Mediums

 

Elizabeth d'Esperance
1855-1919


          pseudonym, family name Hope; remarkable non-professional medium the story of whose powers and life is ably told by William Oxley in Angelic Revelations and in her own Shadow Land: important for the account of her subjective experiences. Alexander Aksakof, in his preface dated in 1897, September, describes the book as the open and sad story of the disappointments of a truth-loving and truth-searching soul at the mercy of unknown but highly promising powers. The story begins with the earliest recollections of a child who was thought queer, seeing - in the ancient house where the family lived - strangers continually passing to and fro, some of which took notice of her, some nodded and smiled as she held up her doll for their inspection. These shadow people were her earliest friends. She did not associate them with ghosts of which she was told frightful tales by the maid. For her there was nothing supernatural about them, though they shrank from her touch and she could not feel anything if her hand came into contact with them. Occasionally, for months at a time, they vanished, and on the whole they made her life miserable. Her mother was very hard on her for telling "stories" of seeing unseen visitors and her mother's doctor filled her soul with terror by telling her that those who see things which do not exist are usually mad and grow dangerous.

A long cruise in 1867 on a boat which her father captained was the brightest recollection of her teens. The sleep-walking to which she had been earlier addicted, was now cured, the shadow people stayed away, but the happiness that was hers for many weeks was finally marred by the terrifying vision of a shadow ship which passed right through their own. Another queer experience befell her later at the end of the school term. She had to write an essay on Nature. She could not squeeze out of her brain a single thought, the last night came and even then she went to bed in despair, praying in tears and crying until she fell asleep, leaving sheets of papers and some pencils littered on her desk. In the morning she found the sheets covered with her own handwriting, containing an astonishing essay on the subject. The teacher was greatly surprised by the quality of the essay and when she heard the story she spoke to the rector about it. On examination day the rector himself read the essay and explained it as a direct answer to prayer.

Not long after this occurrence, at the age of 19, she married and lived as Mrs. Reed at Newcastle-on-Tyne. With marriage the shadow people came back into her life. Accidentally she heard of Spiritualism and table-rapping, which she considered tomfoolery. Challenged by a friend, she sat in a circle of six. The table soon began to vibrate, heave and answer questions. It even disclosed the unknown whereabouts of her father which was found afterwards to be correct. More extraordinary phenomena followed. A pair of studs disappeared from before their eyes and on information rapped out by the table was found in the next room beneath the undisturbed, hard and compact soil in a flower pot. The wanderings of this pair of studs caused the circle much amazement. Once it was found in a locked Japanese box on a high shelf, another time it dropped from high into the cup of one of the company at coffee time. Many typtological messages were received and once an experiment in clairvoyance was crowned with remarkable success. Her eyes being covered by Mr. F. in the dark she described an incident which passed 12 years before in the life of Mr. F. and recognised him in the vision. Her interest was now thoroughly aroused. She spoke of the shadow people to friends and though the idea that she was a medium was at first repugnant to her, she agreed to play the part. It was suggested that she should attempt automatic writing to establish a more efficient means of communication. It soon came about with a tingling, pricking and aching sensation in her arm, and thereafter the circle was in definite touch with spirit visitors: Walter Tracey, a bright, jovial American, Humnur Stafford, the self-constituted philosopher guide, and Ninia, a child of seven, the control of each being distinguished by the sensation in her arm and hand. The next phase of her development came by seeing a luminous cloud concentrate itself in the darkness of the room and, illuminated by an inward light, slowly evolve itself into the form of a child. Nobody else could see the strange apparition which she sketched, there being no darkness for her eyes while doing it.

The new development was hailed with delight. However, people soon began to talk about it in Newcastle and overwhelmed Mme. d'Esperance with requests for the portraits of their dead friends. To improve her art she studied for a few months, but with better quality in sketching her power of seeing the luminous figures diminished and violent headaches followed the sketching attempts. It was at this time that T. P. Barkas, a prominent intellect of Newcastle, joined the circle. One evening he spoke about a series of popular lectures on science illustrated with practical experiments which he intended to deliver. The medium's hand passed remarks through automatic writing and claimed that the theories advocated by Barkas were wrong. This was the beginning of the scientific period. Questions were asked and instructions were given for several months. Stafford described very minutely an instrument which proved later to be the telephone and another by which messages would be forwarded to great distances in the original handwriting. Barkas delivered his lectures and closed them with one "Recent Experiments in Psychology. Extraordinary replies to Questions on Scientific Subjects by a Young Lady of Very Limited Education."

After a year the decline of the medium's health put an end to the scientific sťances. She went to the South of France to recuperate. On her recovery she became filled with the missionary spirit, but in trying to make converts for the new truth she had glimpsed, she discovered, to her dismay, that the psychic powers were not at her beck and call. Her ability to write on scientific subjects appeared to fail and her clairvoyant faculty became uncertain and feeble when conscious exhibition was wanted. Yet she achieved one important result, the reconciliation between Professor Friese, of Bremen, and Professor Johann ZŲllner. The alienation took place when ZŲllner accepted Spiritualism. It was ZŲllner who wrote about her to Prof. Friese. As a result she spent weeks in the professor's house. One day he publicly declared that he had become a Spiritualist, resigned his chair and set himself to write books which were later published under the titles: Jenseits des Grabens and Stimmen aus der Geister Reich.

The visit to Bremen was followed by a long stay in Sweden. A new line of experiment was tried here. She read letters, enclosed in seven envelopes, written in various languages, the words of which she had to spell out letter by letter. This power also fluctuated and determined efforts usually resulted in failure. It was here that she first tried to sit for materialisations. In the darkness of the cabinet she soon became conscious of a curious disturbance, the air seemed to be agitated as though a bird were fluttering about and, at the second attempt, she felt as if fine threads were being drawn out of the pores of her skin. A face was seen by the sitters outside the curtains but she did not see it from within. So she stood up, feeling her knees strangely weak, put her head out, and above her head she recognised the merry laughing eyes of Walter.

During the six weeks' trial which was decided upon, Walter learned the art of full materialisation, but of all his appearances she usually saw nothing. During his visits in flesh she felt strangely inert and listless. Thoughts, impressions chased themselves with lightning-like rapidity in her brain, she felt conscious of the thoughts and feelings of everyone in the room, and while in this state any movement required a great effort which invariably compelled the materialised forms to retire into the cabinet as though deprived of power to stand or support themselves. Yolande, a young Arab girl of fifteen, soon put in an appearance and remained a constant visitor. She was very curious and inquisitive and she constantly mystified her audience by making things in the room invisible to their eyes and apporting a variety of flowers and plants. It took her about ten to fifteen minutes to build up her body from a filmy, cloudy patch which was observed on the floor, while the process of melting away usually took place in two to five minutes, the drapery being the last to disappear in one-half to two minutes time.

The flower apports of Yolande were very strange. She usually asked in advance for water, sand and a water carafe. After the water and sand were mixed in the carafe she covered it with a part of her drapery. In these circumstances in a sťance held on August 4, 1880, an exotic plant grew up in the carafe. It was an Ixora Crocata, 22 inches high, having a thick woody stem which filled the neck of the bottle, the roots firmly planted inside the glass. The natural home of this plant is India. It was produced for Mr. William Oxley, of Manchester, and it lived for three months in his gardener's care. Sitters frequently brought fern leaves and asked Yolande to match them. The request was always complied with. Roses were produced from nothing and freely given away. The last and greatest work of Yolande was achieved on June 28, 1890, when she apported a seven feet high Golden Lily with eleven perfect blossoms. The feat was witnessed by Professors Boutlerof, Fiedler, Aksakof and others. The power was not sufficient for its dematerialisation (Yolande insisted that the plant was borrowed and she had to return it) and, on instructions to keep it in darkness, the flower remained for eight days in the house and then vanished in an instant, filling the room with an overpowering perfume.

But bitter experiences were also in store for Mme. d'Esperance. The first befell her in Newcastle in 1880. It came after curious and mystifying observations to the effect that one of the materialised phantoms, the "French lady" as she was called, bore a bewildering resemblance to the medium. A suspicious sitter seized Yolande while the medium was believed sitting inside the cabinet.

"All I knew" she writes, "was a horrible excruciating sensation of being doubled up and squeezed together, as I can imagine a hollow gutta percha doll would feel, if it had sensation, when violently embraced by its baby owner. A sense of terror and agonising pain came over me, as though I was losing hold of life and was falling into some fearful abyss, yet knowing nothing, hearing nothing, except the echo of a scream I heard as at a distance. I felt I was sinking down, I knew not where. I tried to save myself, to grasp at something, but missed it; and then came a blank from which I awakened with a shuddering horror and sense of being bruised to death."

The result of this experience was the outbreak of the earlier hemorrhage of her lungs and a prolonged illness. In Sweden, after her recovery, successful photographic experiments were conducted both to obtain the portrait of the materialised entities and spirit photographs without a formal sťance. These experiments proved to be a strong drain on her nervous energy so they were dropped after a while. But in the later materialisation sťances she invariably observed the rule of sitting before the cabinet and exhibiting herself and the phantom at the same time. Her unique description of double identity dates from these days and reads:

"Now comes another figure, shorter, slenderer, and with out-stretched arms. Somebody rises up at the far end of the circle and comes forward and the two are clasped in each other's arms. Then inarticulate cries of "Anna! Oh, Anna! My Child! My loved one!"

"Then somebody else gets up and puts her arms round the figure; then sobs, cries and blessings get mixed up. I feel my body swayed to and fro and all gets dark before my eyes. I feel somebody's arms round me although I sit on my chair alone. I feel somebody's heart beating against my breast. I feel that something is happening. No one is near me except the two children. No one is taking any notice of me. All eyes and thoughts seem concentrated on the white slender figure standing there with the arms of the two black-robed women around it.

"It must be my own heart I feel beating so distinctly. Yet those arms round me? Surely never did I feel a touch so plainly. I begin to wonder which is I. Am I the white figure or am I the one in the chair? Are they my hands round the old lady's neck, or are these mine that are lying on the knees of me, or on the knees of the figure if it be not I, on the chair?

"Certainly they are my lips that are being kissed. It is my face that is wet with the tears which these good women are shedding so plentifully. Yet how can it be? It is a horrible feeling, thus losing hold of one's identity. I long to put one of these hands that are lying so helplessly, and touch someone just to know if I am myself or only a dream - if Anna be I, and I am lost as it were, in her identity."

In 1893 at the house of Prof. E. of Christiana, an Egyptian beauty, calling herself Nepenthes, materialised in the midst of the circle and was seen at the same time with the medium. At the sitters' request she dipped her hand into a paraffin bucket and left behind a plaster mould of rare beauty which the modeller said must have been produced by sorcery as it was obviously impossible to extricate the hand from the wax glove without ruining it. Nepenthes vanished from their presence as she came, lowered her head on which a diadem shone, little by little became a luminous cloud and gradually faded away. Previous to her disappearance she wrote a message in her own hand in ancient Greek in the pocket-book of one of the sitters. All present were ignorant of ancient Greek letters. The translation read:

"I am Nepenthes thy friend; when thy soul is oppressed by too much pain, call on me, Nepenthes, and I will come at once to relieve thy trouble."

From time to time Mine. d'Esperance felt greatly troubled. The theories of subliminal consciousness, orthodox religious objections that the phenomena have to do with the Devil, disturbed her to a growing extent. An out-of-the-body experience, however, brought light into her mind, she realised the great truth behind the phenomenal side of spiritualism and, fortified in courage, she continued her missionary work. Three times her life was endangered owing to injuries received by the attempts of those who thought to catch her in fraud. The worst experience befell her in Helsingfors in 1893, an attempt to violate Yolande caused nearly two years of indisposition turning her hair white and grey.

The outrage followed the strangest phenomenon of her mediumship: the partial dematerialisation of her body from the waist downwards, in the same city. Aksakof made an investigation and, with the testimonies of those present, published the full story in his A Case of Partial Dematerialisation. Ten years later in Gottenburg Aksakof had an experience which strongly suggested that, in some cases at least, the body of the medium is entirely absorbed for the production of apparitions outside the cabinet. Future psychical research may throw more light on the problem whether in such cases the phantom can speedily dissolve, re-enter the cabinet as ectoplasm and reintegrate the medium or whether the shock, intensified by the community of sensation between the medium and phantom, may result in the absorption of the remainder of the medium into the phantom, as claimed in spirit grabbing cases by the Spiritualists.

Of Mme. d'Esperance's literary activity, besides many articles in the spiritualistic press, yet another book testifies. Three years after Shadow Land, Northern Lights was published. This is a collection of psychic stories and experiences. At the outbreak of the great war Mine. d'Esperance found herself virtually a prisoner in Germany where she resided. All her papers had been seized, among them the manuscript of a second volume to Shadowland, and has been presumably destroyed with a quantity of sťance reports in shorthand.

Source (with minor modifications): An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).

 

 

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