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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

rapping A phenomenon first widely exhibited in 1848 by the Fox sisters in which raps are made to come from the floor, a table, or a wall. There are those who believe these are signals originating with spirits. Such tintinnabulation is very popular at séances, and incidentally also very easy to accomplish by trickery, if the real thing is not available at the moment.
      There are various mechanisms available for this purpose, but the basic trick can be accomplished by a person who has the ability to crack the toe joints. While the person is standing, this gives rise to a distinct thump on the floor. In the time of the Fox sisters, one Reverend Eli Noyes discovered and demonstrated seventeen different methods of producing raps without mechanisms. His raps were indistinguishable from “real” spirit communications.
      The stunt is not original with the Fox sisters. A 1528 book published in Paris described the spirit of Sister Alis de Tellieux, who had lived in a monastery where she swiped some relics and was thus doomed to walk around the place as a ghost. The book describes what followed:  

      A number of years afterwards, when the monastery was occupied by other and better nuns, one of their number, a girl of about eighteen years, was aroused from her sleep by the apparition of Sister Alis. For some time afterwards the spirit haunted her wherever she went, continually rapping on the ground where she stood.

      It appears that this neat trick has a long history.

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