Occult Research Paper

1The term ‘apport’ refers to the paranormal transference of objects from one place to another or the appearance of articles from unknown sources in the presence of a medium. Maria Vollhardt specialised in apports, including hoops, branches and flowers.

2‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, Psychische Studien, 52 (1925), 550–8; Albert Moll, Der Spiritismus, 2nd edn (Stuttgart: Franckh’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1924), 36–48.

3‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, op. cit. (note 2), 552.

4Moll Albert Ein Leben als Arzt der Seele: Erinnerungen Dresden: Carl Reissner; 1936), 106. On Moll’s confusion of personal attack with scientific critique, see Walther Kröner, ‘Epilog zur Moll-Polemik’, Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie, 3 (1926), 160–9.

5‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, op. cit. (note 2), 552. The Strafgesetzbuch states the following: ‘Section 186: Defamation: Whosoever asserts or disseminates a fact related to another person which may defame him or negatively affect public opinion about him, shall, unless this fact can be proven to be true, be liable to imprisonment of not more than one year or a fine and, if the offence was committed publicly or through the dissemination of written materials (Section 11 (3)), to imprisonment of not more than two years or a fine. Section 187: Intentional defamation: Whosoever intentionally and knowingly asserts or disseminates an untrue fact related to another person, which may defame him or negatively affect public opinion about him or endanger his creditworthiness shall be liable to imprisonment of not more than two years or a fine, and, if the act was committed publicly, in a meeting or through dissemination of written materials (Section 11 (3)) to imprisonment of not more than five years or a fine’.

6‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, op. cit. (note 2), 552, 554–5. Note that, like Moll, I will use the terms ‘occultist’ and ‘parapsychologist’ as well as ‘occultism’ and ‘parapsychology’ interchangeably in this paper.

7Schwab Friederich Teleplasma und Telekinese: Ergebnisse meiner zweijährigen Experimentalsitzungen mit dem Berliner Medium Maria Vollhart (Berlin: Pyramidenverlag, 1923); Moll, op. cit. (note 2), 37–40.

8ibid., 38, 40–1.

9Ibid., 38.

10Ibid., 43, 45, 46.

11This point was made by Carl Bruck in his introduction to what he claimed was a more accurate protocol of the 11 April 1923 sitting with Frau Vollhardt. See, Carl Bruck, ‘Ein Protokoll’, Psychische Studien, 51 (1924), 481–7.

12op. cit. (note 2), 4, 8.

13Ibid., 9.

14Ibid., 20.

15‘Die Versuche sind unter so unerhört leichtfertigen Bedinungen angestellt, daß man nur von einer Farce sprechen kann. Das Medium ist vorher nicht untersucht worden …Das nennen die Berliner Okkultisten Wissenschaft!’ Ibid., 42. Translations of quotations are the author’s unless stated otherwise.

16‘Ich habe den Versuch und meine Bemerkungen dazu nur deshalb gebracht, weil sie blitzartig den Geisteszustand von Führern des Berliner Okkultismus beleuchten. Der Trick ist so plump, daß der ganze Fall nur wegen der Geistesverfassung der Okkultisten Beachtung verdient’. Ibid., 42.

17‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, op. cit. (note 2), 552.

18Ibid., 552.

19Ibid., 552.

20Ibid., 552–3.

21The plaintiff argued that Moll had stated as fact that the medium had pushed the wooden hoops onto the arms of her controls. This, he said, amounted to accusing her of deception. Bornemann was thus concerned with establishing whether such deception could be proven. See, ‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, op. cit. (note 2), 552.

22Ibid., 554.

23Ibid., 557.

24§193 reads: ‘Fair comment; defence: Critical opinions about scientific, artistic or commercial achievements, utterances made in order to exercise or protect rights or to safeguard legitimate interests, as well as remonstrations and reprimands by superiors to their subordinates, official reports or judgements by a civil servant, and similar cases shall only entail liability to the extent that the existence of an insult results from the form of the utterance or the circumstances under which it was made’.

25‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, op. cit. (note 2), 557–8.

26Ibid., 558. §185 states: ‘Insult: An insult shall be punished with imprisonment of not more than one year or a fine and, if the insult is committed by means of an assault, with imprisonment of not more than two years or a fine’.

27Moll Albert. Psychologie und Charakterologie der Okkultisten. Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke; 1929. ), 67.

28‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, op. cit. (note 2), 558.

29Ibid., 558.

30Ibid., 558.

31Dreher E.. Nachklänge zum ‘Okkultisten-Prozeß Psychische Studien. 1925;52:545–550. : 545, 548.

32Buchner Eberhard. Der Mollprozeß in zweiter Auflage. Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie. 1926;3:154–159. : 155.

33Occult trials have proven to be useful sources for historians working on both the history of occultism and on criminal justice in the German context. Of particular note is the work of Corinna Treitel and Benjamin Carter Hett on the early twentieth-century trial of the medium Anna Rothe. Treitel has discussed this case as part of her exploration of the relationship between occultism and modernity in Germany, while Hett has considered the Rothe trial in his cultural–historical analysis of criminal trials in Imperial Berlin. Both scholars considered this trial as a manifestation of liberal despair over public credulity and the popularisation of science. See Corinna Treitel, ‘The culture of knowledge in the metropolis of science: spiritualism and liberalism in Fin-de-Siècle Berlin’, in Constantin Goschler (ed.), Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit in Berlin (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2000), 127–54; Benjamin Carter-Hett, Death in the Tiergarten: Murder and Criminal Justice in the Kaiser’s Berlin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 153–5. I have tended to approach occult trials in another way, using them to tease out the epistemic and methodological issues surrounding parapsychology’s bid for scientific status. See, Heather Wolffram, The Stepchildren of Science: Psychical Research and Parapsychology in Germany, c. 1870–1939 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009), especially Chapter Five. In this paper, however, I take a slightly different approach and use the trial to gain deeper insight into one man’s critique.

34op. cit. (note 32), 155; Kröner, op. cit. (note 4), 161.

35Schröder Christoph. Pseudo-Entlarvung: Ein kritischer Beitrag zur “Medien”-Entlarvungs-Tatik (Teil C) Psychische Studien. 1924;51:664–666.

36Ibid., 666.

37op. cit. (note 4), 167. For a more detailed analysis of how such pathologisation strategies were used against deviant epistemologies like parapsychology, see Andreas Sommer’s article in this special issue.

38Wolf-Braun Barbara , ‘Parapsychologische und psychiatrische Konstruktionen des Mediumismus um 1900’, in Marcus Hahn and Erhard Schüttpelz (eds), Trancemedien und Neue Medien um 1900 (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009), 150; see also Barbara Wolf-Braun (ed.), Medizin, Okkultismus und Parapsychologie im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert (Wetzlar: GWAB Verlag, 2009).

39The term ‘boundary work’ and related ones such as ‘epistemic contest’ and ‘sanitisation’ are derived from recent works in the sociology of knowledge and science, which seek to describe the manner in which borders between fields of knowledge are created, demarcated, contested, and secured. See Thomas F. Gieryn, Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

40op. cit. (note 31), 549.

41Ibid., 549.

42‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, op. cit. (note 2), 554.

43op. cit. (note 31), 549.

44Ibid., 549.

45Moll had sought to debunk Vollhardt’s phenomena at talks held at the Berlin Forensic-Medicine Club (26 October 1923) and the Berlin Urania (6 November 1923); see, Moll, op. cit. (note 27), 67.

46‘Prozeß-Urteil Moll–Rudloff’, op. cit. (note 2), 554; Moll, op. cit. (note 2), 42.

47On Moll’s experiment with District Court Judge Pusch in the second edition of the Rudloff–Moll trial; see Kröner, op. cit. (note 4), 161.

48op. cit. (note 31), 549.

49op. cit. (note 4), 92–4.

50Ibid., 94.

51Ibid., 92–3.

52Ibid., 92–4.

53Ibid., 94. See also Adolf Kurzweg, ‘Die Geschichte der Berliner “Gesellschaft für Experimental-Psychologie” mit besonderer Berücksichtigung ihrer Ausgangssituation und des Wirkens von Max Dessoir’ (unpublished MD thesis: FU Berlin, 1976).

54Wolf-Braun Barbara , ‘Zur Rezeptionsgeschichte der Parapsychologie im Rahmen der akademischen Psychologie: Die Stellungnahmen von Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) und Hugo Münsterberg (1863–1916) ’, in Jahnke Jürgen et al. Psychologiegeschichte—Beziehungen zu Philosophie und Grenzgebieten Munich: Profil Verlag; 1998), 410; Heather Wolffram, ‘Parapsychology on the Couch: The Psychology of Occult Belief in Germany, c. 1870–1939’, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 42 (2006), 237–60: 241–2.

55Preyer Wilhelm Telepathie und Geisterseherei in England Deutsche Rundschau26188630–51.op. cit. (note 54), 408–9. The approach adopted by Moll and Dessoir had much in common with that of Joseph Jastrow in the United States; see Deborah Coon, ‘Testing the Limits of Sense and Science: American Experimental Psychologists Combat Spiritualism, 1880–1920’, American Psychologist, 47 (1992), 143–51.

56op. cit. (note 31), 550.

57op. cit. (note 4), 94–5.

58Ibid., 95–7.

59Ibid., 96.

60Dessoir Max Zur Psychologie der Taschenspielerkunst Nord und Süd521890207–208., 212. For further discussion of Moll’s analysis of conjuring; see Sofie Lachapelle, ‘From the Stage to the Laboratory: Magicians, Psychologists, and the Science of Illusion’, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 44 (2008), 319–34.

61‘In der Mehrzahl der Fälle wird der Beobachter weder durch eigentliche Taschenspielerei noch durch Trugwahrnehmungen getäuscht, sondern er wird in feinerer Weise veranlaßt, sich selbst durch Lücken der Aufmerksamkeit und Irrtümer der Deutung zu täuschen’. Max Dessoir, Vom Jenseits der Seele: Die Geheimwissenschaften in kritischer Betrachtung, 3rd edn (Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke, 1919), 189–90.

62Teichler Jens-Uwe. Zur Auseinandersetzung zwischen naturwissenschaftlicher Medizin und Laienmedizin im deutschen Kaiserreich am Beispiel von Hypnotismus und Heilmagnetismus. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag; 2002. Der Charlatan strebt nicht nach Wahrheit, er verlangt nur nach Geld. , ‘. ), 31.

63Barbara Wolf-Braun ‘ “Was jeder Schäferknecht macht, ist eines Arztes unwürdig”: Zur Geschichte der Hypnose im wilhelminischen Kaiserreich und in der Weimarer Republik (1888–1932)’, Hypnose und Kognition, 17 (2000), 134–52: 144. Teichler, op. cit. (note 62), 170–84.

64Moll Albert Gesundbeten: Medizin und Okkultismus (Berlin: Hermann Walther, 1902); Albert Moll, Der Rapport in der Hypnose: Untersuchungen über den tierischen Magnetismus (Leipzig: Ambrosius Abel, 1892).

65For a closer analysis of the development of the psychology of occult belief in the German context, see Wolffram, op. cit. (note 54).

66Moll Albert. Hypnotism. 4th edn. London: Walter Scott; 1897. ), 416.

67op. cit. (note 2), 32; Moll, op. cit. (note 66), 277.

68op. cit. (note 27), 87, 96.

69Moll and Dessoir were engaged here in a kind of double boundary work, seeking, not only to sanitise hypnosis, which in the German context was associated with lay performers and Heilmagnetismus, but also to expand psychology’s jurisdiction and authority into territory claimed by the occultists. For more on boundary work in this area, see Wolffram, op. cit. (note 33); David J. Hess, Science in the New Age: The Paranormal, Its Defenders and Debunkers, and American Culture (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993).

70op. cit. (note 27), 36.

71Ibid., 36; R.W. Schulte, ‘Experimentalpsychologische Untersuchungen zur Prüfung der Kontrollbedingungen bei okkultistischen Dunkelsitzungen’, Zeitschrift für kritischen Okkultismus, 1 (1926), 248.

72op. cit. (note 27), 36.

73op. cit. (note 2), 43.

74op. cit. (note 31), 549; Kröner, op. cit. (note 4), 161–2.

75op. cit. (note 2), 42, 43.

76Thank you to the anonymous reviewers of this paper who suggested that I highlight this other form of pathologisation.

77op. cit. (note 2), 40.

78Ibid., 37.

79Ibid., 38.

80In their defence against Moll’s attacks, which was mounted in a series of articles in the journals Psychische Studien and Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie, parapsychologists claimed that the lack of precautions they took in their experiments, including the decision not to search the medium or her helpers, were an unavoidable consequence of the unpredictable and ill-understood nature of occult phenomena and their conduits, the mediums. In the case of the 11 April 1923 sitting, Bruck stressed that this experiment had never been intended to be definitive and that the participants had been quite aware that the conditions under which it was conducted were such that sceptics would not find the protocol convincing. The aim had simply been to introduce Bruck and Sünner, who had never acted as controls before, to Vollhardt’s phenomena in conditions that mimicked those in which she had performed successfully before. Moll, of course, was little persuaded by this argument, using such protests to highlight the profound differences he saw between the science of the occultists and mainstream science, commenting snidely about their astounding lack of scienticity; Bruck, op. cit. (note 11), 484.

81op. cit. (note 27), 44.

82Ibid., 44.

83Ibid., 44.

84Ibid., 63.

85op. cit. (note 32), 159.

86Ibid., 159; Moll, op. cit. (note 27), 64.

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