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Spirit Precipitation

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Spirit precipitations originally referred to paintings which the spirits supposedly materialized or "precipitated" onto paper or canvas. Later the term was applied to photograph-like productions as shown here.

The top swatch of cloth bears images produced at a séance in Lexington, Kentucky, 1985. The medium came from Camp Chesterfield , a spiritualist colony in Indiana. He showed those attending the séance some blank squares of cloth and opened a bottle of ink that he sat on a table. He told the sitters that their very own "spirit guides" would come and use the ink to "precipitate" the guides' self-portraits onto the cloth. Indeed, after the swatches were handed out in the dark and the lights subsequently turned on again, people were amazed to see them imprinted with pictures.

One sitter later realized she had probably been flim-flammed and eventually got in touch with paranormal investigator Joe Nickell. Subsequently, forensic analyst John F. Fischer demonstrated that there were solvent rings around each small portrait, consistent with a technique (using a solvent and pressing with a hot iron or burnishing with the back of a spoon) for transferring newspaper or magazine pictures onto cloth. (See M. Lamar Keene, Psychic Mafia, Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1997.) The bottom cloth was produced by Joe Nickell as a demonstration for possible use in court.

On the basis of the evidence, Joe Nickell persuaded police to obtain warrants against the medium on charges that included theft by deception. Unfortunately, although he had obtained $800 from the séance, he had only only taken $40 from each person— an amount that made the charge a misdemeanor rather than a felony. As a consequence he could not be extradited, and ultimately evaded prosecution. However the message showed— then as now— that phony mediumship was not without risk.



Digital image copyright 2014 Images in this collection are not to be used for any commercial purposes without the expressed written permission of the Center for Inquiry and Dr. Joe Nickell. Patrons of this digital museum are free to utilize materials from the museum for non-commercial and educational purposes.