Table tipping and turning


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public domain image

It’s the letter T and I’m running a couple of days late!

I’ve been looking forward to the letter T because I want to write about table turning 🙂

I’m still writing a novella in my daughter of Ravenswood series – I’m enjoying it, it takes Meagan and Glynn deep into one of the old cities and its oldest (oldest and quite undead)  inhabitants.

I’m also constantly thinking about a completely new story I want to write which is set in the 1850s against a backdrop of spiritualism.

Spiritualism started in America in the late 1840s, but quickly spread around Europe. It travelled to Britain with American migrants; the official start of spiritualism in the UK is noted as 1853, when David Richmond, a Spiritualist returned from America to Keighley, Yorkshire.

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My story starts at this time, when there was an explosion in the belief that life continues after death, and that spirits of the dead could be contacted by skilled mediums. Seances in people’s own homes became the thing to do. By the mid-1850’s, invitations to tea among middle-class families often included table-turning, a type of séance in which spirits talked with people seated around a table by tilting and rotating the table.

It’s a fascinating backdrop against which to write a novel!

  • Spiritualism was hugely popular, but it enraged as many people as it enchanted.
  • A séance was one of the few places in Victorian society where conventions of respectability could be flouted. Attendees sang, engaged in all sorts of frivolous behavior, and were encouraged to let their emotions out.
  • Almost all mediums were female. At a time when women were denied jobs, suffrage and any civil liberties, it was one of the few areas in which women were taken seriously.

Table-Turning works on the same principles as the Ouija Board, where everyone who is participating creates energy to move the glass to letters and numbers. In table turning, you ask it questions and it answers with knocks, raps and tilts.

It’s easy to try out. You need four or five people, a quiet, comfortable place, and a small and light table. Everyone sits around the table, relaxed and trying not to think about the table moving, everyone holds hands with finger tips touching the table top. Hands must stay on the top of the table, then talk and ask questions in a normal voice.

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Table turning was rather quickly proved to be easily faked. In some examples, professional mediums used hidden ropes and pulleys to move tables during sessions in almost darkness. But in others, there was no paraphernalia to deliberately fake a result, and yet the table moved anyway!

Psychologists and other researchers as early as the 1850s, put this down to something called the ideomotor response, a psychological phenomenon in which a person makes minute motions unconsciously.

In other words it’s the people sitting around the table who subconsciously make the table move, just like it’s the people pressing on the glass with a Ouija board that make the glass move towards certain letters and numbers.

The ideomotor theory is less interesting than the thought that its spirits directly communicating with the living.

But, what is it that makes a small group of people all press on a glass or a tabletop to move it in the same direction at the same time?

Kim Cleary, Author

Kim Cleary

Kim writes paranormal stories with a intrigue, suspense and a hint of romance. She loves all animals, especially her dogs; and thrives on coffee and chocolate while writing and researching.

2 thoughts on “Table tipping and turning”

  1. Fimnora WestcawFimnora Westcaw

    Very fascinating, Kim! I worked for about six years for The Parapsychology Foundation in NYC.
    Brings me back to the days there, to the library which housed 10,000 books.

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