Table-tilting (table talking) are the movements of a table during a Séance, attributed to the actions of spirits. Sitters place their hands lightly on a table and ask yes-or-no questions of the spirits. In answer, the table goes through rocking motions, pivoting, tipping sharply on two legs or one leg, rotating across a floor, and levitating.
If a Medium is present, tables are said to be more active. Table-tilting has been a feature of Séances since 1848, when the Fox Sisters gave birth to Spiritualism. It was observed prior to that. For example, one earlier account was documented by a man named Tscherepanoff, who witnessed a Tibetan lama cause a table to fly through the air.
By the 1850s, Table-Tilting was a controversial fad. People hosted Table-Tilting tea parties. Clerics denounced Table-Tilting as the work of the devil and said that placing the Bible on a Séance table would keep it in place. Skeptics believed Table-Tilting to be caused either by fraud on the part of sitters or by their unconscious muscular action.
Physicist Michael Faraday tested a talking table and published his findings in the Times of London in 1853. Faraday took two wooden boards and placed glass rollers between them, all fastened together with rubber bands. A push, even slight, on the upper board would cause it to slide over the lower board. Faraday gathered a group of sitters and, in the fashion of a Séance, had them rest their fingertips lightly on the table.
It moved, despite everyone’s assertion that no pushing was being done. Faraday’s conclusion was that it was unconscious muscular action. Faraday’s denouncement of Table-Tilting and spirit communication in general did little to stem the public fascination. The public wanted to believe other experts, such as Oliver Lodge, who said that Table-Tilting was a genuine uplifting force created by spirits present at a Séance.
D.D. Home was observed to cause a table to levitate in the Browning Circle sittings. Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning was enthralled; her husband, poet Robert Browning, was skeptical. Home invited Browning to inspect the table. Browning determined that there were no levers or props beneath the table, and he watched it perform beneath the fingertips of Home.
Browning said he witnessed the table rise at least a foot off the ground on its own. Eusapia Palladino also produced Table-Tilting. Ectoplasm was involved in some of the Table-Tiltings of the Goligher Circle. Table Levitations were photographed in sittings with mediums conducted by Thomas Glendenning Hamilton.
Elizabeth Poole, a Canadian medium, facilitated table levitation without any contact with the table. The PHILIP sittings to create an artificial entity also featured Table-Tilting. Table-tilting is still practiced informally by Home Circles, mediums, and others.
It is considered a means of spirit communication, but represents poor evidence for Survival After Death. The best results are obtained by groups that meet and practice regularly, building a close-knit group consciousness. Music, singing, laughing, and high-energy, optimistic emotional states are associated with better results.
- Blum, Deborah. Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. New York: Penguin, 2006.