Spirit Controls


          IN DECEMBER 1910, Gladys Osborne Leonard and two friends began experimenting with the table-tilting method of communicating with spirits. After numerous failures, they received messages from several people, including Leonard’s mother. These messages were spelt out by the table tilting so many times for each letter of the alphabet. During this first successful sitting, a long name was spelt out, beginning with “F.” As they could not pronounce it, they asked if they could abbreviate it by drawing several letters from it. The communicating entity consented and the three women selected “F-E-D-A” as the name for the entity.

Feda told them that she was Leonard’s great-great grandmother, a Hindu by birth, and that she was raised by a Scottish family. She married William Hamilton, Leonard’s great-great grandfather, at the age of 13 and died soon thereafter, about 1800, while giving birth to a son. Leonard recalled hearing a story about an Indian ancestress from her mother, but did not remember any details. Feda told Leonard that she was going to control her as she had work to do through her because of a great happening (apparently World War I) that would soon take place.

Feda further told Leonard that she had been with her as a spirit guide since her birth and that she was fulfilling work required of her to make spiritual progress of her own soul.

Initially, Leonard refused, telling Feda that the idea of being controlled while in the trance state did not appeal to her. While Feda was disappointed, she continued to come regularly in the table sittings conducted by the three young women. During one table sitting, about 18 months after Feda first introduced herself to them, Leonard went into a trance and Feda spoke through her, bringing many messages from friends on the Other Side. As her health was not affected by the trance state, Leonard permitted Feda to control her in future sittings, but it took another 18 months before Feda was proficient in taking over Leonard’s body. Feda then told Leonard to become a professional medium and promised her that she would look after her. Leonard began by holding circles in Western London, but after the war broke out Feda asked her to give up her public sittings and begin private sittings for those who had lost loved ones in battle.

Rev. Charles Drayton Thomas, a psychical researcher who had many sittings with Leonard beginning in April 1917, described a typical sitting: Leonard would take a seat several feet from him and after two or three minutes of silence she would go into a trance. Suddenly, in a clear and distinct voice, Feda would take over Leonard’s body and begin using her speech mechanism. There was no similarity between Leonard’s voice and that of Feda, who spoke like a young girl. Moreover, Feda spoke with an accent and had frequent lapses of grammar.

Occasionally, just after Leonard went into the trance state, Thomas would hear whispering of which he could catch fragments, such as,

“Yes, Mr. John, Feda will tell him…Yes, all right…” Feda often referred to herself in the third person, e.g., “Feda says she is having trouble understanding Mr. John.”

Generally, Feda relayed messages from deceased loved ones, but occasionally she turned over control of Leonard to spirits she had confidence in. One such spirit was Sir William Barrett. Shortly after his death in 1925, Barrett began communicating with Lady Barrett, his widow, through Feda and Leonard. In one sitting, Feda’s voice gave way to a much deeper one as Sir William slowly spoke in the direct-voice (through a cone floating in the air above Leonard), stating, with great emphasis:

“Life (on his side) is far more wonderful than I can ever tell you, beyond anything I ever hoped for; it exceeds all my expectations.”

Thomas noted various difficulties in communication.

“Feda is able on occasion to receive the communicator’s thought in a way which produces the effect of a sound,” Thomas recorded. “At such times, she appears to speak messages verbatim, as if repeating what is dictated to her. This dictation method always reaches a high degree of accuracy, and I realize that I am receiving, not merely the (spirit) communicator’s thoughts, but his diction. When, however, Feda receives only the general import of a message and transmits it in her own words the level of accuracy is much lower.”

However, Thomas observed that Feda, like other spirit controls, had difficulty with names, occasionally getting the full name but often just giving the first letter or first syllable. At one sitting, Etta, Thomas’ deceased sister, said she could not get Feda to say her husband’s name, Whitfield. “I can feel it, but cannot say it,” Etta told him. “That is, I cannot get it spoken. I get it on the surface, so to speak, but cannot get it into the medium’s mind.” Etta added that it was much easier for her to send ideas through Feda than to send words. In trying to communicate the name of a man named “Meadow,” Etta explained that she tried to give the idea of a green field connected with the idea of a man.

As with other controls, some psychical researchers often wondered if Feda was a secondary personality buried away in Leonard’s subconscious. Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection of evolution, was one the researchers who did not find this a satisfactory explanation.

“The conception of such a double personality in each of us, a second-self, which in most cases remains unknown to us all our lives, which is said to have an independent mental life, to have means of acquiring knowledge our normal self does not possess, to exhibit all the characteristics of a distinct individuality with a different character from our own, is surely a conception more ponderously difficult, more truly supernatural than that of a spirit world, composed of beings who have lived and learned, and suffered on earth, and whose mental nature still subsists after its separation from the earthly body,”

Wallace offered, going on to say that we have to suppose that this second-self, while possessing some knowledge the primary self does not have, either does not know it is part of the whole self or is a persistent liar, as it adopts a distinct name and contends that it once lived a separate life.

Wallace added that he could not conceive how this second-self was developed in us under the law of survival of the fittest, a concept he suggested to Darwin before Darwin went public in 1858 with their parallel theories of evolution.


Glenconner, Pamela, The Earthen Vessel (London: John Lane Co., 1921).
Leonard, Gladys Osborne, My Life in Two Worlds (London: Cassell & Co., 1931).
Thomas, Charles Drayton, Life Beyond Death with Evidence (London: W. Collins Sons & Co., 1928).
Wallace, Alfred Russel, Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (1896, collected papers)

Source: Michael E. Tymn, vice-president of The Academy of Religion and Psychical Research.



Some parts of this page The International Survivalist Society 2005