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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).