Mysterious tales of weird powers of the mind have been around for centuries. Such powers run the range from telling the future, to remote viewing, to mind reading, spirit mediumship, and everything in between. One very striking power that has often cropped up is that of the ability to move objects with the power of the mind, and far from just within the realm of science fiction, this is a power that has come up in a variety of supposedly real cases across time. Perhaps one of the more notable of these is the case of a Polish woman who burst onto the scene in the 19th century and would baffle all who tried to understand her.
One of the more bizarre tales of a psychic in the late 19th and early 20th century was a Polish woman by the name of Stanisława Tomczyk, who claimed to have a wide array of amazing powers. She could purportedly levitate objects, influence the spin of a roulette wheel, stop the movement of a clock in a glass case, using nothing but the power of her mind, as well as contact spirits, and she made such a name for herself around Wisła, in southern Poland, that she attracted the attention of the Polish psychologist Julian Ochorowicz, who believed that she was the real deal and arranged a series of experiments to prove it.
Ochorowicz started off by subjecting Tomczyk to hypnosis sessions, and during these sessions she would claim that she was in constant contact with, and sometimes under the control of, a spirit she called “Little Stasia,” which she claimed was not a human ghost, but rather some sort of other supernatural entity. This spirit was sometimes contacted through the hypnosis, and turned out to be quite the mischievous one, not particular malevolent or menacing, but very prankish and almost childish. Of her powers, Ochorowicz was able to observe several demonstrations, during which time he witnessed what he says were:
The production of lights, effects produced without contact on photographic plates in the dark or in red light, or on a galvanometer, sudden precipitation of chemical substances held in solution, and vision through an opaque screen. It would appear that the power alternates from one class of phenomena to another, each class occurring during a period when the others are not exhibited.
He was also able to watch her levitate a wide variety of objects, including scissors, corks, balls, cigarettes, spoons, and a matchbox, which were laid out on the table in front of her and which she would cause to move, rise, and hover without touching them, merely placing her hands to either side of the object. She told him that when this happened, she could feel a sort of current springing forth from her hands and a prickling sensation in the tips of her fingers. He hypothesized that she was achieving this through the use of what he called “rigid rays” projected from her fingers, noting that there could be felt a sort of invisible thread between her and the object being moved. He would say of this thread:
I have felt this thread on my hand, on my face, on my hair. When the Medium separates her hands, the thread gets thinner and disappears; it gives the same sensation as a spider’s web. If it is cut with scissors, its continuity is immediately restored. It is then seen to be much thinner than an ordinary thread.
Unlike many other spiritual mediums and psychics of the era, Tomczyk performed all of these demonstrations in brightly lit rooms, were there was less of a chance for her to be pulling off some sort of sleight of hand trickery, and in addition she usually wore a blouse with short sleeves, which would have been an odd choice for someone engaging in tricks. She would also be studied by other researchers at the time. In 1909 she was investigated in Paris by Professor Theodore Flournoy, who came away convinced that she truly had the power of telekinesis, or the power to move objects with the mind. In 1910 she was investigated by the Physical Laboratory in Warsaw by a group of scientists under strict test conditions, leaving them impressed and unable to find signs of trickery. In 1913 she was also studied by the German scientist Baron von Schrenck Notzing, who also came away impressed.
Before long, she had also drawn the attention of Britain’s Society for Psychical Research, who also moved in to study her and her supposed abilities in 1914 in the most thorough attempt to study her yet. The committee who came to study her was composed of researchers Mark Barr, V. J. Woolley, W. W. Baggally and Everard Feilding, who arranged a series of experiments to see what she was really capable of. They would have a total of 11 sittings with Tomczyk, noting that her abilities often seemed to be similar to poltergeist activity, with Feilding writing of this;
These occur spontaneously and generally unexpectedly in her normal state, and include raps, movements of tables and chairs without apparent contact, throwings or transportations of objects about the house in which she is living, frequently in her own proximity, but also often in places apparently beyond her normal reach, such as outside the room in which she is, or even in another room the door of which is shut.
She was also able to show them the same sort of telekinesis witnessed by Ochorowicz, in which various objects would be laid out before her and she would cause them to rise up after concentrating on them for anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes. The amount of control she had over the objects seemed to depend on how much “current” she was able to muster up at any given time, and her amount of influence on the objects could range from merely making it move slightly, to fully hovering over the table and even spinning around, although the latter was only observed once in all 11 experiments, when she caused a ball to hover 9 inches over the table. On some occasions, she was not able to get the objects to move at all, with three such experiments turning up no movement whatsoever. Although the researchers came away convinced that she was the real deal, the results were scientifically inconclusive, and Fielding also expressed the idea that he felt her powers were waning, possibly due to mental instability she was suffering at the time after having been jailed for 10 days for her role in a riot not long before the experiments, after which she had supposedly exhibited hysteria and mental dissociation. Interestingly, Fielding and Tomczyk would eventually get married in 1919.
After her marriage she seems to have stopped performing public exhibitions and seances, leaving the validity of her powers open to debate. She certainly had many detractors, and a variety of magicians came forward to easily reproduce her results, but these were not done under test conditions. One of the main skeptical arguments is that, since there was sometimes a “thread” felt or even visibly seen between her hands and the object, then maybe it was precisely that, the use of a thread and sleight of hand. Yet, this would still not explain how she was able to leave so many researchers utterly baffled. Who was this woman and what was she really capable of? Was any of this real or was she merely another charlatan pulling the wool over everyone's eyes? No one really knows, and the case of Stanisława Tomczyk remains a strange mystery.