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Gurney, Edmund (March 23, 1847 - June 23, 1888): Psychical Researcher
Institution / Country:England

A Cambridge scholar, Edmund Gurney was one of the founders, along with Professors William Barrett and Henry Sidgwick and fellow Cambridge scholar Frederic W. H. Myers, of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in London. His primary contribution to the field was the 1886 book Phantasms of the Living, one of the classics of psychical research.

Although educated primarily as a musician, Gurney turned to psychical research, it is recorded, because of his sensitivity to the grief and suffering of others. This was at a time when Darwinism had greatly undermined a belief in God, and, concomitantly, in life after death. Determined to find out if mediums were actually in contact with a spirit world, Gurney and Myers began attending spiritualist séances in 1874. They were encouraged to continue their investigations after witnessing impressive phenomena with the medium William Stainton Moses.

After his death, apparently due to an accidental overdose of chloroform, messages started coming through several mediums from Gurney. On December 21, 1889, Sir Oliver Lodge, a distinguished British physicist, was studying the medium Leonora Piper when a spirit claiming to be Gurney began communicating.

Lodge recalled that Gurney used to sit in on his lectures on mechanics and physics and struck up a friendship with him, sometimes discussing psychic matters over lunch. “I am here, I ethereally exist,” Gurney, told Lodge. “I wrote to you about some books for the Society. I have seen a little woman that’s a medium, a true medium. I have written to Myers using her hand. I did do it, I, Edmund Gurney, I.”

Lodge was temporarily in shock at hearing Gurney’s voice and forgot to take notes. When he regained his composure, Lodge questioned Gurney about both Mrs. Piper and Dr Phinuit, her spirit control. Gurney told him that Piper was a true medium. As for Phinuit, he said, “He is not all one would wish, but he is all right.”

It was clear that Gurney was confused and struggling. At one point, he said, “You are Lodge. I know you. Lodge we shall beat them yet. There is no death, only a shadow and then Light. Experiment and observation are indispensable. We have to use some method like this to communicate…”

Four days later, Lodge was again sitting with Mrs. Piper and Phinuit was talking when he seemed to leave. However, Lodge heard Phinuit giving sotto voce (whispered) instructions to someone. It was Gurney again. He took control and spoke directly to Lodge. “It’s the only way Lodge; in one sense it’s bad, but in another it’s good. It is her work. If I take possession of the medium’s body, and she goes out, then I can use her organism to tell the world important truths. There is an infinite power above us. Lodge, believe it fully, infinite over all, most marvelous.”

Gurney told Lodge that it is easy to identify a medium from his side as they appear like a ball of light. Lodge, on the other hand, appeared to him as dark and as material as possible. “They are like transparent windows to see through,” Gurney continued, referring to mediums. “Lodge, it’s a puzzle. It’s a puzzle to us here in a way, though we understand it better than you. I work at it hard. I do. I’d give anything I possess to find out. I don’t care for material things now, our interest is much greater. I am studying hard how to communicate; it’s not easy.”

At a later sitting, Phinuit again gave way to Gurney. Lodge noted a significant change in voice. “It is wonderfully difficult to communicate,” Gurney said. “All the time I’ve been here I have only found two mediums besides this one. More people might be mediums, but many won’t when they can.”

Text and photo of Edmund Gurney courtesy of Michael Tymn, author of The Articulate Dead where Michael examines several of the best mediums of yesteryear and the scientific research surrounding them.