Geraldine Cummins

Authoress, daughter of the late Professor Ashley Cummins of Cork, Ireland, remarkable automatic writer. Received communications alleged to emanate from Phillip the Evangelist, Cleophas and F. W. H. Myers. The fourth book of Miss Cummins, 'The Road to Immortality', a series of communications which F. W. H. Myers claims to have sent through, gives a stupendous vision of the progression of the human spirit through eternity. Oliver Lodge, in his preface pays the following tribute, "I believe this to be a genuine attempt to convey approximately true ideas, through an amanuensis of reasonable education, characterised by ready willingness for devoted service, and of transparent honesty".

My Personal Background

- Geraldine Cummins -

          I HAVE always disliked looking at my face in a mirror, but my collaborator in this book insists that I must face the mirror of time by relating some autobiographical facts, since they may be helpful to the reader of the Cummins-Willett scripts.

I am an author. Fifteen of my twenty-two published books have been 'transmitted', or produced by 'automatic' writing. Of the rest seven have been consciously produced; five of them have Irish themes and setting; two deal with aspects of psychical research.

I am also a playwright. Four plays, three of them written in collaboration with S. R. Day, have been performed either in two London theatres or at the Abbey Theatre and elsewhere in Éire [Ireland]. I have also over the years contributed articles, short stories and book reviews to various periodicals in England, U.S.A. and Éire. It is necessary to make this statement as I have been quite often described as 'a well-known film star', (who has the same surname) or other professions have been alleged to be mine.

However, with twenty-two books to my name I have come of age at last and, therefore, should be regarded as a responsible person in respect of statements I make about myself. This preface is necessarily brief and much has been omitted from a life crowded with various activities. But I must in self-defence emphatically deny the practice of one of several professions assigned to me as the livelihood producing my daily bread.

In 1932 a book of mine entitled The Road to Immortality was published. Shortly after its appearance I was invited to lecture at Brighton to a psychic research society. In due course its secretary sent me a notice of the meeting that had been posted to 200 members of it. On the notice was printed 'Speaker Miss Geraldine Cummins, writer of The Road to Immorality, fifteen years' experience'. Needless to say, when I arrived at the Pavilion, Brighton, I found awaiting me a packed audience, many standing. Never before nor since have I at a lecture been met with such enthusiasm and warm applause as at that Brighton gathering.

But now I must revert from this gay episode in my life to graver matters, at any rate to an author.

The technique of composition has always been of deep interest to me, and when I was a young Irishwoman it developed on two lines. (1) The composition was the creation of my conscious mind. (2) It was derived from the unconscious. In the former case I write very slowly and laboriously and have to revise the MS again and again. A short story has taken my conscious mind a month to compose. To be of any literary value my published stories and novels and one Biography have had to be about Irish characters and my native country Ireland. On the conscious mind level I have tried and failed to write about English people. I did not know them sufficiently well to make their characters come alive in fiction. They remained foreigners to me.

But when my writing was derived from the unconscious it has been a very different affair. The theme was never Ireland or the Irish people. For instance, certain English and American persons' characters and personalities, unknown to me, were reported by their relatives or friends to have been successfully delineated in such writing. Its composition emerged from the deeper levels of mind, so much so it seemed as if I were merely a secretary taking down an already fully composed narrative by another author, and my pen travelled over page after page with abnormal rapidity. Various authors, notably William Blake the poet, have had that strange experience of dictated writing. We cannot explain it. But in my case such transmitted writing (a more correct term than 'automatic writing') led me into psychical research.

I use the adjective transmitted to define it because my conscious mind is suspended, plays no part in the communication. Whatever the source of such writings, i.e. a subconscious or a common unconscious mind, or a discarnate individual's mind I have not composed a single sentence of those rapidly written scripts when provided.

As to origins I am wholly Celtic, that is to say I am descended from Irish people with a slight blend of a very occasional Norman or English ancestor; but not one Cromwellian settler in Ireland figures in my racial past. I have spent the greater part of my life in the southernmost portion of Ireland and was born at 17 St. Patrick's Place, Cork. As I was preceded by four sons my arrival on this planet was welcomed with some enthusiasm by my parents.

According to modern standards, my own education was negligible. I never went to school. Three of my younger sisters and I received instruction successively from two uneducated resident English governesses and finally a French mademoiselle. Later to satisfy my hungry imagination I sought and found for myself the Cork Public Library. I eagerly searched its catalogue and read voraciously mostly fiction and Irish tales and plays.

I was ten years old on the to me notable occasion my father took a house in the country, set in well-wooded grounds, for his large family. So when my elder brothers were on holidays from Public schools my second sister and I played football, cricket and hurling with them and other boys. Also we were employed as woodcutters, and I used the axe chopping logs and pulled at the double saw, became 'a tomboy' as a girl was described in those days who followed masculine pursuits.

Actually my interest in psychical research was first roused when I was about five years old. For then my father's coachman John Dempsey related to me with deep sincerity tales of fairies he had seen and of rather terrifying ghosts he had perceived. Better than any story books were the accounts of experiences he and my very Irish nurse exchanged with each other. Also my mother took a secret interest in any such phenomena.

So in our garden and a dark cellar I diligently searched for fairies and very recklessly for ghosts. Their alleged alarming appearance only stimulated my craving to meet them. Alas, despite my thorough searching, I did not see one of them. It was my first failure in an experiment in psychical research. Bitterly disappointed I became a complete sceptic. But the ghost tales told me in picturesque Irish dialogues did, perhaps, help to sow the seed in my subconscious mind of a desire to plumb these mysteries, though other pursuits buried it for a time.

My subsequent interest in psychic science was much reinforced, I think, through my family background of medical science. My paternal grandfather was a physician, my father Professor of Medicine at the National University, Ireland, his two brothers were professors in medical subjects at universities. Two brothers and two sisters of mine are members of the medical profession and three of them are Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians, Ireland. My youngest sister, the late Phyllis Hayes was a British Government senior experimenter in peaceful atomic research. Another sister of mine was the second woman to obtain a civil engineering degree and the first woman to be made a member of the Irish Institute of Civil Engineers.

My four strong-minded sisters broke through all the barriers to a woman's University training, then in Irish society looked at askance, and in the course of time each one loaded herself up with three University degrees. In contrast to them I only went up for one examination in my life and that was for shorthand. I passed for ninety words a minute. My success was such that I never went up for another exam. But with our background of Medical Science all of us children were brought up in an analytical atmosphere with a kind of religious respect for exact truthful statement in scientific research; there was to be no loading of the dice for emotional or personal reasons. Absorbed in his profession my father in my youth often used to discourse to me at length about his medical cases and medical science. Doubtless through this paternal influence I am still what I described myself at the age of seven, 'a very curious person', that is to say a person who wants to know the truth concerning life and death however disagreeable it may be.

But it was in the field of athletics I first sought to follow in my father's footsteps. In his youth he had won fame as a Rugby football international player. So when I was eighteen I won my place on the Irish Women's International Hockey Team.

My mother was a clever fascinating person I would not distress for worlds, so as she was horrified by my ardent wish to emulate my father further by seeking to qualify as a physician, I took to the elusive pursuit of literature and to work for Votes for Women. I wrote stories that were published in magazines and I collaborated with my friend Miss S. R. Day in writing an Irish peasant tragedy called Broken Faith. Then, at the age of twenty-two, I experienced the youthful bliss of witnessing this play being rehearsed by the poet W. B. Yeats and the playwright Lennox Robinson at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

Alas, only once in my life have I seen a ghost, one very welcome to me. Nevertheless my interest in them originally roused by John Dempsy's vivid tales may have led to my own psychic experiments beginning when in the later years of World War One I was a paying guest in the house of Mrs. Hester Dowden in Lower Fitz William Street, Dublin. By day I had a small job in the vaults of the National Library, where I was peacefully occupied in cataloguing eighteenth-century sermons of inordinate length. The daughter of an internationally famous scholar, Hester was a cultured woman, a brilliant musician and a remarkable medium. So we occupied our evenings in the company of others with either music, or the literary gossip of the Dublin salon of that day, or in psychic experiments on the ouija board. Among those who attended our sittings was a young man back from the Serbian front, Mr. E. R. Dodds, later Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford University and finally in 1961-2 President of the Society for Psychical Research (the SPR). His was an extremely wholesome sceptical influence. He has a keen sense of humour and youthful though he was then, did not mind Hester calling him 'the Universal Question Mark'.

Under her tuition I began to get messages on the ouija board. At first I was very sceptical as on that ouija board there were many statements made obviously traceable to my subconscious mind. But on page 131 of my book Unseen Adventures is recorded an early successful experiment through my communicator, my alleged guide or control Astor reading correctly one evening the emotional thoughts, etc. in Hester's mind when she was absent from Dublin in London. The sitters present were Professor E. R. Dodds, Mr. Row, a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and an Army Officer.

Incidentally, I dislike the word 'control', commonly used in psychic research for the guardian caretaker of a medium. Mine, Astor, has never controlled me. I prefer that long gone medium Socrates's own name for his subliminal caretaker, which was 'Daimon'.

But my interest in the exploration of the capabilities of the human mind began when Hester Dowden and I embarked on a number of experiments in psychometry or object reading with a collector of ancient jewellery, Mr. Henry Bois. He brought rings and other precious objects to our sittings. Both she and I obtained a number of correct impressions of fragments of their history from them. These were all carefully recorded and a few of them were published in Voices from the Void by Hester Travers Smith.

At the first experiment I was given a plain gold ring to hold and obtained from it a brief resume of Napoleon's adventurous career and finally his name. Its owner Mr. Bois stated afterwards that it was Napoleon Bonaparte's coronation ring. I was puzzled about this and our other successful object readings of Mr. Bois's jewels in regard to the mental process involved. In my case, I had merely concentrated on stillness and listening as a stenographer does to dictation, and these correct statements relating to the history of the object touched by me or held wandered into my brain in words. I did not know from one sentence to another what would come. But it all made sense when the record was read.

This capacity of mine for reading objects served myself and others well later on in my research work.

During the past twenty-five years I have taken part in occasional experiments that come under the heading of Medical Psychology. A Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Ireland, writing under the pseudonym of Connell is the author of a book Healing the Mind. In it he has described some of our earlier experiments in which I was employed by him as an object reader. He used me as an intermediary to investigate through transmitted writing the psychological backgrounds of patients in cases of obscure neurosis. Thus was disclosed the conflicts etc. in the patients' subconscious minds. We have had a very high percentage of successes - in several cases through the treatment presented in my Scripts of 'Abreaction', unknown to me until I read Dr. Sargeant's book two years ago Battle of the Mind. The feature of our cures was the rapidity of each patient's recovery, which was immediate or almost immediate, and the cures were usually found to be lasting when reviewed in later years. Several of the sufferers treated seemed hopeless cases which psychiatrists had previously failed to cure.

Some of our successes were of patients, victims of either claustrophobia, asthma, amnesia, periodic self-starvation, periodic attacks of alcoholism, melancholia, or of various obsessional fears that menaced with ruin the careers of able-bodied men and women. I never saw the patients. Usually a sheet of his or her hand-writing and an object he or she had worn were posted to me and I worked alone upon them in the absence of the physician. Using the analysis I secured, Dr. Connell employed the medical psychological methods, explaining and discussing with the patient the causes of the illness and its treatment, which my investigations had disclosed.

Certain skilled sensitives or mediums have been very useful to the community in various branches of the subject, too long to relate here. But a man described as 'an intellectual' recently in an ignorant article finally dismissed psychical research with the remark 'I cannot see the use of mediums'. Dr. Connell and I have proved that a sensitive can be of valuable service to medical psychology in restoring to health sufferers from obscure psychoses mainly through what is called psychometry or object reading. Certain patients have been thus rescued from ruin and despair.

I must add that I have no medical qualifications. I am simply employed as a masseuse by a physician. So no patient should apply to me about his case.

I was engaged on literary journalism when soon after my father's death in 1923 I met Miss E. B. Gibbes in Chelsea. It is entirely thanks to E.B.G. as I shall call her that I was able among my various occupations to work seriously at psychic research over many ensuing years. She was a member of the SPR (Society for Psychical Research) and had thoroughly studied the critical methods they employed at that period of their history. She arranged for me to live in her house in Chelsea for about eight months each year and encouraged me to develop transmitted writing. Her exhaustive work in keeping records of our sittings and checking up evidence obtained by me for other sitters as well as for herself, has been very remarkable. She tried to check every detail, fact or name, given in personal communications that were unknown to us. Of these there were a considerable number. She even analysed every sentence in certain series of writings of mine when seeking evidence of the character and style of deceased persons. In addition she had experimented with Mrs. Osborne Leonard, Mrs. Blanche Cooper and most of the leading mediums in London, thus training herself for Research.

I shall not in future cumber the pages with the words 'alleged' or 'purporting to be' from communicators. But in the nineteen-twenties apart from early messages from E.B.G.'s relatives or friends, I obtained in her presence in our first long experiment what are now called after the first published volume The Scripts of Cleaphas (Psychic Press). These were narratives of early Christian history. In all eight volumes of them were published over the ensuing years. Leading English and Scottish theological scholars highly commended the accuracy of certain historical facts written in them, facts entirely unknown to me. I could not in view of my education have known them.

During the same Cleophas period of writing I obtained scripts from F. W. H. Myers published in two volumes The Road to Immortality and Beyond Human Personality. These transmitted writings were accepted by Sir Oliver Lodge and Sir Lawrence Jones as coming from their old friend Frederic Myers and as dealing with subjects and ideas they had discussed with him during his lifetime. Mrs. Myers also accepted these scripts as messages coming from her husband.

During the past thirty years I received in the same way various communications stated to be from deceased persons in which evidence of identity was presented through personal facts or their subsequently verified memories unknown to me or anyone present when they were recorded in my transmitted writing. Some of these cases were published in journals or in the following books. They Survive; Mind in Life and Death and Unseen Adventures. Others written for various absent sitters are unpublished. E.B.G. checked up those received for absent relatives or friends of the deceased person communicating. In the Cleophas Books and in Healing the Mind are varied instances of 'extra sensory perception' phenomena.

Both in the production of ESP. and in the evidence that may be direct communications from the minds of the dead I, and, I may add, Mrs. Osborne Leonard and Mrs. Bertha Harris (to mention only three intermediaries) have accumulated a great deal of evidence suggestive of survival. I mention these two owing to their long records of work in psychic science.

Apart from Mrs. Leonard, the record of Mrs. Bertha Harris should be studied. She is clairaudient, and speaks at her sittings. Over the last twenty years, officials of the Society for Psychical Research have sent her sitters, each accompanied by a note-taker. The records of her sittings have been preserved and are buried in the archives of the SPR so they are unknown to the public. She has had astonishing success in giving evidence of Survival. It has been revealed that during this long period of her experimental work for the SPR she has obtained ninety percent 'ESP' phenomena.

In fact, no investigator is in a position to give a verdict against the evidence of survival obtained in psychic science until he has thoroughly studied among other previously mentioned cases of research, Mrs. Harris's notable achievement in a detached manner as a lawyer, weighing and sifting evidence. Her proxy sittings, that is to say when the sitter, who takes the sittings has no knowledge of the communicator, are of especial value.

Admittedly mediums of the calibre of Mrs. Leonard and Mrs. Harris and Cross-Correspondence writers, such as Mrs. Willett, Mrs. Piper, Mrs. W. H. Salter and Mrs. Verrall are rare. There are extremely few great poets or scientists in a generation so there are very few psychic geniuses called mediums or transmitting writers.

As sitters and investigators, I found Miss E. B. Gibbes, Mr. W. H. Salter and Dr. David Gray equally unrivalled as investigators. Mr. Salter conducted my long Cummins-Willett experiment. He and Mr. Henry Tennant (Mrs. Willett's younger son) were the absent sitters in this case. On perhaps four or five occasions they sent me a query or a request to put to the communicator, otherwise they simply in their letters to me acknowledged each Willett script of writing posted by me to either of them and replied that the script received was of interest, or asked for a further contribution. It was all the encouragement I required in order to obtain a further script when I had time and quiet for it in the course of my busy life.

Mr. Salter was for thirty-five years Hon. Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research. His wife and his mother-in-law were gifted transmitting writers. We were amateurs; I was never a professional. It was quite beyond my strength. Indeed, I have a respectful admiration for first-class professional mental mediums of integrity who lead an arduous, exhausting, ill-paid life.

In any case, such a profession was not for me owing to my cherished ambition which was a literary career. Until 1952 I avoided reading any books or articles about psychic research as I feared that its technical jargon would interfere with my composition in regard to my consciously composed literary work. I tried to follow three pursuits - Literature, experiments in transmitted writing and thirdly attend to the mundane duties of a woman's life. It led to the to me distressing detriment of my literary output.

E. B. Gibbes, my principal investigator for thirty years, rather deplored this ambition of mine. A month before she died on December 18, 1951, she begged me to abandon literary work, concentrating on our research. I promised to do so, and have kept my promise. My only consciously composed writing ever since her death has been devoted to books, articles and lectures on psychical research.

I think, therefore, I may claim as detached an interest as that of Mr. W. H. Salter in what may be called psychic science.

But now I must return to those autobiographical details. As I have written so much about the unconscious mind or selves I cannot do better or worse than to summarize my conscious self as it appears to me in the mirror of time.

I am a normal individual and am owing to deafness conversationally uninteresting. But though not by any means in my dotage, I am quite the reverse of the eerie, exciting, neurotic, screaming individual many people conjure up in their imagination as the character of the sensitive or medium who experiments in psychical research.

At my present ripe age I still have two athletic pursuits. Following my athletic father's example I indulge as a recreation in a little light gardening and in the summer even occasionally play tennis. Similarly I imitate my paternal ancestor intellectually. As he, with passionate curiosity, studied the mystery of life and death in medical science I continue to pursue and probe at this mystery in psychic science.

Is there a swan (a soul) that rises from the Black Sea of Death and flies away to other regions?


The above article was taken from Geraldine Cummins's "Swan on a Black Sea" (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965).

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