Rosalind Heywood

Member of Council, Society for Psychical Research. Was interested in documenting different attitudes towards ESP research. Koestler dedicated his book "The Roots of Coincidence" to Heywood, 'catalyst-in-chief'. Her books included "ESP: A Personal Memoir", "The Sixth Sense" (London, 1959), "Beyond the Reach of Sense" (E. P. Dutton, 1974) and "The Infinite Hive" (Pan, 1966). In the latter book she documented her own psychic experiences.

Mediumship - Mrs Leonard (1)

 - Rosalind Heywood -

         WE HAVE seen that one factor in particular seems to encourage the emergence of psi. That is faith of some kind in something. Mrs Curran implicitly believed that Patience Worth was the disembodied spirit she claimed to be. In both the Holland and Willett scripts the purported Myers and his friends insisted that the automatists' belief in their reality immensely increased their power to communicate. Conversely, hostility and doubt on the part of any one involved, including the investigator, is water to flame, even in the case of straightforward experimental ESP between the living.

The spiritualist medium has absolute faith that the controls and communicators are the discarnate entities they represent themselves to be. This has the dual advantage of freeing the medium from self-consciousness and of shelving responsibility for mistakes on to some discarnate and inaccessible entity. The friendly co-operation of one avowedly spiritualist medium, Mrs Osborne Leonard, enabled members of the SPR to study the ESP and psychology of a genuine trance medium for over forty years. She has also demonstrated that a medium can remain both honest and a person of normal common sense in daily life. And the world does not help honest mediums to remain normal. Believers regard them as the mouthpiece of heaven, some psychiatrists class them as hysterics and the public in general look on them as frauds or mad. 'Good gracious,' exclaimed a stranger on meeting Mrs Leonard, you look quite sensible.'

This attitude, however natural, may lead to unfortunate results. A psychiatrist has told me that there are persons confined in mental hospitals today who in past ages would have been revered for their awareness of other states of being and who might have been saintly examples to the community. In any case, to ignore mediumship because it is classed as a hysterical symptom helps to conceal the fact that in such states of dissociation genuine ESP can occur. That, it must be repeated ad nauseum, is the point of interest for psychical research.

In Mrs Leonard, fortunately, SPR investigators were able to study mediumship in the least unattractive conditions, for her helpfulness made friends of the most hostile critics, and no detective ever caught her swerving one inch from the path of honesty. She herself attributes the initial impulse of her mediumship to a bad shock at the age of eight which deeply affected her attitude to death(1). Her father was wont to take her every Sunday to visit one of his friends, a large, kind, cheerful man who made a great fuss of her. One Sunday they arrived to find the blinds of the house drawn down. Then the parlour-maid opened the door with a tear-stained face. 'The Master's gone,' she sobbed. This terrified the child, from whom all knowledge of death had been carefully hidden and later on she asked her father, 'Where is Mr Underwood?'

(1) Gladys Osborne Leonard, My Life in Two Worlds (Cassell, 1931).

'He's gone, dear.'
'Gone where?'
'Don't ask questions, dear.'

Two days later she saw her father leave the house, clad in mournful black, and the housemaid told her:

'They're burying Mr Underwood ... deep under the earth ... Of course he can't get out... Stop asking questions ...'

'Will my mother be buried?'

'Of course she will, and your father and you and me and everybody...'

After this further shock the child found and read the burial service - ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

This painful episode would have caused her yet greater suffering but for a private consolation. 'Every morning.' she says, 'soon after waking, even while dressing or having my nursery breakfast, I saw visions of most beautiful places... Walking about ... were people who seemed radiantly happy ... I remember thinking to myself, How different they are, how different from "Down Here" people, how full of love and light and peace they are.'

She called this place the Happy Valley but took care never to mention it to other people. One day, however, she forgot and, pointing to the dining-room wall, she cried to her father to look at 'the specially beautiful place we are seeing this morning'. Then trouble arose. She was making it up. She was a naughty girl. Finally she was sternly forbidden by her entire grown-up world ever to see or look for her Happy Valley again. And gradually it ceased to appear. A few years later - she was now in her teens - she saw the advertisement of a spiritualist meeting, and went in. Enraptured she rushed home to tell her mother the glorious news. The dead were not only living, but easily accessible! The result was not what she expected. 'All that', said her mother with cold anger, 'is vile and wicked. I forbid you ever to go to that place again.'

So this wonderful new-found way of escape from the inevitable deep dark grave was abruptly cut off. Parallels to these childhood experiences can be found in the autobiographies of other sensitives. They too visited worlds like the Happy Valley, had visions of dead relatives and played games with non-physical playmates. And in their cases, too, such experiences met with ferocious disapproval from those in authority.

Mrs Leonard's adolescence was a shadowed period in other ways. Her prosperous family lost all their money, and to earn her living she began to train as a singer. But diphtheria ruined her voice and she was driven to take humble parts in touring theatrical companies. All this time her leaning towards spiritualism, though concealed, had never died and it was stimulated once more a few years before the First World War, when she was twenty-two. She woke up one night at 2 am to see her mother close to her in a circle of light, looking much younger and extremely well. She had known that her mother was ill but had not thought it. serious. Next morning a telegram brought the news that she had died at 2 am. This vision was of a type very familiar to students of psychical research. The girl accepted it without question as being her mother herself and it confirmed her literal belief in the spiritualist teaching and decided her to try and develop her own gifts, in the hope of being able to help others who were sad and, bereaved.

There was a tradition in her family that about 1800 an ancestor of hers had married an Indian girl, who died very young in childbirth. This girl soon purported to turn up as a communicator. She called herself Feda, and not long afterwards became Mrs Leonard's permanent Control. What she actually was, a separate entity, a dramatization by Mrs Leonard's subconscious self, or a secondary personality on the lines of Morton Prince's famous Sally, is still an open question. One psychical researcher, Whately Carington, tried to throw light on her identity by means of the word association test devised by Jung(2). He found that on the whole when Mrs Leonard's conscious reactions were fast, Feda's were slow and vice versa, which suggested that they were two sides of the one personality. But he thought that the reaction patterns of certain long-term communicators differed to some extent from both. Furthermore, when one sitter, Mr Drayton Thomas, sat with two other mediums, his usual two communicators purported to turn up, and similar tests were made on them by Whately Carington. In his view these also seemed to suggest the operation of some kind of external factor or influence. But more recent experiments indicate that such differing reactions can occur when a person merely imagines he is someone else(3).

(2) In these tests the subject is asked to respond, with the first word that comes into his head, to a series of words which are read out to him. The more a word affects him emotionally the longer he takes to respond, hence to a string of words each person will have an individual reaction pattern.
(3) The tests remain valuable despite some error in Carington's figures.

Who or whatever Feda was, it makes for clarity of description to refer to her as a separate person. She was very like Margaret, the secondary personality of the Doris Fischer studied by Dr Franklin Prince in America. They were both gay, childish and entertaining. But Margaret bullied Doris, whereas Feda merely looked down on Mrs Leonard, though she would sometimes tease her, by giving away, for example, a loved piece of her jewellery. All the same, the most sticky sitters could never help liking Feda who was most friendly and co-operative. She thought she had a mission to further psychical research and she appeared very conscientious about transmitting messages from purported communicators, Moreover, unlike many Controls, if she made a mistake she said so and did not indulge in guessing. She shared, in fact, Mrs Leonard's transparent honesty.

In the spring of 1914, says Mrs Leonard, Feda sent her repeated instructions - this is a curious phrase but it must be remembered that her surface mentality was unconscious when Feda was in action - to begin work at once as a professional medium.

'Something big and terrible is going to happen to the world,' Feda insisted, 'Feda must help people through you.'

Such an appeal was certain of its effect on a woman as warm-hearted as Mrs Leonard, particularly after her own childhood shock about death, and she obediently took a room and gave daily sittings. In 1915 a French widow came anonymously to one of these because she was in desperate grief at the recent death of her two sons in action. She. knew nothing of mediumship but she told Sir Oliver Lodge's wife the results of this sitting - correct names and so on which were strongly suggestive of ESP. Shortly afterwards, on September 15th, Lodge's own son, Raymond, was killed. A little later on Lady Lodge paid an anonymous visit to Mrs Leonard. This was on the French widow's behalf, not her own, but she was given a message purporting to come from Raymond that he had met a friend of his father's whose name was Myers. Lodge himself now went to see Mrs Leonard - again anonymously and he too was told that Raymond was in contact with an old friend, M, and with other friends of his.

'These people', said 'Raymond', 'tell me that a little later they will explain why they are helping me.'

At this sitting Feda also made an allusion to a message which had been given for Lodge by Mrs Piper's 'Myers' in America on August 8th.

'Now Lodge ...' Mrs Piper had written. 'Myers says you take the part of the poet and he will act as Faunus.'

Mrs Piper had also said that Mrs Verrall would unravel this cryptic message which meant nothing to Lodge. Mrs Verrall did recognize it as referring to an Ode by Horace, in which he mentioned a tree on his country estate which had fallen down and would have destroyed him in its fall had not Faunus lightened the blow. Lodge had assumed this to be a warning but had thought little of it until Mrs Leonard's reminder.

Lodge and his wife then visited another medium, separately and strictly anonymously. He too gave them both good descriptions of Raymond and spoke of F. W. M. and the group who, he said, were interested in operating through the partition. He also reported Raymond as saying

'Don't think it (the help) was only for charity's sake, he has got an ulterior motive, and thinks that you will be able to ... make the society, the Society, he says, of some use to the world.'

About five weeks later Lodge again saw Mrs Leonard who by this time knew who he was. To identify Raymond her Control, Feda, described a group photograph, its setting, some details about numbers, Raymond's position in relation to the man behind him, and so on. This seems at the least to have been precognition, or ESP at second hand, for such a photograph was sent to Lodge independently after the sitting by the mother of one of Raymond's brother officers. Unknown to him it had been taken in France three weeks before Raymond's death. Six months later, Lodge sought to check the Faunus incident by asking a friend to inquire of an outside medium who knew no classics, whether Horace meant anything to Myers in connection with Lodge. The medium, in answer, referred to a Satire by Horace, which describes the charm of his country place compared with the worries of Rome. But he did not appear to have any idea what he was talking about. Two months later, Mrs Piper again wrote a message for Lodge, referring to a third poem by Horace which linked the previous two by combining the topics of the falling tree and the worries of Rome. This was the end of Mrs Piper's connection with the SPR and it may be called a good finish, since she achieved classical references beyond her normal knowledge, a tidy little cross correspondence with an outside medium m another country and what looks like a warning of Raymond Lodge's death, put as plainly as tact and decency would allow.

The above is a bare factual summary of the kind of testimony which convinced Lodge of Raymond's survival and which Mrs Leonard continued to produce for him and other people for many years. It inevitably lacks not only the verisimilitude felt by the sitters themselves but that mysterious sense of presence which seems to be the straw that finally tips such sceptics as Hodgson over the brink of acceptance. It is obvious that the psychological conditions for the appearance of a life-like Raymond, authentic or not, were very favourable. The holocaust of the 1914-18 war was at its height. Mrs Leonard's ardent desire was to comfort the many bereaved around her. Lodge had a profoundly compassionate nature and he had just lost a much-loved son. The kind of link which appears on occasion to evoke ESP must have been very strong between them.

The pattern of Mrs Leonard's mediumship changed little throughout the forty odd years it was studied. It became clear that her surface consciousness knew nothing of what transpired while she was in trance. She usually spoke rather than wrote and Feda was her only Control, though with one or two regular sitters she would occasionally hand over to their regular 'communicators to speak directly. Their great desire was to identify themselves, and their talk was mainly on the simple human level and thus differed from the intellectual approach and metaphysical speculations of the Verrall, Holland and Willett 'Myers Group'. However she did it, her characterization of these communicators could be brilliant. W. H. Salter has pointed, out that it went much further than the most startling reproduction of tricks and manner of speech(4). For years on end a communicator, who purported to be a person Mrs Leonard had never met in life, would give message after message without once speaking out of character or putting the mental or emotional emphasis wrong. The question is, could this remarkable feat have been achieved by no more than subconscious inference and dramatization on Mrs Leonard's part, plus telepathy from the sitter or other living persons?

(4) Trance Mediumship, SPR Pamphlet by W. H. Salter.

It is only by reading hundreds of sittings that the characterization m them can make its full impact, but the account by a regular sitter, the Rev C. Drayton Thomas, of his purported father's first attempt to take over from Feda may give some idea of it. Here again the conditions would seem favourable for the production of a life-like communicator, whether authentic or not, for Mr Thomas like Mrs Leonard, was a compassionate idealist and shared her ardent faith in the possibility of communication with the discarnate. Feda had been giving messages from Mr Thomas's purported father. Then she said:

'There is something he wishes to try now, so Feda will keep quiet for a minute.'

After a long pause, says Mr Thomas, came a voice, deep slow, stately and entirely different from Feda's childish treble. It was not his father's earth voice, but his manner of speech.

'Charlie, Charlie, it is extraordinary, who would have thought it possible. I can control the hands and head but apparently not the lower part of the body. I fear I could not stand. Each time I will try to do this a little. It will be good to be able to talk freely together.'

The 'communicator' clasped Mr Thomas's hand, slapped his knee and continued to repeat, 'It is extraordinary!' Then he felt, smilingly, for his moustache and beard and spoke of some joke about his face which, he said, Mr Thomas's mother would know of, though Mr Thomas would not. He said he had forgotten it himself until back in a body again. Mr Thomas's mother later confirmed this joke.

Five sittings later the father purported to try again.

'I found,' he said this time, 'that I could remember and use my mind to a certain extent, although told I should not be able to do so. I am advised to get control of the voice before attempting too much. I think I may be able to reproduce my own voice later.'

Six months later, Mr Thomas's sister, Ella, also purported to speak to him but she found direct speech very difficult.

'I cannot think or connect up ideas,' she said. 'Even now I have a strong consciousness of being with you often, but no detailed recollection of things we have done. I want to practise remembering... This controlling feels like having a mask over the face [While saying this the hands were feeling over face, neck, arms and shoulders.] I have difficulty in regulating the breathing and preventing a hissing on the s-sounds, like the word "Yes"'.

At various times the communicators described some of their difficulties in making contact. It was very complicated. They must watch the medium's breathing. They must choose ideas she was most likely to get through. They must avoid starting a misleading train of thought in her mind. At the same time, when controlling the medium directly they themselves felt far from clear-minded and forgot things they knew perfectly well. They said that the division of the mind into conscious and subconscious ceases at death but recurs when they take possession of a medium.

The Control, Feda, also had. her own problems. She knew no more of the communicators than they told her. When she was m control the medium often appeared to be listening intently, as though being dictated to, but Fed. would say of a communicator, 'He's showing me this or that', more often than 'He says'. She sometimes mistook a word which was obvious to the sitter and she would occasionally, strangely enough., be corrected by the communicator's ostensible voice at some distance from the medium. She once said, for example, 'It's like being put in charge of a department of boars? Do you mean pigs? Boars in an institution?' and the apparently independent voice made an emphatic correction 'Borstal'. Mrs Leonard had undertaken never to read any of the literature pub fished by the SPR, yet many of the processes and difficulties described by her communicators are similar to those described in the Willett scripts. Mr Thomas' 'father', for instance, drew the same distinction as Mr Willett's 'Gurney' between himself projecting an idea or image in to the mind of the medium, or the medium picking up some - perhaps irrelevant - idea from his mind Professor C. D. Broad has pointed out the distinction they made between various forms of telepathy(5). Suppose they wanted to convey a message about a horse. They could speak the word, or they could make Feda hear the word horse or the sound of a horse's movement by telepathy Or they could make her see an image of a horse, or see the written word, again by telepathy. Or they could use symbol, say, a jockey with a whip. Or they could just convey the idea alone, without use of either words or images Such hints and clues may all be nonsense or they may one day help to clarify the nature of ESP.

(5) C. D. Broad., The Phenomenology of Mrs Leonard's Trance, Journal of American SPR, April 1955.


"The Sixth Sense" by Rosalind Heywood (1959, Chatto and Windus Ltd).


More articles by Rosalind Heywood

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