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A Touching Moment: Revisiting a Tender Tactile Apparitional Experience

February 14, 2018

Although they don't seem to be very common, there have been limited occasions in which people reported apparitional experiences where they'd felt the sensation of being touched by something immaterial or unseen. Some survey findings suggest that around 13 - 15% of apparition cases contain such reports of feeling phantom sensations of touch [1-2], while other surveys have found them to be reported much less often (e.g., around 2% [3]). Among the earliest reported cases of this type is one which appeared in the classic 1886 anthology Phantasms of the Living, compiled by British psychical researchers Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers, and Frank Podmore [4]. It involved a couple who were engaged to be married, and the rather intimate and tender nature of the reported experience seems to make it a rather fitting one to revisit for Valentine's Day. It is also interesting to note that this case is one in which the touch sensation was apparently preceded by a phantom noise, making it a case involving two distinct sensory modes (hearing and touch).

The initial account of the case was given by the Rev. P. H. Newnham, who at time was pursuing his education at Oxford University (causing him to be away from home and his fiancee). After suffering a terrible headache one night, he laid down on his bed to rest and soon fell asleep, at which time he began having a vivid dream in which he found himself at his fiancee's home, visiting with her family. Upon wishing them good night, he had the impression of picking up a candle and exiting the sitting room where they were at. His account then proceeded as follows:

     On arriving in the hall, I perceived that my fiancee had been detained downstairs, and was only then near the top of the staircase. I rushed upstairs, overtook her on the top step, and passed my two arms round her waist, under her arms, from behind. Although I was carrying my candle in my left hand, when I ran upstairs, this did not, in my dream, interfere with this gesture.

     On this I woke, and a clock in the house struck 10 almost immediately afterwards.

     So strong was the impression of the dream that I wrote a detailed account of it next morning to my fiancee.

     Crossing my letter, not in answer to it, I received a letter from the lady in question: "Were you thinking about me, very specially, last night, just about 10 o'clock?  For, as I was going upstairs to bed, I distinctly heard your footsteps on the stairs, and felt you put your arms round my waist." [4, Vol. I, pp. 225 - 226, italics in original]

A second account later given by Mr. Newnham's fiancee seemed to be consistent with the details of her soon-to-be husband's dream experience:

I remember distinctly the circumstance which my husband has described as corresponding with his dream. I was on my way up to bed, as usual, about 10 o'clock, and on reaching the first landing I heard distinctly the footsteps of the gentleman to whom I was engaged, quickly mounting the stairs after me, and then I as plainly felt him put his arms round my waist. So strong an impression did this make upon me that I wrote the very next morning to the gentleman, asking if he had been particularly thinking of me at 10 o'clock the night before, and to my astonishment I received (at the same time that my letter would reach him) a letter from him describing his dream, in almost the same words that I had used in describing my impression of his presence. [4, Vol. I, p. 226]

Mr. Newnham and his fiancee stated that some years later, they'd compared the letters they'd sent to each other and found that what they'd written was consistent with what each of them remembered happening. Unfortunately, they'd destroyed both of those letters afterward, for reasons that remain unclear.

It's curious to note that within her extensive case collection of various psychic experiences, the late parapsychologist Louisa Rhine had found a relatively small number (around 15 - 17%) of cases of ostensible telepathy in which the reported experiences were somewhat similar to the one experienced by Mr. Newnham's fiancee, in the sense that they also seemed to involve phantom bodily sensations. Typically these were cases in which one person felt a sudden pain, ill feeling, or other kind of physical sensation develop at roughly the same time that another person (usually someone with whom they shared a close biological or emotional connection) was directly experiencing the same kind of pain or sensation some distance away. [5-6] Other parapsychologists have come across accounts of similar cases over the years, as well [e.g., 7, pp. 280 - 281]. If we assume for the moment that the couple's experience had indeed taken place as they say it did, then perhaps a process somewhat akin to the telepathic process which seems to mediate these sudden bodily sensations might've helped stimulate the phantom sensation experienced by Mr. Newnham's fiancee. This is mere speculation at this point, though it's rather intriguing to think about as a potential possibility.

The PRF wishes everyone a pleasant Valentine's Day!

References:

[1] Green, C., & McCreery, C. (1975). Apparitions. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd.

[2] Haraldsson, E. (2012). The Departed Among the Living: An Investigative Study of Afterlife Encounters. Guildford, UK: White Crow Books.

[3] Arcangel, D. (2005). Afterlife Encounters: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Experiences. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company.

[4] Gurney, E., Myers, F. W. H., & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of the Living [2 vols.]. London: Trubner & Company.

[5] Rhine, L. E. (1956). Hallucinatory psi experiences: I. An introductory survey. Journal of Parapsychology, 20, 233 - 256.

[6] Rhine, L. E. (1967). Hallucinatory experiences and psychosomatic psi. Journal of Parapsychology, 31, 111 - 134.

[7] Roll, W. G. (1993). Mind and method. In L. Coly & J. D. S. McMahon (Eds.) Proceedings of an International Conference: Psi Research Methodology: A Re-Examination (pp. 274 - 294). New York: Parapsychology Foundation, Inc.

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