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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Three-out-of-Two Worlds Ain't Bad!

I don't know how familiar the term “google-fu” is to my audience here, but in the RPG gaming messageboard community, it refers to one's skill to locate obscure or forgotten information via Google. I consider my google-fu somewhat superior. I consider that after years of training, I'm something of a master. I know how to bend search terms in tantric ways, and my use of the Six-Fingers-Quotes-then-No-Quotes Technique is well heeded in such far-off locales as the British Newspaper Archives and Genealogy Bank. But sometimes even masters meet devastating foes, and a clash of google-fu erupts in a fury of flying searches and deadly exchanges of information.

The Two Worlds box that vexed our dating assumptions for so long.

I met my match last night, as a breeze blew through the digital bamboo grove, rustling the leaves silently, telling my ears that I was being silently stalked by a master researcher with ninja-like skills. Several times now have we met in battle, and once again he proved his google-fu superior to mine.

But I am wise in conceding defeat, as this master shares in his victories, so that both may win to battle another day. This researcher is, to date, our blog's sole comment contributor, who goes by the somewhat dubious name of Glenn Rinker. He reveals that when next we battle, they'll be having a sweltering winter heat wave in Miami with temps in the 90s, while the central and Rocky Mountain states are buried in snow. Mind which hotel you're staying in.

Glenn passed on to me an invaluable piece of a puzzle I have been trying to assemble since well before's debut. It is a complicated one, and one that stretches across a half-dozen talking board devices to make for a lot of pieces to fit together. The ad that brings it all together is below, from the backmatter of a 1936 pamphlet-published lecture by Harry Boddington delivered to the “Link Association of Spirit Circles” at Wortley Hall, and entitled “The Development of Clairvoyance and the Scientific Formation of Circles.”

This advertisement reveals to us, finally, three items for sale in 1936 that we were previously unable to date. Curiously, I've always called these items (planchette, ball, and board) the “Two Worlds Holy Trinity,” mostly because they were the trio of devices that, as a collector, I most desired. And here we are with all three pictured—a rare treat indeed! Seems I wasn't the only one who put these three at the top of the most-desirable list. 
Two Worlds "Magic Crystal" from

The ad solves the puzzle that long plagued when was the Two Worlds planchette sold? Given that we knew the date of its identical twin, the Weyers Bros planchette (a firm established in 1924 and advertising its planchette in 1931, as Marc Demarest recently revealed) and its cousin, outfitted in identical hardware, the H.P. Gibson & Sons “Autoscopograph” also produced around the same time, it should have been easy to jump to this conclusion earlier, no?
From left to right: Two Worlds, H.P. Gibson, & Weyers Bros. Fruit fallen from the same family tree?

Not exactly. 

The cause of this confusion is the existence of the third spectre of the "Holy Trinity:" W.T. Braham's "Telepathic Spirit Communicators," which were later rebranded by Two Worlds as their own products, with one existing example even having a Two Worlds sticker placed over Braham's name in a seeming mark of transition from one to the other. Based on the similar packaging of the crystal and planchette, it was always my assumption—one that turns out to likely be correct if this ad is any indicator, mind you—that Two Worlds entered the world of merchandising whole cloth in a short span, and not piecemeal over the course of decades. This assumption, however, led to a dating discrepancy between the identical planchettes of Weyers Bros and Two Worlds, and you'll still be able to spy my error over at if you're quick enough to get there before I update the relevant pages. 

Braham's "Wonderful Spirit Communicator:" later rebranded as Two Worlds, and source of our dating woes"
Though we've got the planchette pegged, the lateral "slide boards" in the same ad will yet give us trouble. Braham was in the game with Two Worlds from the start on its board of directors, and was established at his 392 Stretford address as a watchmaker as early as 1873. This address, of course, matches his earliest draft of the Telepathic Spirit Communicator: the “Wonderful Spirit Communicator,” though we do not yet know when he moved to the 13 Hartington St., Moss Side, Manchester address we find on the "Telepathic" version of his boards. Given that by 1895 he was a rather hirsute of face and bald of pate, it didn't seem too likely an assumption that he was producing his product closer to his prime in the 1900s, rather than the late 1930s. And given that Two Worlds is producing them at this point, it may be that the items were long-before acquired from Braham, with him totally out of the picture, if not aged or dead by 1936. And the 1900 assumption may still be the case, and armed with a patent number from one of his devices (Braham being an enthusiastic patentee) and a plane ticket to the archives in London to dig through back issues of Two Worlds, we'll be able to one day prove it for sure. Until that day, we'll keep connecting the dots, hopefully even discovering if there's any connection with this suspiciously similar device. It may be that the Spirit Communicators have a much longer run than anyone ever expected. 

And, in any case, they couldn't have done worse in England than Elijah Bond with the ouija board. 

Next post, we'll discuss other intriguing snippets from the ad, including the tantalizing "Seance Vibrator" and the "Psychic Research Table." Stay tuned!

Friday, February 15, 2013

"Zairgeh: The Egyptian Divining Table"

Sometimes new discoveries are hiding in plain sight.

As my last blog post said, I've been fascinated with the Gambols with the Ghosts catalog for some time, and once I acquired my own copy I pored through its brittle pages looking for any clues to, well, any other sort of talking board that the catalog might have offered. Maybe it was the immediate proximity to planchettes and ouija boards that made me leapfrog right over it with each perusal. Maybe I just didn't read close enough or got lost in the language. But right in the middle of composing my last post, this beauty jumped right off the page and smacked me in the face: Item #141: "Zairgeh, or Egyptian Diviner."

We collectors are used to the assignment of all manner of esoteric names and bogus mystical foreign origins to talking boards. Look no further than a few posts down to see T.H. White's absolutely-fabricated-but-nonetheless-mystical-sounding "Algomire," or Hasko's sphinx-themed "Mystic Trays," the bad-juju Native American spirit evocation of Wilder's "Mitche Manitou" boards, or even Fuld's very own "Ouija," which was patented and marketed as "The Egyptian Luck Board," with its "inventor," Charles Kennard, even making early claims that the word "ouija" was Egyptian for "good luck."

And while I find it dubious that Ralph Sylvestre actually traveled to Egypt to be gifted with a specimen of the Zairgeh board, the fact is, that beyond all the bogus marketing bloviation of the above-listed boards and scores others that hit the market in subsequent years, this one actually makes a legitimate claim to its origins.

The first mention I can uncover of the zairgeh in English is in Edward W. Lane's 1842 work, "An Account of the Manner and Customs of the Modern Egyptians." The cumbersome subtitle indicates that the travels actually took place in 1825-28, and again in 1833-35, but there is nonetheless a compelling account and description of the board and its use, which says, in part:

"The Muslims have recourse to many superstitious practices to determine them when they are in doubt as to any action which they contemplate, whether they shall do it or not. Some apply, for an answer, to a table called a "zairgeh." There is a table of this kind ascribed to Idrees, or Enoch. It is divided into a hundred little squares; in each of which is written some Arabic letter. The person who consults it repeats, three times, the opening chapter of the Kur-an, and the 59th verse of the Soorat elAn'am...having done this, without looking directly at the table, he places his finger upon it: he then looks to see upon what letter his finger is placed; writes that letter; the fifth following it; the fifth following this; and so on, until he comes again to the first which he wrote; and these letters together compose the answer."

But we don't have to rely on Lane's compelling description alone, and the author is kind enough to provide his readers with a "translated" illustrated version of the board, shown here:

The board does not quite fit into our normal definition of talking board, in that it doesn't rely on ideomotor response (or even real spirit influence!) to spell out messages through an indicator. Instead, it relies on the chance placement of your blindly-placed index finger, which provides a starting letter and point for your divination. The means to achieve the divination among the random set of letters is the secret "key" that Sylvestre dangles before the prospective buyer's eyes in his solicitation.

As Lane goes on to explain, once you've blindly chosen a starting square, you record the letter there. Then, in a left-to-right, higher-to-lower manner, just like you're reading English, you count every fifth letter, transcribing each one as you go, until you get back to your starting point. Let's say you randomly select the "n" in Column 4, Row 5. If you count down to the end, jump back to the top and keep counting while recording every 5th letter, you get the phrase "ndenjoypeaceabstaina" which, with a little rearrangement, gives you the not-so-fast-there-buddy message "Abstain and Enjoy Peace."

Of course, the "divinations" are limited to five, and Lane explains that "the framer of the table, knowing that men very frequently wish to do what is wrong, and seldom to do what is right, and that it is generally safer for them to abstain when in doubt, has given but one affirmative answer, and four negative."

The four negative answers, to save yourself the trouble, are: "Who Does it Will Do Wrong," "Wait and Attain Your Wish," "Who Waiteth, Succeedeth," and the aforementioned "Abstain and Enjoy Peace." The sole encouraging divination is "Do it Without Fear of Ill."

Gambols with the Ghosts "Zairgeh" Illustration, 1901

These divination tables were again brought to light in Harry Leech's 1869 Letters of a Sentimental Idler, then again in McClintock & Strong's Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature in 1894. Whether, like both he and Edward Lane claim, the tables are attributable to Indris, or Enoch, of the Book of Enoch, remains to be seen. I'll let you know. But, it is likely that Sylvestre became aware of the table through these more conventional texts, rather than trips to Egypt himself, though stranger stories have panned out to truth. Smacks of a J. Peterman Catalog, doesn't it? One can only hope Sylvestre was wearing his Italian captoe Oxfords.

As far as Sylvestre's offering is concerned, what might we keep our eyes out for when scrounging through flea markets and antique malls? We can make a few assumptions. It is called both a "board" and a "table," so we might assume it is wooden given its estimated late 1890s/early 1900s manufacture. It very well may be stenciled. It is priced at $1.00, and for that price you could also purchase a fine wooden writing planchette on the same page, or for another $.50 cents a full-blown wooden Ouija with box and planchette. A dollar could also get you a dozen 6x9" ungimmicked writing slates, or a single gaffed 7x11" writing slate. For further comparison of product-for-value, the $1.00 price is also in line with what Hudson Tuttle charged for his slightly-more-complicated Psychographs around the same period.

It seems safe to assume that we are searching for a wooden or pressed cardboard board of indeterminate size, printed with a 10x10 grid. It may or may not carry the "Zairgeh" imprint. Some dealers might assume they have a strange bingo board or other boardgame missing pieces. But, then again, the catalog's fanciful illustration does show an oracle or priest pointing to what is an obvious scroll on the temple wall, so maybe Sylvestre really hauled in the profit on a cheaply-printed paper, so we very well may be looking for a leaflet, not unlike the one we discovered on a German auction site.

Keep your eyes peeled, folks! A $1 per-square bounty seems fair, so bring a surviving non-paper specimen to me that I can confirm (or at least highly suspect) is from Sylvestre and I've got a C-note with your name on it. Happy hunting, and bonus points for pictures of Zairgeh boards in actual use out in the wild in far-off mystical realms. I hear Myanmar is lovely this time of year.

But it'll always be Burma to me. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gambols with the Ghosts

Recent discussions with Marc Demarest and Pat Deveney revealed an interesting bit of knowledge I'd not previously known—the existence of “Blue Books” for mediums containing names, addresses, and biographical information on a region's more gullible Spiritualist customers. These books would, of course, have proved invaluable to out-of-town mediums seeking ready-and-willing clients, containing as they did a wide array of personal information that, once committed to memory, would serve a medium well once the lights dimmed and hands were joined. They were rare indeed, and only exist now in piecemeal form reconstructed by researchers hungry to get their hands on a copy, so eyes peeled, folks!

The conversations brought to mind another “secret book” in circulation around the turn of the century, one said to also be printed to aid mediums in their spirit-communication efforts. And, in keeping with a return to the more artifact-based nature I intended for the Mysterious Planchette blog, I'd like to present Sylvestre & Company's catalog-for-séance-tools-and-manifestation-effects: Gambols with the Ghosts

 I first became aware of the Sylvestre catalog through the esteemed Eugene Burger's seminal work on modern séance performance, SpiritTheater. My early practice as a bizarre magic performer and pursuit to fine-tune the perfect haunted antiques show led directly to my later collecting and research on talking boards, and Spirit Theater was an important influence on those days, providing, as it does, a canny overview of the history of séances, an introduction to the most important mediums of the age, the tactics they employed, and the singular effects that only Mr. Burger's demented mind can conjure. The sage was kind enough to include, nestled as a sidebar in the book's appendix, some tantalizing facsimiles of an important work of which ghost hunter Harry Price once said was “so excessively rare that during a lifetime's search for a specimen...I came into possession of a copy, the only one in Great Britain.”

1902 Ad for Gambols with the Ghost in Suggestion
That book was, of course, the diminutive catalog, Gambols with the Ghosts. Gambols is actually more of a chapbook or pamphlet, really, and measures only 4x6 inches, with 40 pages nestled between two brittle, fancifully illustrated covers. It was printed in 1901 by Ralph E. Sylvestre & Co, a magic dealer located at 25 Ashland Blvd, Chicago, Illinois, purportedly to service the underground fraudulent medium trade. Within, the catalog offers a staggering array of tools, tricks, and items to facilitate everything a medium might need to pull off a séance to an anxious customer's satisfaction, from fake spirit rapping devices, table-tipping assists, gaffed slates, and materials for full-form manifestations. According to Harry Price, the catalog was only ever loaned by the proprietors, and was not meant for distribution, therefore protecting the secret of the warehouse's existence and protecting the means of accomplishing séance effects from a suspect public.

The catalog is amazing, and after a years-long search that began when I first spied its evocative illustrations in the back pages of Burger's Spirit Theater, I have finally acquired a copy for myself. Let's take a look at some of the items it offered and the history of this clever little volume.

photo courtesy

Of immediate interest is, of course, the planchettes and talking boards offered by the catalog, and it does not disappoint with very revealing illustrations. Identifying the talking board is a fairly easy matter given the imprint and trademark, as well as the indicator's shape and leg style—a classic board of the era: a William Fuld Manufacturing Company board produced in their 1208Federal Street factory. The writing planchette isn't quite so easily resolved. The “despair of science” crack is, of course, an allusion to the seminal work on writing planchettes by Epes Sargent, but gives us no clues to its manufacture. But given the shield shape is so classically indicative of the identical boards produced in huge quantities E.I. Horsman and Selchow & Righter in this period, it seems likely that this most popular of planchettes is one or the other company.

One sticking point for collectors is where to draw the lines in our definition of “spirit communication tool.” Right off, myself and many collectors dismiss most pendulum boards and other random-effect devices, such as spinner wheels and chance fortune-tellers, as they do not rely on any sort of singular or group interaction to achieve their “communications.” In other words, cooperative messages spelled out on a writing planchette or ouija board counts, flicking a spinner for a random response does not. That lines blurs when it comes to items such as talking skulls and rapping hands. I can find no evidence that these gaffed devices were ever seriously used in a genuine séance setting. At most, they were used in “Spiritualism Exposed!” acts in the wake of the public drawback from Spiritualism, as espoused by Houdini, Dunninger, and others. And there was a good living to be had exposing the tricks of mediums. And Sylvestre carried both variations of these rapping devices—multiple types, in fact. Nestled among the illustrations of lingering spirits and frame-bedecked halls is Item #137: the Talking Skull. This item was popularized in the 1940s by Abbott Magic Company, and is most well known in that variation, though it seems they have an earlier history here than we once supposed which begs further investigation.
1930-40s Talking Skull


Hand in...ahem...hand with the talking skull is item #136: the The Spirit Rapping and Writing Hand. This item sold for $2.50, and given the lack of board in the illustration and the all-important absence of a disclaimer that it operates without a connection, it is likely this version operated by thread-pull or hidden assistance, in stark contrast to the operation of the later Thayer hands (pictured) that relied on other methods. It is also unlikely that the device was able to write out messages on its own. The ads claims are, in typically retail-magic-product-parlance, vague about this operation, but it is extremely unlikely that the hand actually had any sort of writing ability, and that the user hand to resort to more sleight-of-hand methods to produce this particular effect.

1940s Thayer Rapping Hand

The “budget” hand pales in comparison to item #140: The 20th-Century Rapping Hand. If the price difference alone is not hint enough—the second item sold for a whopping $100 in 1901 (equivalent to $2,700 today!)—then the promised effects were likely to have caused catalog-perusing mediums and magicians to swoon. Unlike the cheaper model, this rapping hand could be operated anywhere, including its illustrated depiction suspended on a sheet of glass held by four audience members. Unlike the other model's lack of clarification, this item worked with “absolutely no connection of any kind” between anyone, and, if this claim is true, and the hints that is inspired by Frederick Eugene Powell's own effect, then this magnificent item likely operated via clockwork attuned to the magician's timed script. In any case, it was likely a prize to behold, and anyone aware of such a surviving item is encouraged to contact us immediately. 

Another rapping effect is item # 138: Raps! Here!! There!! Everywhere!! Unlike the previous items, designed to themselves move and rap in full view of an audience, this device allowed mediums to “produce raps at any time while standing or sitting, in light or dark, and in any room or circle, as often as you like.” Undoubtedly if the Fox Sister had still been alive, they would have been thrilled at the potential relief to their aching toe and knee joints! While this device is not defined, and seems unnecessarily expensive at $18.00 if our guess is correct, there is a distinct possibility that this item is a spirit rapping belt, which consisted of a leather belt outfitted with a concealed strip of thin, curved metal that “popped” like a flexed tape measure (and in our collection's case, the strip literally *is* a length of metal tape measure). Other options could include shoe-based rappers or even piston-powered table attachments, but the former seems unlikely as the firm doesn't solicit measurements as terms of purchase, and the latter requires a table, hardly a “produce raps at any time” mechanism. 


Spirit Rapping Belt

Beyond raps, fraudulent mediums unable to rely on their own ingenuity or talent to lift or tip tables in a convincing manner with the lights dim could purchase the requisite aid in a convincing performance, items #132 and 133: Spirit Table Lifting. Though the items are only illustrated in use, and the listings include both tables and devices meant to lift them, it seems obvious that they are similar to all manner of wrist-strapped hooks and hooked-ring devices revealed by Dunninger and others in various expose tomes of the period. $2.50 got you a “fine ornamental Japanese bamboo table” which, given its light weight, made for easy manipulation. And given the “sleeves rolled up” clarification found in the solicitations, it is most likely that these devices relied on a hooked-ring design rather than the more common wrist-strap variety. 

William S. Marriot displays the cheaper method.

Another requisite accoutrement of the séances of the period is the spirit trumpet, and the catalog does not fail to deliver. Item #150, nestled among other Koons' spirit room-influenced instruments such as tambourines, bells, and guitars (because nothing summons spirits like an untrained cacophony!), is most likely an Eckel's offering, as that firm was the most prominent of séance trumpet manufacturers of the era. The given dimensions correspond with the typical 3-section trumpet offered by Eckels, but could just as easily be an E.D. Dewey-produced trumpet or other manufacturer. More intriguing, however, is the $25.00 item # 152: Self Playing Guitars. The prospect is enticing, and the re-discovery of a rigged guitar of this sort would be cause for celebration.

The Eckel's Trumpet in the collection on display in Baltimore.
The lion's share of the catalog is devoted to gaffed spirit slates, entailing the totality of items #101-114, as made infamous by Dr. Henry Slade in a much earlier era, and, more recently, by JJ Owen and Fred P. Evans in their Psychography: Marvelous Manifestations of Psychic Power book of 1893, and again in William E. Robinson's 1898 Spirit Slate Writing & Kindred Phenomenon. With these two-dozen-plus items, mediums could produce a staggering array of spirit messages with seemingly innocuous slates common then to any schoolhouse. I think these offerings are perhaps the book's strangest turn. Myself and other have always felt that the great magician-exposers resorted to overly-complicated exposures in efforts to disprove Spiritualists. Or, as Marc Demarest puts it so succinctly, “producing phenomena by Method B is not an exposure of Method A for producing said phenomena.” Books such as Spirit Slate Writing go through tremendously troublesome lengths to imagine ingenious efforts to illustrate various complicated gaffed slates and other devices, when, as my other compatriot Gene Orlando puts it, we should never underestimate the power of a skilled medium working with the lights off. Indeed, the devices “exposed” by the magician-revealers seem so much more complicated in production of their effects than any medium worth their salt should have been able to produce with an unknowingly-freed hand, some pre-prepared and hidden slates. and dim lights.


And that's where these offerings become redundant. It almost seems as if Sylvestre's producers have made reality the various devices proposed and illustrated in
Spirit Slate Writing and offered them to the public. If this is the case, then that volume provides the blueprint for gaffed slates in the form of brilliant, if unnecessarily cumbersome ideas, and isn't exposing anything except that those inspired-in-spite-of-themselves designs could work! Whatever the solution to this chicken-and-egg question, it is obvious that these slates were either popular or profitable séance items, as they are far and away the largest category of items in the catalog, and many paired gaffed slates run as high as $10. Even today, slate effects are a popular “retro-throwback” effect in the repertoire of many magicians, and it seems from the listings that enthusiasm for the effects were at least as high then as now.

A Telescopic Rod, date unknown
Another large category of offerings begins to diverge widely from the catalogs “items-for-true-mediums” premise, and veers well into the realm of mentalism and stage magic, again arousing suspicions that this catalog and its “not-for-distribution” presentation was never truly meant for the world of mediums, but rather for magicians, exposers, and their ilk. The entire latter half of the catalog, from page 26 onward, is devoted to such effects, from picked card revelations, sealed envelope divinations, ballot reading, stage hypnotism, and other similar tests still common among today's stage mentalists, and largely unheard of within the medium's cabinet.

An illustrated rapping table of the period, a not-unlikely possibility given the hefty pricetage.
This line blurred further some 9 years after the catalog's publication (which, it should be noted, all existing copies have a 1901 copyright and “Catalog #16” imprint, either in an incredible coincidence of survival or a hint that only one such catalog ever existed). In 1910, when William S. Marriott set out to expose the catalog in the March 1910 edition of Pearson's Magazine. Marriott set out to expose fraudulent mediums “in order that readers of Pearson's Magazine may judge for themselves the pros and cons of this tremendously important subject,” and relied on an obtained copy of Gambols with the Ghosts to do just that. A copy of the catalog acquired, he ordered several of the effects within its pages, likely #146 Luminous Materializing Hands and Faces and #147 Luminous Materialistic Ghosts and Forms. For the former, the catalog could either sell cheap instructions for $5, or provide furnished materials for $25, which is listed to include “draperies, headdresses, and ornaments of the finest quality known.” Upon receipt of the materials, Marriott and his assistants had themselves photographed with the “spirits” in an effort to prove materializing mediums as imposters, which Harry Price himself later remarked upon when he acquired Marriott's copy of the catalog.

Marriott and a few "friends"

But was there really so much to make of Gambols with the Ghosts? Was it really a “secret catalog for mediums” or more of a clever marketing tactic to attract the attention of stage magicians and spirit-exposers to séance-themed items like talking skulls and rapping hands that have never been shown to have been used within the context of actual séances? Given the proliferation of items rarely, if ever, seen within the medium's cabinet, but common among the stage magician's trade, and with the further bolstering of back-page testimonials from magicians such as Henry Willio, the latter is the more likely possibility. It doesn't distort the fantastically fun perusal of the catalog's interior, or temper our enthusiasm for the rediscovery of such offered items as the Zairgeh Egyptian Diviner or self-playing guitars.We'll keep looking, and you let us know!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Red Book of Dr. White's College of Science

When my investigations began into the life of Theodore H. White, as revealed in my last post on his eponymous College of Science, I had nearly forgotten an important discovery that was thankfully still waiting for me after quite a long wait. When I had first stumbled upon the newspaper account of TH White's trial, I had also discovered the whereabouts of a lone surviving copy of his College of Science's “Red Book” on the digital shelves of New England's Uncommon Books. The price was too high for a casual purchase and its significance and rarity not yet realized, so I added it to my shopping cart simply for future reference. Imagine my surprise when, upon realizing its importance, and that no archives or libraries held an extant copy, that there it still remained. So, I was able to come to a reasonable agreement with the very friendly Tom, owner of Uncommon Books, to acquire the volume, and it arrived yesterday.
Dr. White's College of Science "Red Book"

The Red Book is everything expected and predicted, and it is simply amazing. Physically, it is an imposing tome, softcover in cardboard wraps, but measuring some 11”x15” inches. The red cover which gave the book its nickname during White's trial is heavily illustrated, with an assortment of esoteric scenes—clouds of spirit figures, snakes, owls, frogs and other familiar creatures, dancing skeletons, and orbiting planets—all nestled among scenes of occult professionals at work performing acts of mesmerism and healing.

The back cover displays a strange, wild-eyed occultist visible from the smoky discharge of an oil lamps, thrusting his hand forth as if to hypnotize the viewer. At 208 pages, the book is hefty and thick, and literally stuffed-fit-to-bursting with all manner of esoteric subjects. I'm not ready to draw too many conclusions about the book's larger place in the world at the time, or what it reveals in the grander scheme of my compatriot's research, but rather want to give an overview for my excited collaborators in the absence of the ability to provide a pdf just yet (as the item is far too large for my scanner.) So, let's peel back its brittle covers and see what secrets await inside!

The frontpiece gives a thorough breakdown of the book's subjects in the absence of a table of contents, listing it as a correspondence course in “Spiritualism, Hypnotism, Personal Magnetism, Mental Healing, Magnetic Healing, Planetary Readings, and White and Black Art,” before redundantly repeating these exact same subjects as Professor White's stock-in-trade for “over twenty years if practical experience.” A two-page spread follows, showing Drs. Theodore and Cornelia White illustrated as occult masters: TH White as an Egyptian pharoah surrounded by spirit guides, seated on a throne with a massive book of knowledge spread before him, and Cornelia in a scene befitting the Oracle at Delphi, being fanned by a servant as she consults the smoke of incense issuing forth from a W-embossed stand. Such illustrations, by either Willard T. Barnes or Louis F. Kramer, would come back to haunt White in his trial, when the artist testified that the scenes were not realistic depictions. According to them, they'd apparently not actually Dr. White drawn from his real life as a spirit-summoning Egyptian pharaoh, and thus damning. Who would have thought?
Proceeding through the book's opening chapters and introductions, what struck me most was the overt Christianity present in the work. From the get-go, the course immediately states, among the promises of “higher learning” in the Black Arts, its roots in “God-like principles.” Its opening passages connect all the various disciplines in the book, then guides students toward the “Student's Prayer” which seems a typical, if lengthy, Protestant invocation of Jesus' name. The prayer shows up again and again within the book, used as it is as an invocation both before and after any exercises presented in the course. Given its length, there is even some unintentional humor invoked it later chapters, as the authors recognize that not all students will be able to memorize the entire text of the lengthy prayer, and, as much of the work in the first course on spirit summoning takes place in the dark, there are appeals by the writer for the student to seek the candlelight of a nearby room to complete the prayer by reading it aloud if they are unable to commit it to memory.The scene of an aspiring student stumbling over their prayers in anticipation of deliverance of the book's promises is cringe-worthy, to say the least.

The first and most lengthy course concerns Spiritualism—more specifically spirit-summoning, and perhaps more appropriately with a lower-case "s". Dr. White is great at tying together the miasma of disciplines within his course, informing his students how their spirit guide is determined by the astrology of their birth planet (Course F), and how exercises in self-healing can help calm the mind (Course C). Otherwise, this chapter continues with its invocations of Christ and lessons on “Entering Into the Silence” in order to summon spirit guides and other incorporeal entities.

White goes into a fairly exhaustive breakdown of different types of mediumship, and sets up a series of tests for students to unlock their hidden talents. One important aspect of these tests is rubber insulation for the séance sitters. In fact, a student's neglect of this important step was White's go-to excuse when refunds were demanded after a custom...errr...student, failed to summon spirits under his remote tutelage. Instructions for table tipping and the construction of personal cabinets follow, with detailed accounts of prayers and invocations one would be hard-pressed to perform in the low light the lessons demand. Again, the appeals to God and Christ are at once striking and expected, given greater Spiritualism's non-denominational tone, but White's reliance on Christian theology, and, in particular, First Corinthians, Chapter 12 is still surprising given the later lessons the book imparts.

Student at Work Developing Mediumship. Note rubber "insulators."
The chapter follows with lessons in spirit rapping and alphabet calling, descriptions and theology of the “Spirit Land,” the meaning of visions one might receive while in spirit communion (the Eye, the Cross, the Sword, the Anchor, etc), and, finally, the admonishment we expected to see from trial accounts—an ALL CAPS appeal to not allow anyone else, under any circumstances, to touch your personal copy of the correspondence course, for it “HAS AN ABSOLUTE TENDENCY TO DESTROY PORTIONS OF THE MAGNETIC FORCES” personalized for the student by Dr. White when they ordered the course. They'll have to get their own, the doctor reasons.

The chapter closes with lessons in clairvoyant sleep, materlization (oddly from the perspective outside the cabinet, rather than instruting the student on what they should be accomplishing *inside* the cabinet), automatic writing, psychometry (including the diagnosis of illness of remote subjects through a lock of their hair), clairvoyance, and thought transference—still all under the banner of “Spiritualism.” In an interesting footnote at the chapter's conclusion, an offer is made to aspiring clairvoyants that if they can write Dr. White and accurately describe the contents and descriptions of the College of Science's offices, they will receive a free diploma. A one dollar value!

"Now, young Skywalker, you...will...die. *Force lightning!*"
“Series B” consists of the course's lessons on Hypnotism, or “Willism” (as opposed to Mesmerism, of "Selfism") This chapter presents several psychosomatic “tests” not uncommon in today's “magnetic balance bracelet” trade, an includes proper instructions of the all-important hand sign of arched thumb and forefinger to form a horseshoe magnet shape. This chapter is perhaps the most rife with photographs, all showing Theodore and Cornelia in various garb (alternating between esoteric robes and fashionable suits of the era) inducing hypnotic states on subjects both seated and standing, typically intended to show them influencing the more simple muscular movements of patients by causing them to lean or rise from their seats. 

Aversion to the bottle
The hat pin through the cheek.

The lesson quickly moves toward more serious treatments of alcoholism and cigarettes, inducing healing trances, creating hallucinations, and, in the penultimate lesson, shoving a hat pin through a subject's cheek. This, of course, was a serious discussion throughout the trial, and the doctored photograph revealed by photographer Louis F. Kramer to have been faked is present, with some obvious negative-doctoring marks.

Series C is Dr. White's course on Personal Magnetism, or, as the chapter's opening illustration shows, the heightened charisma of the self. In the common nomenclature of the period, the body is likened to a “personal storage battery,” and the lessons run the gamut of tricks from influencing rowdy children, attracting or repelling others, “directing men according to your willpower,” and self-development.

The first three chapters constitute White's introduction, and as Series C closes, White induces the student to “take up the deeper studies in Occult Science.” These “deeper studies” (as if hypnotizing others to do your bidding and summoning spirits to reveal the future wasn't deep enough) includes the next chapter: Series D: “Mental Healing.” This chapter is more like an extension of the previous two courses, overlaying their lessons of suggestions and mesmerism to invoke change in a subject's mental state—most predominantly as it pertains to their physical health. This includes the basic lessons of telepathy to establish these rapports, and moves on to thought transference, diagnosis of diseases, changing the flow of a subject's magnetism, and exercises to bolster this healing.

Series E, or Magnetic Healing, takes these concepts a step further, but are physically, rather than telepathically, induced. Unlike other chapters, this begins with a testimonial by one Mary Seidel of Towson, Maryland, who endorses White's methods with a tale of her death-bed healing by the White using them. This chapter delves into thicker esoterica than previous chapters, with bizarre accounts of nerve locations and theories of magnetic flow within the body, as well as how to influence these centers with application of personal magnetic power. The cures to general aches and pains—in the arms, legs, eyes, back, liver, etc—are all covered, as well as more general afflictions such as Rheumatism. The student is instructed to charge between a $2 and $5 fee for these treatments once they learn White's secrets. Most amusingly, the chapter ends with stout assurance to the students: “You cannot fail.”

With Series F, the book takes a turn toward classic astrology in its “Spiritual Planetary Reading” chapter, which is reflective of one of the Whites' earliest endeavors as “Planet Readers.” It begins with more admonishment for others to not handle the student's course book, and then moves into fairly standard astrological information, in typical cold read fashion, of the 12 classic astrological signs in 2-page spreads, which is exactly 21 pages more information than White's generic one-size-fits-all pregenerated responses provided to those paying for his planet-reading services. Interestingly enough, many of the readings promote the inner power of the subject, in a way that encourages them to pursue its development by no other means than Dr. White's very own correspondence courses. Theodore never misses a chance at self-promotion. The chapter closes with Sagittarius, and doesn't delve into how a student is meant to actually “read” a subject beyond the rote memorization of the astrological facts promoted in the lessons.

Series G is the book's 7th and final chapter, and is a purer reduction of true occult studies in the classic amulet, charms, and spells fashion, opening appropriately enough with a full-page spread of a witches' coven stirring a cauldron, the spirits of the dead being called down from the clouds above to do their bidding. This chapter is less focused than others, and covers a wide arrange of materials in a smorgasbord of occult training, including conjuring evil spirits from the Astral plane, casting out devils (perhaps students shouldn't have been taught to summon them in the first place?), and making the blind see again with clay and spittle. Each lesson is labeled as either “White Art” or “Black Art,” seemingly without discrimination, with some Black Art providing cures and some White Art summoning demons. As in the first chapter, many biblical references abound, as well as warnings of the pursuit of Black Art.

Amulets and charms make up a large part of the chapter, which mostly involve various prayers to be written on parchment to compel spirits to appear, remove “unnatural” diseases, prevent evil, and bring luck. It should come as no surprise that these charms are, of course, ineffective if not written on proper parchment, which was only available through White, and claimed to be of the same type ancient Rabbis used to write divorces on. Much was made of this in White's trial when it was revealed his ancient Hebrew Rabbi Parchment was, in fact, Hercules brand tracing paper. What is noteworthy is the length of the written prayers, some taking up a half page or more. No doubt the lengthy prayers took up more parchment, and the more parchment they took up, and the short frequency of their general effectiveness once written, led to more orders to keep up one's luck and the evil spirits at bay. Superstition can be a funny, and profitable, thing.

The charms continue for nearly 50 pages. There are charms to hang around a newborn's neck, a puzzling amulet to “cause a woman to be successful in confinement,” charms for college students, for love and friendship, to prevent witchcraft (hey, wait a second!), and a charm to make your master become your servant. There are charms to placed around farms to induce the growth of crops, spells to prevent wasting disease, charms to prevent accidents and protect miners, and amulets to preserve love between a man and wife. Some invoke holy names. Some promote the sale of Adam & Eve root (available from White, naturally), and others to sell White's cauls—another fraudulent artifact that came to light in the trials.

Bizarrely, the final pages cover Swedish massage, with full instruction on kneading the flesh of subjects to relieve pain. The book's final page, of course, offers the course's diploma, and “exquisite piece of art” that is claimed to be “considered one of the finest ever issued from a College of Science.” We're thankful that a picture is provided, and it does seem to have been in impressive specimen, and was described as such in court. 

The Red Book's back cover.
In conclusion, the Red Book is exactly what I expected. It is a fun perusal, and a real window into the mish-mashed esotericism of the day, at least according to White and the sources he claimed to find in the Peabody library. It exhibits the same confidence and chutzpah I've come to expect from White after reading the transcripts of his time on the stand at trial. I hope to return to it at a later date with a more thorough analysis of its place inthe grander scheme of history. One would think it wouldn't take much comparison to locate his primary inspirations if one knew where to look, and it is humorous to see the text so sprinkled with warnings to potential copyright violators when it seems so obvious that White was assembling his lessons with the table scraps of other occultists while scouring through the Peabody. From the research standpoint of a collector looking for clues to confirm White's earlier or later talking board endeavors, the text comes up short. Perhaps there is a buried reference to the Algomire Magic Cabinet that a first pass didn't reveal, but I'm disappointed to not see an ad for the item, though I suspect since by this book's 1905 publication date, White had moved on from that earlier endeavor and committed fully to his new, as the Algomire tagline was dropped from his advertisements in 1903. I had held out hope that the book would contain a picture or mentionof the item, or even illustrations that may have shown up recycled on the later I-D-O PSY-CHO I-D-E-O GRAPH, but it came up short.

I-D-O PSY-CHO I-D-E-O GRAPH, photo courtesy
Comparison of the approximately 20 spirit-vision symbols listed in the first lesson with the 43 non-astrological symbols present on the I-D-O PSY-CHO I-D-E-O GRAPH in the's collection brings a few promising results, but nothing conclusive given the universal nature of the symbols. The owl symbolizes business matters in both. The white dove denotes prosperity on the board and good news from afar in the book. The bald eagle denotes losses in both, just as the anchor symbolizes success and the snake deception. The ear of corn is compelling and means abundance in the book and feasting on the board, and the swords are present on both but with divergent meanings, just as the red rose is “truthiness” on the board and “happy love” in the lessons. We have a match on the evil eye but a mis-match on the lily. But there are twice as many symbols on the board as described in the book, and even then the lists don't match with what the lessons provide. All in all, there are a few markers that give us hope to further bolster our conclusion that the Baltimore and Los Angeles Whites are the same man, but likewise ultimately inconclusive given the dissimilarities. But I'm not sure we could have expected much more given the 14-year gap and ultimate intention and divergent purposes between the two. 

So, there you have it. The Red Book of Dr. Theodore H. White! When the day comes that I have a scanner large enough to capture it all, you'll get a chance to learn its inner secrets for yourself. I even promise to magnetize each and every download to attune to your personal magnetism, for faster learning of superior knowledge!