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.'
'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...'
further shock the child found and read the burial service - ashes to ashes, 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
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
'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
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
(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