Spiritual, Paranormal & Metaphysical Magazine

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle And The Victorian Séance

Paul Cissell 21 May 2014 comments
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle And The Victorian Séance

Through his associates Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had gained an avid interest in Spiritualism regularly attending meetings by mediums. Back in those days spiritualism was not quite as we understand it today; it was merely the meetings held by mediums claiming to be in contact with those from another realm, a spirit realm. Today Spiritualism is a belief or religious practice based on supposed communication with the spirits of the dead; many people attend these meetings by going to Spiritualist Churches and many refer to themselves as Spiritualists much in the same way as people refer to themselves to being Catholic or Christian. What upsets many outside the movement are not so much their beliefs but more of the practice of communication with the dead within their spiritual services.

Sir Arthur was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on the 22nd May 1859 but as young boy moved to Southsea on the south coast of England. And in 1882 he established his own medical practice in Portsmouth and in 1887 his first Sherlock Holmes story was published.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

But through his associations one the most significant aspects of Sir Arthurs work was his conversion to the cause of spiritualism. Over time he became one of the world’s leading voices of the spiritualist movement and this became more apparent, especially after the First World War, when, like many people of his time, he lost close friends and family members as a result of the war.

Much of Sir Arthur’s later life had been devoted to spreading the word of spiritualism across the world, through his public speaking and lectures and the articles and books written. He began to tour the world speaking about what he saw personally as the ‘truth’ of séances, mediums, and visitations from the dead. But were these truths really truths or was it that he himself had become deluded and conned into believing that some of these Mediums really could connect and bring forward physical manifestation of a spirit being.

The more research I did for the project I started to understand more about the man himself, I began to see that he wasn’t some kind of fanatic but genuinely believed that Mediums really could speak to the dead. So what had convinced him! Much has been written about why he believed in this form of communication, some say it was through drug taking and a sense of loneliness others that he rebelled away from his own religious upbringing, I guess we may never really know for sure, but as a working Medium myself, I genuinely believe in having the ability to communicate in this way and understand that it is performed through co operation and love. Yet there are those who would still disagree and say it was impossible and will endeavour to explain it all away, I was deluding myself or that it was only the work of the Devil allowing this to take place and that God would never allow just a travesty.

So to mark the opening of a permanent research centre for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, which took place last February of this year it was decided that we would reconstruct a Victorian séance using an original concept that had be created by Norie Miles, a close personal friend and colleague, along with the help of Dr.Ciaran O’Keeffe, mind Magician Sean Boon and Jonathan Fost.

So work began on recreating a typical Victorian séance as would have been visited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the séance was designed to take the modern day audience on a journey back through time to the Victorian parlours and a journey with Arthur Conan Doyle to discover how many of the ‘manifestations’ and supernatural revelations could have been created through entirely human means, leaving the audience pondering as to what they have actually been witness too!

In the modern world physical Mediumship is still very much alive, sadly there is a lack of publicly demonstrating physical mediums in the UK although we shouldn’t forget there are many home run circles where many mediums and sitters are working with their Spirit helpers and controls and developing their gifts in pursuit of physical phenomena.

So what would you expect to see if you attended one of these forms of demonstrations, well hopefully you might witness partial or full materialisation of a spirit being through the use of ectoplasm created from the body of the medium, transfiguration, an overshadowing of the spirit person being crossed across the body or face of the medium, independent voice, being that of the spirit beings actual voice rather than that of the Medium and the production of apports where objects would appear and disappear seemingly of their own accord.

Back in Victorian times but still used in the modern day would be the use of a cabinet designed to house the medium during the trance like state, often this would be a box just large enough for the medium to sit in it and would often be blacked out. Some say to hide the mediums tricks, others as this helps to confine the great deal of energy needed to produce the phenomena for physical Mediumship.

So why is physical Mediumship not demonstrated publicly as it was, well it has been proven that many of the manifestations back in Victorian times were actually created by human means and not by visiting spirit beings, we ourselves in our own public experiment showed how easy it was to fool the public into believing that these apports could be real.

The other reason is that it takes many years of hard work and self discipline to develop yourself for physical Mediumship, there are some few mediums that are quite natural but the stress that can be placed on the physical body and emotional state of mind can be quite over powering and unlike mental Mediumship, the type that is seen in many of today’s Spiritualist churches physical Mediumship is still very much behind closed doors and often you would have to be invited in.

During the four months it took to put this project together, there were many times when I felt as if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s presence and influence was around me guiding me forward showing me where to look, almost as if he wanted this to go ahead.

I found it fascinating to hold and read letters that he himself had once written and to see family photos of him with his friends and his family. One such notable friend was the mind magician Harry Houdini, not his real name of course who was also keen to investigate the possibility of contacting the dead.

The two men formed a strong friendship over many years but later in life the friendship crumbled after many private and very public battles but it would appear that what really lead them to fall out was over Sir Arthur’s wife performed a séance where she claimed to commune with the escapologist’s dead Mother. Harry Houdini then claimed that the whole thing was nothing more than a fraud. After that he dedicated much of his life trying to debunk spiritualist and mediums much to the anger of Sir Arthur and the true believers.

Harry Houdini died in October 1926, but the circumstances surrounding his death left many unanswered questions. There had been claims that he had been poisoned and that Sir Arthur had been behind this or rather his circle of associates may have been. So had he died of very natural causes or was he murdered as some suggest!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s importance within the history of spiritualism cannot be overestimated. Just days after his death, a spiritualist meeting at the Royal Albert Hall was organized so that he could make one final appearance. It would appear that thousands attended, including Lady Conan Doyle and several his children. A row of chairs was arranged on the stage for the family, with one left empty for Sir Arthur himself. Yet he did not himself appear and manifest at the séance as it was hoped for but there were still many people in the audience who claimed they had felt his presence moving among them as I had during my time getting to know him and his work.

The weeks after our successful Victorian séance I spoke to many people who had attended, we had hired a venue for 80 seats thinking that we would be lucky to fill 30 of those seats yet the demand was so great we could have almost filled the hall again, so is there still a great fascination for wanting to attend these forms of séances, has nothing really changed since those early Victorian parlour séances or as most people reported back to me, “ We knew we wasn’t going to see any real manifestation and we knew that what we was going to see was mere illusion, but we still wanted to go and see for ourselves. So were the Victorian audiences any dissimilar and is this why so many are disappointed and come way from these meetings so disheartened when we don’t have contact and don’t experience for ourselves

This is an argument that will rage for a long time yet between those devoted believers and those who claim that they too can do what all mediums do and show their audience that it is all just a mere illusion. For those who seek genuine after life communication that proof will never have to prove itself!

© Paul Cissell 2011


Paul Cissell

Paul Cissell

Paul Cissell is one of the south coast of England’s popular evidential psychic mediums. Paul’s work takes him worldwide and delves into the realms of trance mediumship and soul rescue. Paul brings a refreshing vibrancy as he sails between many realms searching for genuine afterlife communication.

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