the early days of Spiritualism, when mediums began producing noticeable
physical phenomena, paraffin-wax moulds supposedly modelled around
materialized 'spirit hands' during seances were one of the best
proofs presented as evidence of the paranormal.
Some of these moulds, in fact, seemed to possess
the characteristics of 'permanent paranormal objects'. The empty
paraffin moulds found at the end of seances, it was thought, could
still be intact only because the hands around which the wax soldified
Moulds have not always possessed these characteristics,
and even D. D. Home warned against fraudulent mediums who produced
these phenomena by casting moulds of their own hands or smuggling
already-prepared ones into the seance room. After a period in
which the interest in these phenomena faded away, they made a
comeback with Polish medium Franek Kluski and others, and the
general public was made better aware of their existence thanks
also to articles in popular magazines such as Scientific American.
Some of the plaster casts of these moulds are
still preserved at the Institut Metapsichique International in
Paris, a fact which in part explains why the interest in the phenomena
In consideration of the recent debate (Barrington,
1994a; 1994b; 1995; Coleman, 1994a; 1994b; 1995a; 1995b) over
these paraffin-wax moulds, we should like to offer our own experience
on the subject.
As already pointed out by others (Coleman, 1994a; 1995a), various
possible natural explanations accounting for the phenomena (besides
'spirit intervention') have been proposed.
Dr Robin Tillyard (1926), for example, suggested
the following method: a tourniquet is fastened to one arm, and
the hand is allowed to swell; after this, the swollen hand is
immersed into the paraffin and into cold water. The tourniquet
is then removed and the arm is lifted upward, in order to allow
the blood to flow, until the swelling has gone down. The hand,
having recovered its original size, will allow the paraffin glove
to slip off easily (especially if the hand had previously been
smeared with glycerol).
A different procedure for casting spirit moulds
using normal means requires only one rubber glove perfectly imitating
the hand's features. The supporters of this method agree that
it is possible to reproduce hands of different size and shape,
and that the glove might be easily hidden on the medium's body.
To obtain such a glove, showing the hand's fingerprints and its
distinctive lines, one should first impress a real hand on dental
wax - avoiding plaster - which allows a much sharper outline of
the skin marks. This imprinting will at once be used as a mould
for making a rubber glove showing all the typical marks of a real
hand. This hypothesis, however, appears too weak.
It is generally recognized that the paraffin
moulds are 'first generation' imprints; instead, following this
technique, they would be 'third generation' imprints: first a
negative in dental wax, then the rubber glove from this mould
and finally the mould of paraffin over the glove. The end result
would probably show some surface defects accumulated along the
Tests of this hypothesis, carried out by Gustave
Geley (1923) with thin rubber gloves inflated or filled with water
and then suspended in a basin containing paraffin, produced imprints
showing the typical sausage-shaped fingers, clearly revealing
that they were made with an inflated rubber glove.
This test by Geley doesn't rule out the possibility
of obtaining convincing spirit moulds by using gloves made with
elastic but thicker materials, carefully crafted and not overly
filled with water or air. However, in any case, the entire procedure
appears uselessly complicated.
An example of how certain books encouraging
the belief in spiritualism claim the impossibility of obtaining
moulds by natural means is given in these extracts: -
moulds were shown to Gabrielli, a professional modeller, who
stated that they could never have been forged with an ordinary
process, as a human hand would have broken a paraffin glove
when slipping out of it, A real hand coming out of a paraffin
glove just one millimeter in thickness, like the gloves obtained
at the IMI, is not possible; nor would it have been possible
with a thicker glove, in that the palm of a hand is much larger
than the wrist. The hand therefore would have had to break
the glove to be able to slip it off the wrist. Contrariwise,
the paraffin gloves are not damaged or broken at all. The
only acceptable explanation was that the hand must have materialized
into the glove itself. [Giovetti, 1988]
no means could one have made only one paraffin mould of the
two hands of a living person clasped in such a way. [Dettore,
double-handed mould is perhaps the clearest evidence for the
impossibility of a normal removal of the genuine mould obtained
from the paraffin. [Geley, 1923]
In reading these observations and comparing them with all the
possible solutions suggested by both sceptics and believers in
spiritualism, it turns out that only one solution gives a convincing
rational explanation for the moulds created by Kluski. And it
is simply the production of wax-moulds directly from one's hand,
as also pointed out by Coleman (1995a).
then decided to try and make some moulds of our hands to test
how difficult this really was. Strictly following Geley's instructions,
we prepared two basins (each had a diameter of 10 inches): one
with hot water (approximately 5 litres at 55ºC), in which
we poured a layer of molten paraffin (approx. 1 kg, previously
melted in a pan with boiling water on a kitchen stove), and the
other with cold water (51itres), which we later used to immerse
our hands and allow the paraffin to solidify. In turn, we immersed
our hands first in the basin filled with paraffin and then in
the one containing water.
We gave our hands different shapes: one open hand, one fist, another
with two V - shaped fingers, one with a finger pointing out (which,
according to Geley (1923), should have been considered "perhaps
the clearest evidence for the impossibility of a normal removal
of the genuine mould obtained from the paraffin"), and one with
two hands clasped. We remind the reader what supporters of spiritualism
have claimed regarding this shape: "By no means could one have
made only one paraffin mould of the two hands of a living person
clasped in such a way" (Dettore, 19S1).
In all of these cases, we were able rather easily to make
some fairly thin moulds (a few millimeters thick) just by immersing
the hands a couple of times in the basin with the paraffin. But
our most significant result was that in every instance we managed
to remove our hands from the solidified paraffin glove without
breaking it. In fact, it can be noticed from the pictures included
that the wrist in some of the moulds that we have obtained is
notably narrower than the width of the hand. This outcome is attainable
by simply removing the hand very carefully.
in some books on spiritualism illustrate models reproducing parts
of the human body that look like sculptures. These illustrations
are followed by captions with statements like: "These shapes could
not be removed from a mould without being broken", leading one
to believe that this is the case. Actually, it is not the plaster
cast that has to be removed from the thin wax mould - which really
would be impossible to do without breaking it. One almost forgets
that what has to be removed is a living hand, possibly the best-suited
object to slip out of a mould without damaging it. In fact, a
real hand is even more effective than any other artifices dreamed
up to substitute for it. First, the paraffin doesn't stick to
the skin, only to quite long hair. Nonetheless, if one moves the
fingers very slowly, one will realize that every small bit one
pulls out, will gradually allow the rest of the hand to be removed;
that's almost what happens when one pulls off a tight glove.
Later, when we had poured some plaster into
a few moulds, it turned out that we had made exactly the same
copies as Kluski's, which are kept at the IMI.  The hands we
obtained have all the hand's typical lines; and also a few hairs
stuck here and there. To convert a mould into a plaster cast,
one has only to pour 'liquid plaster slowly into the mould, When
the plaster is dry, the outer paraffin glove can be removed, either
by scraping it off with the fingers or by melting it in hot water;
we preferred to melt it by placing it on a plate inside an oven
We realized that the skin's wrinkledness in our moulds appeared
further enhanced: they looked like hands of a person older than
the original model. This phenomenon may be caused by either greater
evidence of superficial features when these are the only information
available on the hand - colour, movement, etc. being absent -
or by the paraffin shrinking while it was getting cold.
regard to copies from hands smaller than those of the medium -
or clearly different - it is well known that previously-prepared
gloves have been repeatedly found hidden among the medium's and/or
other accomplices'. clothes (Coleman, 1994a; Polidoro, 1995).
It would not be difficult to conclude, though,that particularly
complex moulds could have been shaped with extreme care, before
a seance took place, by the medium himself or his accomplices
and, during the seance, jumbled up with other moulds forged at
the moment of performing the spiritualist occurrence.
Our experiment, which everyone can try and repeat at home (plaster
and paraffin are usually available in artists' shops), seems to
suggest the following conclusions: -
1) the claim of the impossibility of removing a hand from a thin
paraffin mould without breaking it has once again been disproved;
2) the claim of the impossibility of removing
a hand from a mould having been given strange shapes (clasped
fingers, a fist hand, V-shaped fingers... ), has also been refuted;
3) the hypothesis claiming the impossibility
of removing a hand from a mould narrower at the wrist has been
In closing, what we think the overall experience suggests is that,
in the field of the paranormal, the simplest hypothesis will often
explain a phenomenon most completely.
We wish to thank Michael H. Coleman for his useful suggestions,
and Lewis Jones for very kindly proof-reading this article.
(Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul Paranormale)
P.O. Box 60, 27058 Voghera (PV), ITALY
of Organic Chemistry
University of Pavia
Via Taramelli 10, 27100 Pavia, ITALY
M. R. (1994a) The Kluski hands. JSPR 59, 347-351.
M. R. (1994b) Kluski and Geley: further case for the defence. JSPR
60, 104- 106.
M. R. (1995) Correspondence. JSPR 60, 348 - 350.
M. H. (1994a) Wax moulds of 'spirit' limbs. JSPR 59, 340
M. H. (1994b) The Kluski moulds: a reply. JSPR 60, 98 - 103.
M.H. (1995a) Correspondence. JSPR 60, 183 - 185.
M. H. (1995b) Correspondence. JSPR 60, 350 - 351.
Ugo (ed.) (1981) L'uomo e 1'ignoto. Milano: Armenia Editore.
G. (1923) Materialized hands. Scientific American (November).
P . (1988) I misteri intorno a noi, Milano: Rizzoli.
M. (1995) Viaggio tra gli spirits. Camago (VA): Sugarco.
R. J. (1926 - 28) British Journal of Psychical Research 1, 340.
Z. (1993) Correspondence. JSPR 59, 74.
is interesting to note that one of the theses of Kluski's advocates
supporting the authenticity of the phenomenon assumes that the moulds
the medium obtained during the seances were so tight at the wrist
that it was impossible for a hand to come out. Although this statement,
as demonstrated, is not true, of all the moulds kept at the Institut
Metapsychique International almost none have this characteristic.
The majority of the moulds either end before the narrow part of
the hand or include only the external, visible half of them, but
never the internal half. The discovery of this fact was just what
induced us to try to reproduce the phenomenon of the spirit moulds.