Ear of Dionysius

The Ear of Dionysius is a famous mediumistic case involving Cross Correspondences. This type of case is something like a jigsaw puzzle, in that a series of references in a variety of communications must be brought together in a certain way before the whole can be understood. For another example, see Palm Sunday Case.

The “Ear of Dionysius” refers to a Sicilian cave to which Dionysius the Elder, Tyrant of Syracuse from 405 to 367 B.C.E., was in the habit of going to eavesdrop on the Athenian prisoners of war he held in adjoining stone quarries. The first reference to this situation was given in trance communication from a Medium who went by the name of Mrs. Willet, in August 1910. At one point Mrs. Willet said, “Dionysius Ear the lobe.” The allusion meant nothing to the sitter, Mrs. Verrall, and she asked her husband, the classical scholar A.W. Verrall, to explain it to her.

No further reference to the Ear of Dionysius was made in any of Mrs. Willet’s scripts for another three years, and in the meanwhile Dr. Verrall died. Then in January 1914, Mrs. Willet, doing Automatic Writing in the presence of Sir Oliver Lodge, produced a script that included a passage that was expressly sent by the deceased Dr. Verrall to Mrs. Verrall. This passage contained references to acoustics, hearing, ears, a Tyrant and Syracuse. An attempt was evidently made to get out “Dionysius” as well: Mrs. Willet wrote, “Dy Dy and then you think of Diana Dimorphism.”

Both Verralls were closely connected with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), which emphasized the importance of private and evidential communications as evidence for Survival After Death, so it made sense that Dr. Verrall would try to signal his continued existence to his wife in this way. This message, however, turned out to be only the beginning of a series of communications relating to the same theme, coming through Mrs. Willet from both Dr. Verrall and another communicator, also a deceased classical scholar, over the next year and a half. As the series progressed, allusions to Ulysses and Polyphemus (the Cyclops), Acis (a shepherd boy murdered by Polyphemus), his lover Galatea, jealousy, music, a zither, Aristotle’s poetics and satire began to appear as well.

Finally, in August 1915, the second communicator, S.H. Butcher, in a script communication through Mrs. Willet with Mrs. Verrall as sitter, sent a message which tied all the various allusions together. It referred to a certain Philoxenus, who had been imprisoned in the quarry by the Tyrant of Syracuse because he had managed to seduce the Tyrant’s mistress, Galatea. Philoxenus wrote a satirical poem based on his experience, in which he portrayed himself as Ulysses and the Tyrant as Polyphemus. This was the type of poem usually recited to the accompaniment of a zither, and it was mentioned by Aristotle in his Poetics, a work that Dr. Butcher had translated while he was alive.

The Ear of Dionysius case seems to provide clear evidence of cooperation between two deceased communicators. Drs. Verrall and Butcher had been close friends while alive, and that friendship would seem to have continued after death. Cooperation of this sort is evident in other similar cases. On the other hand, this case is unusual in that only a single medium was involved—more often the pieces to be fitted together came through a variety of mediums.

This difference is a major weakness of the case, because it means that one could argue that Mrs. Willet either overheard a discussion of the key points, or managed to learn of them through Extrasensory Perception (ESP), and then wove this knowledge into her trance communications (unconsciously—no deliberate deception is required by such a scenario). In fact, one critic raised just this objection to the case soon after it was published, pointing out that the details of the story are given in a book that was then being used as a textbook at the University of Cambridge.

As is so often true of research on survival, one’s evaluation of this case comes down to which explanation one finds more plausible—the idea that the deceased Drs. Verrall and Butcher cooperated to send a complex series of messages through Mrs. Willet to Mrs. Verrall, or that Mrs. Willet exercised extensive powers of ESP (see Super-PSI) to gain the necessary information, which she then unconsciously produced in a series of automatic writings while in trance.



  • Balfour, Gerald William. The Ear of Dionysius. New York: Henry Holt, 1920.
  • Gauld, Alan. Mediumship and Survival: A Century of Investigations. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1982.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007