I discovered Mollie Fancher, a woman who SAW with blind eyes and did other incredible things, while reading Volume II of HP Blavatsky’s Collected Writings. Before telling Molly’s story I must say, “If this sort of tale catches your attention, you might want to consider digging into HPB’s Isis Unveiled.”
Isis Unveiled is an extraordinary book which deals with truly extra-ordinary phenomena and people like Mollie Fancher. Isis, like all of Blavatsky’s writings, endeavors to bring occult, esoteric, inner things to the outer light. These phenomena for too long (another 130 years now) have been considered miraculous or demonic, fraudulent or staged. Yet, the Real Thing manifests quite commonly in uncommon people and unusual events which science cannot explain and often won’t dare to study.
Isis Unveiled is a two-volume indexed work first published in 1877 which has been continuously in print since that time. It can be purchased in a variety of formats including a recent abridged version. You can also read the whole original book for free by downloading it from Google books or various Theosophy sites.
Returning to the seeing blind girl, Mme. Blavatsky had this to say about her: “Miss Mollie Fancher, of Brooklyn, a respectable young girl, according to the statement of Dr. Charles E. West, has lived without any food for over nine years. This extraordinary girl never sleeps—her frequent trances being the only rest she obtains; she reads sealed letters as though they were open; describes distant friends; though completely blind, perfectly discriminates colours; and finally, though her right hand is rigidly drawn up behind her head, by a permanent paralysis, makes embroidery upon canvas, and produces in wax, without having taken a lesson in the art, and with neither a knowledge of botany nor even models to copy, flowers of a most marvellously natural appearance.”
Madame Blavatsky, herself a real phenomenon, makes an unexpected appearance in a 2002-book about Mollie Fancher I just finished reading. She is quoted in an unsigned 1878-letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Union-Argus. There is one word clue which makes it clear that the letter was written by Madame Blavatsky as she took on two prominent medical men. “Ex-Surgeon General William A. Hammond, an eminent authority on psychological subjects, who never heard of the case of Miss Fancher until within a week, and who has never seen her, pronounces her a humbug. Dr. George M. Beard, whose learning is approximate only to that of the eminent Dr. Hammond, says, ‘It is not scientific to investigate such pretensions.’ If ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing,’ let such pigmies in wisdom as Prof. Parkhurst, the Rev. Dr. Duryea, Prof. West, Dr. Speir, and others, of this city, be grateful that, whatever their present peril, they are not exposed to such awful risks as are Drs. Hammond and Beard.”
Mollie Fancher was known as the "Brooklyn Enigma" because she lived an unexplainable (then and now) life from her teens until death in 1916 at age 68. She was known as an excellent student at a reputable school. At age 16 after two accidents, she became famous for her ability to go without food. Also following the accidents, Mollie Fancher lost her senses of sight, touch, taste, and smell while expressing compensatory talents.
Reputable professionals verified her abstinence from food which lasted for 14 years. Her notoriety inevitably increased when noted physicians, Hammond and Beard, challenged her ability to go without food for such a long period. Neither of them ever met or even saw Miss Fancher.
On her second accident falling from and being dragged behind a horse trolley, Mollie was thrown to the pavement. She was knocked unconscious and suffered broken ribs. Thereafter, she gradually lost her sight and other senses, her body became twisted, legs and feet crossed. She developed epileptic-like spasms of her whole body lasting up to three hours at a time. Then, Mollie proceeded into trance states lasting five to 14 hours.
Initially, her physicians were aghast and tried all sorts of measures to rid her of these unusual symptoms. Mollie was repeatedly
• shaved and blistered.
• electrically shocked.
• treated with hydrotherapy.
• submitted to enemas.
In the midst of her injuries, abstinence from foods, and scary treatments, Miss Fancher proceeded to exhibit some very amazing things like
• being oblivious to pain inflicted by experimenters.
• predicting future events.
• reading books without use of her eyes. (This is akin to a talent which Edgar Cayce had.)
• gathering information at a distance (clairvoyance).
• producing huge numbers of embroidery pieces and wax flowers despite her visual defect and twisted extremities. She also wrote thousands of letters.
• relating through five different personalities - Ruby, Rosebud, Idol, Sunbeam, and Pearl.
• staying in bed for 50 years.
Mollie told her original biographer, Abram Dailey, a number of important things which may give some clues to the eerie phenomena she demonstrated:
• “[I] received nourishment from a source of which [they - physicians and attendants] were ignorant.”
• “My spasms and trances were essential to my living; but this my physicians did not know.”
• “I don’t know what they can base my complaint upon. I have broken the backbone of science and all the ‘ologies!”
Mollie’s story can be read in at least two versions in Michelle Stacey’s The Fasting Girl and Abram Dailey’s The Brooklyn Enigma. The latter can be downloaded for free at http://books.google.com.
Part II of Mollie’s story has been slow to appear because
I have been focused on finishing my People Medicine book which is now off to the printer.
The interlude has not kept me from thinking about Mollie Fancher and others like her:
an area of research awaiting more attention.
You may remember Mollie was The Brooklyn Enigma.
A woman injured twice in her teen years (1864-65)
after which Mollie experienced and expressed a wide variety of manifestations like
• prolonged involuntary fasting
• extinction of “natural functions”
• clairvoyance and prediction of future events
• demonstration of five different personalities
• restriction to bed for 50 years.
• loss of sense of pain along with other bodily senses
• ability to read books without use of her eyes
Her living without food for weeks, months and years seemed to garner the most attention as she became one of The Fasting Girls of the 19th century. But what seems of greater significance was her ability to function without the use of her “normal” senses intact for long periods of time.
Mollie lost use of her usual senses - sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, but drew upon other sources to make up for the results of her injuries. This is somewhat like blind people developing acute hearing to compensate for loss of sight. But, Mollie lost all of her senses for a time and indeed made up for them in very unusual ways.
Paroptic Vision: Mollie Fancher lost her sight, yet she could “see” to read among other chores. This ability has been studied modestly over the decades in efforts toward explanation and to fit laboratory type scientific investigation. It has been called dermo-optical perception (also dermal vision, dermo-optics, eyeless sight, eyeless vision, skin vision, skin reading, finger vision, paroptic vision, para-optic perception, cutaneous perception, digital sight, and bio-introscopy). This ability has been known since the 17th century, but only in recent times has it been tested. The simple explanation has been that the blind and others can learn to “see” through their skin. Scientists don’t buy it as fact and have so far not accepted any kind of “proof” to support the idea. [Wikipedia]
Transposition of the Senses: “This extraordinary phenomenon was first reported by Tardy de Montravel. In his Essai sur la Theorie du Somnambulisme Magnetique (1785), he described how in his half-waking trance he could see with the ‘pit of his stomach.’ In 1808, Dr. Pététin reported in his book, Electricité Animale (1808), that he found the senses of taste, smell, and hearing also wandering from the pit of the stomach to the tip of the fingers and of the toes. Since then many similar cases have been recorded, especially with hysterical subjects.
“Cesare Lombroso carefully observed the phenomenon of eyeless sight. C. S. was a young girl who lost the power of vision, but as a compensation she ‘saw’ with the same degree of acuteness at the point of the nose and the left lobe of the ear. Her sense of smell was transposed under the chin and later to the back of the foot.” [Answers.com] These sorts of ability were also demonstrated by various “fasting girls” in the 1800s.
In recent times, people like Carol Ann Liaros (Project Blind Awareness) have taught blind and sighted people to use hands and skin to sense color, see without eyes, and enhance intuitive abilities.
Astral Vision: Paroptic vision and transposition of the senses are scientific or pseudo-scientific explanations of phenomena which people like Mollie Fancher exhibit. They only partially explain what happens in these people and not too well at that.
There is a better way to come to some understanding of how these people function than to say that they can teach different parts of their bodies to see or hear, etc. The better way comes through consideration of the astral body. This suggestion may scare some and upset scientific types, but it bears mentioning. Some day, this approach will be more understood, accepted and even commonly demonstrated. How long? Who knows?
The simple straightforward explanation is that we all have astral (emotional) and mental bodies in which we repair to the inner worlds every night during the hours of sleep. We then have neither eyes nor ears to sense anything. Rather the whole of these bodies are capable of receiving sensory information. The whole inner body sees, hears, feels, smells, and tastes. There are no specific sense organs.
Astral travelers have detailed how this works. “In the physical body, as we know, there are specialised organs for each sense, the eye for seeing, the ear for hearing, and so on. In the astral body, however, this is not the case.
“Consequently, any one astral sense is not, strictly speaking, localised or confined to any particular part of the astral body. It is rather the whole of the particles of the astral body which possess the power of response. A man, therefore, who has developed astral sight uses any part of the matter of his astral body in order to see, and so can see equally well objects in front, behind, above, below, or to either side. Similarly with all the other senses. In other words, the astral senses are equally active in all parts of the body.” (A.E. Powell, The Astral Body, p.34)
So, I suggest that when Mollie Fancher became physically blind and her other senses were detached, she merely took advantage of innate abilities of her astral body. Abilities that she and you and I use every night. You and I are not trained to bring back our nightly astral memories. Mollie was forced to use her inner potentials when her physical contacts with the outer were suddenly sundered.