Mediumship of Willi
and Rudi Schneider
[THE] SCHNEIDER BROTHERS, WILLI and RUDI, of Braunau, powerful Austrian physical mediums, discovered and tested by Baron Schrenck Notzing under stringent conditions in the presence of a great number of scientists. The father of the Schneider Brothers is a linotype compositor. Of his six sons, four, Willi, Rudi, Hans and Karl, have psychic power, the latter two only in a slight degree. Willi was born in 1903.
His trance personality was a girl, Olga, who said that her full name was Olga Lintner, and that she was identical with the notorious Lola Montez (Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert) who died in New York in 1861 and was the mistress of Ludwig I., the old king of Bavaria. Wili's mediumistic education was taken up by Baron von Schrenck Notzing. Between December 3, 1921, and July 1, 1922, a round hundred scientists witnessed his telekinetic and ectoplasmic phenomena under very strict test conditions and declared themselves completely convinced of their reality. The room was searched, the medium was examined by specialists, luminous bracelets and hands were sewn on his tight garment, and luminous pins were affixed so that his slightest movements could be seen by witnesses even in the dark. Besides, Willi sat outside the cabinet, two witnesses held his wrist and a third sat in front of him, holding his hands and keeping his legs between his own. Both medium and experimenters were shut off from the objects to be telekinetically moved by a gauze screen in the form of a cage. The severity of the control did not prevent he phenomena. The result of these sittings was published in the Baron's Experimente der Fernbewegung, in 1924.
In English-speaking countries the mediumship of the Schneider Brothers began to be talked about after Harry Price, accompanied by Eric J. Dingwall, attended, on the Baron's invitation, some sittings in 1922 at Munich. Both Price and Dingwall signed statements that they witnessed genuine phenomena. Willi aspired to be a dentist. With the concentration on his studies his mediumship showed signs of weakening. Having left the Baron he went to Vienna where he lived with Dr. E. Holub, the head of a large asylum at Steinhof. He gave a series of sittings. When Dr. Holub died in 1924 the sittings were continued with university professors. Late in 1924, at the invitation of the S.P.R., Willi Schneider, accompanied by Mrs. Holub, came to London, and from November 12 to December 13 gave twelve sittings on the society's premises. According to E. J. Dingwall's report in Proc. Vol. XXXVI.: "The only phenomena clearly observed were telekinetic, and even these were only striking upon a few occasions." Making every effort to find a normal explanation he says: " In order to raise an object 2-3 feet distant from him, the medium must have had concealed in his mouth an extensible apparatus workable by the mouth alone and by this means have supported a flat object lying on the table and raise it into the air from below. This feat must have been accomplished without any obvious interference with his breathing or speech; and when completed the rod must have been in some inexplicable manner withdrawn and again concealed in his mouth. We frankly do not believe such a device exists, and therefore are driven the conclusion that the only reasonable hypothesis which covers the facts is that some supernormal agency produced the results."
The development of Rudi Schneider's powers was also under Baron Schrenck Notzing's supervision. Rudi was born on July 27, 1903. One night in a séance with Willi, Olga said that the power was not strong enough and that she wanted Rudi to assist. Rudi was only eleven years of age then and was at moment asleep in bed, the parents objected. Olga did not answer. A few minutes later, however, the door opened and Rudi, in deep trance, entered and joined the circle. After that night Olga permanently attached herself to Rudi and never spoke through Willi again. Her place was taken by Mina, another female personality.
Rudi's first independent séance was held in November, 1919, at Braunau. The materialisation of a tiny hand was witnessed. A peculiarity of his sittings consistedof frequent intermissions which Olga demanded. In 1923-24 Prof. Dr. Stefan Meyer and Prof. Dr. Karl Przibram, of the Institut für Radiumforschung der Academic der Wissenschaffen, Vienna, detected Rudi evading control. After that they had no reason to believe that any of the phenomena they witnessed were of supernormal character. Actually, however, fraud was more assumed than proved. Rudi went on with his sittings. Reports of his mediumship appeared in the Journal A.S.P.R., December, 1925, by Prof. Thirring, January-February, 1926, by Harry Price, March, 1926, by Capt. Kogelnik, and May-June, 1926, by Prof. Gruber. In April, 1927, the Psyche published an article of Warren Jay Vinton which made a detailed and categorical charge of fraud through confederacy. Vinton was introduced at Braunau by Dingwall, attended a total of ten séances and concluded that the phenomena were caused by someone who secretly invaded the séance room. The article made a stir and provoked strong comment both pro and con. Malcolm Bird, the research officer of the A.S.P.R., desired to see the position for himself. He arrived at Braunau in October, 1927, but owing to pressure of business could only stay for a single séance. His conclusion was that all the essentials of the Dingwall-Vinton theory were verified and all the conditions requisite to its operation were reproduced. Some time after Dr. Walter Prince attended a series of ten sittings with Rudi in Braunau and in Dr. Rudolf Lambert's house at Stuttgart. Phenomena were scarce. In his notes in Bulletin VII. of the Boston S.P.R., published under the title Experiments with Physical Mediums in Europe, 1928, he came to the conclusion that the phenomena cannot be considered genuine.
"Throughout the thirteen sittings" he writes "despite my studied and unremitting complaisance, no phenomena have occurred when I had any part in the control, save curtain movements which were capable of the simplest explanation. "
These events somewhat dimmed the lustre of Rudi's reputation. Baron Schrenck Notzing desired to settle the matter definitely and arranged an elaborate programme of experiments for 1929. They were to be conducted in Herr Krall's laboratory under a completed system of partly electrical, partly tactual control. Early in 1929, however, both Baron Schrenck Notzing and Krall died.
In the same year Harry Price paid a visit to Munich. On this occasion he made arrangements with Rudi to visit the National Laboratories for Psychical Research. Karl Amereller, an electrician by whom Rudi was employed, accompanied him to London and installed his electric indicator in the laboratory. This indicator was developed from the electric chair idea of Harry Price. As worked out at the beginning of 1923 it consisted of a number of electric contact-makers, normally kept apart by light springs which corresponded to various parts of the medium's anatomy. The contacts were connected up with a row of coloured indicator lights, so that should a person under test move a limb, or rise from the chair, the corresponding light immediately failed. The plan of this indicator was submitted to Baron Schrenck Notzing and was perfected by him and Amereller. In its latest phase it controlled only the four limbs of the medium by four separate electric circuits. In the experiments at the National Laboratory, however, Harry Price decided to control the hands and feet of the sitters in the same way, making six separate circuits and corresponding lights in all. The first series of séances took place between April 12-22, 1929. The second series lasted from November 14, 1929, to January 20, 1930. Both were eminently successful. As Harry Price says in his conclusions of his book, Rudi Schneider: "The fact remains that Rudi has been subjected to the most merciless triple control ever imposed upon a medium in this or any other country and has come through the ordeal with flying colours. The genuineness of the phenomena produced at his London séances has impressed nearly one hundred persons, including scientists, doctors, business men, professional magicians, journalists, etc." The triple control was: The holding of Rudi's hands and feet by one controller, a second person always having one hand upon the four locked hands of the medium and the controller; the electric indicator; the dressing of the medium in a pyjama jacket to which metallic gloves were sewn, he being invariably searched besides.
The phenomena witnessed are summed up by Harry Price as follows:
"Cold breezes felt by everyone; an occasional fall in the temperature of the cabinet, violent movements of the pair of curtains, movements and levitations of the luminous waste paper basket and the coffee table, the ringing of the bells and the twanging of the toy zither, even in mid-air, the emergence from and withdrawal into the cabinet of a handkerchief, afterwards found in a far corner, tied into a tight knot, the touchings and brushings of the sitters at the wonderful thirteenth, fifteenth, twenty-first and other séances, the intelligent knocking of the table when it was resting against a sitter's leg near the end of the circle farthest from the medium, the tugs-of-war with Olga, and finally the emergence from and withdrawal into the cabinet of hands, arms and tubes, some perfectly formed.
"The following scientists have been present at the experiments : Lord Rayleigh, Prof. A.O. Rankine, Dr. F.C.S. Schiller, Dr. William Brown, Prof. Nils von Hofsten, Prof. A.F.C. Pollard, Mr. C.E.M. Joad, Mr. A. Egerton, Prof. A.M. Low, Dr. Brown, Dr. David Efron, Dr. Eugen Osty and Dr. Jeans."
After the end of the séance on April 15, Harry Price casually remarked to Hannen Swaffer that he would give a thousand pounds to any person who could produce the same effects under identical conditions, provided that if the person failed he would pay a like sum to the Laboratory. This was published as a challenge in the Daily Express and other papers. "No one appeared," writes Harry Price, "to want a thousand pounds, and the magical fraternity showed a sudden and strange lack of interest in psychic things . . . . What baffled magicians was the fact that the phenomena occurred inside the cabinet while Rudi was outside, nearly five feet away."
Will Goldston, the famous magician, attended some séances and declared that under the same conditions a whole group of prestidigitators could not produce the phenomena which he witnessed.
As regards the personality, Olga: " After many séances and 'confidential talks' with her," writes Harry Price, "I am completely at a loss to know whether she is really a figment of Rudi's subconscious mind or actually a discarnate entity."
After the end of the experiments Harry Price handed, on behalf of the Council of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, a certificate to Rudi Schneider. stating that absolutely genuine phenomena have been produced through his mediumship. He adds : "If the Laboratory issued a gold medal or diploma for genuine mediumship under our own scientific conditions, we should have no hesitation in awarding it to Rudi. I know of no other physical medium who could claim it - except perhaps Miss Stella C....If Rudi were to be exposed a hundred times in the future it would not invalidate or affect to the slightest degree our considered judgment that the boy has produced genuine abnormal phenomena while he has been at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research."
The Schneider Brothers did not accept payment for their services. In London Rudi was only paid as much as he would have earned at his trade (he is a motor engineer), from which he was taken. At a later date (1932), however, he raised his maintenance fees considerably.
In October and November, 1930, Rudi sat at the Institut Métapsychique. According to Dr. Osty's report in the fourteenth séance infra-red photography revealed, at a distance from the medium, the existence of an invisible substance, localised in space but rigorously commanded by the psychical organism of the medium. Sound registering and recording instruments signalled the movements of this invisible substance. No screens and meshes of various materials, nor electrically charged plates could intercept it. An increase in red light, a change in the conditions of the room or of the position of the medium, however, always sensibly diminished the action of the substance. Under the conditions laid down by Dr. Osty no fraud was possible. He was satisfied as to the reality of telekinetic movements. At the end of ninety sittings Rudi was presented with a gift of 5,000 francs from the Institut in recognition of the willing manner in which he had submitted to experimentation. (Osty: Les Pouvoirs inconnus de l'esprit sur la matière, 1932.)
In the Spring of 1932, Rudi sat again at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. Out of 37 séances eighteen were negative. His powers appeared to be on the wane. Nevertheless Osty's infra-red experiments were successfully duplicated and a number of distinguished scientists were convinced of the reality of the phenomena. As, however, an automatic photograph taken in the 25th sitting revealed, as disclosed a year later (An Account of Some Further Experiments with Rudi Schneider) an arm free behind Rudi when both his hands were supposed to be controlled by the sitter in front, Harry Price concluded that "it will be necessary for previous investigators to revise their findings." Both this conclusion and its basis was subjected to vigorous attack by Prof. Fraser-Harris (Light, March 17, 1933). He gave his unqualified testimony to the genuineness of the medium. Several members of the Council of the Laboratory resigned in protest against the report. Strong exception to Harry Price's methods was also taken by Dr. Osty in an off-print from the Revue Métapsychique, April, 1933, (L'Etrange Conduit de M. Harry Price).
In October-December, 1932, Rudi gave 27 sittings in London to Lord Charles Hope's research group. According to the report in Proc. Vol. XLI. p.131: "On the whole, the phenomena noted were weaker and less frequent than those reported as having taken place with the same medium elsewhere, but the results obtained go far to support the claims put forward by Dr. Osty in his report." Replying to Harry Price's allegation of trickery, Lord Charles Hope says in a special section of the report :
"I submit that neither the evidence Mr. Price adduces nor his method of presentation is such as to make his charges count for anything against a medium with Rudi's record. What does emerge damaged from Mr. Price's report is his own reputation as controller, conductor of investigations and critic."
In an addendum, Theodore Besterman says: "Quite apart from other and important considerations, Mr. Price's report appears to me to be in itself quite worthless as an exposure. It can have no effect on Rudi Schneider's standing."
The next development was Bulletin V. of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. (Rudi Schneider, the Vienna Experiments of Professors Meyer and Przibram). This refers to sittings in 1924. The theories of fraud there advanced, however, have been dealt with before in Schrenk Notzing's posthumous Die Phenonzene des Mediums Rudi Schneider, December, 1932 and by Dr. Osty (op. cit.). The rest of the Bulletin is devoted to answering the criticism which Dr. Osty and others levelled against Harry Price.
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