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  • Bryan Williams

Another Touching Moment: A Second Tender Tactile Apparitional Experience

There have been a number of documented instances in which people say that they'd seen the spectral figure of a certain person suddenly appear before them at a time when that person had been in an accident, was suffering a serious illness, or was facing imminent threat of death. [e.g., 1-2] Occasionally these crisis apparitional experiences, as they are called, occur between two people who are romantically involved, and the following account, which comes from the classic two-volume anthology Phantasms of the Living (compiled by psychical researchers Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers, and Frank Podmore) from 1886 [1], offers one such example. It involved a couple who were engaged to be married at the time, and the tender nature of the experience seemed to make this case rather fitting to relate for Valentine's Day. The account was given by a woman known as Mrs. Lichfield, who said that when the experience took place, she'd been seated at a vanity table in the corner of her room, reading a book. She stated that she was in a good mood and feeling quite calm, and that her mind wasn't on her fiance at the time. She described the experience as follows: My eyes were fixed on the book, when suddenly I felt, but did not see, some one come into my room. I looked straight before me into the glass [of the mirror on her vanity table, which reflected the space of the room behind her] to see who it was, but no one was visible. I naturally thought that my visitor, seeing me deep in my book, had gone out again, when, to my astonishment, I felt a kiss on my forehead - a lingering, loving pressure. I looked up, without the least sensation of fear, and saw my lover standing behind my chair, stooping as if to kiss me again. His face was very white and inexpressibly sad. As I rose from my chair in great surprise, before I could speak, he had gone, how I do not know; I only know that, one moment I saw him - saw distinctly every feature of his face, saw the tall figure and broad shoulders as clearly as I ever saw them in my life - and the next moment there was no sign of him. For the first minute I felt nothing but surprise; perplexity expresses better what I mean; fear, or the idea that I had seen a spirit, never entered my mind; the next sensation was that there must be something the matter with my brain, and a feeling of thankfulness that it had not conjured up some terrific vision, instead of an agreeable one. I remember praying that I might not fancy anything that would frighten me. The next day, to my great surprise, there was not my usual morning's letter from him; four posts came in and no letter; all the next day, no letter. I naturally objected to the novel feeling of finding myself neglected, but should not have thought of letting the neglector know it, so would not write to inquire the cause of his silence. On the third night - still no letter all day - as I was going upstairs to bed, thinking of something totally unconnected with R. [her fiance], as I put my foot on the top stair, I felt, suddenly, but most intensely, that he was in my room, and that I could see him just as I had done before. For the first time came the fear that something had happened to him. I knew well how intense his desire to see me would be, and thought - "Could it have been really that I saw him the other night?" I went straight to my room, convinced that I should see him; there was nothing to be seen. I sat down and waited, and the sensation that he was there, and striving to speak to me, and to make me see him, became stronger and stronger. I waited till I became so sleepy I could not sit up any longer, and went to bed and to sleep. By the first morning's post I wrote and told him I feared he must be ill, as I had not had a letter for three days. I said not one word of what I have told [in this account]. Two mornings after, I had a few lines, shockingly written, to tell me he had hurt his hand out hunting, and could not hold a pen till that day, but was in "no danger." It was not till a few days after, when he could write distinctly, that I knew the whole truth. [1, Vol. II, pp. 137 - 138] It turned out that on the same day she had the experience, Mrs. Lichfield's fiance R. had been riding on a untamed horse when the horse reared back and forcefully pinned him against a wall. The pain he felt from the crushing impact was so intense that it made him pass out, and just before he fully lost consciousness, R. remembered thinking (along with the thought that he was going to die), "May, my little May! Don't let me die without seeing her again!" Mrs. Lichfield then saw the spectral figure of R. later that night. This account is a bit similar to another one that we'd revisited in a previous Valentine's Day entry on the PRF blog, in that it also involved a woman who told of experiencing a phantom sensation of touch around the time that her fiance's thoughts seemed to turn toward her (in the course of a vivid dream). Interestingly, one might note that in both cases, the phantom touch was accompanied by a second phantom sensation that the woman experienced (a vision of the fiance in the above case, and the distinct sound of the fiance's footsteps in the previous case). From examining other accounts of phantom touch, it seems that there is a tendency for this kind of pairing to be reported rather frequently - for instance, British psychical researchers Celia Green and Charles McCreery noted that: "Most of the hallucinations of touch reported to us were combined with hallucinations of other senses. For example, the [witness] might see an apparition and feel its clothing brush him [or her] as it passes, or he [or she] might hear footsteps and feel someone sitting on his [or her] bed." [3, p. 102] And in surveying 60 accounts that he'd received of phantom touch, Icelandic researcher Erlendur Haraldsson found that in 42 of them (70%), the touch sensation was also accompanied by a second phantom sensation. [4, p. 27] It's certainly intriguing to wonder why this kind of tendency might occur for this particular type of experience. The PRF would like to wish everyone a pleasant Valentine's Day! ------- References: [1] Gurney, E., Myers, F. W. H., & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of the Living [2 vols.]. London: Trubner & Company. [2] MacKenzie, A. (1971). Apparitions and Ghosts: A Modern Study. London: Arthur Barker Ltd. (See Chapter 6) [3] Green, C., & McCreery, C. (1975). Apparitions. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd. [4] Haraldsson, E. (2012). The Departed Among the Living: An Investigative Study of Afterlife Encounters. Guildford, UK: White Crow Books.

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