Paranormal Pioneers: Dr. Carl A. Wickland

Dr. Wickland with his wife, Anna

With so many paranormal researchers labeled as pseudoscientists and quacks, it's important to remember the pioneers  who have made invaluable contributions to the world of science and medicine. One such pioneer was Dr. Carl Wickland, the Swedish-born physician who, in 1908, was appointed chief psychiatrist at the National Psychopathic Institute of Chicago. Wickland also authored the groundbreaking book Thirty Years Among the Dead, which chronicles his long career working with sanitarium patients and exploring the realms of reincarnation and demonic possession.

A wonderfully written article on Dr. Wickland appeared in the October 26, 1913 edition of the New York Sun, in which he details his methods and discusses some of his most incredible cases. Although Dr. Wickland remained active in the paranormal community up until his death in 1945, the New York Sun article is perhaps the most intriguing article written about this brilliant pioneer of paranormal research:

Obsession by evil spirits is the cause of insanity and exorcism is its cure, according to Dr. Carl A. Wickland, a physician and psychist of Chicago. By obsession by spirits also Dr. Wickland accounts for many mental disturbances which other alienists rate as phenomena of insanity's borderland. Dipsomania, he says, is often but another name for spirit obsession. Evil spirits taking possession of living beings often cause murders, suicides, sudden aberrations into crime by seemingly honest and normal persons, and changes in husbands and wives toward each other which lead to the divorce court.

Dr. Wickland uses no magic spells or incantations in his treatment of insanity by exorcism. He goes upon the hypothesis that spirits of the dead are reasonable intelligences. When an insane person is taken to him for treatment he first establishes communication through his wife, who is a psychic sensitive, with the spirit supposed to have taken up its abode in the patient's body. Then he reasons with the spirit. While he holds the patient's hands and gazes into his eyes Dr. Wickland addresses to the obsessing spirit some such argument as this:

"You have no right to take possession of this person's body. You are committing a crime by abiding in it. Perhaps you do not realize you are dead. But you are. The time has come for you to enter the higher planes of spirit existence. Prepare yourself for nobler levels by developing your better self. Abandon your earthly passions and appetites and depart from this person's body and join the discarnated intelligences that will welcome you to their company and help you attain the higher spirit life. Leave this living soul in peace and go your way."

Sometimes the obsessing spirit proves recalcitrant. Sometimes it meets argument with argument, expressing itself through the mediumship of Dr. Wickland's wife. Sometimes it fights to retain its fleshy habitation. Sometimes it yields to persuasion and departs. Then the insane person is restored to sane intelligence.
To understand Dr. Wickland's views upon insanity it is necessary to understand his views upon spirits. He believes that the spirits of those who die unprepared for higher spirit spheres remain upon earth and frequent the old haunts with which they were familiar in life. An earth spirit may sit invisible across hearth or table from its former living friends in the home, in the cafe, or at the club. It may rub elbows with the living on the streets.

Nine out of ten of these earth spirits, Dr. Wickland says, do not know they are dead. Unless it is prepared to wing its way at once to higher realms of spirit existence, the spirit liberated at death is generally unconscious that it has passed from among the living. Dr. Wickland often finds it difficult to convince spirits that they are not still alive and that the body of which they have taken temporary possession is not the physical body they once inhabited.

Dr. Wickland believes earth spirits are capable of education and development. He believes he is able through the psychic powers of his wife to send earth bound spirits a message of uplift. He calls himself a missionary to earth spirits and in this capacity he preaches to them. Through his ministrations as a preacher to ghosts he believes that many earth spirits have been enabled to realize their true condition and to go forward to higher and better planes.

"One of my insane patients," said Dr. Wickland, "was a young woman engaged to be married to a widower. Before his wife's death this man had lived in an apartment adjoining that of my patient. The two women had been intimate friends. The wife died suddenly and a short time afterward the man proposed marriage to the young woman. Soon after she had accepted him she began to show mental abnormalities.

"In her normal state she esteemed the man highly. When she was brought to me she expressed a violent dislike for him. She declared she would rather die or go to an asylum for the insane than marry him. She had made several attempts to end her life. Screaming spells alternated with obstinate and ugly moods.

"Through her psychic sense Mrs. Wickland saw that the spirit of a woman possessed the patient. Upon Mrs. Wickland's description the patient's mother and her fiance recognized it as that of the man's former wife. I got into communication with the spirit. 'He shall never marry her," it declared. 'He shall never have her! I will drive her to an insane asylum for life or I will kill her'. I urged the spirit to leave the patient. It was with difficulty that I convinced it of its true condition- that is was no longer alive, but was the spirit of a dead woman and was controlling a living body that was not its own. Finally I brought it to repentance and it agreed to leave.

"Then the spirit became distressed and said it was dying. After a death struggle it departed from the patient, who then recovered rapidly and is now perfectly well and happily married to her admirer.

"Another interesting case was that of a woman 48 years old, who had been in several sanitariums and had been declared incurably insane. She talked incessantly. She had been a woman of education and refinement, but I never heard worse language than she used. Her manner was roughly masculine.

"I found that the spirit of a man was possessing her. The spirit told me its name in life and the street number at which it had lived. I persuaded it to leave the woman's body. Then the patient became unconscious and acted as if she were dying. Artificial respiration was resorted to. This process was kept up for several hours until the patient fell asleep. For a week she lay in an exhausted condition and then her recovery was rapid. She is well and perfectly sane today.

"A year ago a man was brought to me from Minnesota. His was a case of obsession by four spirits, all of which I succeeded in exorcising. Three he recognized himself after he regained his senses as the spirits of men he formerly had known. One of the spirits was that of a man who had died in delirium tremens. The patient had been a teetotaller all his life, but under the influence of this spirit he would shriek for whiskey. He is now completely cured.

"A negro control held one of my patients under its influence. This spirit had lived before the Civil War and still thought it was living on the old plantation. The crooning of old darky songs was interspersed with screams of terror as if from the scourge of the overseer's lash.

Dr. Wickland also devoted much time to the study of reincarnation, and he believed that the traditional theories of reincarnation were incorrect. Wickland theorized that the memories and impressions one has of a former life do not actually belong to the living person, but are the memories of a life once lived by a spirit inhabiting the living person's body. Wickland wrote:

The theory of reincarnation can undoubtedly be traced to early stages of mankind when departed spirits took possession of the bodies of sensitive individuals and lived and acted through them, thus seemingly indicating reincarnation. But in reality this was only spirit obsession or possession.

Dr. Carl August Wickland died on November 13, 1945, leaving the world with many interesting and thought-provoking writings on the occult and the paranormal. In addition to his 1924 classic Thirty Years Among the Dead, he also authored The Gateway of Understanding. Both books continue to inspire countless spiritualists and paranormal researchers to this day.