Walter John Kilner was a medical electrician at St. Thomas Hospital in London. From 1879 to 1893 he was in charge of electrotherapy. He wrote papers on a range of subjects but is today best remembered for his study The Human Atmosphere. In his spare time he was a keen chess player.
In 1911 he published one of the first western medical studies of the Human Atmosphere or Aura, proposing its existence, nature and possible use in medical diagnosis and prognosis. Kilner attempted to invent devices by which the naked eye might be trained to observe auric activity which, he hypothesised, was probably ultraviolet radiation, stating that the phenomena he saw were not affected by electromagnets.
Glass slides or “Kilner Screens” containing alcoholic solutions of variously coloured dyes, including a blue dye called dicyanin, were used as filters in “Kilner Goggles” which, together with lights, were held to train the eyes to perceive electromagnetic radiation outside the normal spectrum of visible light. After being so trained, one could dispense with the apparatus. Kilner did not recommend merely viewing the subject through these lenses.
According to his study, Kilner and his associates were able to perceive auric formations which he called the Etheric Double, the Inner Aura and the Outer Aura, extending several inches from patients’ naked bodies, and his book gave instructions by which the reader might construct and use similar goggles.
The only drawbacks to Kilner’s method are the scarcity and toxicity of the chemicals he recommended. Later, Oscar Bagnall recommended substituting the dye pinacyanol (dissolved in triethanolamine) but this dye is also not easy to obtain. Lindgren states that cobalt blue and purple glass may be substituted for the dyes used by Kilner and Bagnall.
Kilner’s book was greeted with scepticism as well as enthusiasm. In 1920 a revised edition of his book was published and sympathetically reviewed. Kilner’s work was well-timed for the heyday of Theosophy and his findings were incorporated into Arthur E. Powell’s book The Etheric Double. Powell rightly made clear that Kilner had expressly differentiated between his own work and the clairvoyance and eastern systems of spiritualism.