Doyle's History of Spiritualism is too sketchy and inexact, Campbell
Holm's Facts of Psychic Science only deals with phenomena, and,
for the purpose I have in mind, in a not sufficiently comprehensive
and discriminative manner. Carrington's Story of Psychic Science
is more of a text than a reference book.
What we need is a standard work, which, in a dispassionate, detached
and impersonal manner, presents all the facts of history, research,
phenomena and mediumship, in which, at a minute's notice, we can
lay our hands on every important fact...
This is a good description of the Encyclopaedia. There can be no
doubt that after thirty years this book still stands as the key
reference work on the subject for the period covered. When it appeared,
it established Fodor's reputation overnight as an authority on psychical
He was invited to lecture on Spiritualism and Psychical Research,
and in February 1934 became Assistant Editor, under David Gow, of
Light, the oldest British Spiritualist journal. It is still in existence,
now published by the College of Psychic Science in London, and the
Autumn 1964 issue carried a fine tribute to Fodor from Miss Mercy
Phillimore, who was associated with his early work in Britain. In
those days, although Fodor was a brilliant journalist and could
read and write English with ease, he had difficulty in speaking
the language. Miss Phillimore recalls:
He never failed to speak, and was first up when the chairman declared
the discussion open. This was the occasion for a friendly titter
from the audience, for his words gushed forth - indeed, splashed
forth - in torrents at terrific speed, and in the whirl of sounds
were many amusing mistakes. He was quite willing to learn about
his errors of speech, and joined in the fun.
Through the help of the London Spiritualist Alliance, Fodor was
able to take part in research experiments with mediums. His happy
enthusiasm at being able to witness the phenomena which he had previously
only studied in books is amusing:
commotion caused by his excitement would not be believed by anyone
who had not been present; his jumping and shouting filled the room
with deafening noise. It was of course a great thrill for him to
witness that of which he had read so much, and the first impact
brought acceptance that the phenomena were genuinely supernormal.
Later on he became somewhat more cautious and sceptical.
year 1934 was an important one for psychical research in Britain.
On June 6, the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation
was founded, to take over the work of the National Laboratory of
Psychical Research which had been founded by Harry Price in 1925.
Price presented the Council with his library, laboratory and equipment.
He had carried out interesting investigations, but on the whole
Spiritualists objected to laboratory tests by sceptical investigators
and scientists. In a vigorous newspaper article, veteran Spiritualist
Hannen Swaffer commented:
high-sounding degrees do not impress anybody except newspapers,
and they have used it all before, as their files will show, about
other institutes, all of which ended in the same way as I prophesy
this one will - in nothing. Spiritualism would rather have one medium
than the enquiries of a thousand scientists."
Early in 1934 another organisation came into being - the International
Institute for Psychical Research, with a Council of both Spiritualists
and non-Spiritualists, dedicated to a sympathetic and unprejudiced
investigation of psychical phenomena. Professor D. F. Fraser-Harris
was announced as Research Officer, but resigned through a misunderstanding
with the Council. In his place, Dr. Nandor Fodor was appointed,
and thus began his years of practical investigation into psychical
phenomena. It was not until 1938 that Fodor too was involved in
an unhappy misunderstanding with his Council.
Meanwhile he undertook a number of careful investigations into mediumistic
transfiguration, production of apports, direct voice, levitation,
hauntings, poltergeist and materialisations. He also edited a series
of valuable Bulletins issued by the Institute. It must have been
a great satisfaction to Fodor that the first of these, dealing with
poltergeist phenomena, was a collaboration with his friend Dr. Hereward
Carrington, who was Research Officer of the American Psychical Institute
of New York. Later on, their modest 44-page booklet became the basis
for a more substantial book Haunted People (New York 1951), British
edition titled The Story of the Poltergeist Down the Centuries (London
April and May 1934, Fodor also wrote a series of popular articles
on mediums, Spiritualism and Psychical Research, for the newspaper
Bristol Evening World; these were reprinted in book form as These
Mysterious People (London, 1934). This is perhaps the clearest,
most reliable and readable popular work of its kind ever published,
covering the important personalities and phenomena and forming one
of the best general introductions to the subject.
During his time in Britain, Fodor met Dr. Elizabeth Severn, a well-known
practicing psychoanalyst who had been a pupil of Sandor Ferenczi.
This contact renewed his interest in psychoanalysis. At that time
there was still considerable prejudice against the subject in Britain,
since it dealt with the explosive question of sexual motivations.
Fodor, however, believed that psychoanalysis could throw important
light on psychical phenomena.
Although he seems to have had a natural flair for the subject, his
psychoanalytical theories and investigations were too far ahead
of their time to be generally acceptable, and some of his best observations
were not vindicated until many years later. In the Introduction
to The Story of the Poltergeist Down the Centuries (London, 1953),
Dr. Carrington reviewed the developing tendency for psychical investigators
to consider the emotional states and unconscious drives in mediumistic
subjects, with particular reference to poltergeist phenomena. After
referring to an early paper by Dr. James Hyslop, he commented:
"... Aside from a few clinical observations of Eusapia Palladino,
this remained practically the only study of the sort until Dr. Nandor
Fodor's psychoanalytical analyses of various poltergeist cases."
1944, Dr. John Layard, in a paper on "Psi Phenomena and Poltergeists"
(Proceedings SPR, July 1934, pp. 237-47) concluded
"... all true poltergeist phenomena ... are purposeful and
probably occasioned by conditions of unresolved tension in the psyche
of those involuntarily producing them."
But this was a revolutionary concept in the 1930's when Fodor conducted
his own investigations, and it needed great courage to maintain
such views. He was bitterly criticised by Spiritualists for introducing
a tabooed subject into psychical research.
Two of Fodor's important investigations were to have far-reaching
results. These were the Ash Manor Ghost and the Thornton Heath Poltergeist,
fully reported in Fodor's The Haunted Mind (Helix Press, 1959).
It was in 1936 that he investigated the strange dramatic story of
the Ash Manor Ghost, in which it seemed that hauntings took place
because of abnormal sexual relationships in the family concerned.
Suppressed sexual energies appeared to provide an atmosphere in
which a phantom could continue to manifest. Amazingly enough, the
basic diagnosis of the case was through the spirit-guide of a brilliant
medium whom Fodor brought into the case. This medium was Mrs. Eileen
J. Garrett, who was later to head the Parapsychology Foundation
The Thornton Heath Poltergeist, which he started to investigate
February 1938, was a sensational affair of a woman who produced
remarkable poltergeist phenomena and appeared to be the victim of
vampirism. Whatever the objective nature of the phenomena, Fodor
soon found that their occurrence was intimately related to the personal
problems of the woman concerned. This presented a peculiar difficulty.
As Fodor wrote in The Haunted Mind:
"The psychical researcher is forced to view his subjects as
material for investigation, but not necessarily as human beings.
The psychoanalyst can go further. His aim is to analyse, to find
the fault, and then, if possible, to heal and bring about a new
adjustment to life."
As an experimenter and observer it would have been unethical to
change to an analyst-patient relationship without full understanding
Before Fodor could resolve this delicate situation, the opposition
to his psychoanalytical views exploded into a crisis affecting his
own position as Research Officer of the International Institute
for Psychical Research. Word of his sexual theories and findings
leaked out, and this, bracketed with his vigorous exposure of mediumistic
frauds, aroused intense antagonism. In an obscure work Consciousness
Creative (Boston, 1937) he had contributed an essay which stated:
"For reasons of public propriety, mediumship is very seldom
discussed from its most important angle: that of sex."
This was violently criticised in the popular Spiritualist press
in Britain. Horace Leaf, a famous medium and Spiritualist author,
came to the defence of Fodor, stating:
Owing to the peculiar nature of the subject, Dr. Nandor Fodor wisely
restricted its publication to quarters which guaranteed that it
would be read only by those interested in the more technical and
scientific aspects of mediumship...
Dr. Fodor's article is written in a style suitable to the subject
and carefully restrained in tone. A subject so delicate and so liable
to misunderstanding demands scientific language, otherwise it would
approach vulgarity. Dr. Fodor is to be congratulated on the excellent
manner in which he has handled it.
In spite of this sensible and temperate attitude, a reviewer attacked
Fodor in unrestrained terms:
Although he may not even suspect it, Dr. Nandor Fodor, Research
Officer to the International Institute for Psychical Research, has
confessed his amazing ignorance of the nature of psychic phenomena
in a curious essay in a very curious book...
reviewer went on to speak of "This insult to the great spirit
guides ...". Further articles were published, baiting Fodor
and questioning his competence, until one day in February 1938 he
issued a writ for libel against the newspaper concerned. Other repercussions
followed. J. Arthur Findlay, one of the most respected figures in
the Spiritualist movement, was a chief shareholder in the company
owning the newspaper and also Chairman of the International Institute,
of which he was a founder. He felt he could no longer be associated
with the Institute under these circumstances, and accordingly resigned
from his position there. Meanwhile the Institute itself brought
Fodor's investigation of the Thornton Heath case to a close, and
in August 1938 the Council of the Institute sent a letter to their
members which opened:
After carefully reviewing and considering the policy of the Institute,
the Council have decided that the employment of a whole-time director
of research is not justified. Accordingly they have terminated with
regret the engagement of Dr. Nandor Fodor, who is no longer connected
with the Institute in that or any other capacity.
Stung by this peremptory dismissal, Fodor wrote a spirited reply
on September 2, also published in the journal The Occult Review
I have been on holiday in France. On my return I learned with considerable
surprise that I was no more Director of Research for the International
Institute for Psychical Research. The communique which you published
last week was emphatic in stating that I was no longer connected
with the Institute in 'that or any other capacity'. The public warning
may make people wonder whether I have been guilty of misdemeanor
or was expected to commit such under false pretenses. Let me make
it first clear that I have been one of the founders of the International
Institute for Psychical Research. I have directed its research for
four years with considerable sacrifice. I have built the Institute
with my sweat and blood. It belonged to me more than to any member
of the Council. Yet the present Council of the Institute felt in
no way obliged to inform me that my services would be no more wanted
and to give me a fair chance of resignation.
went on to disclose that the Institute had also impounded the manuscript
of his new book. He challenged the Council to inform the membership
of the whole truth of the matter, and concluded: "I am entitled
to satisfaction. I mean to get it." This was fighting talk!
During this period of an open break with Spiritualists he felt free
to speak his mind on some of the lower levels of the movement. His
own unhappiness at being forced into an invidious position was reflected
in a new series of hard-hitting articles for The Leader, in which,
with talented journalism, he now wrote of "shameless imposture."
"I respect the deep religious convictions of sincere spiritualists,"
he declared, "but I cannot keep silent about some of our miracle-mongers."
The series was announced: "BEGINNING THE GREATEST SHOWUP OF
SPIRIT 'MIRACLES' EVER PRINTED." "I Expose the Shams of
Spiritualism." Later headlines read: "I Unmask the Muslin
and Cheese-cloth Ghosts ... "I Debunk These 'Gifts from Heaven'."
Spiritualists were alarmed at this tearing aside of the veils, and
Fodor was reproached by his former associates. Answering the charge
of now being a "very doubtful friend," he replied (Light,
November 10, 1938):
"In Spiritualism, unhappily, one ceases to be considered as
a friend if he speaks the unpleasant truth."
In what must have been the unhappiest chapter of his life, Fodor
suddenly secured unexpected support for his position and recognition
of his psychoanalytical insight from the highest authority. Professor
Freud himself, then in Britain, graciously agreed to read Fodor's
manuscript, and in the course of a letter dated November 22, 1938,
he wrote sympathetically:
Your turning away from interest in whether the observed phenomena
were genuine or fraudulent, your turning toward the psychological
study of the medium and the uncovering of her previous history,
seem to be the important steps which will lead to the elucidation
of the phenomena under investigation.
It is very regrettable that the Institute for psychical research
would not follow you. I also hold it very probable that your conclusions
regarding this particular case are correct... (full German text
and translation in article: by Fodor: "Freud and the Poltergeist,"
Psychoanalysis, Journal of Psychoanalytic, Psychology, vol. 4, No.
2, Winter 1955-56).
wrote a happy and generous letter to the Editor of The Occult Review,
published in January 1939:
I would be glad if you would allow me to state that my differences
with the Council of the International Institute for Psychical Research
have new been amicably composed.
The manuscript referred to in my letter of September 8th has now
been returned to me, and I am making arrangements for its early
publication. It will represent my personal views and will in no
way bind the Council of the International Institute.
I understand that recognition is being paid to me for my past services
in a statement which members will shortly receive. On my part I
wish the Council good luck for their future work, and sincerely
hope that their new policy will receive the same hearty support
which I have enjoyed in the past four years.
The libel case did not end so happily. Fodor had complained of four
articles which he said had libeled him. Judgment was given in March
1939. As a barrister Fodor partially conducted his own case, and
was awarded minor damages of 50 guineas each in respect of two of
the articles, the jury finding for the newspaper in regard to the
other two. It might seem that the result was evenly divided, but
to the newspaper it was a heavy blow which drained away vital funds
and made bad publicity for Spiritualism. Fodor had vindicated his
reputation but the gap between psychical researchers and Spiritualists
At this distance of time, all this might seem a series of trivial
domestic issues, but in the small world of British Spiritualism
and Psychical Research of the period, such issues were critical.
I think it is a pity the matter ever came to Court. Perhaps some
of the attacks on Fodor were extreme and his legal background would
suggest an obvious remedy. But in those days Spiritualism had to
be very much on the defensive and could only maintain its position
by vigorous journalism - "challenges", "plain speaking
without fear or favor," etc. - to strengthen the emotional
solidarity of the Spiritualist rank and file. Behind all this lurked
indignation at the precarious position of Spiritualists, the persecution
of mediums, and the superciliousness of many cultured scientific
From Fodor's point of view he had felt his honor impugned, and his
status as a competent researcher undermined. Since he was not a
medical doctor or an accredited psychoanalyst his unique insights
into relationships between mediums and psychoanalytical motivations
were unjustly discredited. He too had to defend his position. The
real fault lay in the narrow outlook of the times.
Very soon after the case Fodor returned to America. Here he practiced
successfully as a psychoanalyst in New York, and resumed American
citizenship. Here too he renewed contact with his old friend Dr.
Hereward Carrington, with whom he had so much in common.
1934 Carrington had written to acknowledge a copy of Fodor's Encyclopaedia
and to congratulate him on the "tremendous amount of work"
that had gone into it. It was not until two years later that Fodor
discovered that Carrington himself had been working on a similar
project which he had generously yielded.
Dr. Fodor, psychoanalyst, the atmosphere in America was more sympathetic
to new ideas, and psychoanalysis itself firmly established. In this
last phase of his life he was also able to combine his former interests
of journalism and psychical research, but now the campaigning days
were over and his contributions were acceptable in learned journals.
He elaborated his stimulating ideas on connections between psychical
phenomena and psychoanalysis. His studies in the field of meaningful
dream analysis had added interest in that they drew upon his own
personal experiences. He also wrote many articles for the fine journal
Tomorrow, edited by Mrs. Eileen J. Garrett, whom he had known as
a talented medium in Britain. As mentioned earlier, when Dr. Carrington
died (December 26, 1959, aged 78) Fodor wrote a deeply-felt tribute
in the Winter 1959 issue of Tomorrow.
the last period of his life, Fodor considerably modified some of
his earlier attitudes, and perhaps British Spiritualists were pleased
to read his remarkably frank avowal in a Psychic Observer article
My attitude to psychical phenomena has undergone a tremendous change
since I left England. Then I was a psychical investigator, following
the routine techniques. A free hand for the researcher is none for
the medium. Now I am a psychologist and my attitude is exactly the
opposite: a free hand for the medium, none for the researcher.
He confessed that he had "no more joy in tying up mediums and
exalting instrumental findings," and commented, "I see
now psychical research has tried to be too scientific for years
and has gone bankrupt as a result. Mediums do not function well
if they are used as guinea-pigs. They are human beings with the
same virtues and vices as the researchers themselves."
It is this essential fair-mindedness, the ability to weigh his judgments
carefully and even revise his views, that gives the work of Dr.
Nandor Fodor such lasting value. In 1956 he wrote a fiery essay
defending the late Harry Price from attacks upon him in a new book,
while in 1963 he was equally indignant at the publication of Trevor
Hall's controversial book The Spiritualists which attempted to discredit
Sir William Crookes and the famous Florence Cook mediumship.
In a letter published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical
Research (December 1964) Mr. David Cohen, author of a book on Harry
"Before his death, Dr. Nandor Fodor expressed to me in a letter
his fear that fresh denigrations of dead researchers would follow
after those of Price and Crookes, and now F. W. H. Myers has been
included.... Who will be next on the list? Mr. R. S. Lambert's final
words in his foreword should be heeded by all investigators: 'We
need more tolerance, less cynicism and greater respect for human
Fodor himself was responsible for nine important books and a great
many valuable articles. In 1962 his book Mind Over Space (New York)
reviewed the strange phenomenon of teleportation. At the time of
his death his final work, The Voice Within, a study of Freud's early
years, was unpublished. On May 17, 1964, Dr. Fodor himself crossed
the frontier of that great unknown which he had studied and investigated
for so many years of his life.