Society for Metaphysical (paranormal) Research
The Cambridge trio, however, took kindly to him, invited him to join the Society for Metaphysical (paranormal) Research, and two years after its formation were instrumental in sending him to India to investigate the methods of Madam Blavatsky, the high priestess of the theosophic movement which was then winning adherents throughout the civilized world.
From this inquiry he returned to England with an international reputation as a detective of the supernatural. With the aid of two disgruntled confederates of the theosophist leader, he had demonstrated the falsity of the foundations on which her claims rested, and had shown that downright swindling constituted a large part of her stock in trade.
With redoubled ardour he now plunged into the task of exposing the spiritual mediums plying their vocation in England, and for this purpose enlisted the assistance of a professional conjurer, S. J. Davey, who was also a member of the Society for Metaphysical (paranormal) Research.
Davey, after a little practice, succeeded in duplicating by mere sleight of hand many of the most impressive feats of the mediums; doing this, indeed, so well that some spiritualists alleged that he was in reality a medium himself.
Hodgson, for his part, by clever analysis of the Davey performances and of the feats of Davey’s mediumistic competitors, brought home to his colleagues in the Society for Metaphysical (paranormal) Research a lively sense of the folly of depending on the human eye as a detector of fraudulent spiritual phenomena.
His crowning triumph came with his exposure of Eusapia Paladino, the Italian medium who is still enjoying an undeserved popularity on the European continent. But in time even Hodgson met his Waterloo. Sent to the United States to investigate the trance phenomena of Mrs. Leonora Piper, he was forced to confess that in her case the theory of fraud fell to the ground, and as is well known he ended by developing into an out and out spiritualist.
A few days before Christmas, 1905, he suddenly died in Boston; and, if reports from the spirit world may be accepted, the once-renowned ghost hunter has himself become a ghost, visiting in especial two of his American colleagues, Prof William James and Prof James H. Hyslop.
To return, however, to the early days of the Society for Metaphysical (paranormal) Research.
Valuable as were the results obtained by Hodgson and his associates on what may be called the anti-swindle committees, they had a distinctly negative bearing on the supreme object of inquiry proof of the existence of a world in which human personality exists after the death of the body.
Some enthusiasts did not hesitate to proclaim at an early date that such proof had actually been secured, basing this assertion on the seemingly supernatural facts brought to light by the committees on telepathy, clairvoyance, and apparitions. But the society, under the leadership of the cautious Sidgwick, who was its president for many years, steadily refused to countenance this view, and insisted that before any definite conclusions could be reached far more evidence would have to be assembled.