Home, Daniel Dunglas

Home, Daniel Dunglas

(hyo͞om), 1833–86, Scottish-American spiritualist medium, b. Edinburgh, Scotland. He was taken to the United States when a small child. At age 13 he claimed to have discovered his gifts for dealing with spirits, and from 1850 to his death he had a triumphant career as a medium, always retaining his amateur status by refusing money, although he did accept expensive gifts. In his drawing room séances furniture moved with no apparent cause, ghostly hands appeared, and furniture and Home himself would levitate in the air. There was much dispute about the validity of these highly physical manifestations of spirits. Though numerous efforts were made to expose him, none was successful.


See his Incidents in My Life (2 vol., 1863–72).

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Nineteenth-century medium Daniel Dunglas Home purportedly had the ability to levitate himself, among other feats. Even today, debunkers of paranormal activities have found it hard to disprove eyewitness accounts of his skills. Fortean Picture Library.

Home, Daniel Dunglas (1833–1886)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Largely forgotten today outside of students of paranormal phenomena, Daniel Dunglas Home was one of the most famous mediums of the nineteenth century. He demonstrated a variety of feats, most notably levitation, and unlike a number of his colleagues, Home was not caught performing stage magic. To this day those who do not accept the reality of psychic phenomena remain hard-pressed to explain and/or duplicate Home’s feats. He also performed his feats in normal lighting, rather than the darkness preferred by the fake mediums.

Home was born March 20, 1833, in Currie, Scotland. At the age of nine he moved with his aunt, who had adopted him, to the United States, and he spent the rest of his youth in Greenville, Connecticut, and Troy, New York. He was said to have experienced his first paranormal events during his teen years. Among his talents was the prediction of people’s death. His aunt came to believe he was possessed of the devil and around 1850 turned him out of her home. He soon emerged in the context of the developing Spiritualist movement, and some of the prominent people of the day—author William Cullen Bryant, chemist Robert Hare, and Judge John Edmonds—saw his early feats and were mystified.

Harvard professor David Wells, accompanied by three other investigators, saw Home cause a table to move about off the ground, though Home was not near it. Two of the witnesses, only with great difficulty, were able to stop the movement. They released it, and it again lifted off the floor. Home was seen to self-levitate in 1852.

Homes moved to England in 1855 and soon became the center of attention as Spiritualism started to take hold. Among those who saw Home was poet Robert Browning, who penned a vicious attack on him, “Mr. Sludge, the Medium,” even though Browning had himself been stumped for an explanation to Home’s feats.

The single most famous incident in Home’s life occurred in December 1868. At a séance in his London apartment, those in attendance saw his body elongate. Then he rose from the ground. Upon his descent, he walked into the next room and walked out the window. The attendees saw him apparently floating outside the window, three stories in the air. Home subsequently floated into the room, feet foremost. On other occasions he demonstrated his ability to handle fire.

Harry Houdini, who had exposed a number of fraudulent mediums, claimed he could duplicate Home’s feats, but never proved able. That fact sums up the problem of evaluating Home. He did things that seemed to contradict the laws of physics but was never caught attempting to accomplish his feats with the techniques of stage magic. During the last years of his life, many who observed his séances wanted to expose him but were unsuccessful. They were even unable to suggest how he might have done them. Home died on June 21, 1886, following a number of years of declining health.


Burton, Jean. Heyday of a Wizard: Daniel Home the Medium. London: George G. Harrap, 1930.
Home, D. D. Incidents in My Life. London: Longman, Green, 1863.
Jenkins, Elizabeth. The Shadow and the Light: A Defense of Daniel Dunglas Home. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1982.
Stein, Gordon. Encyclopedia of Hoaxes. Detroit: Gale, 1993.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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Representation of medium Daniel Dunglas Home levitating out of a window. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Home, Daniel Dunglas (1833–1886)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Sir William Crookes (1832–1919) said of Home, “Of all the persons endowed with a powerful development of this Psychic Force, Mr. Daniel Dunglas Home is the most remarkable and it is mainly owing to the many opportunities I have had of carrying on my investigation in his presence that I am enabled to affirm so conclusively the existence of this force.” Home has come to be regarded as the greatest physical phenomena medium in the history of modern Spiritualism.

Daniel Dunglas Home was born in the village of Currie, near Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 20, 1833. He was the third child of William Humes and Elizabeth (Betsey) McNeal. His mother had the “second sight” and his father, an engineer, had a connection to the noble Border house, the Homes of Dunglass. (The spelling of the names had been changed after a furious quarrel between two brothers.) According to Daniel, his father was the illegitimate son of the tenth Earl, and this was not disputed by the family concerned. At the age of four, Daniel started exhibiting the second sight himself. He would spontaneously describe far-off happenings as though he were right there witnessing them.

Because of Daniel Home’s delicate health, he was sent to live with a childless aunt named Mary McNeal Cook and her husband. At the age of nine, Home was taken to America by the Cooks and settled in Connecticut at Greenville, Norwich. The rest of his family had already moved there two years earlier, in 1840. His clairvoyancedeveloped and when his sister Mary Betsey died at the age of twelve, her spirit would visit the family so frequently that it came to be accepted as a casual occurrence. At the age of thirteen, Home saw the vision of a close boyhood friend who had recently died. His appearance was in keeping with a promise the two had made to each other that the first to die would visit the other. Four years later, Home had a vision of his mother, the sighting announcing her death to him.

By 1850—just two years after the Fox Sisters had introduced modern Spiritualism to the world—Home started experiencing moving furniture (psychokinesis) and rappings. These last were so loud that it sounded as though the furniture was being pounded with a hammer. Local ministers were called in to pray over the boy but to no avail. As Jean Burton wrote in Heyday of a Wizard (London, 1948), “Soon the neighbors, who had got wind of these developments, laid siege to the house … everyone knew that questions could be answered through the raps. And within a week after Daniel’s gift was officially established they were told where to find so many long-lost relatives, title-deeds, and misplaced brooches, and so many striking proofs of spirit identity were obtained, as would be tedious to enumerate.” By the time Home was in his early teens, the Cooks turned him out of the house because they could not cope with the many phenomena constantly taking place.

Home had no trouble finding lodgings. He stayed with various families, all intrigued by his spiritualistic abilities. George Bush, Professor of Oriental Languages in New York University and a distinguished theologian, was the first scientist to investigate him, in the summer of 1851. Bush had been an Episcopalian clergyman but had resigned his living to become a Swedenborgian. The following year Home stayed for some time in the home of Rufus Elmer of Springfield, Massachusetts, and became acquainted with a delegation from Harvard. Among them was the poet William Cullen Bryant. At the end of one of Home’s séances, Bryant, B. K. Bliss, William Edwards, and Professor David A. Wells all signed a manifesto titled “The Modern Wonder,” testifying that the séance table turned around and moved with such force that it pushed against each of them in turn, moving the sitter and his chair across the floor. The table was also seen to rise into the air “and to float in the atmosphere for several seconds, as if sustained by some denser medium than air.” The Elmers offered to adopt Home and make him their heir, but Home declined. In fact throughout his life Home refused to accept any money for his abilities.

Home’s first levitation occurred in the South Manchester, Connecticut, house of Ward Cheney. F.L. Burr, editor of the Hartford Times, described the occurrence of August 8, 1852, saying, “Suddenly, and without any expectation on the part of the company, Home began his ascent … I had hold of his hand at the time, and I felt his feet—they were lifted a foot from the floor! … Again and again, he was taken from the floor; and the third time he was carried to the lofty ceiling of the apartment, with which his hand and head came in gentle contact.” Later Burr added that he felt a “wave of cold air, which felt, in that close, sultry August night, almost like a sudden bath of ice water.”

Home’s time was called upon constantly and his health declined. It was discovered that his left lung was badly infected. He had intended to start medical studies but these plans had to be abandoned. A trip to Europe was suggested and Home landed in England in April, 1855. He first stayed at Cox’s Hotel, London, but soon became the guest of J. S. Rymer, a solicitor residing in Ealing. Some of the first to attend Home’s séances were Lord Brougham—a hardened skeptic and one time Lord Chancellor of England—and Sir David Brewster, well known Victorian scientist. The poet Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, attended some séances. She was a Spiritualist and became an ardent admirer of Home. For some reason her husband did not share her enthusiasm and Robert went on to write the poem Mr. Sludge the Medium, loosely based on Home. Yet Browning had never caught Home in trickery at any of the séances he and his wife attended.

In the fall of 1855, Home traveled on to Florence, Italy. There his fame spread but the local peasants believed him to be a sorcerer and necromancer. Such was the feeling that on December 5, 1855, a man attempted to kill Home. The medium was stabbed three times with a dagger and was lucky to escape with his life. The would-be assassin was never charged and Home soon afterward left the country and went on to Paris.

On the evening of February 10, 1856, the spirits had told Home that his power was going to leave him for a period of one year. No reason was given for this but it was as they said; for a whole year Home was unable to produce any phenomena. When he was in Paris, the whole city seemed aware of when his powers were due to return and waited with baited breath for that moment. On the evening of February 10, 1857, as Home described it, a spirit hand appeared and touched his brow at midnight and he heard spirit voices say, “Be of good cheer, Daniel; you will soon be well.” The following morning the Marquis de Belmont called, sent by the Emperor, to enquire if all was well. Immediately loud rappings were heard. The Marquis then told Home that Napoleon III summoned him to Tuilleries. At the Royal Court, Home gave séances for the Emperor and Empress, his first taking place on Friday, February 13. At this sitting the Empress felt the hand of her deceased father grasp her own. She recognized it by a characteristic defect in one of the fingers. Napoleon had questions answered which he had only been thinking and had not spoken out loud; questions to which only he and the Empress Eugénie knew the answers. Despite the Emperor calling in various professors from the Sorbonne, and even the great stage magician Robert Houdin, no one could explain how the phenomena were produced. Houdin said that it could not have been produced by any sleight of hand. Subsequent séances were even more effective, with heavy tables lifted and moved and a luminous vapor appearing a few inches off the surface of the séance table. This vapor slowly formed into a child’s hand. After disappearing, the haze returned and formed into a man’s hand which grasped a pencil and wrote “Napoleon.” The Emperor examined it and declared that it was the signature of Napoleon I.

Home left France for America on March 20, 1857. He spent only a short time in the United States, visiting many of his old friends, before collecting his sister Christine and returning with her to France and to the Royal Court. There the Empress took Christine as her protégée and placed her in the exclusive Convent of the Sacred Heart in the rue de Varennes. Christine stayed there for seven years. Home continued with his sittings with the Emperor and Empress.

Home went on to visit with and hold sittings for many of the leading figures of Europe, including the King of Naples, the German Emperor, Queen Sophia of Holland, and the Tsar of Russia. When in Russia Home met and eventually married Alexandrina (Sacha) de Kroll, sister-in-law to the count Koucheleff-Besborodka and god-daughter of the late Tsar Nicholas. Count Alexis Tolstoy, the poet, was a groomsman at the wedding held in St. Petersburg, with Alexander Dumas as best man. Later the couple had a son and shortly after that the Homes returned to England. Alexandrina died in July, 1862, of tuberculosis.

Perhaps the most famous of Home’s feats was his levitation out of one window and in at another, seventy feet above the ground. It occurred at Ashley House, Victoria Street, London. Present were Lord Adare the sporting young Irish peer, his cousin Captain Charles Wynne, and the Honorable Master of Lindsay (later Earl of Crawford and Balcarres). In 1869, Lord Adare and Home were sharing an apartment in London. In such close contact with the medium, Adare was in a position to ascertain that there was no trickery involved in Home’s performances. Both Adare and Lindsay wrote separate accounts of what happened that evening.

After a normal beginning to the séance—normal for Home’s séances, that is, with telekinetic phenomena and the appearance of an apparition—Home began to pace the floor. He was in a trance state, as he had been all evening. He walked through to the next room and a window was heard to be raised. Lindsay states that he heard a voice whisper in his ear, telling him that Home would pass out of one window and in at another. The next moment they all saw Home floating in the air outside their window.

There was no ledge of any sort between the windows, which were nearly eight feet apart and seventy feet above the ground. Although there was no light on in the room, the moon provided sufficient illumination for all to distinguish each other and to see quite clearly the furniture in the room.

After remaining in position for a few seconds outside the window, with his feet about six inches above the sill, Home opened the window and “glided into the room feet foremost.” Adare went to close the window in the adjacent room and found that it had only been opened twelve to fifteen inches. Home was asked how he had managed to pass through so small a space, and replied by showing them. Adare said, “He then went through the open space, head first, quite rapidly, his body being nearly horizontal and apparently rigid. He came in again, feet foremost; and we returned to the other room.” (Experiences of Spiritualism with Mr. D. D. Home, London, 1870) Later, when Home came out of his trance, he was “much agitated; he said he felt as if he had gone through some fearful peril, and that he had a most horrible desire to throw himself out of the window.”

In other demonstrations Home would elongate. On one occasion—with Home lying on the floor, Lord Lindsay holding his feet and Lord Adaire at his head—he was measured, by Samuel Carter Hall, and found to be seven feet tall! Home’s natural height was five feet ten inches. On another occasion the medium elongated to six feet six inches whilst standing against a wall and having his feet held, with one observer watching his waist and another at his head. Another phenomenon was Home’s fire handling. He would reach into a fire, stir the embers to a flame, and bring out a live coal. Carrying it around the circle of sitters, it would be found to be so hot that no one else could stand to have it closer than six inches from them.

Other mediums had arrived in England from America, amongst them Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten, the Davenport Brothers, Lottie Fowler and Henry Slade. By that time the focus was on spirits actually speaking through the medium, rather than conversing by way of raps. Slate writing was also introduced, as was billet reading, spirit photography, apports, and telekinetic demonstrations. Home occasionally worked with other mediums, among them Kate Fox and William Stainton Moses (1839–1892). Moses, the medium and religious teacher, described a trance of Home’s which he witnessed.

By degrees Mr. Home’s hands and arms began to twitch and move involuntarily. I should say that he has been partly paralyzed, drags one of his legs, moves with difficultly, stoops and can endure very little physical exertion. As he passed into the trance state he drew power from the circle by extending his arms to them and mesmerizing himself. All these acts are involuntary. He gradually passed into the trance state, and rose from the table, erect and a different man from what he was. He walked firmly, dashed out his arms and legs with great power….

Home had no one particular spirit guide but a number of them. They usually referred to him as either Daniel or Dan. The guides did have a few idiosyncrasies, according to Jean Burton. For example, they objected to dogs being present in the séance room, they did not like tobacco smoke, and for some reason they disliked Home sitting on a silk cushion. When Home came out of trance his hand and arm were sometimes rigid and his jaw temporarily locked. He was often reluctant to come out of trance, saying that he wished “to remain among the bright and beautiful.” When he did come out of it and was told all the things that had transpired, he would invariably say that he didn’t believe a word of it! Homes always preferred to work in natural or bright light to darkness, and encouraged his sitters to chat normally and even stand up and move about. He never insisted they all sit and hold hands and concentrate. Home was responsible for the acceptance of Spiritualism by such figures as William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, Robert Bell, Lord Lytton, Lord Adare, The Earl of Dunraven, The Master of Lindsay, and Lord Brougham.

Home authored two books: Incidents in My Life (1863, with a second edition of it appearing in 1872) and Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism (1873). Daniel Dunglas Home died on June 21, 1886, at the age of fifty-three, after a period of declining health. He was buried at St. Germain, Paris. On his tombstone it says, “To another discerning of Spirits” (I Cor. xii.10). With the exception of direct voice and apports, Homes produced every known phenomena of physical mediumship. Frank Podmore, an outspoken critic of fraudulent mediums, said “Home was never publicly exposed as an imposter; there is no evidence of any weight that he was even privately detected in trickery.”


Buckland, Raymond: Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004
Burton, Jean: Heyday of a Wizard: Daniel Home the Medium. London: George G. Harrap, 1948
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The History of Spiritualism. New York: Doran, 1926
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Home, Daniel Dunglas: Incidents in My Life. London: Longmans, Green, 1871
Podmore, Frank: Modern Spiritualism. London: 1902; reprinted as Mediums of the Nineteenth Century. New York: University Books, 1963
Hope, Elizabeth see d’Esperance, Madame
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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