Kilner, Walter John

Kilner, Walter John (1847–1920)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Walter John Kilner was born on May 23, 1847, at Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England. He was educated at the local Grammar School and then St. John’s College at Cambridge University. He studied medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, receiving his B.A. in 1870, M.R.C.S. and L.S.A. in 1871, and M.B. in 1872. Kilner was appointed in charge of electro-therapy at St. Thomas’s in June, 1879. Four years later he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians and at that time opened a private practice at Ladbrooke Grove, London.

Kilner became interested in the human aura, a luminous area surrounding all living things and visible to sensitives. Baron Georg von Reichenbach (1772–1826), a German astronomical instrument maker, claimed to be able to see auras around the poles of magnets and around human hands. This intrigued Kilner and in 1908, he began experimenting to see if he could produce a screen which, if looked through, would make the aura visible to the non-sensitive eye. By 1911, he had devised a system using a dilute solution of a dye called dicyanin, a product of coal tar. Another method he tried initially was looking first at a bright light through a strong alcoholic solution and then looking at the subject. This, however, proved to be very dangerous, causing damage to the eyes. Kilner eventually perfected his dicyanin method and produced what became known as the Kilner Screen. He published his findings in The Human Atmosphere (1911). In his method, researchers looked at a subject through the screen, in daylight, with the dicyanin contained in two pieces of hermetically sealed glass. The subject was a naked person standing against a dark background. In this way, three distinct radiations could be seen. The first was dark and colorless and extended from the body no more than a fraction of an inch. The second extended beyond the first about three inches. The last was at least a foot in length. The first aura Kilner termed the etheric double; the second, the inner aura; and the last, the outer aura. Illness was seen to affect the color and size of the aura, with mental deterioration causing reduction in size and impending death shrinking the aura to almost nothing.

Kilner’s book was the first to study the human aura as a scientific fact, rather than as a questionable psychic phenomenon. His book was reprinted in 1920 and re-issued under the title The Human Aura in 1965. Nandor Fodor mentions that psychical researcher Hereward Carrington referenced a forgotten book, Ten Years With Spiritual Mediums (1874), published by Francis Gerry Fairfield, which claimed that all organic structures have a special nerve-aura.

Kilner died on June 23, 1920. Since then a method has been developed to photograph the aura. This is known as Kirlian photography.


Buckland, Raymond: Color Magic—Unleash Your Inner Powers. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2002
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Kilner, Walter J.: The Human Aura. New York, University Books, 1965
King, Katie see Cook, Florence
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