Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Hector Durville (1849–1923) was a well-known French student of magnetism and psychic phenomena. He founded the Société de Magnétisme de France and defended the existence of a magnetic force that could cause healing and other phenomena, a topic he discussed in his two-volume work Traité Expérimental de Magnétisme (2 vols., Paris: Librairie du Magnétisme, 1895–1896). In his book Le Fantôme des Vivants: Anatomie et Physiologie de l’Ame: Recherches Expérimentales sur le Dédoublement des Corps de l’Homme (The Phantom of the Living: Anatomy and Physiology of the Soul: Experimental Researches on the Doubling of Man’s Body; Paris: Librairie du Magnétisme, 1909), Durville focused on the projection of phantoms of the living, or what he termed doubling.

Hector Durville 2

Hector Durville

Durville Traite Experimental Magnetisme

Durville Les Fantome des Vivants

The first part of the book was about the history and conceptual aspects of the topic. This included the idea of subtle bodies and their manifestations.

The latter part consisted of OBEs as well as apparitions of the living with and without the consciousness of the person represented by the apparition. Durville concluded the section stating:

“The physical body is seen at the place that it really occupies; and at the same moment its phantom is seen at a distance. . . . The sensations felt by the phantom are reflected on the physical [body]. . . . The physical [body] is never in its normal state during doubling. The mystics are always in ecstasy; the sorcerers and nearly all the common people are more or less profoundly asleep, the mediums are in trance, the somnambules in a state of magnetic somnambulism and the dying delirious or in syncope . . . . Some of the doubled recollect perfectly everything that was seen, said, or that took place . . . ; others remember vaguely . . . , most others do not keep any recollection. . . .” (pp. 136–138; this and other translations are mine)

Durville believed that doubling showed that the thinking principle could leave the physical body while the person was alive and that this double could perceive and sometimes act on the environment.

In the second part of the book, Durville reported tests he conducted to study intentionally projected phantoms of the living. In this work Durville followed on the previous investigations of Albert de Rochas (1837–1914), a pioneer in the laboratory study of phantoms of the living and of the exteriorization of sensibility, in which the magnetized person’s tactile sensibility was projected around her body or to an external object or substance such as water.

Albert de Rochas 2

Albert de Rochas

Durville worked with several ladies whom he magnetized repeatedly, asking them to project their phantom in order to explore its perceptual and motor capabilities. He said very little about his participants but they were obviously sensitive to magnetization (or suggestion). One of the ladies in question, Mme. Lambert, was also studied by de Rochas. She was later described as a medium who had physical phenomena at home as well as in the séance room (Lefranc, L. Comment il faut étudier le probleme spirite. Le Monde Psychique,1911, 1, 162–172, 195–199).

Durville wrote that he considered the exteriorization of sensibility and doubling to be similar. The first was a state in which the sensibility was believed to radiate around the person, while the second was a state in which the sensibility was contained in the phantom. Durville wrote:

“We have seen that the subjects submitted to the action of magnetism . . . exteriorize . . . , all of them keep their usual state of consciousness, their sensibility which had disappeared at the beginning of somnambulism . . . radiates now around them, up to a distance that may reach a distance 2 m. 50 and even 3 meters. At some moment . . . such sensibility, which all the subjects see in the form of vapour, a whitish fluid, gray or grayish, sometimes with light iridescent shades, is condensed and localized on each side of them, at a distance that may vary from 20 centimeters . . . to 80 centimeters. . . .” (p. 178)

Several chapters contain descriptions of such aspects as the appearance of the phantom, its perceptual capabilities, influences on other persons, and physical effects presumably produced by it. The point of the studies was to obtain evidence that perceptions and physical effects could take place from a location distant from the physical body of the projected persons, at the place where the phantom was supposed to be. Because some aspects of Durville’s reports have been published in English in the Annals of Psychical Science, I will cite some descriptions from one of them to take advantage of the translations.

Durville Annals

Some tests were performed to test for vision. In Durville’s words:

“The projected double can see, but rather confusedly, from one room into another. While I was at the end of my study with Edmée, whose double was projected, I asked three of the witnesses of the experiment . . . to go into the lecture room of the society and perform some simple and easily described movements, so that we could ascertain whether the double, which I would send there, could see anything. Dr. Pau de Saint-Martin stood near the window, between my study and the hall where the witnesses were, in order to see almost at the same time both the subject and what these experimenters were doing.”

First Experiment. — Mme. Fournier seated herself on the table. ‘I see,’ said the subject, ‘Mme. Fournier seated on the table.’ ”

Second Experiment. — The three persons walked into the room and gesticulated. ‘They walk and make gestures with their hands; I do not know what it means.’ ”

Third Experiment. — Mme. Stahl took a pamphlet from the table and handed it to Mme. Fournier. ‘The two ladies are reading,’ said the subject.”

Fourth Experiment. — The three persons joined hands, formed a chain and walked round the table. ‘How funny!’ said the subject; ‘they are dancing round the table like three lunatics.’ ” (Durville, H. (1908). Experimental researches concerning phantoms of the living. Annals of Psychical Science, 1908, 7, 335–343, p. 338).

Durville believed that the phantom emanated N-rays, a controversial form of radiation prominent during the first decade of the twentieth century that was eventually dismissed by the scientific community as being due to artefactual observations. To detect the projected phantom, he used screens covered with calcium sulphide, a substance believed to produce brightness in contact with the rays. Durville wrote as follows:

“The double of the subject having been projected, I took the three screens and showed them to the witnesses, who observed that they were completely dark. Laying the small screen aside for a moment, I placed one of the large ones on the abdomen of the subject and held the other in the phantom, which was seated on an armchair to the left of the subject.”

“The screen placed in the phantom became rapidly illuminated, and the one on the subject remained completely dark. After several minutes I took both screens and showed them to the witnesses, who were much astonished by the phenomenon. I then took the screen which had been on the subject, and remained dark, and placed it in the phantom. It immediately became illuminated like the first. I again showed them to the witnesses, who saw that they were sufficiently illuminated to allow them easily to count the spots of sulphide of calcium at a distance of a yard.”

“I then took the small screen which had not been used, and placed it on the abdomen of the subject for two or three minutes without obtaining the slightest trace of luminosity. I then placed it in the phantom, and it became very strongly illuminated. The witnesses found that it gave enough light to enable one of them to tell the time by a watch.”

Durville phantom

Photo of Screen with Shape of Phantom

“These experiments, repeated about ten times with seven or eight different subjects, always gave similar results, which were very intense when the screens had been well exposed to the sun, less so when the exposure had been insufficient.” (Durville, H. Experimental researches concerning phantoms of the living. Annals of Psychical Science, 1908, 7, 335–343, p. 341).

The double was said to be able to produce raps and movement of objects, which was taken by Durville to indicate its objective nature. This body, Durville wrote in his book, carried the “very principle of life, as well as will, intelligence, memory, consciousness, the physical senses, while the physical body does not have any faculty” (p. 354). This suggests that the subject’s awareness was out of the body, something that is not always clear throughout the experiments reported in the book.

The tests reported by Durville represent a historically important attempt to empirically study the topic through the induction of experiences, and one deserving further investigation. The book was repeatedly cited by later writers on the topic. Some aspects of his work were replicated and extended, but the reports have fewer methodological details than Durville’s (e.g., Lefranc, L. (1911). Les états du sommeil magnétique du fantôme du vivant ou corps ethérique. Le Monde Psychique, 1911, 1(2), 3–7).

Hector Durville

Hector Durville