Metal-benders and world reactions
Although this book is principally about my own observations, I cannot avoid giving some account of the activities of metal-benders I have not investigated in detail and of the behaviour of the many people who have reacted to the emergence of an apparently paranormal phenomenon. I shall try to set the stage by taking a global view of the events.
At the outset the question must be posed; why did mankind know nothing about metal-bending before the appearance of Uri Geller? Had the phenomenon actually occurred before, did it fail to be recognized as such, did it just pass into legend? We can certainly find descriptions of events which might be classified as paranormal metal-bending; but what authority are we to give them? Psychic phenomena have usually occurred in waves, partly due to an ‘induction effect’ (chapter 17), and partly due to the alerting of observers and recorders; we might cite such examples as outbreaks of witchcraft, and Victorian table-lifting. Did previous waves of metal-bending occur?
Before the industrial revolution metal objects were of course much rarer than they are today, and it must be remembered that the widest use of metal, apart from coins, ornaments and tools, was for weapons. Swords have historically been treated with reverence, sometimes given individual names, and even regarded as possessing magical properties. Not only are there legends of swords such as Excalibur being immovable except by a magically endowed individual, but there are also legends of magical renewal of the metal itself.
One of the Galahad adventures in the Morte d’Arthur reads as follows: (9)
Then Eliazar, King Pelles’ son, brought before them the broken sword wherewith Joseph [of Arimathea] was stricken through the thigh. Then Bors set his hand thereto, if that he might have soldered it again; but it would not be. Then he took it to Percivale, but he had no more power thereto than he. Now have ye it again, said Percivale to Galahad, for an it be ever achieved by any bodily man ye must do it. And then he took the pieces and set them together, and they seemed that they had never been broken, and as well as it had been first forged. And when they espied that the adventure of the sword was achieved, then they gave the sword to Bors, for it might not be better set; for he was a good knight and a worthy man.
This does not read like an account of blacksmithing, but is more like the 1970s feats of the Romansh-speaking Swiss metal-bender Silvio Mayer, who has been able to bond together the pieces of teaspoons that he has already fractured without the apparent use of force. German physicists and parapsychologists have investigated these claims, and do not regard them as frauds; and indeed the spotless nature of Sir Galahad was never gainsaid. Perhaps there is a connection, farfetched though it seem.
No real proof exists that metal-bending phenomena occurred in witchcraft, but there are good reasons for believing that this might have been the case. Crooked pins were usually vomited by victims of witchcraft, (¹°) and at least one authority (¹¹) considered this to be a legal diagnostic of bewitchment. In some instances the victims found crooked pins poking into their skin. These things were counterfeited, probably more often than they occurred naturally, and this makes it difficult to know for certain how the pins became bent and how they got where it was claimed they did. The reason we have for proposing that the phenomena may have occurred paranormally is their similarity to certain modern events, described in later chapters. I have witnessed teleportation of objects into the mouth with the same psychic subjects whom I have witnessed bending clusters of pins in plastic boxes; all that is missing is the composite event, resulting in bent pins in the mouth or at the body surface. There are modern cases of pins being found in large numbers within the arms and legs of human victims of voodoo. (¹²)
All through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, metal cutlery, knitting-needles, etc., were in common use in the home, and there have been many reports of poltergeist hauntings and other psychic phenomena with physical content; but very few included events which might be classified as metal-bending. One such case was unearthed by Scott Rogo; (¹³) an article by Mrs I.K. Reno in 1905 reports: ‘Frequently during the meal hour, milk, tea, coffee and soup were flying into the
faces of those at the table, several times inflicting painful scalds and burns. Spoons were broken, or suddenly twisted out of shape in their hands.’
The English medium Bertha Harris remembers as a child the bending of her brothers’ model railway lines; but nothing came of it except nursery strife!
There was the incident of Jung’s knife. The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung organized spiritualistic seances in his youth, and in one of these a breadknife in a drawer inexplicably snapped into four parts, with a sound like a pistol shot. The four pieces of the knife are still in the possession of the Jung family.(14) We shall see in chapter 12 that fractures are very much part of the metal-bending phenomenon.
There was the wave of paranormal or ‘preternatural’ bell-ringing described by Major Edward Moor, FRS, in the Victorian monograph Bealings Bells. I came across this little-known piece of psychic research only because Major Moor was a great-great-great-uncle of mine. In a house at Bealings, Suffolk, which I remember as a child, the bells were of the tinkling variety pulled by wires taken around corners by dogleg levers. Each bell was mounted on a curved piece of spring metal.
Major Moor experienced inexplicable ringings of his bells. He set about excluding the possibilities of mischievous pulling by humans, birds, etc., but he never succeeded in explaining them, and when he published his account of the events several other families came forward with similar accounts. The generally assumed interpretation was that something preternatural had been pulling the wires.
But an equally sound interpretation would be that the metal springs received paranormal extension or contraction pulses of the type to be described in chapter 4 and frequently observed in my experiments. In fact, I shall describe a similar no-touch experiment in miniature (carried out months before I came across Bearings Bells): a galvanometer mirror mounted on a small piece of spring metal experienced paranormal elastic jerky movements, each giving rise to the deflection of a laser beam. Some time after I became acquainted with Bealings Bells, the extraordinary similarity between the two constructions occurred to me. Perhaps Major Moor was experiencing an attack of paranormal metal-bending.
Since the reports of Major Moor’s experiences first appeared, other instances have come to light; and even after the First and Second World Wars cases continued, such as in the former hospital building at South Mimms, Herts.
Notwithstanding these examples, the accounts of pre-Geller metal-bending are sparse, and credit must undoubtedly be given to Uri Geller, whatever the defects in his career, for bringing the phenomenon to the notice of members of the scientific establishment. We can now at least count the numbers of serious groups researching the subject in double figures: in the USA, the late Dr Wilbur Franklin at Kent State University, Dr Targ and Dr Puthoff at Stanford Research Institute, Eldon Byrd at the Office of Naval Research Laboratories, Washington, Dr Ronald Hawke at Livermore and Elizabeth Rauscher at Berkeley; in France, Dr Ducrocq, Dr Wolkowski and, more recently, scientists at the Pechiney Aluminium Company; in West Germany, the Freiburg University group; and also Dr Walti in Switzerland. Professor Dierkens in Belgium, Dr Mattuck and Scott Hill in Copenhagen, Professor Ferdinando Bersani and Dr Aldo Martelli in Italy, Dr Charles Osborne in Melbourne; the New Horizons Group in Toronto, and also Dr Bob Cantor; in Japan a number of different laboratories, from among which I would single out that of Professor Shigemi Sasaki in Tokyo; and finally there are reports of serious researches in China.
The contributions of many of these groups will become apparent as we proceed with our account. But their activities have not gone unnoticed. Sceptical science-writers, eventually organized in the USA and elsewhere into a committee, succeeded in obtaining widespread publicity for the defects in the picture. To be sure, much has been publicly claimed in the media which would not stand up to close scrutiny; and since most psychic histories appear to be an inextricable mixture of reality and fraud, we would not expect to find an exception in metal-bending.
When a fraud is ‘exposed’ (whether or no the exposition itself would stand up to close scrutiny) this is by no means a proof that genuine events have not taken place as well at a different time. Indeed the inextricable mixture appears to be the norm, so that the psychic researcher must choose his methods with extreme care.
Before embarking on the account of my own observations, I shall report briefly on the early history of Geller’s metal-bending a sociological exercise for which I myself am perhaps rather inadequately qualified. But the exercise must be carried out, so as to remove various misconceptions that have taken hold of the public mind.
Geller was ‘discovered’ in Israel in 1971 by Dr Andrija Puharich, an erratically brilliant field-worker in such fringe science areas as psychic surgery and hallucinogens. Puharich could not become extricated from the idea that Geller’s ‘powers’ originated from extraterrestrial beings, but he reported many observations of teleportations (chapters 18 and 19) happening around Geller, and he introduced him to former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, through whose auspices further research was financed. Geller began five weeks of experimentation with the physicists Dr Targ and Dr Puthoff at Stanford Research Institute. The published part of these researches concerned not metal-bending but the telepathic transmission of information, in which field Targ and Puthoff have since carried out extensive work.(5)
Geller toured the USA giving lectures and demonstrations, but comparatively few scientists were convinced, largely because trouble was not taken to set up the conditions exactly right. He also performed on American television shows, but never made sufficient impression for large numbers of telephone calls to be received from families who reported cutlery bending in the home. As we saw in chapter 1, this is what happened in West European countries as well as Japan, South Africa and elsewhere.
In Britain Geller made several successful public television records of apparently paranormal bendings of cutlery, and many children came forward and claimed, sometimes even demonstrated, similar happenings. Mathematical physicist John Taylor, who was present in the studio, started a programme of fieldwork and invited numbers of the children to his laboratory.
He published accounts in a book entitled Superminds, and publicly affirmed that he believed paranormal metal-bending was a real effect. Later he was to announce something of a change of heart, brought about by his failure to detect the presence of electromagnetic radiation during metal-bending. The reasoning was that bending must have been brought about by such radiation, and since none was observed, the bending may well have been produced normally, presumably by manual action previously undetected. This reasoning is difficult for physicists to understand.
Later, I spoke to many of these children; I had formed the opinion that it was a mistake to conduct initial observations in the laboratory; the children would find the environment strange and would be anxious to achieve success by any means available to them. In fact, sociologist Dr Harry Collins(3) at the University of Bath was able to show this by inviting children to his own laboratory and viewing them stroking spoons through a two-way mirror. Five were seen to alleviate their failure by cheating; the sixth, Julie Knowles, will appear in later chapters.
Occasionally child metal-benders have been able to recall instances of bending occurring before the Geller revelation; but they failed to recognise it as unusual. Masuaki Kiyota makes this claim.
A fanatically sceptical conjuror, known as ‘The Amazing Randi’, started a campaign to probe the weaknesses of much of the reporting. His publications contained interesting material, but I found it extremely easy to find faults in his reporting; he attempted trickery during a visit to my office, and the level of the interview was so low that I have decided that a detailed discussion of it here would serve only to embarrass him. Other conjurors have contributed a rather more balanced view; two of the British, David Berglas and Ali Bongo, whilst sceptical, have responded to my requests for advice and help. A number of others observed Geller and other metal-benders and stated publicly that they could detect no fraud. These included Zorka and Abb Dickson in the USA, Leo Leslie in Denmark, Henk Vermeyden in the Netherlands, Ranky in France and Rolf Mayr in Switzerland.
Geller’s public performances represent a gray area into which the serious student should not venture. It is reported that his business associate, Yasha Katz, publicly alleged trickery, which Geller has denied. I have myself been present at only five performances, two in London and one each in Southampton, Longleat (near Bath) and Tokyo. Although I found no evidence of trickery, I was not personally responsible for the arrangements, so that the protocol was not always as I could have wished. It is worth mention that the softening of the large piece of heavy silver cutlery produced at Longleat was almost beyond dispute genuine. For the visits by Geller to my laboratory I was responsible for the protocol, such as it was (not what I would have wished, for several reasons!); again, I found no evidence of trickery, although a number of incidental strange events happened unwitnessed, and therefore could not be taken as evidence. I believe that this also applies to the visits by Geller to the Kent State and Berkeley Laboratories in the United States.
It will be valuable at this point to enumerate the names of various metal-benders in different countries who have allowed investigation of their talents by scientists and others. Most of these were children at the time when the ‘powers’ first became manifest, nearly always after watching Geller’s television appearances. The exceptions include JeanPierre Girard, whose abilities will be discussed in chapter 13; Silvio Mayer, who also paints pictures of a visionary nature; Christine Wild, a housewife from the English Midlands; James Blevens from Verona, Wisconsin, and Mrs T.W. of Detroit.
Child metal-benders were sometimes known as ‘mini-Gellers’ and in Italy ‘Gellerini’. Two of the Italians are Paride Giatti, who has been investigated by physicist Professor Bersani, and Orlando Bragante. The latter, investigated by Dr Aldo Martelli, is reliably reported to have bent cutlery enclosed in a sealed box. Other Italian metal-benders include Lucia Allegretti, Sandro Gasperini and Giovanni d’Emilio. In Israel, sixteen-year-old Ori Seboria has been investigated by Dr H.C. Berendt and others; when Ori visited Australia, scientists at the Caulfield Institute of Technology in Victoria also made observations, and other Australian children showed some powers. Sometimes, as in the case of Lisa in Denmark and Bernard in Belgium, real names are not published in order to preserve privacy. In Switzerland, observations have been made with Edith Aufdermauer. In Japan, the most dedicated metal-bender is Masuaki Kiyota; but there are also Hiroto Yamashita, Yasushi Murasawa, Makoto Hirota, Toro Osaki, Jun Sekiguchi, Seiyuri Tanaka, Satoshi, Masao and Koji.
Finally we come to the British metal-benders; John Taylor has compiled a list of at least thirty-eight. My own investigations have covered rather fewer. There are those who not only have strong ‘powers’, but who have had the patience to collaborate extensively with me; they include Nicholas Williams, Andrew G., Stephen North, Julie Knowles, Willie G. and Mark Henry. There are also those who have successfully participated in at least one experiment with positive results. They include Belinda H., Graham P., Richard B., David and Steven Nemeth, Susan Clarke, Clifford White, Alison Lloyd, Neil Howarth, Gill Costin, Kim Griffiths and Ian L.
There are some others with whom I have not had the chance to work, such as David Jefferies, Douglas Smith, Russell Jennings, Stephen Coates, Mark Shelley, Janet H., V. S. and Heidi Wilton.
Two English adults fall into unique categories as metal-benders. One is Matthew Manning, who as a child experienced strong poltergeist phenomena and has written much about his psychic experiences. When he visited Canada, several investigators at the New Horizons Research Foundation in Toronto observed his metal-bending; but he has since lost interest in the phenomenon, and seems never to have been at home with it.
The second is Dr Rob Basto, a space physics researcher who became seriously involved with transcendental meditation. He undertook to practise for hours at a time over a period of several weeks; after this he was able to produce effects on sensitive detection equipment, to my own and his satisfaction.
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