Historical Perspectives on Out-of-Body Experiences and Related Phenomena: II. Hector Durville and Phantoms of the Living

Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Atlantic University

Hector Durville

I have been writing a series of papers for the Paranormal Review, the magazine of the Society for Psychical Research, about the old concept of doubles and traveling spirits. The purpose of the papers is to present long excerpts of old and somewhat forgotten discussions on the topic, thereby acquainting a new generation of readers with these ideas. The 11th part of the series has just been published: “Historical Notes on Doubles and Travelling Spirits: XI. Hector Durville” (Paranormal Review, 2012, No. 61, 3-11).

In the paper I reprint the writings of Hector Durville (1849-1923) about doubles. Durville was a French magnetizer and student of psychic phenomena known for his interest in magnetic healing and many other phenomena. He published many works on these topics, among them the two-volume work Traite Experimentale de Magnetisme (1895-1896).

Durville was also known for his attempts to project the double from the body of sensitive subjects and for the perceptual and detection tests he conducted to show the reality of such projection. His work was reported in his book Le Fantome des Vivants (1909), parts of which appeared in English in the Annals of Psychical Science in 1908, the source for the long excerpts I reprinted in the paper. Durville conducted his studies with women who he magnetized and who were commanded to project their doubles or phantoms.

Durville wrote about tests conducted with two women, Marthe and Nenette:

“My first experiments were made in October last, in conjunction with M. Andre, a young artist and student of magnetism, upon two subjects introduced by him. I reproduce word for word the notes which I made at the end of each seance:

Seance, October 22nd, 5 p.m. Experimenters, MM. Andre and Durville. Subjects, Mademoiselles Marthe and Nenette. The experiments took place in my study.

M. Andre put Nenette into the magnetic sleep, and I did the same for Marthe. The doubles were disengaged in accordance with the usual procedure for each subject. After some experiments as to the perception of sound-waves, we endeavoured to ascertain if the double of the one could influence the double of the other at a distance. In order to do this M. Andre took Nenette into the lecture room of the society, while I remained in the study with Marthe.

First Experiment.–Without my knowing what he was about to do, M. Andre commanded Nenette to send her double to that of Marthe and tread on her feet. Marthe quickly drew her feet back, complaining that someone was treading on them.

Second Experiment.–M. Andre desired Nenette to send her double and strike that of Marthe a hard blow with the fist on the head. Marthe raised both hands to her breast, and, seemingly in pain, said that someone had fallen on her chest. I remarked to her that from her position it was not possible for anyone to fall on her chest, but she still persisted that she had experienced a violent blow.

Third Experiment.–M. Andre told Nenette to send her double and vigorously pull the left leg of Marthe’s double. This resulted in a powerful stretching of the limb, causing sharp pain.

It was evident that Marthe felt very distinctly the various actions of Nenette’s double on her own, except that in the second experiment she felt the blow on the chest instead of on the head, as had been commanded.

We then desired to see whether Nenette would similarly feel the action of Marthe’s double. M. Andre and Nenette remained in the lecture room and Marthe and I stayed in the study. Neither M. Andre nor Nenette knew the nature of the commands given to Marthe’s double.”

Sensitive individuals were reported to be able to see the projected phantom of the magnetized subjects:

“After the double is properly condensed it assumes exactly the form of the subject, and appears to the latter as more or less luminous. Some sensitives, whom I regard as the best, see it as blue to the right; yellow, orange or red to the left; others only see a more or less distinct glimmer of white light. In perfect darkness highly sensitive persons, without being asleep, see it very distinctly with the colours I have mentioned. Ordinary sensitives only see a white light, more or less bright. Those partially sensitive perceive it in an undefined form, generally that of a bust, or rather of a dressmaker’s dummy, which seems as though formed of mist or greyish vapour.”

Durville tested the perceptual properties of the double using various tasks requiring vivion, smell, and taste. He also attempted to get the doubles to produce physical effects. One example was the production of raps on a table: “After two or three minutes we heard some crackings in the table, which no one was touching, then two light blows were distinctly heard, as though struck with the tip of a finger. I asked the phantom to give two more raps. I had scarcely expressed this desire when two blows similar to the former ones were heard. I allowed the subject to rest for a few moments, then I asked the phantom to give three more raps. Crackings were heard in the table and immediately afterwards three blows similar to the former ones were distinctly heard . . . .”

Hector Durville

These tests, and others not commented upon here, are part of a forgotten history of research designed to find evidence for the existence of the double.


Durville, H. (1895-1896). Traite experimentale de magnetisme (2 vols.). Paris: Librairie du Magnetisme.

Durville, H. (1905). Magnetisme personnel ou psychique. Paris: Librairie du Magnetisme.

Durville, H. (1908). Experimental researches concerning phantoms of the living. Annals of Psychical Science 7, 335-343.

Durville, H. (1908). New experiments with phantoms of the living. Annals of Psychical Science, 7, 464-470.

Durville, H. (1909). Le fantome des vivants: Anatomie et physiologie de l’ame: Recherches experimentales sur le dedoublement des corps de l’homme. Paris: Librairie du Magnetisme.

Durville, H. (n.d., ca 1911). Manifestations du fantome des vivants: Pour dedoubler le corps humain (3rd ed.). Paris: Henri Durville.

Durville’s Journal du Magnetisme

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