Dr Zofia Weaver, co-author with Ian Stevenson and Mary Rose Barrington of A World in a Grain of Sand: The Clairvoyance of Stefan Ossowiecki (2005), and a past editor of the Journal and Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, has produced a short book packed with information on the mediumship of Warsaw-born Teofil Modrzejewski (1873-1943), who used the pseudonym Franek Kluski. He is not as well known in the English-speaking world as other mediums, notably D D Home and Eusapia Palladino, or even Rudi Schneider, largely because much of the reporting of his mediumship was in Polish. Weaver has helped to redress the situation by making available material not previously translated into English and providing a balanced assessment of Kluski’s extraordinary career as a medium.
That career was an unusual one. The most significant portion of it was also surprisingly short, comprising some 340 sittings held between 1918 and 1925. He was already 45 when he began in late 1918, and fell into it by accident: he attended a séance and discovered that he too seemed to possess mediumistic abilities, though he did claim to have had psychic experiences in childhood. He began to hold séances himself, but never gained financially from doing so, never performed in public, and did not seek recognition. He thought mediumship in general to be a ‘circus’, of which he had no ambition to become a part. His choice of pseudonym itself played down the remarkable events which surrounded him – Weaver says that kluski is a particularly dull type of pasta.
In addition to providing biographical details and outlining what is known about Kluski’s character, Weaver sets this period in the context of Poland’s fortunes before the First World War and its emergence as an independent state in November 1918. It seems likely that Kluski was involved in the conflict as he had extensive military connections and was a volunteer during the Polish-Soviet War (and he had actually fought a duel in his twenties). After the war he had a day job in banking, in addition to being a journalist and man of letters, though he never wrote about his séance room activities and was reluctant to talk about them. In addition to his military friends he had a wide range of professional connections. People from both spheres attended his séances and Weaver provides details of a few of these individuals, giving an insight into the milieu in which Kluski moved. In short he did not conform to the typical stereotype of a medium only partially connected to this world.
Kluski’s mediumship was intensively scrutinised, not only by Polish psychical researchers, but by others further afield, notably Charles Richet, Camille Flammarion, Everard Feilding, Barbara and Hewat McKenzie of the British College of Psychic Science, and particularly Gustave Geley. Kluski was happy to work with sympathetic investigators, and they were impressed by what occurred in their presence. A primary source is the 586-page Polish-language book, Reminiscences of Séances with the Medium Franek Kluski (1926), by Colonel Norbert Okolowicz, who attended many of Kluski’s séances, and Weaver draws on it extensively. A further important source is Gustave Geley’s Clairvoyance and Materialisation (1927), which has much to say about Kluski. In addition Weaver has been able to examine Polish records compiled by others, and provide information on Kluski and his achievements that has not hitherto been available in English.
The sheer range of what went on around him is astonishing. Kluski is probably best known for the production of wax moulds said to be made by the immersion of spirits’ materialised body parts, but there was a great deal more. Phenomena included strange phosphorescent mists, movement of objects, odd noises and raps, odours, apports in and out of the séance room and lights moving around. Figures were frequently visible, sometimes only partly materialised. At other times they became increasingly clear until they achieved their final form, seeming to take their energy from the participants by rubbing their clothing, or growing from a small to full size in accordance with the sitters’ intention. It is important to note that Kluski did not insist on complete darkness; dim red light and luminous plaques aided vision, and a number of the figures were self-illuminating. Sitters often recognised the visitors and there was interaction between them; the materialised apparitions demonstrated personality, some could read sitters’ minds and would respond to thoughts. The participants’ attitudes set the tone, and the degree of group cohesion, along with Kluski’s physical and mental health, influenced the production and strength of phenomena.
In addition to the human figures, too dissimilar to Kluski to be the result of impersonation, materialisations included dogs, cats, squirrels, a large bird, all suggesting that not only humans survive bodily death, and an ape-like creature which Geley called ‘Pithecanthropus’ and which was said to smell like a wet dog. Strange phenomena were not confined to the séance room but occurred outside it as well. These included floating lights, compass needles in a display case moving when Kluski leaned over them, and affecting electric lighting. On one occasion at a regimental dinner he held a fluent conversation with Tartar officers in their language, despite not knowing it, and only understood he had done so when told the following day. He was able to exercise clairvoyance, and most dramatically (a somewhat relative term when discussing Kluski) had a facility for bilocation, including one occasion when Geley saw him in Paris while he was actually in Warsaw.
Weaver deals at length with the wax moulds, the subject of vigorous controversy in the pages of the SPR’s Journal in the 1990s following first a book review by Michael H. Coleman in 1989 which dismissed them, and then stimulated further by Weaver’s 1992 paper ‘The Enigma of Franek Kluski’. The hope that they (or at least the plaster casts taken from them) might represent an unambiguously permanent paranormal object has not been fulfilled, but if they were a trick, it was an accomplished one in the confines of the séance room, surrounded by witnesses. In a refinement to the normal procedure Geley and Richet added blue colouring to the paraffin to guard against pre-prepared wax moulds being smuggled in, and the wax in which the mould was made was found to be blue, showing that it had to have been created in situ. An alternative safeguard was to add cholesterol to the paraffin; the advantage over a dye is that it does not discolour the wax on its own, but when sulphuric acid is added it becomes red. These are controls which critics need to account for when assessing how the moulds might have been produced.
Kluski’s general health was not good and he suffered during séances, finding them exhausting. At times Kluski turned more to automatic writing, which placed less strain on him. The words were sometimes in a language he did not know, albeit he was a polyglot, and the handwriting and content (though not necessarily the views, perhaps influenced by Kluski) were acknowledged by sitters as appropriate to particular deceased individuals. Messages occasionally arrived from people who were living but asleep at the time. Weaver notes that his mediumship continued after 1925, but again the emphasis was on automatic writing. He clearly felt that there was a tension between his mediumship and his religious faith and he eventually stopped altogether in September 1939 because of Church disapproval; one suspects though that he did not find it difficult, considering the physical toll, and perhaps he felt he had nothing to prove so no reason to continue.
Weaver draws comparisons with other mediums and concludes that while elements of Kluski’s mediumship can be found in theirs, what makes it noteworthy was its scale. To explain it away as trickery is to assume a high degree of gullibility, but many of the sitters were highly experienced and aware of methods of cheating. That is not to rule out deception completely, and an assumption of expertise can lead to complacency; but if the sitters had been gullible then Kluski’s success at fooling them so comprehensively would betoken a degree of idiocy as incredible as the things they witnessed. If fraud, it was of a sophisticated kind that could hoodwink sharp and knowledgeable researchers so thoroughly. While séances seem to have been well-controlled (Kluski was prepared to participate naked, which definitely shows a willingness to cooperate), sceptics will argue that holding them in Kluski’s own apartment was a fatal weakness. Yet he was happy to work in red light, and there were still manifestations when Kluski was away from home, including visiting the Institut Métapsychique International in Paris in 1920 where he was studied by Geley, its director. Again that does not rule out fraud completely, but it does make it more difficult to dismiss the phenomena.
Kluski is a significant figure in the history of psychical research who deserves to be better known, and for more than just the production of ‘spirit hands’. What makes him special in Weaver’s eyes is that his mediumship manages to combine just about every aspect of mental and physical mediumship. In trying to evaluate this wealth of data she asks: ‘what is impossible?’ If we can’t answer that, how can we dismiss Kluski’s evidence as not being possible, however unlikely it is? Alan Gauld, who contributes the foreword, characterises Kluski as ‘a uniquely puzzling individual’, so the use of ‘enigma’ in the subtitle is well chosen. Any kind of conclusion is elusive, but Kluski, as a result of Dr Weaver’s efforts, can assume his place among those mediums of the first rank whose accomplishments pose challenges for our understanding of the world. She concludes with the suggestion that physical mediumship should be taken more seriously today for what it might tell us about, in her words, ‘realities not available to most of us’. Who knows, in so doing we may find another Franek Kluski.
An interview with Carlos Alvarado, in which Zofia Weaver discusses the book, can be found here: https://carlossalvarado.wordpress.com/tag/zofia-weaver-franek-kluski-physical-mediumship/