Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Sing The Body Electric...& the Electric Girl

In my [some would say "degraded" but I say 'phooey' and loosen up your shoelaces and get out of the Middle Ages] view of life, there are a large number of "electric girls" blessing the landscapes of our lives, but this is about one special one: Angelique Cottin of early 19th century France. {By the way, this blog engine has a "nasty" character when it comes to placement of illustrations under certain constraints. Since I would like to place in this post the translated material from the electric girl case [which I have not seen before in the treatments/descriptions of these matters], I am forced to either make a complete mess, or string the pages of the primary material along the side. That I'm doing. But it requires me to begin each new "thought" with huge gaps in the text, unless I want a huge blank string. Well, you can scroll past the gaps.}
Angelique Cottin was a poor daughter of French peasantry in the Commune of La Perriere. She lived with her aunt in a small home with an earthen floor. She made some money for the household by serving in her aunt's cottage, weaving silk gloves. It was the evening of January 15, 1846 that the first of many paranormal events occurred. The heavy oak frame, attached to the warp, was "thrown down" in a way that none of the girls working there could understand. A candle was also blown out. This happened a second time and the girls ran screaming out. Sooner or later they came, one-by-one, back. Nothing happened until Angelique returned, when the frame was thrown again. Now everyone was convinced that some witchcraft was involved and Angelique was somehow affected. Fortunately, it was her aunt who was in charge, and so instead of being subjected to "God knows what", the girl was taken to the local priest. This priest was an exceptional man in that he did not immediately rush to the idea of exorcism [as was being pushed by the aunt]. Instead he had it demonstrated to him what the phenomenon was. While sitting in his heavy chair, Angelique approached and the good curate and his chair were flung to the ground. This impressed him but, amazingly, he still did not see the Devil at work here. Instead he suggested that Angelique see a physician.
Things went more calmly for a couple of days, but then with a physician visiting the weaving room, he found that he could not hold the frame anywhere near the girl. The object would tear itself out of his hands with a rotary motion. If there was an exceptionally heavy piece of furniture, Angelique could not move it [her "force", whatever it was, had limits], but she herself would then be flung away. The town was now sure that witchcraft was involved although the physicians, priest et al thought otherwise. The phenomenon got worse with not only furniture but tools, utensils, books, and even lighted firewood were moved when she approached. Note that most of these objects were non-metal, so the idea that some electrical or magnetic repulsion was in operation is not in the cards--just the fact that the objects were "yes this; no that" is indication that no crude natural force was operating.
Angelique was taken to a somewhat larger town nearby. There one of the physicians created a test. A block of wood weighing more than 150 pounds was laid on the ground with a piece of weaver's silk attached. Angelique was asked to sit nearby and touch the block. When even her "frock" touched it, it would rise from the ground. It would perform this "levitation" up to 40 times a minute. As many as three men sat on the block, and they too rose from the ground [though less in height]. Shortly other manifestations were noticed, but they also discovered that they seemed to be able to insulate her from creating the effects by having her feet out-of-touch with the earth. This, and an experiment in which Angelique seemed to make the hair on the arms of an experimenter "stand up", convinced the physicians and priests that this was somehow a static electric phenomenon. [despite the fact that from our perspective 150 years later, this makes no sense at all].
Because of recent discoveries with static electricity, and because people like Luigi Galvani had found ways to store electricity so one could do experiments with it, early scientists had begun fooling around with things like you see in the upper left above. Here a bunch of French experimenters have a young woman on a non-conducting suspended table and have loaded her up with static electricity [like the Van der Graff generator science fair stuff where the girl's hair stands straight out like a fright wig and everybody laughs] and are watching in amazement as small pieces of paper and light non-conducting objects are attracted to her. I note that the male scientists never volunteer for these experiments and always get children or, preferably a young woman. For some "biologically electric" reason they seem to like it this way and she seems typically to like it too. The deeper meaning of that electric phenomenon I'll leave to you. [I cannot resist noting that in these experiments, the scientists finally discovered lint. A hundred years later, and through the natural progression of the electrical/technological revolution, someone discovered in-home washers and driers, and all of us got in on the discovery. Of such leaps is progress made. For our story, we can say that this idea of electricity and bodies and attraction [of lint, not the opposite gender, though that's in here too] was in the scientific air. The fact that Angelique was repelling not attracting things seems to have escaped them.
Angelique had increasing difficulties. She couldn't sit at table to eat nor sleep normally [tables and beds flying everywhere]. Note however that she could eat [thank the Lord] and that she could dress and that people were not flying around, unless they were seated on a nearby chair. The repulsion was freakily selective. This the scientists also failed to [want to? ] acknowledge. She was also becoming a freak show celebrity with people now migrating to see the possessed girl. One physician noted that her "powers" were largest when he was around. He felt that this was because he never doubted her, nor in any way made her feel that she was somehow "bad". He felt that she was most relaxed with him and that lack of being stressed allowed the phenomenon to most strongly express itself. Inevitably, a charge was made that it was all fake--a thought that skeptics have voiced today, giving however only the most preposterous theories to explain it [like Angelique having some electrical device under her skirt which I suppose they felt could toss away 100-400 pounds of weight somehow---or maybe some mighty weight-lifting dwarf was hiding under there...yeh, that's it].
Finally, Angelique was taken to Paris in hopes of being studied by the world leading French Academy of Sciences. This sort-of happened and sort-of didn't. Most of the Academy were apparently the same brand of arrogant cowards that we still have today, and would not look. But we are lucky. A few did. Among those few was the leading member of the Academy [and its corresponding secretary] the famous physicist, Francois Arago. If you had to choose only one, Arago was the one you wanted. At the Paris Observatory, Arago and the resident astronomer, Goujon, tested Angelique. Both of the great scientists were treated to the experience of being tossed aside while trying to remain in a chair with Angelique coming nearby. Arago noted with interest that she had no effect on a magnetic compass whatever. It is this "moment" which gives credence to the story. Many intelligent observers put their names to testimonies of witnessing these sorts of incidents, but it is the reputation of Arago that clinches it. The phenomenon was as real as the chair torn from Arago's hands. Angelique's powers began noticeably waning after this but still flared up particularly after the evening meals. Then they came to a sudden halt. The cause seems to be an experiment which members of a team, formed due to the recommendation of Arago, created to further test her. One team member, doubtless recalling the research of Galvani [where he touched eviscerated frogs with electrodes and caused the dead frog legs to "come alive"] and the belief that it demonstrated that electricity was the "life force", decided that it would be cool to surprise Angelique with a splayed-out dead frog on her arm. They also had her connected to a "galvanic cell" [i.e. primitive battery] and its current made the dead frog jump about on her arm. Angelique was screamingly hysterical [and the "scientist' should have gone to the guillotine]. She had nightmares about this and the phenomenon rapidly left her.
Angelique Cottin's "troubles" were real---but what were they? They act like no natural physical force, but rather like an intentional one. In fact they are very like the poltergeists or the physical manifestations arising through some of the Ouija sessions. Other so-called "electric people" are in the literature, None of them exactly the same, and none of them with an Arago [or anyone vaguely as prestigious] as a testimonial. This is the Spiritual interfacing with the physical again. Whether "just" subconscious psychic projection of "mind-over-matter" or brief incidents of "take-overs" by some other entity, something was bursting out of the wherever into our law-abiding physical world and making a mess of things. And poor Angelique surely didn't deserve it. Walt Whitman wrote singing the body electric about charging those one loves with the "charge of the Soul"... Angelique probably needed persons to love her and so "charge" her, perhaps so as to counteract whatever this destructive "charge" was all about. Ray Bradbury wrote singing the body electric about what it means to be human...yes ... that is exactly what it is all about.


  1. read this and the first thing that came to mind is the canadian mr hutchinson with his famous hutchinson effect that can also unexplainable..

    1. My understanding is that the "Hutchison Effect" has never been duplicated by anyone else, and that it is considered bogus.



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