Shell Mischief: A Spiritualist Issues a Warning of Danger from the Sea

Shell Mischief: A Spiritualist Issues a Warning of Danger from the Sea  A collection of shells

Shell Mischief: A Spiritualist Issues a Warning of Danger from the Sea A collection of shells

Let’s do some Woo. A surfeit of old Spiritualist journals may cause the eyes to glaze over, yet it is also fascinating to see the authors wrestling with scientific questions, performing experiments such as the ones below, and trying to make sense of “paranormal” phenomena with their imperfect and often wrong-headed theories of what the agents of those phenomena might be.  The author, an English “Christian Spiritualist,” and editor of the journal The Spiritual Magazine, J. Enmore Jones, seems to have spent a goodish amount of time in darkened rooms with female “sensitives,” some of whom ended up on the sofa in a state of insensibility. All in the interests of Science, mind….

The author says that these remarks were first published in 1853, under the heading of Poisonous Essence from Shells and Minerals.  

“As being in close connexion with disease and essences, I draw the special attention of the medical profession to the serious physical injury many delicate persons receive, especially females; from the very common, very natural, and English-like custom of placing specimens of minerals, crystals, and shells upon the sitting-room tables and elsewhere. There they are — meteoric stones, rock crystals, iron ore, calcareous spar, gypsum, fluorspar, loadstone, zinc-blende, alum, shells, &c.: all choice specimens of some of nature’s wonders, gratifying to the eye, and instructive to the scientific mind; but from atmospheric action, ever throwing off an essence, producing in many headache, spasms, faintness, irritability, &c, and by their effects puzzling both patient and practitioner.  

“Several kinds of shells I have found to have a powerful effect on animal matter, producing, when held in the palm of the hand, a drawing of the fingers, as if to cover the shell, tingling, numbness, pain running up the arm, stiffness of the muscles, and acute pain in the head. My attention was drawn to the subject, from one of my sons showing a female his collection of shells; and on her expressing to him the pain she felt on holding several of them, I was surprised and so interested, that I at once commenced experiments, to find out the class of shells most powerful. I have tried four females since, and found three similarly sensible to shell influence or essence. One little shell the size of half a walnut, called Purpura hippocastanum, I placed in a young lady’s hand a few evenings ago, and the effect was so powerful as to produce in about four minutes contraction of the fingers, and pain and rigidity in the arm, so marked that I hastened to remove the shell for fear of consequences. I then made quick passes with my hand from the shoulder down, and off at the fingers, at the distance of about an inch from the arm — the pain ceased, and the rigidity was removed; showing first, the extraordinary power of Shell Essence; and second, the extraordinary drawing power of Human Essence; call it mesmerism, animal magnetism, or any other “ism” we please. And as fully one-third of the population are susceptible to mineral and shell influence, the importance of removing these objects from their present resting-places must be obvious.  

“Shell Mischief. On the 9th of May, 1853, 1 purchased in the city some thirty shells, such as I thought might have power; in the evening I tried twelve of them, when the effects from these were so surprising and distressing, that I had suddenly to stop my experiments in consequence of one of them rendering the patient insensible, first having caused rapid and acute pain in the arm and head. I removed her to a sofa, and took the shells off the table and placed them on a sideboard, in two rows, and in the order the experiments were made. In a short time I was amazed to perceive the patient, while still insensible, gradually raising her clasped hands, turning them towards the shells on the sideboard, and stretching the arm out at full length towards them. By force I placed her hands down; but the raising was again carried on, and her head and body gradually followed; so that I had to get her removed to another room, separated by a nine-inch wall, passage, and lath and plaster wall, from the Shell Battery, shall I call it. Yet strange to say, the phenomenon of raising the hands and bending the body towards the shells was again commenced. I then ordered their removal: they were placed in a back room and in three other places, one of which was outside the house; and at each removal the position of the hands altered to the new position of the shells. This occurred on Monday, the 9th, and the patient continued insensible, with a few minutes intermission, till Fridav evening, the 13th. On the Thursday the arm that held the shells was swollen, spotted, and dark-coloured; and on the Friday morning that was gone and there appeared a yellow tinge on the hand.  

“Another young lady I was trying at the same time, on the 9th, was similarly affected ; but as I refrained from giving her the Chama, and as the action was not so rapid as in the other case, I was enabled so to control the essence that she was only in a state of torpor for a few hours — in passing I may state that the Auricula auris mida I gave her produced [she said] cold, contraction of the hand, shiver right through me, pain up the arm, pain in the eyes and head, dizzy feel. 

“The deductions- gathered from the foregoing experiments are: — That a strong magnetic power resides in numerous tropical shells — that that power pierces walls — that some shellfish are poisonous; and that the shell being manufactured from the fish partakes of its poisonous quality, and therefore shells are not only injurious but dangerous to delicate persons, and ought to be removed from all living and sleeping rooms.”  

The foregoing incidents and deduction will doubtless interest the reader; and I hope the knowledge will be applied to the practical benefit of our friends and others, who, unaware of the energy of the “invisible” around them, are punished in health and temper by the irritables which decorate their home.  

There are some shells which of course are not injurious, but innocuous and some beneficial; some will, while held in the hand, act as a narcotic produce a soft “delicious” feeling; some produce chill, some warmth. If I were to lay down a law for guidance, it would be: That the shells of all fish which are innocuous, or beneficial as food for man, are safe for display or handling, while all shells, the produce of fish unfit for human food, are unsafe for display or handling. Strong constitutions may not consciously feel what delicate constitutions do.  

Pursuing my investigations the thought arose, How or why are these effects produced? and as one discovery seems to be the highway to another, and a clairvoyant about the same time having declared that she saw colours proceeding from shell and stones, I determined to ascertain the results which might be produced under favourable conditions. I therefore darkened a room, so that to me all was invisible, and placed in a corner of that room a lady. After allowing a sufficient time to elapse, so as to be certain that neither of us could see any object in the room, I went out, selected a number of differently coloured foreign and British shells, mixed them and brought them into the darkened room wrapped in paper. After resting a short time, feeling my way to the piano, on the opposite side of the room to the lady, I commenced to lay the shells down one by one, when to my delight the sensitive exclaimed, “Oh, how beautiful! I see a red light coming up all over a shell, and I see a smoke above the light! I then laid down another, and it produced a blue light, and so on. I placed the shells in a row according to the lights asserted to be issuing from the shells, the lady correcting me when I placed any shell in a wrong place; she asserted that the mild soft mellow lights were very beautiful, that by the lights she plainly saw me and the several articles of furniture in the room, that the lights from some were more intense than from others; and that all of them had the appearance of smoke above the flame, more or less dense, as we sometimes see above a candle. I wrote the names of the colours on pieces of paper and placed them against the asserted colours, and then opened the doors and shutters, and found the proof of the truthfulness of the whole by the external colour of the shells corresponding to the colours as seen by the lady, with one exception, the external of which was white. Since then I regret I did not break the shell to ascertain whether under the layer of white there was not the colour as stated by the sensitive. I, from the foregoing and subsequent experiments, saw how it was that brimstone held in the hand affected the nerved of taste, how medicines applied externally and internally produced so powerful an effect on the human body — that it was not the solid or body that produced the result, but the soul essence or energy, which as a positive, being absorbed by a negative, produced results. That there is a general principle in nature, which is more easily observed than understood ; by which affinity develops the soul-power, as iron free from magnetism, when merely stroked with a magnet, develops powers which reason and observation would never conceive it possible for iron to produce if eyesight did not extinguish disbelief by demonstration. So the souls of minerals, vegetables, and animals, when allied to body, develop results, which but for proof would not stand the test of reason; but which we, from our being accustomed to the phenomena, take for granted as common, logical, and to be expected from the amalgamation of bodies; but the thin-skinned depth of which knowledge is at once displayed if any apparently new development in nature is produced by the same laws. Then reason in books, pamphlets, and newspapers is seen to be rough-shod, riding down facts.  

Before quitting the very interesting subject of shell-lights, I will here refer to information given to me a few years ago by a lady as to the belief in Kent of “Shell Fire.” That when shell fire appeared on a person’s dress in company or on articles of clothing m the wardrobe of any person, it is the death-sign for that person. That she has seen the shell-fire under both circumstances, followed by the immediate death of the parties, though they were at the time well; that when at the sea-side, by Ramsgate, she had often handled shells, and there has seemed to come out of them a pale pink light ; that one particular shell produced a happy feeling,” and there is a shell which she and her playmates used in fun to give to persons to hold which produced a withering of the hand, making it all “wrinkley.” I presume, therefore, that the “premonition lights” being so like the lights emanating from shells, are popularly called Shell Fire. I find that on an average the proportion of seers are, as I before stated, one female in three, and one male in five. Personally I have never seen such lights; the nearest approach was seeing fish bones in a dark cupboard, and a body of blueish white light from the inside of a canister containing broken-up loaf sugar; and again a few weeks ago. when the light or phosphorescence from a Finnan haddock* was so great that I could see the words in a book, and my clothing was made visible when I placed the fish near me; the light came from the back bone. Herrings move in shoals, often from eight to ten miles long by two to four miles wide, and of depth unknown. The place they occupy at night is phosphorescent. Some fish in the southern latitudes produce a perfect sea of light. Stones also shed light, and I have spent many weeks and months in experimenting on the soul-powers of stones. I find they have their colours according to their natures, and that the lights shed have & powerful effect on human health. There are not poisonous qualities in stone as a general rule; but there is a powerfully healthy and unhealthy quality in them. Memory, while I write, wells up many of the scenes I have witnessed from the experiments made with stones, some of a grotesque and others of a painful kind; and as time and opportunity have only allowed me to examine the vestibule of knowledge on these occult operations in nature, while the palace is beyond, I would here give a little of what I have observed so as to excite those who are younger, and who are less pressed on the battle-field of life, to pass in and do good service to their fellow-man by discovering the harmonies of nature and so lead the mind of man to adore the Creator of such a globe of wonders.

The Spiritual Magazine of Phenomena, Spiritual—Ethereal—Physical, edited by J. Enmore Jones, Third Series, Vol. III, 1877, “Soul in Nature”, J. Enmore Jones

* Lately I saw a lobster so full of light that I could see the skeleton of the fish clearly, and the articles in the dark cupboard; the sight was very interesting—was beautiful. [That must have been a very over-ripe lobster.]


Of course it is a New Age cliché that the rooms of healers and other kinds of spiritual practitioners are littered with specimens of minerals, crystals, and shells. Results similar to “shell mischief” were often found by other Spiritualists’ researches in psychometry. Other than an unfortunate experience with a bad oyster, have you ever had a weird reaction to a shell? Ever used a shell to make a hand wither “in fun?” Don’t be shell-fish. Share your story at Chriswoodyard8 AT


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.


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