena had turned fraudulent. If this is so, it may have been because Kathleen’s mediumship was growing weaker, a frequent occurrence with physical mediums. It is interesting that by this date the Golighers had started to accept money from their investigators, something which they had not done earlier.
Crawford poisoned himself and died on July 30, 1920. Although he left a note saying his action had nothing to do with his “psychic work,” which he believed was done well enough to stand, and in letters shortly before his suicide he complained of overwork, the suspicion that his action may have had something to do with a discovery about the Golighers is unavoidable. Carington’s opinion that the family had turned to trickery by 1920 serves to strengthen this suggestion.
Another researcher who suspected the Golighers of fraud was E. E. Fournier d’Albe. He was acquainted with Materialization phenomena through some sittings with Beraud, whom he considered to be genuine. Fournier d’Albe had a series of 20 sittings with the Golighers, at which little occurred. In his book The Goligher Circle (1922), he used his largely negative findings to throw doubt on Crawford’s claims and argued that the earlier phenomena must have been fraudulently produced.
Crawford’s reputation has suffered greatly from Fournier d’Albe’s verdict, all the more so because during his lifetime Crawford avoided association with the psychical research community, and published in the Spiritualist periodical Light and in popularly written books, rather than in the SPR’s Proceedings. His affi liation may be due to no more than his preference for a spiritualistic explanation of the phenomena. But if he was indeed the “Crawford” who sat with Marthe Beraud, it may also be because he found objectionable the stringent measures against fraud practiced with that medium, who was obliged to submit to gynecological exams before Séances and take emetics after them.
Crawford was not a medical man, as were many of Beraud’s investigators, and he made no such requirement of Kathleen Goligher. Nor did he institute any of the other controls that by this time had become standard methodology in the study of physical mediumship. Having persuaded himself of the reality of the phenomena, he simply set about learning as much as he could about their physical characteristics.
The official jury will probably always be out on Crawford’s work. Nonetheless, his three books—The Reality of Psychic Phenomena (1916), Experiments in Psychic Science (1919) and The Psychic Structures of the Goligher Circle (1921)—have had a considerable impact on psychical research. They motivated Thomas Glendenning Hamilton, among others, to investigate physical Mediumship, and they inspired L. R. G. Crandon to try Table-Tilting, eventually leading to what seems to have been the largely fraudulent mediumship of his wife, “Margery” (see Crandon, Mina Stinson).
- Barham, Allan. “Dr. W. J. Crawford, His Work and His Legacy in Psychokinesis.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)55 (1988): 113–38.
- Barrett, William. “Report of Physical Phenomena Taking Place at Belfast with Dr. Crawford’s Medium.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)88 (1920): 334–37.
- Inglis, Brian. Science and Parascience: A History of the Paranormal, 1914–1939. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984.