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

The mesmeric literature has various accounts of “travelling clairvoyance.” These were instances in which a mesmerized individual was “sent” to a distant location and asked to describe his or her surroundings. The person in question did not always described feelings of leaving the body or of travelling, but generally there was awareness of being in a different location.

William Gregory

William Gregory

Here I present an excerpt about the topic written by physician William Gregory (1802-1858), who taught chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. This appeared in Gregory’s book Letters to a Candid Inquirer, on Animal Magnetism (1851). It reads as follows:

Gregory Letters Magnetism

“. . . The sleeper, at the request of the operator, and frequently of his own accord,  visits distant places and countries, and describes them, as well as the persons in them. This may, as I have already said, be done, in some cases, by sympathy, but there are many cases in which ordinary sympathy will not explain it.”

“Thus, the clairvoyant will often see and describe accurately, as is subsequently ascertained, places, objects, and people, totally unknown to the operator, or to any one present; and he will likewise, in describing such as are known to the operator, notice details and changes which could not be known to him.”

“The clairvoyant appears, as it were, mentally to go to the place named. He often finds himself, first, in no place, but floating, as it were, on air, or in space, and in a very short time exclaims, “Now, I am there.” The place named is the first, as a general rule, that presents itself to him. But whether it be so, or whether he see, first, some other place, a certain internal feeling tells him when he is right. If it be a distant town, and no house be specified to him, he will either see a general panoramic view of it, as from a neighboring hill, or from a height in the air, and describe this as he would a map or bird’s-eye view, or he will find himself in some street, place, square, or promenade, which, although not specified to him, is at once recognised from his account of it. He sees and describes the trees, roads, streets, houses, churches, fountains, and walks, and the people moving in them, and his expressions of delight and surprise are unceasing. If sent thither, to use his almost invariable phrase, a second or a third time, the sleeper will see the same objects, but remarks the change on the living part of the picture.”

“For example, Mr. D., a clairvoyant, magnetised by myself, when in an early and imperfect stage of lucidity, was asked by me to go to Aix-la-Chapelle, he never having left Scotland. He agreed, and after a very short, apparently an aerial voyage, said he was there. He was in a beautiful walk, bordered with trees, saw green turf, and the walk stretched on both sides, till lost, at either end, by a turning, not sharp, but gradual. This was evidently the boulevard. Another time, I specified the Friedrich Wilhelmsplatz, where he saw houses on one side, and at both ends, [p. 124] some much higher than others, the place itself of irregular oblong form, wider at one end than the other, and partly shrouded in a mist, of which he long complained; on the other side a long building, not a house. In the middle, a road, with small trees, having no branches till the stem rose rather higher than a man, and then a number, but the top obscured by mist. Another time, he saw the door of Nuellen’s Hotel, large enough, he thought, to allow a carriage to enter, but not more, if that; people were going in and out; and a man stood at the door, with a white neckcloth and vest, and no hat; as he thought, a waiter. In the saloon, he saw tables, all brown, no one there. Another time, some tables were white, and people sat at them eating, while others moved about. According to the hours of experiment, he was most likely right both times, although their dinner hour differs so much from ours. One day, I sent him to Cologne. There he noticed, from a bird’s-eye position, a large building, seen rather misty, but much higher than the houses. He got into a street near it, and described its long pointed windows, showing with his fingers their form, and its buttresses, which he described, but could not name. In the street, he saw people, indistinctly, moving; but he saw, pretty clearly, one “old boy,” as he called him, fat and comfortable, standing in his shop-door, and idling. He had no hat, and wore an apron. Mr. D. was much surprised, without any question being asked, at the fact that about half of the men he saw, both in Aix and Cologne, wore beards, and he described different fashions of beards and moustaches. One time, when I sent him to Bonn, he gave a beautiful account of the view from the hills to the west of it, of the town, arid the Rhine, stretching out and winding through the plain, with the rising grounds on the other side, such as the Ennertz. But it was remarkable that he stoutly maintained, that the hill on which he stood was to the east of the town, the town to the east of the Rhine, between the hill and the river, and the Rhine running towards the south; whereas I knew every one of these directions to be reversed.”

“The same subject has often spontaneously visited other places, unknown to me, but has given such minute and graphic accounts of the localities, the people, houses, dress, occupations, and topography of these places, that I should [p. 125] recognise them at once, were I to see them . . . .”

“It often happens, that a clairvoyant, who can see and describe very well all that is in the same room, or the next room, or even in the same house, cannot thus travel to a distance, without passing into a new stage. This generally occurs spontaneously, but may sometimes be effected by passes, or by the will of the operator.”

“The new or travelling stage, in such cases, is marked by peculiar characters. Thus, in one very fine case, which I had the opportunity of studying, the clairvoyante, in her first lucid state, could tell all that passed behind her, or in the next room, and could, by contact, perceive, and accurately describe, the state of body of other persons. She could hear, and she very readily answered, every question put to her by any one present, but could not go to a distant place. Yet, as I saw, she would often spontaneously pass from that state or stage into another, in which she was deaf to all sounds, even to the voice of her magnetiser, unless he spoke with his mouth touching the tips of the fingers of her right hand. Any one else might also converse with her in this way, but when first addressed, she invariably started. And now, not only could she go to a distance, and see very plainly what passed, but she was already in some distant place, and much occupied with it. She called this going away, or, when it was done by her magnetiser, being taken away, and when tired, would ask him to bring her back, which he did by some trifling manipulations. She then remembered (in her first state, to which she came back,) what she had seen on her travels [p. 126] . . . .”

“[Gregory described further observations with Mr. D.]. One day, while observing the town above mentioned, and describing it spontaneously, as I always encouraged him to do, he became suddenly silent, and after a short time told me, that he was travelling through air or space, to a great distance. I soon discovered that he had spontaneously passed into a higher stage . . . . As soon as he had come to the end of his journey, he began to describe a beautiful garden, with avenues of fine trees, of which he drew a plan. It was near a town, in which he could see no spires. At the end of one principal avenue was a round pond, or fountain, enclosed in stone and gravel, with two jets of water, and close to this fountain or pond stood an elderly man, in what, from the description, seemed to be the ancient Greek dress, the head bare, long beard, flowing white robes, and bare feet in sandals. He was surrounded by about a dozen younger men, most of whom had black beards, and wore, the same dress as their master. He seemed to be occupied in teaching them, and after a time, the lecture or conversation being finished, they all left the fountain, by twos and threes, and slowly walked along the avenues. Looking down these avenues, Mr. D. saw glimpses of the neighboring hills, and of the town, which lay nearer to the garden than the hills, although still at some distance. This singular vision also recurred spontaneously two or three times; that is, Mr. D. saw the gardens and the localities, but not again the group at the fountain, although other persons were seen enjoying the walks, and on one occasion two ladies were noticed, whose dress seemed also to be ancient Greek. But what particularly struck me was, that this vision only occurred in a peculiar state, of which the consciousness was quite distinct, not only from his ordinary consciousness . . . . This peculiar, third consciousness was interpolated, and he always slept out his full time, as previously fixed, in the more common magnetic state, while the time spent in this new state was added. On returning, which he always did of himself, to his first magnetic state, he had not the slightest recollection of the new vision, nor did he ever remember [p. 322] it, except when he came into the new state. It certainly seems probable that, in that new state, he was transported to distant times and past events.”

“Another time he spontaneously passed into a similar state, but which I think had a fourth consciousness of its own, divided from all the others. He told me one day that he was travelling through the air or through space, as before, but all at once began to appear uneasy and alarmed, and told me he had fallen into the water, and would be drowned, if I did not help him. I commanded him to get out of the water, and after much actual exertion and alarm, he said he had got to the bank. He then said he had fallen into a river in Caffraria, at the place where a friend of his was born. But what was very remarkable was, that he spoke of the river, the fields, farm-houses, people, animals, and woods, as if perfectly familiar to him, and told me he had spent many years as a boy in that country, whereas he has never been out of Scotland. Moreover, he insisted he was not asleep, but wide awake, and although his eyes were closed, said they were open, and complained that I was making a fool of him, when I said he was asleep. He was somewhat puzzled to explain how I, whom he knew to be in Edinburgh, could be conversing with him in Caffraria, as he declared he was; and he was still more puzzled when I asked him, how he had gone to that country, for he admitted he had never been on board a ship. But still he maintained that he was in Caffraria, and had long lived there, and that he knew every man and every animal at the farm he described. It was evident that he had heard of Caffraria from his friend; but as he described all that he saw, precisely as a man would do who was looking at the place and the people, and as he maintained that all were familiar to him, I could hardly avoid supposing, that, his mind having been interested in what he had heard, he had, in some of his previous sleeps visited Caffraria by clairvoyance, without telling me of it at the time; for it often happened, that he would sleep for an hour or half an hour without speaking; that when he had spontaneously passed into that state on this occasion, he not only saw, but recognised as well known, and as seen in previous portions of that peculiar consciousness, the localities, persons, &c. whom he described. Certainly his descriptions were such as to convey to me the [p. 323] impression that he actually saw these things as they exist. On two other occasions, he spontaneously got into the same state, and always then spoke as he had done the first time; but he retained not a trace of recollection of this South African vision in any other state but that one. Nay, when I asked him about Caffraria in his ordinary magnetic sleep, he seemed not to understand me, and thought I was making fun of him when I asked whether he had ever been in Africa.”

“In these three distinct kinds of vision, that of R., that of the Greek garden and philosopher, and that of Caffraria, it is hardly possible to verify the visions; but when I reflect, that Mr. D. was able, in a certain state, to see and describe accurately towns, such as Aix and Cologne, countries, and persons, at a great distance, and quite unknown to him, I am disposed to think that in these visions also he saw the real places actually before him. It would have been most interesting to have studied more minutely the powers exhibited, or which might have been developed, in this very interesting case; but, as I have mentioned, Mr. D., whose extreme susceptibility at that time may have depended on the very unsatisfactory state of his health, was taken ill, and confined to bed with an affection of the chest, for five or six weeks; and when he had recovered, I found that his general health was far better than when he was first magnetised, but his extreme susceptibility was gone. I can still magnetise him, although with far more difficulty; and since his recovery, I have only once been able to get him to see the town formerly described, and R. . . . .” [p. 324].