In the following quote from Arthur Conan Doyle's History of Spiritualism, does "coming and going of their own accord" refer to "ectoplasmic forms"? What does "will to do" mean?

One observation which Olcott made was that these ectoplasmic forms were quick to obey any mental order from a strong-minded sitter, coming and going as they were willed to do. Other observers in various séances have noted the same fact, and it may be taken as one of the fixed points in this baffling problem.

Source: Arthur Conan Doyle: The History of Spiritualism (hosted by Project Gutenberg Australia).

  • Where did you read the phrase "coming and going on their own accord"? (By the way, it's usually "of their own accord" instead of "on ...".) Or did you mean to ask 'Does "coming and going as they were willed to do" refer to "ectoplasmic forms"?'?
    – Tsundoku
    Jun 27, 2020 at 20:52

2 Answers 2


"coming and going as they were willed to do" means that the ectoplasmic forms came and went however the "strong-willed sitter" mentally told them to. "To will someone to do something" is to make something happen by wishing for it (source)1. The strong-willed sitter wishes very hard for the ghosts to come or go, and they do.


In present-day English, the verb will is typically used as an auxiliary verb, either to express a future action or a habit; in these cases, it accompanies another verb.

In this passage from Doyle's The History of Spiritualism, "will" is used as a transitive verb. For example, as in the phrase "He willed me to do it", which means "He strongly wanted me to do it". However, in the context of the above passage from Doyle's book, "will" has a slightly different implication, since you cannot simply tell or convince a substance (the "ectoplasmic forms"; cf. ectoplasm to do something or to move in a move in a specific direction.

What Olcott is describing (according to Doyle) is that a person ("a strong-minded sitter") used their mind to move those substances; in other words, that person "willed" those substances to move. This is obviously only possible if you believe in telekinesis or psychokinesis.

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