Beginning in the nineteenth century, there have been reports of people exhibiting strange magnetic qualities, often accompanied by unusual displays of electric energy. Scientists are at a loss for how to explain this phenomenon, although a number of cases have been studied and well documented. For example, for ten weeks beginning on July 15, 1846, fourteen-year-old Angélique Cottin of France began repelling objects—some of them pieces of heavy furniture—away from her body through some unseen electric charge whereby they would jump or spin away from her, usually after she touched them. At the same time, the needles of compasses held near her would spin violently. While investigating her abilities on behalf of the French Academy of Sciences, physicist François Arago determined that Cottin’s powers grew stronger as night fell and seemed to come from her left arm. He also noted that her pulse grew more rapid whenever she was displaying the phenomenon, and sometimes she would have convulsions during this period as well.
Similarly, in 1890 sixteen-year-old Louis Hamburger of Maryland was studied by researchers of the Maryland College of Pharmacy because of his magnetic qualities; metal objects would attach themselves to his skin so strongly that he could lift them off the ground. On one occasion, he lifted a 5-pound (2.3kg) jar of iron filings that had attached itself to three of his fingertips. In 1976 twelve-year-old Vyvyan Jones of England somehow became charged with electricity after breaking his arm, to the extent that he was able to illuminate a lightbulb simply by holding it, and for two days his magnetism caused any watch brought near him to stop running. He could also give people massive electric shocks and make lights flicker and appliances turn on and off.
The majority of people displaying such temporary abilities are adolescents, which has led some researchers to suggest that the same abilities are responsible for poltergeist activities (attacks on people, usually adolescents, that are often said to be caused by violent spirits). However, no one has been able to determine what might cause human magnetism, and sceptics are largely silent on the issue (except, on occasion, to suggest that fraud is involved). They do comment, though, on the use of magnets to improve human health, which is usually done under the belief that a human body undergoes certain changes when subjected to magnetism. (For example, some believers say that magnets affect the iron in red blood cells, thereby improving circulation.) In evaluating such cases, sceptics typically say that magnets have no effect on the human body whatsoever.
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning