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An example of table-turning in 19th century France

Joseph Dunninger revealing a fraudulent hidden hook

method for table-turning.

Table-turning (also known as table-

tapping, table-tipping or table-tilting) is a
type of sance in which participants sit
around a table, place their hands on it, and
wait for rotations. The table was
purportedly made to serve as a means of
communicating with the spirits; the
alphabet would be slowly called over and
the table would tilt at the appropriate
letter, thus spelling out words and
sentences. The process is similar to that
of a Ouija board. Scientists and skeptics
consider table-turning to be the result of
the ideomotor effect, or conscious

When the movement of Modern
Spiritualism rst reached Europe from
America in the winter of 18521853, the
most popular method of consulting the
spirits was for several persons to sit round
a table, with their hands resting on it, and
wait for the table to move. If the
experiment was successful the table
would rotate with considerable rapidity,
and would occasionally rise in the air, or
perform other movements.
Whilst most spiritualist ascribed the table
movements to the agency of spirits, two
investigators, Count de Gasparin and
Professor Thury of Geneva conducted a
careful series of experiments by which
they claimed to have demonstrated that
the movements of the table were due to a
physical force emanating from the bodies
of the sitters, for which they proposed the
name ectenic force. Their conclusion
rested on the supposed elimination of all
known physical causes for the
movements; but it is doubtful from the
description of the experiments whether
the precautions taken were sufcient to
exclude unconscious muscular action (the
ideomotor effect) or even deliberate

In England table-turning became a

fashionable diversion and was practised
all over the country in the year 1853. John
Elliotson and his followers attributed the
phenomena to mesmerism. The general
public were content to nd the explanation
of the movements in spirits, animal
magnetism, odic force, galvanism,
electricity, or even the rotation of the
earth. Some Evangelical clergymen
alleged that the spirits who caused the
movements were of a diabolic nature. In
France, Allan Kardec studied the
phenomenon and concluded in The Book
on Mediums that some messages were
caused by an outside intelligence as the
message contained information that was
not known to the group.

Scientific reception

Table lifting trick involving the use of a pin and slotted


The Scottish surgeon James Braid, the

English physiologist W. B. Carpenter and
others pointed out, that the phenomena
could depend upon the expectation of the
sitters, and could be stopped altogether by
appropriate suggestion. English physicist
Michael Faraday[5] devised some simple
apparatus which conclusively
demonstrated that the movements he
investigated were due to unconscious
muscular action.[6] The apparatus
consisted of two small boards, with glass
rollers between them, the whole fastened
together by india-rubber bands in such a
manner that the upper board could slide
under lateral pressure to a limited extent
over the lower one. The occurrence of
such lateral movement was at once
indicated by means of an upright haystalk
fastened to the apparatus. When by this
means it was made clear to the
experimenters that it was the ngers
which moved the table, the phenomena
generally ceased.


Professional magicians and skeptics have

exposed many of the tricks methods
utilized by mediums to tip tables. The
magician Chung Ling Soo described a
method that involved a pin driven into the
table and the use of a ring with a slot on
the medium's nger. Once the pin entered
the slot, the table could be lifted.[7]

According to John Mulholland:

The multiplicity of methods used

to tip and raise tables in a
sance is almost as great as the
number of mediums performing
the feat. One of the simplest was
to slide the hands back until one
or both of the medium's thumbs
could catch hold of the table top.
Another way was to exert no
pressure on the table at all, and
in the event that the sitter
opposite the medium did press
on the table, to permit the table
to tip far enough away from him
so that he could get the toe of
one foot under the table leg. He
would then immediately put
pressure on his side, and,
holding the table between his
hands and his toe, move it about
at will. By this method a small
table can be made to float two
feet off the floor... Another
method was to catch the under
side of the table top with the
knee; and still another was
merely to kick the table into the

1. Rawcliffe, D. H. (1987). Occult and
Supernatural Phenomena. Dover
Publications. p. 137
2. Zusne, Leonard; Jones, Warren H. (1989).
Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical
Thinking. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
p. 110. ISBN 978-0-805-80507-9
3. Robert Todd Carroll. (2003). The Skeptic's
Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs,
Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous
Delusions. John Wiley & Sons. p. 172. ISBN
4. Podmore, Frank. (1897). Studies in
Psychical Research . New York: Putnam. p.
47 "If neither the feet nor the hands of the
sitters could be employed, the knees could
apparently have been used without much
risk, and Thury clearly could not watch both
the upper and under surfaces
simultaneously. One the whole, though the
experiments were conducted with care and a
laudable desire not to exaggerate the
importance of the facts observed, the
experimenters do not appear to have
sufciently realised the possibilities of fraud;
and their results add little evidence for action
of a psychic, or, as Thury has preferred to
name it, ectenic force."
5. Faraday, M. (1853-11-01). "Experimental
investigation of table-moving" . Journal of
the Franklin Institute. 56 (5): 328333.
doi:10.1016/S0016-0032(38)92173-8 .
6. Lamont, Peter. (2013). Extraordinary
Beliefs: A Historical Approach to a
Psychological Problem. Cambridge
University Press. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-107-
7. Soo, Chung Ling. (1898). Spirit Slate
Writing and Kindred Phenomena . Munn &
Company. p. 71-72
8. Mulholland, John. (1938). Beware Familiar
Spirits. C. Scribner's Sons. p. 107. ISBN 0-

Further reading
John Henry Anderson. (1855). The
Fashionable Science of Parlour Magic .
London. pp. 85-87
Willis Dutcher. (1922). On the Other Side
of the Footlights: An Expose of Routines,
Apparatus and Deceptions Resorted to by
Mediums, Clairvoyants, Fortune Tellers and
Crystal Gazers in Deluding the Public .
Berlin, WI: Heaney Magic. pp. 80-81
F. Atteld Fawkes. (1920). Spiritualism
Exposed . J. W. Arrowsmith Ltd. pp. 27-29

External links
"Modern practical guide to table
tilting" . ASSAP. based on the work of Ken
Museum Of Talking Boards at

See also
"Turning Tables", a 2011 song by Adele
Turning the Tables (lm), a 1919 lm
"Turning the Tables" (Making a Murderer)
Turning the Tables, a 2016 book by
Teresa Giudice

This articleincorporates text from a

publication now in the public
domain:Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911).
"Table-turning". Encyclopdia Britannica
(11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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