THE MEDIUMSHIP OF RUDI SCHNEIDER
Rudi (Rudolf) Schneider (1908-1957) was one of the four sons in the Schneider family who demonstrated their mediumistic abilities at a young age. Although his older brothers, Willy, Hans and Karl, possessed this talent to some degree, Rudi’s mediumship, and its history, is surely the more interesting of the four. I am indebted to Anita Gregory’s, The Strange Case of Rudi Schneider for much of the detail that follows. Her interest in Rudi began after hearing Dr William Brown’s declaration regarding what had been witnessed in a séance with Rudi as the medium.
The account may begin when Kogelnik, a sceptic, saw the mediumship of Willy in the family’s hometown of Branau, Austria; he accepted this as genuine and was prompted to contact von Schrenck-Notzing, an active researcher. Willy was then tested and monitored by a number of researchers and academics, and produced physical phenomena. However, attention was directed to Rudi: this was said (although Willy’s version of events differs) to have arisen when ‘Olga’, the control, specifically requested Rudi’s presence, despite him being just eleven years old at the time. In due course, Rudi was tested by von Schrenck-Notzing and others; his mediumship was not so powerful, but unlike Willy who requested darkness (his mediumship declined during the 1920s), Rudi was content to have at least some form of lighting present in the séances. Josef Schneider, his father, made a careful record of these from 1923, in addition to those made by others who attended.
Many examples of Rudi’s mediumship can be cited; one being the séance on 8 December 1932, where a detailed record was made and is therefore suitable as an illustration. In this, three professors and two doctors were included amongst the sitters, with Rudi seated with them. After Olga made herself known, Rudi was levitated several times, being visible to those present, and this was followed by the movement of objects within the room. Gregory notes how the person designated to be the controller, i.e. the person who monitored the medium and controlled his movement during the séance, was invariably the ‘most eminent and preferably the most sceptical participant’.
The séance attended by the investigator Sudre included phenomena that resulted in him detailing: ‘I saw something appear…the impression of being a child’s hand. The hand showed itself several times…It performed various acts, sometimes spontaneously and sometimes at the demand of the sitters’. He also reported, as so often happens, how the next-world visitor chose to enliven the proceedings by throwing items at the sitters. More relevant is his observation that while this materialization was present, another object was moving elsewhere.
Shortly afterwards, there were contrasting opinions voiced by different investigators, e.g. Professors Meyer and Przibram, who were publicized as having declared the Schneider phenomena false (this announcement caused another researcher, who had accepted the phenomena as genuine, to suffer a stroke and die a matter of days later). Meyer and Przibram were challenged by others, resulting in the two accusers softening their view and saying they had only demonstrated how the phenomena might have been produced by normal means.
Due to this, von Schrenck-Notzing introduced more rigid conditions in the control of Rudi during the séances: there were to be two controllers to ensure that there was no movement by Rudi. Despite these conditions, there were cases of materialized forms, direct writing, object movement and levitation. A number of researchers became convinced of the authenticity of the phenomena (e.g. Professors Fischer and Bleuler), but there were opposing views that continued to challenge the authenticity. It is interesting to note that one sitter at Rudi’s séances in 1925 was Jung, the renowned Swiss psychologist who made the statement that many researchers might do well to consider: ‘I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud’.
Nonetheless, sitters continued to be divided into believers and sceptics; with regard to the second category, Dr. Prince who was a member of this group, held this negative conclusion, as Gregory summarizes, as ‘long as explanations in terms of fraud and conspiracy were tenable under the conditions of the sitting’. In the upshot, as long as these possibilities existed, they had to be the most likely explanation. In the case of the believers, Gregory refers to one such person who testified to seeing object movement, levitation and the materialization of a hand: this was Dr Gatterer, a Jesuit professor, and hardly someone sympathetic to mediumship. One of the difficulties that arose in Rudi’s séances was the presence of family members that led to accusations of collaboration, but at a séance held by von Schrenck-Notzing in 1926, where members of the family and circle were absent, phenomena still occurred.
Fortunately, the situation between investigators and communicators was not all one-sided: when von Schrenck-Notzing complained about the length of time before phenomena were produced and other matters about which he felt annoyed, Olga declined to ever allow any phenomena to occur when he was present and seemed to be intent on annoying him from thereafter.
In the case of the sceptical Dr Prince already referred to, he had water poured over him at one séance, and when Dr Hoppe-Moser insisted that he examine a violin that was levitating, he was then struck by it several times. Furthermore, Olga not only insisted on sitters singing, but each one giving a solo rendering. Meanwhile, matters were not altogether straightforward for Olga as, ‘Rudi was a healthy and robust youngster, more interested in cars, football and, later his sweetheart Mitzi than in psychical research’.
Von Schrenck-Notzing died in 1929, and within a month, the psychic ‘researcher’ Harry Price was on the scene. Gregory adequately sums up the character of Price: ‘He had a picture of himself as the great amateur scientist, presenting the world of learning with a new discipline….in the last resort his own part mattered more to him than the subject…he was willing to bring the edifice crashing down rather than take second place to it’. Sadly, it was with such a person that Rudi became involved. Price had in fact been involved at an earlier time in the testing of both Willy and Rudi; he was ‘fully convinced’ that Willy had genuine psychic powers and ‘much impressed’ with Rudi’s mediumship.
The first séance with Rudi, and Price controlling the proceedings, was conducted in London during April 1929; in this, there were a number of electrical circuits in place, with sitters wearing special socks and gloves to relay the charge, and several lights present to show if there were any breaks. This appeared to cause Rudi no difficulties and he succeeded in producing physical phenomena, including some degree of materialization. Phenomena occurred in other séances later that same month: ‘They were all successful, producing brilliant and varied phenomena’.
A further sequence of séances for Price took place in 1929-30 when some phenomena arose although difference of opinion continued; in 1930, Rudi then submitted to tests conducted by Dr Osty in Paris. In these, an infra-red light was installed that would activate an alarm if broken. The beam was interrupted on many occasions, but the photographs taken at this very time showed nothing whatsoever, i.e. the movement that activated the complex set-up was not visible. Despite the conditions, Rudi’s mediumship continued, e.g. in the third séance, a mist appeared, with table movement; this was in a lighted environment where those who were present could be seen. Further séances took place with extensive testing equipment and a rubber tube around Rudi’s chest to monitor his breathing and luminous tape around his clothing; Osty conceded that paranormal events were occurring through Rudi. However, amazingly, after all of this, Osty, as Gregory records, could not ‘offer any interpretation of the phenomena beyond pointing out that the oscillatory character of the “substance” could be a result of the interaction between the “substance” and the radiations manifestly harmful to it’, and the substance could be viewed as ‘a peculiarly ephemeral physiological extension of the medium’, although the events seemed to counter this hypothesis.
The rate of breathing while entranced was a further spectacle of Rudi’s mediumship; as Carrington commented: ‘The ordinary breathing rate of anyone not engaged in active exercise is about 14-26 to the minute. But when Rudi Schneider goes into trance an extraordinary thing happens. His breathing increases to 200, 250, even 300 and more respirations per minute, and he keeps this up for considerable periods of time’.
After the experiments with Osty, Rudi continued to provide demonstrations; at one, the signed statement of witnesses, including Walther, who was von Schrenck-Notzing’s personal assistant, testified to a materialization seen by several sitters, in addition to object movement. In 1932 Rudi began another series of experiments in London with Price between February and May, with Price’s equipment present to photograph the proceedings when phenomena arose. Many of the séances were unsuccessful, although a number were not, with psychic winds, object movement and forms of materialization. Despite this, the opinions of different researchers still continued to vary widely.
On 5 March 1933, an article by Price appeared in the Sunday Dispatch claiming that Rudi was a fraud. Price also produced a bulletin with photographs that included those, taken on 28 April the previous year, that showed Rudi had freed his hand when phenomena had occurred. With regard to this, Gregory deals with the matter in considerable detail, and some of the very pertinent observations that she includes are: (i) even if Rudi had been responsible for creating the phenomena on this occasion, it hardly accounted for the many others; (ii) Price’s accusation was almost a year after the actual séance and yet he had said nothing about this supposed ‘proof’ of Rudi’s fraudulent behaviour in the meantime; (iii) the incident occurred when Price was supposed to be controlling Rudi; Price blamed his failure due to severe toothache, but one wonders why, if unable to supervise effectively, he took up the role; (iv) between the time of the séance and Price’s accusation, Price continued to proclaim the genuineness of Rudi’s mediumship (e.g. saying Rudi ‘has emerged unscathed from his very strenuous ordeals’ in Empire News, 8 May 1932, and he had passed every stringent laboratory test ‘with flying colours’ in Light, 20 May 1932).
It is therefore extremely difficult to harmonize these factors. What was Price’s motive? According to Gregory, it was to harm the other researchers who had ‘taken Rudi away from him’ and refused to accept Price as the ‘ultimate and final authority’ on the subject. There were, not surprisingly, other opinions regarding the photographic ‘evidence’, e.g. that it was an accidental movement: Rudi simply reacted to the first flash exposure and the second captured his action. Gregory gives her reasons for rejecting this proposal. In the case of the photographs that Price produced to denounce Rudi, Gregory observes that there is ‘something extremely odd’ about these and supplies her reasons, in considerable detail, for such a view. She also refers to the declaration by the President of the Royal Photographic Society that the photographs are so defective they were ‘almost useless as evidence’.
Also, that after having the negative plate enlarged, a number of questions arose concerning what they showed; she goes on to report the opinion that the incriminating photograph was considered to be ‘a fake’, produced through merging another picture. Finally, she appropriately quotes Halls’s view about Price’s ‘belief he could get away with anything’.
Fraser-Harris resigned his membership of Price’s ‘National Laboratory’ in view of the report issued by Price that was said to have been made by a number of researchers; Fraser-Harris said that in fact, ‘not one of us was consulted regarding either the letter-press, or the photographs’, and added that he wished to ‘disassociate myself entirely’ from being involved.
It is worth noting that Price made several attempts to have his laboratory, that he called ‘The National Laboratory for Psychical Research’, integrated with the SPR (on the basis that he would have a prominent place in its work) that fortunately failed. Price’s personality can also be assessed by his interest in black magic and that after several failures to have the donation of his laboratory accepted by the University of London, he offered it to Hitler for his Third Reich; nonetheless, it did eventually make its way to the University of London. In sum, Price was ‘possessive, deceitful, spiteful and self-seeking’. It cannot be coincidence that Price’s accusations just happened to have appeared a short time before the results of other researchers’ tests were to be published. Price was obviously not typical of researchers, but the history of the research into Rudi’s mediumship provides an illustration of the problems that were caused through unacceptable research methods, and the unproductive chaos that ensued. For this reason, it is worthwhile considering some of the further antics and the result of research without the proficiency that is patently due.
In addition to all that has already been outlined regarding the research into Rudi Schneider’s mediumship, more examples of the inane behaviour of many of those involved can be cited, e.g. in 1935, Dr Foltz challenged Osty’s work with Rudi, saying that some of the phenomena were caused through Osty’s ‘shaky floor’. After correspondence with Herbert of the SPR, who tested the relevant equipment with a shaky table, Foltz apparently decided not to pursue his theory any further. When Besterman summarised the history of tests made on Rudi’s mediumship, he referred to the belief of Meyer and Przibram that they could reproduce Rudi’s phenomena by normal means, but despite the importance of the claim, no detailed account of the conditions was even available. There is also reference by Besterman to Rudi being exposed by a Dr Lenkei, but he noted that ‘No particulars are available’. He also related how Vinton believed the phenomena were produced through Rudi’s family, but this theory was answered by von Schrenck-Notzing, but he in turn was criticized by von Klinckowstroem. He continued by referring to another sitting in 1927, but saying this was ‘non-committal’. He then turned to the London sittings in 1929 but remarked how the electrical control used was ‘very defective’, and that some researchers had challenged this method, while some had supported it.
The following year, in a report by a number of different researchers, the pandemonium of confusion and different ideas continued: Herbert stated that there was ‘some defect in the emulsion’ in the photographic plates used, resulting in the negatives being ‘so covered with spots and blotches that it was impossible to tell if there was any image or not’. On ordering a further batch, these ‘did not arrive in time’.
In the case of the laboratory at the LSA used for a séance with Rudi, he noted that ‘it was extremely susceptible to mechanical vibration’ being close to heavy traffic, i.e. it was not really suitable. He closed his account by thanking Rudi ‘who cheerfully submitted to all our tests and who bore without complaint all the indignities of being investigated by suspicious scientists’. When Lord Rayleigh gave his account, he stated that the infra-red photographic equipment was ‘not well adapted for making records of galvanometer deflections’, adding that the arrangements for this apparatus ‘were in fact designed for… [a] quite different purpose’. He concluded by saying the research required ‘patience and perseverance’, i.e. yet more sittings with the longsuffering Rudi and/or other mediums (By this time, i.e., 1933, Rudi had been investigated during some fourteen years). When Brown made his judgement at this time, he could only say ‘the results were inconclusive’ and further research was required. In the following year, Lord Hope lamented the fact that ‘so much careful work and such a large financial outlay should have gone unrewarded by conclusive results’, and concluded by saying, ‘it is hoped that…it will be found possible to continue to experiment with him [Rudi Schneider]’,
In the light of the above, it seems apposite to consider the matter of research into physical mediumship. It may be argued that the various ‘problems’ detailed above were really unavoidable and merely the events of that period, and bear no resemblance to the situation of the present time. But the lesson to be learned is that there was such diversity of opinion – or none at all, despite the number of sittings given by Rudi to so many people in so many places over so many years. If no decision could be reached after this, surely one is justified in asking how many sittings would have been required to effect a clear decision? Would any number have achieved this? The situation was no less bizarre with experiments being carried out that were then subsequently declared to be of little or no value by other researchers because of the equipment or location used. Therefore, the researchers stumbled along and the experiments continued and invariably, a common judgement remained elusive.
It should also be borne in mind, as stated in earlier NAS Newsletters (e.g. August 1995), that research has its obvious limitations. Some people seem to believe that research and enquiry will provide ‘proof’ to the world concerning the reality of survival; with respect, I must say that I believe them to be wholly mistaken, and indeed, very naive. Whether it be philosophical argumentation, or pure science, it is fanciful to believe that it will be possible to ‘prove’ survival in the foreseeable future. As noted by dedicated and experienced researchers of earlier years, e.g. James and Barrett, decisive proof will surely be elusive and out of reach.
Nonetheless, enquiry into the subject of survival and paranormal phenomena should be welcomed and encouraged as there can indeed be valuable results from objective and properly-conducted research, e.g. further data concerning the nature of the afterlife, or effecting better communication. Psychical research, particularly that of the nineteenth century SPR provided an absolute wealth of information. But, research has to be objective, properly-conducted and productive, and its constraints have to be recognized.
Research, unlike that to which Rudi was subjected, should be as the term is defined: ‘Systematic investigation to establish facts…or to collect information’. If researchers undertake this type of work, with preconceptions or motives other than the pursuit of facts, the work inevitably has little or no value, and invariably, a negative effect. I am sometimes inclined to think that in the case of some researchers of earlier years that their activity was either more related to increasing their status, or simply an interesting pastime. In fact, as Beloff observes in the case of both von Schrenck-Notzing and Price, they ‘wisely married wealthy women, [and] were free to indulge their passion for the paranormal’. In reviewing Rudi’s case, it is an interesting point to consider that if overwhelming evidence or conclusive data had been forthcoming, a number of researchers would have had considerable difficulty knowing what to actually do with it.
Unlike so many other areas of research, in the case of mediumship, this obviously involves human beings who are entitled to consideration and respect: features that were only obvious by their absence to a significant degree in Rudi’s case. A 1932 Psychic News presented the situation, with some appropriate irony: ‘Rudi, a clean-cut Austrian boy…wondered why the “scientists” tied him up and then fastened themselves in electrically controlled mittens and foot-coverings’. While they wished to witness strange happenings, in reality, ‘To him, it was the “scientists” who were strange’.
I also do not consider it unreasonable to expect that researchers arrive at unambiguous decisions concerning their work, and be prepared to substantiate their decisions, rather than persistently taking safe refuge in remaining undecided or requesting continuous repeat performances. Furthermore, that they give due attention to the conditions of tests so they will not be later challenged by fellow researchers as so often happened in the case of Rudi Schneider. Admittedly, laboratory conditions are hardly possible, but the importance of this factor is obvious: Wiseman, when discussing the problems that arose from a certain report regarding physical phenomena, refers to the need of investigations being ‘carried out, and reported, in such a way as to minimise retrospective counter-explanation’. This does seem to be one of the principal problems that consistently appears.
Research, when carried out, should be responsible and decisive, and I can see no reason why this should not be if motives are genuine and the modus operandi adopted is that of professionals. Moreover, while physical mediumship is an easy target for parapsychologists (justifiably, in some cases), it should not be forgotten that parapsychology as well as physical mediumship has had its own renegades, e.g. Levy, Soal. It is little wonder that Carrington argued that, ‘an ideal psychic investigator is hard to find, and it is probable that such a man is born rather than made’.
There is also the salient question concerning what is actually being sought – whether the investigation is only interested in the mechanisms of the phenomena, or the psychology of those involved, or the seeking of information regarding survival. While research into categories other than survival may be interesting, it is surely research into the subject of survival that has the ultimate priority; therefore, the actual purpose of any investigation needs clarifying on all the occasions when it is proposed.
It does appear that considerable time, energy and opportunity have been wasted by well-meaning Spiritualists who have become involved in activities that really do little to assist their goals, and if anything, have a negative effect. In 1932, Boddington referred to Rudi, and the ‘verdicts’ of researchers and how they were unwilling to make any judgement, and said: ‘My complaint is that this is exactly the sum total of psychical researchers’ achievements for the past eighty years. Meantime, Spiritualists go on providing them with more and more material for criticism . . . They seem vaingloriously proud of their lame and impotent conclusions’.
I believe it unavoidable that anyone reading of Rudi’s life and mediumship, and the antics of many of the researchers involved, will form the impression that his abilities were sufficient to have possibly developed to a remarkable degree. If he had been allowed to develop his talents in the atmosphere of his home circle, rather than enduring the almost-farcical behaviour of investigators, the outcome of his young life might have been very different. It is this factor that is the truly sad part of Rudi’s story.
To conclude, Gregory says of Rudi, ‘He permitted himself to be investigated by researchers . . . and accepted whatever conditions they chose to impose . . . there is not one iota of evidence to suggest that he was ever in his life anything other than transparently honest.
Furthermore, Beloff remarks, ‘Rudi’s mediumship is now rightly considered among the best authenticated in the literature . . . he was never caught in any act of fraud’.
Despite all that he had endured, Rudi continued to demonstrate his mediumship to various researchers; also, to his neighbours in Meyer up to 1951, having moved there with his wife, Mitzi. After starting his own driving school, Rudi died suddenly in 1957, on 28 April, aged only 49. This was exactly twenty-five years to the day after the séance that led to Price’s scurrilous accusations. This may of course have been coincidence, but then again . . .
The above article was researched by David Nicholls Ph.D