The Spiritist Review - Journal of Psychological Studies - 1859

Allan Kardec

Back to the menu
The adversaries of Spiritism have just made a discovery that must upset the rapping spirits. To them it is like one of those blows from which they will never recover. In fact, what should those poor spirits be thinking after the terrible poking in the eye given by Mr. Schiff, then by Mr. Jobert (de Lamballe) and later by Mr. Velpeau? I can actually see the spirits very embarrassed, moaninsg and groaning something like this: “Well, my dear, we are in real trouble! We are done! We did not count on the discovery of how the anatomy interacts that has unveiled our tricks. Positively, we can- not live in a country in which there are people who can see so far ahead!”

Come on, gentlemen onlookers who simply have believed in all these old wives’ tales, impostors who have wanted to make us believe that there may be things that we do not see. Ignorant who believe that something can escape the scalpel, even your soul, and all of you, spiritist writers or spiritualists, more or less witty, curtsy and acknowledge that you were all fools, charlatans, and even rogues or imbeciles. Those gentlemen allow you the choice because here is the light, the pure truth:

“Science Academy, Session of April 18th, 1859 – About the rhyth- mic muscular involuntary contraction.”

“Mr. Jobert de Lamballe reports a curious fact about the involun- tary rhythmic contraction of the right hand side lateral peroneus brevis muscle, which confirms the opinion of Mr. Schiff with re- spect to the occult phenomenon of the rapping spirits.”

“Ms. X..., a 14 years old, strong, well-built young lady, is affected by regular involuntary movements of the right hand side lateral peroneus brevis muscle, since she was six, and also by knocks that can be heard from behind the external right malleolus, with the regularity of the pulse. These symptoms occurred for the first time at night, followed by great pain. Soon after the left hand side lateral peroneus brevis was affected by the same thing, although with lesser intensity.”

“The effect of such cracks is the production of pain, insecurity while walking and even falling down. The sick young lady in- formed that the extension of the foot and the compression exerted upon certain points of the foot and leg make them stop, although she might continue to feel pain and fatigue in that limb.”

“When this interesting child came to us, this is the state in which we found her. It was easy to verify, at the right external malleolus, on the superior portion of the tip of the bone, a regular knock, followed by a transient sagging and the lifting of the soft parts of the region, producing a dry noise after each muscular contraction. Such a noise was heard in her bed, near the bed, and even at a considerable distance from the place where the child was resting. Remarkable by the regularity and sharpness, the sound followed the girl everywhere. By auscultating the foot, the leg and the mal- leolus, one could notice an unpleasant shock going through the whole path of the muscle, such as a mechanical shock transmitted from end to end of a wooden beam. Sometimes the noise seemed like a squeak, a friction, when the contractions were less intense.

All that happened when the patient was standing, sitting or lying down, at any time of day and night when examining her.”

“If we study the mechanism of those knocks and if for a better clarity we decompose each nock into two periods of time, we will see that:

“In the first stage, the peroneus brevis tendon moves out of the gutter, necessarily raising the peroneus longus and the skin.”

“In the second period, the phenomenon of contraction is com- pleted; the tendon is released, moved back into the gutter, striking against it, thus producing the dry sound that we talked about.”

“It was renewed, so to speak, every second, and every time the little toe felt a jolt and the skin covering the fifth metatarsal was raised by the tendon. It stopped when the foot was greatly ex- tended. It stopped again when pressure was exerted on the muscle or the sheath of the peroneus.”

“In recent years, French and foreign newspapers talked a lot about hammering like noises, sometimes happening in regular succes- sion, sometimes following a particular rhythm, occurring with certain people lying in their beds.”

“Charlatans have taken over these strange phenomena whose real- ity, in fact, is also attested by credible witnesses. They have been trying to correlate these phenomena to the intervention of a su- pernatural cause, using it to exploit public credulity.”

“Observing Miss X... it shows how, under the influence of muscle contraction, the displaced tendons can, when fall back into their bone gutters, produce beats that for some people announce the presence of rapping spirits.”

“Through exercise, any person can acquire the ability of produc- ing similar movements of the tendons at will, resulting in the dry beats that are heard from a distance.”

“Repelling any idea of supernatural intervention, and noticing that such knocks and strange noises happened at the bedside of the individuals excited by the spirits, Mr. Schiff asked himself if the source of those noises would not be in the patients, and not outside. His knowledge of anatomy led him to believe that those things could happen in the leg, in the peroneus region where there is a bone surface, tendons and joints.”

“Since such a thought was very entrenched in his mind, he has been experimenting and testing himself, not allowing him to doubt that the noise would have its chamber behind the lateral malleolus and the groove of the peroneus tendon.”

“Mr. Schiff was soon able to perform voluntary noises, regular, harmonious, and before a large number of people (fifty witness- es), he could mimic the signs of the rapping spirits with or with- out shoes, standing or lying down.”

“Mr. Schiff states that all these noises are caused by the tendon of the peroneus longus, as it passes through the fibular groove, and he adds that they coexist with the thinning or absence of the common sheath of the peroneus longus and brevis.”

“As for us, first assuming that all those cracking sounds are produced by the motion of a peroneal tendon against the bone surface, we believe however that it is not necessary to have an anomaly of the sheath in order to have that sound produced. All it is needed is a muscle contraction, the movement of the tendon and its return to the gutter so that the noise is produced. In addition, the peroneus brevis is the only agent of the noise in question. In fact, it affects a more straight direction than the peroneus longus, which suffers several deviations in its path; it is located deep in the gutter; it entirely covers the bone gutter, from what is natural to conclude that the noise is produced by the shock of the tendon against the solid parts of the gutter. It presents muscle fibers up to the entrance of the tendon into the common gutter, while with the peroneus longus it is the opposite.”

“The noise is of variable intensity and several tones may be dis- tinguished. That is how we can find noises that vary from the reverberating sound heard from a distance to others like the rub- bing friction, the saw, etc.”

“We made successive incisions by the subcutaneous method, through the body of the right peroneus brevis and the body of the same muscle on the left side of our patient, using an apparatus to keep her limbs still. After the suture the functions of those two members were recovered without any trace of that rare and singular disease.”

“Mr. VELPEAU. The noises that Mr. Jobert has just reported in his interesting communication seem to be related to a broad question. These noises, in fact, are observed in a variety of re- gions. Hip, shoulder, as well as the inner side of the foot that often becomes their seats. I observed a lady, among others, who with the help of some rotational movements of the thigh produced a kind of music which could be heard clearly enough from one side to the other of the room. The tendon of the longer part of the biceps brachialis easily produces that sound, by leaving its sheath groove and when the naturally attaching fibrous branches loos- en or break. The same happens with the tibialis posterior or the flexor hallucis longus behind the medial malleolus. Such noises are explained, as well understood by MM. Schiff and Jobert, by the friction or tendon jerks in the grooves or against the edges of the synovial surfaces. They are, therefore, possible in countless ar- eas or near a large number of organs. Sometimes clear and vivid, other times deaf or obscure, sometimes wet, sometimes dry, those sounds vary extremely in intensity.”

“Hopefully the example given on this subject by MM. Schiff and Jobert will lead the physiologists to seriously investigate these noises, and one day they will provide a rational explanation to the misunderstood phenomena hitherto attributed to occult and supernatural causes.”

“Mr. Jules Cloquet, supporting the observations of Mr. Velpeau about the abnormal noises that can be produced by the tendons in various parts of the body, gives the example of a young girl between sixteen and eighteen years old, who was introduced to him at the St. Louis hospital, at a time when MM. Velpeau and Jobert were associated to the same institution. The girl’s father, who called himself the father of a phenomenon, a kind of showman, hoped to take advantage of his child in a public exhibition. He announced that his daughter had the movement of a pendulum in her belly. The girl was perfectly appeased. By a slight twisting motion in the lumbar region of the spine, she produced strong snapping sounds, more or less regular, follow- ing the rhythm of slight movements that she made at the lower region of her chest. Those abnormal noises could be distinctly heard more than twenty-five feet away, resembling the sound of an old rotisserie. The sounds were produced at the young lady’s will, and seemed to have their seats in the muscles of the lum- bodorsal region of the spine.”

This article from L’Abeille Médicale, whose full transcription seemed to be a duty for the enlightenment of our readers, then avoiding the accusation of running away from certain arguments, was reproduced in several news- papers with some variations, followed by the usual adjectives.

It is not our habit to reveal criticism. We got over that since our com- mon sense tells us that nothing is proved with silliness and harm, not matter how smart someone may be. Had the above article been limited to those trivialities which are not always followed by civism and education, we would not mention it. However, it faces the question from a scientific point of view. Let us see if we are really dead by decree from the Academy of Sciences or if we have any survival chance like the poor and crazy Fulton, whose system the Academy declared to be an empty and imprac- ticable dream, only denying France from the initiative of the steam boat. Who knows the consequences that such a power might have had in the hands of Napoleon I in the future events!

We will quickly address the qualification of charlatan attributed to the followers of the new ideas. It sounds somewhat audacious to us the application of this concept to millions of people that take no profit from such ideas, achieving the highest echelons of the social scale. They forget that Spiritism has made incredible progress in a very short time, in all corners of the globe; that it spreads not only among the ignorant but also among the educated; that it counts on doctors, magistrates, clergy- men, artists, writers and high profile public servants in its ranks – people to whom one would generally associate some light and common sense. Well, mixing them up in the same group and unceremoniously out cast- ing them out to the class is an act of great petulance.

They may still say: “You talk about people of good faith, victims of an illusion. We do not deny the effect; we dispute the cause that you attribute to those effects. Science has just discovered the true cause; makes that cause known and hence destroys all that mystic scaffolding of an invisible world that can seduce the exalted but sincere imaginations.”

We have no intention of being considered wise and even less so would we dare to position ourselves on the same level as our distinguished adversaries.

We will only say that our personal studies of Anatomy and Natural Sciences, that we had the honor of teaching, allow us to understand your theory and in no way we feel perturbed by that avalanche of technical vocabulary. The phenomena you describe are perfectly known to us. In our observations about the effects attributed to the invisible beings, we were careful enough by not neglecting a so patently negligible cause. When a fact is presented to us we are not satisfied with a single observation only. We want to see it in all angles, all faces and before accepting a theory we verify if that theory embraces all circumstances and if any unknown fact would be able to contradict it. In one word, if that theory resolves all questions. Such is the price of truth.

Gentlemen, you certainly admit that this procedure is absolutely logi- cal. Very well! Despite all respect owned to your knowledge, there are some difficulties in the application of your system to what is convention- ally called the rapping spirits.

First, one may consider at least singular the fact that such a faculty so far acknowledged as exceptional and considered as a pathological case, which Mr. Jobert de Lamballe classifies as a “rare and singular disease”, suddenly became so common. It is true that Mr. Jobert says that every- body may acquire it through exercise. But, as he also says that it is fol- lowed by pain and fatigue, which is perfectly natural, one must agree that it requires a very strong desire for mystification to make one’s muscle crack during a session of two or three uninterrupted hours, without any profit and with the only objective of entertaining a few people.

Let us now speak seriously. This is a more serious subject since it is related to science.

Those gentlemen who found such marvelous property of the peroneus longus did not imagine everything that those muscles can do. Well, here you have a nice problem to solve: The displaced tendons do not knock on the bone gutters only. Through a really singular effect they also knock on doors, on walls, on ceilings, and all that at will, exactly at points that are requested. Here there is something even stronger: Science was far from suspecting all virtues of that cracking muscle. It has the power of lifting a table without touching it; of making it knock with its feet, move around the room and stay in the air without a support; of making the table open and close! And imagine its power! It has the ability of breaking the table when falling.

Do you think that we talk about a fragile table, light as a feather, which we lift with a breath? What an illusion! We talk about solid and heavy tables, from 110 to 130 lb., which obey the little ladies and chil- dren. However, Mr. Schiff will say, I have never seen such prodigies. That is easy to understand. He only wanted to see legs.

Would Mr. Schiff have given the necessary independence to his ideas? Was he exempt from any prevention? We have the right of posing doubts to that and it is not us who say so. It is Mr. Jobert. According to him, Mr. Schiff, on talking about the mediums, asked himself if the seat of such noises wouldn’t be in the medium, instead of outside. His knowledge of anatomy led him to think that it could well be the leg. Since that thought was very entrenched in his mind, etc. Thus, according to the confession of Mr. Jobert, Mr. Schiff did not take the facts as a starting point but his own ideas, his preconceived and well-entrenched ideas. Hence the research in one exclusive direction, and consequently one exclusive theory, which perfectly explains the fact seen by him but does not explain the ones that he did not see.

And why hasn’t he seen them?

Because in his thoughts there was only one true starting point and only one true explanation. From that, everything else should be false and would not deserve examination. Hence, in the heat of striking the medi- ums, he missed the shot.

Gentlemen, you thought you knew all properties of the peroneus lon- gus just because you caught it playing guitar by the cover? Now, now! We have very different things to register in the archives of anatomy. You thought the brain was the seat of thought? Wrong! One can think through the ankle. The knocks give proof of intelligence. Thus, if those knocks come exclusively from the peroneus, from the longus according to Mr. Schiff, from the brevis, according to Mr. Jobert (fact that would require an agreement between them) then the peroneus is intelligent.

There is nothing remarkable about it. Making his muscle crack at will allows him to execute anything that he wants: he will imitate the saw, the hammer; he will play the military formation sounds, or even the rhythm of a music which will be requested by the audience. Be it, let us assume so, but when the noise responds to something that the medium completely ignores; when the noise reveals those secrets that only you know, those secrets that we would like to bury deeply, it is necessary to admit that the thought comes from a different part of the brain.

Where would that come from then? Well, then! It comes from the peroneus longus. And that is not all. The muscle is also a poet since that great peroneus creates charming poetry, even though a medium that had never done it in his life. The muscle is multilingual since it dictates very sensible things in languages completely unknown to the medium. The muscle is a musician, we know, since Mr. Schiff made it execute very harmonious sounds, with or without shoes, in the pres- ence of fifty people. Yes, but the muscle is also a composer. Well now Mr. Dorgeval, you that recently gave us the nice sonata, do you really believe that the spirit of Mozart dictated it? What a hope! It was your peroneus longus that played the piano. In reality, dear mediums, you did not suspect that there could be so much spirit in your ankles. Honor may be awarded to the authors of such discovery. May their names be inscribed with capital letters for the edification of posterity and honor of their memory!

Some may say that we are joking about serious things, and that jokes don’t entail reasoning. It is a fact. Not less rational than silliness and vulgar- ity. Confessing our ignorance before those gentlemen we accept their wise demonstration and take it very seriously. We thought that certain phenom- ena were produced by invisible beings, who called themselves spirits. It may well be that we were wrong. As we seek the truth, we do not have the silly intention of getting stuck in one idea that they so peremptorily demonstrate to be false. Since the moment when Mr. Jobert, through a subcutaneous in- cision, eliminated the spirits, there is no more spirits. Once all noises come from the peroneus, as he says, it is necessary to believe in that and accept all of its consequences. Thus, when the knocks take place on the wall or ceiling, either the peroneus does so or the wall has a peroneus. When the noise dictates a poem through a table that knocks with a foot, it is one out of two possibilities: either the table is a poet or it has a peroneus. That seems logical to us. We go even further. An officer of our acquaintance, while car- rying out spiritist experiments, one day was slapped twice in the face by an invisible hand. The slaps were so strong that he still felt the effect two hours later. How can one come to terms with that? Had it happened to Mr. Jobert he would remain impassive? He would simply say that he was slapped in the face by the peroneus longus.

Below is what we read about this subject in the La Mode newspa- per on May 1st, 1859:

“The Academy of Medicine continues its crusade of the posi- tivist spirits against all kinds of wonders. After having in fairness, but somewhat awkwardly, slain the famous black doctor, through the organ of Mr. Velpeau, it has now just heard Mr. Jobert (de Lamballe) that reveals in the Institute the secret of what he calls the great comedy of the rapping spirits, so successfully represent- ed in both hemispheres.”

“According to the distinct surgeon, every knock-knock, every pop-pop that gives the shivers to those who in good faith hear them; those singular noises, those dry hits, those successively vi- brating and kind of rhythmic sounds, precursors of the arrival and positive signs of the presence of the inhabitants of the other world, are simply the result of a motion imposed on a muscle, a nerve, a tendon! It is a kind of bizarre thing of nature, skillfully exploited so as to unnoticeably produce that mysterious music that enchanted and seduced so many.”

“The seat of the orchestra is in the leg; it is the tendon of the peroneus, playing on its cover, which produces all those noises that are heard under the tables or at a distance, controlled by the conjurer.”

“As from my side, I doubt very much that Mr. Jobert had touched, as he believes, the secret of what he himself called “a comedy” and the articles that were published in this newspaper by our comrade Mr. Escande, about the mysteries of the invisible world, seem to me to present the subject with an amplitude much more sincere and philosophical, in the true meaning of the word. “If, however, the charlatans of all kinds are unbearable with their playing skills, we have to appreciate that those wise men some- times are not less, with the eraser which they wish to apply over everything that shines outside the official chandeliers.”

“They don’t understand that the thirst for the marvelous that devours our time is caused exactly by the excess of positivism to where certain minds wanted to drag our society. The human soul needs to believe, admiring and contemplating the infinity. They worked to shut down the windows opened by Catholicism. The human soul looks through the skylights, whatever they may be.”

Henry de Pène

“We ask our distinct friend Mr. Henry de Pène to excuse us in order to make an observation. We don’t know when Mr. Jobert made that immortal discovery and what was the memorable day that he communicated it to the Institute. What we know is that the original explanation had already been given by others. In 1854 Dr. Rayer, distinguished clinician, who then did not give demonstration of great perspicacity, also presented to the Instituted a German patient whose ability, in his opinion, provided the key to every knocking and rapping of the two worlds. As with today’s report, it was related to the motion of one of the muscular tendons of the leg, called peroneus longus. The demonstration was made in one session and the Academy expressed their recognition for such an interesting communication. A few days later a substitute professor from the Faculty of Medicine consigned the fact in the Constitutionel, having had the courage of adding that “the scientists had finally voiced their opinion and the mystery was solved”. That did not preclude the mystery from persisting and increasing, despite science which, by refusing to carry out the experiments, is satisfied by attacking it with burlesque and ridiculous explanations, as the one we have just mentioned above.” “Out of the respect that Mr. Jobert (de Lamballe) deserves, we prefer to believe that the experience, which is absolutely not his, was attributed to him. Some newspaper, looking for novelties, would have found somewhere in their files the old communication from Mr. Rayer and resurrected it, then publishing it under their flagship, just for a change. Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur. It is certainly unpleasant, but still better than if the paper had told the truth.”

Related articles

Show related items