Thomas Mann And Physical Mediumism | Peter Mulacz

Peter Mulacz, president of the Austrian Society for Parapsychology and Frontier Areas of Science, reflects on the social interaction between the novelist and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, the parapsychologist Albert, Baron Schrenck-Notzing, and the youthful medium Willy Schneider.

Baron Schrenck-Notzing, then leading German parapsychologist, was in the habit of inviting reputed scientists of various fields and other prestigious persons to witness the phenomena studied in his laboratory, and to secure their testimonials as a means of gaining broad scientific recognition of the real existence of telekinetic phenomena.

Thus, in 1922/23, Thomas Mann, then a future Nobel laureate, participated as an independent witness in several sittings with the young Austrian medium Willi Schneider at Schrenck-Notzing’s laboratory where he observed phenomena of physical mediumism (telekinesis, ectoplasm). He duly submitted three narrations of his observations that were eventually printed among some sixty others in Schrenck’s Experimente der Fernbewegung [Experiments in Telekinesis] in 1924. Not only did Mann describe his observations for Schrenck and in a different version for the general audience, but he also used these experiences for the poetic presentation of a mediumistic séance in one chapter of this famous novel “The Magic Mountain”.

The “Thomas Mann Phenomenon”: This was the name given to the elevation of a handkerchief by an (incompletely) materialized hand. The basic phenomenon underlying telekinetic effects is the production of ectoplasm and shaping it to serve the intended purpose (ideoplasty).

Mann’s detailed accounts are most valuable stones in the entire mosaic of Schrenck’s work on telekinesis, particularly if viewed upon together with the research in the mediumship of Willi’s younger brother Rudi who displayed similar phenomena (e.g., by Osty & Osty at the IMI, 1930/31).

Mann had extremely ambiguous feelings towards the paranormal (labeling it cranky, fallacious, unaesthetic, disdainful, dishonorable, sinful, obnoxious, and even spiritually uninteresting and unworthy of human exploration), nonetheless he stuck to the reality of his experiences in his “An Experience in the Occult” and in his correspondence with various persons. He used his impressions at Schrenck’s laboratory to shape a chapter in his “Magic Mountain”, utilizing particularly the atmosphere of a séance and the mediumistic trance, however changing a lot, i.e., adding spiritualistic aspects he had not come across at Schrenck, whose approach has been strictly psychodynamic. The changes Mann introduced seem to be owed to his artistic ideas.

Presented at the “62nd Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association” on July 4, 2019, Paris, France; program chaired by Ramses D’Leon. Download the Abstracts at

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Published on July 1, 2021