Illustrated magazine article - April 3rd 1948
"100 years of Spiritualism"
Photos include: Willi Schneider, Katie King, a Leslie Flint séance,
Winifred Moyes, Frank Leah, Estelle Roberts, Harry Price, William Lilley,
Geraldine Cummins, Annie Eva Faye, Helen Ducan, Donald West.
(full text below)
Illustrated magazine - April 3rd 1948
Photo: [top] The trance circle starts, at a sitting in the home of a Muswell Hill widow Mrs. Augusta Frankel. Herself an amateur medium, Mrs. Frankel makes no money from her sitters. Here, in the semi-darkness, after an introductory hymn and prayer, they sit with closed eyes in silence until the medium has entered a trance. In the circle, left to right, are: Mrs. Frankel, Joseph Thomason, a Southport bricklayer, who has been developing psychic powers for twelve years ; a young woman who works as a storekeeper; Albert Daniels, a storeman who is expanding his mediumship; an engineer just starting his career as a medium; Teddy Frankel, Mrs. Frankel's son, a ‘powerful healer,’ according to his mother.
100 YEARS OF SPIRITUALISM
Photographed by R. SAIDMAN Described by CHARLES REID
While sceptics scoff, avowed spiritualists in all parts of the world, including
50,000 in Britain, are now celebrating the hundredth birthday of their movement.
Photo: [bottom] It all began when Katie Fox (left) and Margaretta, her sister, heard “rappings” in [their] American home.
On the night of March 31, 1848, Margaretta Fox, aged fourteen, and her sister Katie, aged twelve, heard unaccountable rappings about their home, a farmhouse at Hydesville, Wayne County, New York. They told each other the rapper must be a “spirit,’’ and found an extremely silly name for him, Mr. Splitfoot. “Now, Mr. Splitfoot,” said Katie, “do as I do.”
She clapped her hands four times. Mr. Splitfoot obligingly rapped four times in reply. The Fox parents were called in and, later, the neighbours. Between them they fixed a code. Somebody read the alphabet aloud, and the unseen Mr. Splitfoot, rapping at the proper letters, laboriously spelled out his story. He was Charles B. Rosma, a pedlar. Five years earlier he had been murdered by the then tenant of the house and buried in the cellar.
The story had its snags. Nobody in Wayne County had heard of Charles B. Rosma. (“His name may have ‘come over’ wrong,” explain later apologists. “It may have been Ross or Rosmer. Surprising how easy it is for spirits to make mistakes with people’s names, even their own.”) Nor was there any independent evidence of murder. But townsfolk digging in the Fox cellar during the summer of 1848 came upon, what were described as, human remains. Fifty-six years later the Boston journal reported that a complete human skeleton had been found nearby; and a whoop of vindication went up from the Spiritualists of two continents, who had come to accept the Fox sisters as the major prophets of their cause.
Margaretta’s powers, especially, baffled scientists for a generation or more. No sooner did she lay her hand upon tree trunk, pane of glass, cab roof or theatre floor, than a triple knock or thud, inexplicable on normal grounds, was heard from beneath or within. Investigators sat her in a swing, put her in a cage, stood her on a chair, held her feet and hands, yet raps, knocks and thuds went on just the same. Her life was turbulent. She bickered with her elder sister, drank too much, publicly denounced Spiritualism as fraud and trickery, then recanted a year later, and died (1893) in squalor.
There had, of course, been ghostly knockings long before Margaretta’s day. Yet the Hydesville incidents were a genuine starting point. They released a sort of occult avalanche. It was as though the whole of North America had been awaiting the Hydesville signal to give itself up to a spooks orgy. Table rapping became a universal craze. “Rappomania” it was called. As early as 1852, according to an English observer, there were thirty thousand mediums in the States and three hundred “magnetic circles” (or Spiritualist groups) in Philadelphia alone. Two years later Judge Edmonds, an early convert, estimated, after a nation-wide lecture tour, that the Spiritualists of America numbered no less than three million.
Photo 1: [top left] A negroid expression changes the features of medium Albert Daniels at a “Trance Circle” held by Mrs. Frankel (see previous page). One of his controls – the spirit of an African – takes charge of his personality. Joseph Thomason shows a somewhat similar “transfiguration”.
Photo 2: [top right] A Chinese guide takes over from the African control of Albert Daniels. His face assumes an Oriental expression and his tall figure seems to shrink, to suggest a shorter man. The piping Chinese voice comes through, high and querulous, utterly unlike the African guide.
SPRITUALISM – continued
Since then the mediums have piled wonder on wonder. Many of the wonders have been exposed as fake. Others survive more or less unchallenged, a cast-iron residue. A Victorian medium, Daniel Dunglas Home, had an accordion which was played mostly by an unseen agency, occasionally by visible but ghostly hands. Home’s performances were checked by hard-headed watchers, among them a chairman of the London Stock Exchange. In the eighteen-seventies, William Crookes, the scientist-inventor, a man not in the habit of deluding himself or others, used forty-four negatives and five cameras simultaneously on a strapping “materialization”’ called Katie King, ostensibly a visitor from the spirit world, who had a long, cold, clammy hand and a steady pulse rate.
In 1929-30 the Austrian medium, Rudi Schneider, sat motionless and under triple control while luminous waste-paper baskets, handbells, detached hands and chill breezes hovered and blew about him. The Schneider phenomena were observed and endorsed as genuine by that veteran exposer of fakes, Harry Price, of the National Laboratory for Psychic Research – “the notorious Mr. Price,” as some of the true believers call him.
Nowadays the newcomer to Spiritualism is dampeningly warned not to expect much in the way of freak and fun. A spokesman of the Spiritualists’ National Union (of five hundred affiliated “churches” and 18,500 members) said: “The physical phenomena of Spiritualism have declined in scope and power. The religious and philosophical aspects of the subject have assumed greater importance.” Spiritualist churches, so called, are of a wide range. Many are hired rooms over shops or garages, with bentwood chairs, cottage pianos and pious lithographs on the walls. Others have pews, lectern, harmonium, a sacred smell of varnish in a carpeted sanctuary and a vague atmosphere of Nonconformity.
The Nonconformist model is also evident in the sermons, impromptu prayers and hymns. The latter often have Spiritualist words fitted to stock tunes. The more prospering churches can usually afford a visiting medium and a visiting speaker most Sundays. Elsewhere, the medium and speaker are one and the same. His or her fee is said to be as low as seven shillings and sixpence, plus travel expenses.
“Fake mediums operating outside the movement,” says the S.N.U., “can make comfortable incomes. Professional mediums, tested and certificated by experts, get less money, on the whole, than council employees or policemen. The work is far from easy and imposes great strains. In the course of time a medium often finds that his > > > >
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Picture 1: [left] Many objects were levitated by Stanislawa Tomezyk, the widow of Hon. F. Feilding. Later she forsook Spiritualism.
Picture 2: [2nd left] Willi Schneider, one of the famous Austrian brothers, is tightly controlled during a séance in 1921. His powers later waned.
Picture 3: The “Katie King” materialization was photographed by Sir William Crookes in 1873. The pictures convinced Crookes.
Picture 4: [right] Accused of Black Magic, Daniel Dunglas Home, the famous medium, lived from 1833-1886. Here he is as Hamlet, at a poetry reading.
Photo 1: [top left] Spirit Guides converse through unconscious mediums and both produce a flood of African dialect. Although entranced and unaware of anything going on, Albert Daniels and Joseph Thomason seem able to avoid hitting their heads on the chandelier or stepping on the toes of sitters.
Photo 2: [top right] Demonstration over, Albert sits down and although still entranced, the transfiguration starts to fade from his face. Joseph carries on. The African control has left and he speaks in the thin tones of child or old woman. This control always causes amusement in the circle.
Photo 3: [bottom] The setting is the Kingsway Hall, London, and most of the five shilling or two shilling and sixpenny seats are booked in advance. A ‘direct voice” demonstration is being conducted by Leslie Flint of the “Temple of Light.” Mr Flint is behind the black curtain, inside the cabinet on the platform, and microphones outside will relay the message. The audience enjoys quips from Flint’s Cockney control, Mickey, who quips: ‘Blimey, don’t rush me. There’s a bloke here what says he’s called Shilling. What’s your first name – Bob...Tanner? Make it half a Crown.”
Photo 1: [top left] In the Sanctuary at headquarters of the Greater World Christian Spiritualist League in Holland Park, founder of the League, Miss Winifred Moyes, stands under a painting of her guide, Zodiac. A blancmange-like glass shade is lit with a blue light to soothe visitors’ nerves.
Photo 2: [top right] Psychic portraiture by Frank Leah. He is working in oils on a picture of the late husband of Mrs. Sutton, from a psychic sketch he produced following a telephone talk with the widow. Inset pictures show a photograph of the dead man and the original sketch made by Frank Leah.
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Photo a. [left] Medium Mrs. Estelle Roberts has as her spirit guide the Indian, Red Cloud.
Photo b. [2nd left] At a Bloomsbury meeting she tells a mother her son “met Aunt Lizzie and William and Mary”
Photo c. Then she picks out another woman to tell her that her husband is “here” on the platform.
Photo d. [right] Besieged by spirits, Mrs. Roberts calms them with asides: “All right, darling, I'll tell her”
SPRITUALISM – continued
> > > > powers are leaving him. We have a benevolent fund for mediums in adversity.”
The medium’s job is to go into trance and become a “go-between” – the audience on one side, the spirit world on the other. According to some exponents, the spirit world is rather like a Soviet park of rest and culture, with a dash of a Denham film set added. There are domed pleasure halls, lots of athletics, fountains, twittering birds, endless sunshine and nicely served vegetable meals. Some mediums have spoken also of astral cigars and whisky. At sessions on weekdays, hymn singing and prayers are usually discarded, so that the medium, the attendant “spirit guide” and the audience may concentrate frankly on intimations from beyond the Veil (or the Great Divide).
There are mediums who, when in trance, apparently speak with voices not their own. Some jabber in what purport to be Negro, Chinese, or Red Indian dialects. The audience is edified – and does not understand a word. Often the medium’s features become twisted to match his or her speech. A housewife from a London suburb suddenly looks Mongolian. A little man dressed like a bank clerk will become negroid about the lips and nose. There is, of course, nothing at all supernatural about facial play.
The visiting medium gives private sittings – “ for guidance or assistance with problems,” according to the S.N.U. definition. For these (again according to the S.N.U.), he charges from half a crown to twenty-five shillings or thirty shillings. The great demand among rank-and-file supporters is for messages from relatives who have passed over, or passed beyond. One of Britain’s most courted practitioners is positively mobbed by “spirits” when on the platform. She has to curb their eager messages for people in the audience with soothing, motherly phrases – “All right, darling. I'll tell your mother. Yes, I’ll tell her. Just a moment, dear.” The spirits are made to queue, as it were. It is all very jolly – and respectful.
During the war there were scandals here and there. A mother would seek news about a son posted missing. One medium would say, “Your son’s dead”; another, “Your son’s alive.” In November, 1943, Psychic News, the leading Spiritualist organ in this country, printed a “warning to all mediums” against raising the hopes of anxious sitters. It was stressed that truth > > > >
Photo: [bottom right] Psychic Investigator Harry Price constructs an apparatus in the workshop of his Sussex home to test phenomena produced by mediums or in haunted houses. He has been researching for thirty years and is member of the Magicians Club, and the Ghosts Club.
Photo 1: [top left] Osteopathic treatment for chronic disease of the spine is given by Dr. Letari, a Hindu who “passed over” in 1914 and now heals through his medium, Mr. William Lilley, at the Letari Nursing Home, off Wimpole Street. Mr. Lilley works in trance, a condition he assumes with ease.
Photo 2: [top right] Automatic writing is gift in which Miss Geraldine Cummins (right) specializes. She started experiments in 1923 with her friend Miss E. B. Gibbes (left). Miss Gibbes sits by the side of Miss Cummins and renews the paper before her hand continues writing on the table.
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Photo a. [left] Mrs. Roberts listens to the evidence from a spirit. She has been a popular public medium since 1920.
Photo b. [2nd left] She tells a wife: “Your husband was with you recently when you were folding his grey suit”
Photo c.“Yes, dear, I'll tell her. ...” Mrs. Roberts assures the spirit, who is standing beside her on platform.
Photo b. [right] “A child is running about. I think she passed over from meningitis.”
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- Researchers declare that there is another side to the story of Spiritualism -
Picture 1: [left] A fake tool used by the American, Annie Eva Fay. Although bound by her wrists and ankles, the 'medium' could free one hand by sliding the entire block of wood from side of the stool with ties still attached. In the dark she could rattle a tambourine, then slip the block back.
Picture 2: [centre] Infra-red photograph of so-called “ectoplasm” issuing from Helen Duncan, taken by Harry Price in 1931 and shown to the jury in the 1944 trial when the medium was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment under the Witchcraft Act.
Picture 3: [right] This cupboard, at the Society for Psychical Research, contains plaster casts of hands, a toy zither and a harp played at séances, and yards of art silk produced as ectoplasm. The officer [Donald West] is holding a large photograph of spirit thumbprint in wax.
SPIRITUALISM – continued
> > > > and frankness are, in the end, the best guides.
The cautious note is sounded also by the powerful Marylebone Spiritualist Association (5,500 members in Greater London). “It must never be forgotten,” says a Marylebone brochure, “that even the best mediums are liable to make mistakes... It is unwise to press a medium for any particular piece of information or to gain contact with any particular person who has passed over.”
The fashion now is for spiritual generalities. Nobody is more scathing about abuses of the cult than Miss Winifred Moyes, founder of the Greater World Spiritualist Association (twenty-six thousand members, hundreds of affiliated “churches,” three hundred diploma-holding mediums). “Some of the guides of the popular commercial mediums,” says Miss Moyes, “get their information around the astral gutters.”
The G.W.S.A. has a sanctuary in Holland Park. A basement printing-press runs off multilingual propaganda sheets and magazines which are mailed all over the world by volunteers, mostly elderly women. Above is a sanctuary with stained glass windows. Here hangs a portrait, painted under “spirit control” by a helper who had never used the brush before, of Miss Moyes’s spirit guide, Zodiac, who has a white headdress, white beard, pectoral cross and the general air of somebody in a Sunday School pageant. “Zodiac,” says Miss Moyes, “was a priest in the temple at the time of our Lord.”
At least once a week Miss Moyes goes into trance and becomes the channel for a discourse by “Zodiac” which is taken down in short-hand for the printer, by a friend of both parties, Miss Margaret Hoare. To unenlightened eyes, Zodiac’s pronouncements are windy and platitudinous. The English is pseudo-Biblical. It abounds in such archaisms as “naught”, “perchance”. “oft” and “hearken”. C.W.S.A. followers listen to it all with the utmost zeal and reverence.
Mediumship takes bewildering forms. Frank Leah, the artist medium, draws portraits hailed as realistic of persons now dead whom he never saw in life. His mental communion with absent people is claimed to be such that at times he suffers their ailments. “The other day,” he said casually, “I experienced my fourth Caesarian operation.”
In a West End clinic, guided, as he asserts, by the spirit of a Hindu physician who died in 1914, an unassuming young man, William Lilley, diagnoses ailments ranging from coughs to cancer. You can obtain pills from him at a nominal price which carry “the thought vibrations” from the dead Hindu.
The Marylebone Spiritualists are keen on “absent healing.” Sufferers write in about
their symptoms. Their letters are distributed by the “director of healing” among a team of eighty healers, who concentrate long-range “psychic power” upon their patients at prearranged hours. The patient is supposed to relax and “make contact” at the same time as the healer is “tuning in.” Patients, oddly, do not always keep up to scratch. Frank Tolkin, of the Greater World outfit, is always complaining that those who use the Greater World healing service are often slack in keeping headquarters posted about their progress.
Hundreds, probably thousands, of Spiritualist “home circles” meet weekly in all parts of the country – groups of half a dozen or more (sometimes including members of the same family) – at least one of them with mediumistic powers or aspirations, all of them thirsting after “phenomena.” Defining home circles as “the backbone of the movement,” a spokesman of the Spiritualists’ National Union gave the following definite rules for the conduct of members:
Bare floors and bare chairs are more conducive to phenomena than carpets and cushions. The sexes are usually mixed, as at a dinner party. But a heavy meal before sitting is unwise! Cleanliness (“mental and spiritual as well as physical”) is of the utmost importance. Radio or gramophone music helps. The sitters often sing in harmony “to help the vibrations.” The general atmosphere is religious, sittings open with a prayer and end with a benediction. Spirits often joke and the sitters join in. “After all, there’s nothing wrong with a little harmless humour.” Lights are usually subdued. For physical phenomena – soaring tables, flying trumpets, handkerchiefs that tie themselves in knots and the like – absolute darkness is necessary. Mental phenomena can be obtained quite freely in coloured light and even by ordinary electric light.
Spiritualism’s claim to be a religion is strongly contested in various quarters, especially the Roman Catholic Church – “our bitterest opponent,” says the S.N.U.. The Roman Catholic Church forbids the general body of the faithful to take any part in Spiritualist practices. Upon the essential nature of Spiritualist phenomena the Church has not pronounced, but the possibility is stressed that they may on occasion be the work of diabolical agency.
A criticism often made by the plain man is that the “revelations” of Spiritualism are too often trivial or woolly, and that, as a rule, they do not rise above the medium’s mental level and background. On the other hand, it is admitted that things do happen at sittings, from time to time, which the plain man finds it extremely hard to explain.
“Air-raid? No. He attended a Spiritualist séance and got in touch with his wife again.”