This article is an excerpt from Louis Proud’s new book Strange Electromagnetic Dimensions: The Science of the Unexplainable – Chapter 6: Electric People and Poltergeist Agents
On January 15, 1846, in the village of Bouvigny, northwest France, 14-year-old Angélique Cottin, a solidly built girl of short stature and below average intelligence, was busy weaving silk thread gloves in the company of three other women when the oaken table at which they worked suddenly moved of its own accord. The women were naturally alarmed by the event, and for a moment work was suspended while they attempted to figure out what had caused it. As soon as Angélique resumed her place at the table, it moved again. Whenever she touched the table, it suddenly retreated from her, almost in the manner of a frightened animal.
When the phenomena repeated itself at work the following morning, the public concluded that Angélique was possessed by a devil and that she ought to be brought before the parish priest. The priest witnessed in his home an impressive demonstration of Angélique’s abilities. A table retreated from Angélique the moment she touched it; and a chair on which she sat began to rock madly, as though trying to throw her off. The priest ruled out the involvement of witchcraft and was just as baffled by the phenomena as everybody else.
It wasn’t long before Angélique’s abilities became the focus of much public interest. Her parents, unable to resist the opportunity to benefit financially from the situation, organized demonstrations in which members of the public were required to pay a fee to see their daughter exhibit her abilities.
Angélique’s parents arranged for their daughter—the “electrical girl,” as she became known—to be brought to Paris in order to be studied by members of the French Academy of Sciences. The famous physicist François Arago (1786–1853), then secretary of the Academy of Sciences, headed the study. Angélique also participated in a series of preliminary experiments conducted by a Dr. Sanchon, whose detailed report on the matter, dated February 15, 1846, represents compelling evidence that her abilities were genuine and by no means the product of trickery.
In one experiment, Dr. Sanchon held a chair as firmly as he could using his foot and both hands. The moment Angélique sat down on the chair it was instantly “torn from my grasp.”1 In another experiment, which was repeated several times, a large and heavy dining table was suddenly “displaced and pushed” upon merely coming in contact with Angélique’s clothing.2 A similar experiment involved a large and heavy sofa. The moment Angélique sat down on the sofa beside Dr. Sanchon the sofa “was violently pushed against the wall.”3 Another experiment was performed whereby a chair was held to the ground by a number of strong individuals. After Dr. Sanchon had positioned himself on one side of the chair, Angélique sat down beside him on the other side of the chair. The moment she did so, Dr. Sanchon felt the chair “suddenly pushed from under me.”4
Dr. Sanchon discovered that Angélique’s abilities were most active during the evening from 7 to 9 o’clock. In his report, he argues that her abilities were due to a “gaseous current” or “fluid” that emanated from the front part of her body, particularly around the wrist and elbow region of her left arm. He goes on to state that her left arm continually quivered and contracted in an unusual manner and that it seemed a good deal warmer that her right arm. He also states that when Angélique caused items of furniture to be “thrown” it was because she’d touched them with her left hand as opposed to her right. Despite claiming that Angélique’s left arm was unusually warm, he says the fluid which emanated from this region produced a sensation of cold. As he states in his report: “I distinctly felt a momentary breath upon my hands, similar to that made by lips.”5
It’s fascinating that Dr. Sanchon literally felt an energy of some kind emanate from Angélique’s body. That he called this energy a “fluid” is perhaps due to the fact that electricity was once believed to behave in the manner of a fluid (hence the antiquated term “electric fluid”). Why he also called it a “gaseous current” might have something to do with an experiment he performed with Angélique in which she caused a piece of paper he’d balanced on his finger to be “blown away…as though by a sudden rush of wind.”6 He further claims that a small paper wheel placed vertically or horizontally on its axis was observed to rotate rapidly when brought in close proximity to the wrist or elbow joint of Angélique’s left arm.
Angélique’s ability to cause a paper wheel to rotate is reminiscent of a well-known exercise in psychokinesis (PK) that involves a simple device called a “psi wheel.” A psi wheel consists of a four-sided paper star balanced on the pointy-end of an upright pin. The idea is to cup your hands around the device while concentrating on trying to make it rotate. Not once have I achieved positive results with the exercise, though apparently many have. (There are many videos on YouTube that purport to show people using PK to make psi wheels rotate. But because the effect is so easy to fake—for example, by blowing gently on the paper wheel—it’s impossible to tell if the videos are genuine.)
Much patience and practice is required before positive results appear, and even then it’s impossible to produce the phenomenon on demand.
If we assume that “psi practitioners” emit some kind of energy from their hands when successfully engaged in causing a psi wheel to rotate, it’s easy to imagine what the result might be if this same energy were to “leak” from the body: PK effects of an unintended nature, particularly around those areas where the “leakages” exist. Could the strange phenomena produced by Angélique be the result of such an energy leakage? This possibility is strengthened by the fact that none of her PK effects were intentional or intelligently directed.
Was Angélique a poltergeist agent? A poltergeist agent is someone around whom poltergeist disturbances occur. They seem to subconsciously fuel the disturbances and tend to be repressed and troubled young women undergoing puberty. Although Angélique meets all the criteria for a poltergeist agent, the phenomena she produced are distinct from those of poltergeist effects. There is, nonetheless, a very tenuous boundary between being an electric person and being a poltergeist agent.
Like other electric people, Angélique’s abilities fall into two categories: (1) those that can be explained in terms of PK; and (2) those that suggest the involvement of electricity or magnetism. The PK category would include such phenomena as the movement of furniture and other large objects. As for the second category, the strongest evidence we have that static electricity may have played a role in the case is that Angélique was able to attract sheets of paper with her hand.
Dr. Sanchon made the interesting discovery that Angélique’s abilities ceased to function if her feet were prevented from making direct contact with the ground, either by having her seated on a chair with her feet raised in the air, or by placing a plate of glass or some other insulating material beneath her feet. It’s possible these findings have something to do with static electricity, though it’s hard to imagine how.
Continuing with our discussion of the second category, it is claimed that a magnetized needle suspended from the ceiling by a long piece of thread oscillated when brought in close proximity to Angélique’s left arm. It is further claimed that Angélique received a powerful electric shock whenever she touched the north pole of a magnet with the end of her finger, but not when she touched the south pole. When Dr. Sanchon made it so that Angélique was unable to distinguish north from south on the magnet, she still managed to tell which pole was which.
Perhaps as a result of an improvement in her mental and physical health, Angélique’s abilities eventually ran out of steam, disappearing altogether on April 10, 1846.
1. “The Electrical Girl,” The Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 33, March, 1875, 588–592.
Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from STRANGE ELECTROMAGNETIC DIMENSIONS © 2015 Louis Proud. Published by New Page Books a division of Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. 800-227-3371. All rights reserved. Click here to order the book.