MRS. John Poole (Elizabeth M.), the lady who placed her mediumistic faculties unreservedly at Dr. Hamilton's disposal, was a motherly, unlearned little woman who had been known to our family for several years before her psychic gifts had become apparent. With her husband and three small children she had come to Canada from Scotland in 1904, and had settled in a modest home m our neighbourhood. Mrs. Poole was an excellent practical nurse, and it was her nursing skill with newborn infants and little children that led my father to call on her services often, particularly in his obstetrical cases. Before long she had become an intimate family friend. During the vicious influenza epidemic of
1918-1919 she generously gave her nursing services to our family - and on many other occasions too
- thereby earning our deep affection and lasting gratitude.
The wide-spread general interest in psychic matters at the end of World War I led many people, of whom my father was one, to 'try their luck' at
"table-tipping", then a popular parlour game. Dr. Hamilton's mild interest became a real curiosity when he found that in Elizabeth's presence the table behaved in a very strange fashion. As has already been mentioned (see
Chapter 2) accompanying her development into one of the most powerful telekinetic mediums ever to be studied under stringent test
conditions(1), came the mental trance products which are to be discussed in this section.
When we come to assess the value of her trance products, of paramount importance is an assessment of her intellectual development and level. Mrs. Poole was an active and intensely practical little person: the care of her family and her home, and her frequent nursing duties, appeared to occupy her time fully. As far as we could tell, a quick scanning of the daily newspaper, or of an occasional magazine article of a popular nature, were all she had time and interest for. She freely admitted that she had never read or discussed either the travels of Livingstone or the literary works of Stevenson, or indeed, of any other author of classical standing.
As far as we could judge, her schooling must have been of a most elementary kind. Dr. Hamilton
"That Elizabeth was and is a woman who can be regarded as standing only slightly above illiteracy, is a fact well known to those of us who know her well both as our medium and as our friend. Her letters speak for themselves. I now quote two letters, one written to my wife in 1923, shortly after the phenomena started, and one more recently (1930) written from a neighbouring city where she had gone for a holiday. Spelling, punctuation, use of capital letters, and so on, are exactly as in the original."
"Dear Mrs Hamilton
You would like to know what I know about R.L.S. Well I know nothing of him I have never read of his work nore have in of his books in my home. The first time I heard of him was through my minister Mr.
"…. i received your letter last week and also the Book ... Sunday was Soldiers Parade here Iwent to the servis to the Armouries to the big meeting i was very pleased i did it was an English church Minister that took the servis when he was about to give his sermon the larg light were put out and others were dimmed i have marked the Psalm that was sung i think you will no it. Well the first thing that happened was one of the girls fainted and they carried her out but i don't think it was a faint i am sure it was a trance she was very limp when the lifted her i never saw such abeautiful picture all kinds of faces in the air ... i was not speaking to any of the people as i did not no any of them so i still have the view in my memory to myself i see the have spritlist meeting here somewhere but i am taking no interest in them to find them when you read this paper you will see i was not alone i am inclosing the program ... well i think i will close for this time remembers to all ... your Elizabeth . .
One of the qualities which doubtless helped to make Elizabeth M. a great medium was the complete trust she showed in and gave to those who she liked. This attitude seems primarily responsible for the willing sacrifices of her time to permit Dr. Hamilton to scrutinize carefully her undeniable psychic gifts. This trust also appeared to have carried over into her trance state. To her the psychic entities were her friends. She trusted them completely, and generally enjoyed many of her psychic experiences, although there were times when she suffered from physical exhaustion, and some few times when her mental trance experiences were abhorrent to her. This trust was not a matter of
simple-mindedness. The fact that her nursing activities were undertaken to give, and did succeed in giving her children the educational advantages she herself had not known, shows her strong drive and the moral fibre from which it sprang.
|Plate 36a (left): Elizabeth M. catatonic rigidity, 1927.
Plate 36b (right): Elizabeth M. catatonic rigidity lessening, 1927.
|Plate 36c (left): Elizabeth M. passing from catatonic to complete relaxation.
Plate 36d (right): E. M. in deep trance. Her hand writing automatically.
We have already indicated how Ewan interfered with and derided the mental trance products of his own
mediumship, due largely to a highly developed intellectual inquisitiveness and
scepticism. Just as these factors made him a poor agent for mental trance products, so the absence of these same factors was apparently one of the major reasons why Elizabeth became a great medium. In her case the absence of any critical faculty left open the portal between the trance personality and the medium's submerged self, undisturbed by eddy currents of
scepticism, doubt and curiosity.
From the outset of her experiences under Dr. Hamilton's oversight, she voiced no preconceived notions, nor did she hold any strong opinions regarding psychical phenomena. She accepted her experiences as they came, and passed on such purely descriptive information as she was able to give.
Bearing in mind her character, her education and her interests, we now examine her trance state, and make a general survey of its products.
The Elizabeth M. mental phenomena of 1923-1927 received particularly close scrutiny. In that
five-year period 388 séances were held, 591 trance states observed, containing 977 trance products of a purely mental type; 477 of these products were associated with the psychic personality claiming to be the late Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish man of letters; 218 had reference to the life and the travels of David
missionary-explorer of Africa. Some 212 were related to W. T. Stead, late Editor and psychic researcher; 77 had to do with the late Camille
Flammarion, the French astronomer and psychic investigator.
Dr. Hamilton writes of Elizabeth's trance:
"The trance syndrome with Elizabeth M. was remarkably constant once it had attained its full complexity; and it is my purpose to present it as such. Her trance may be considered to consist of four stages, which will be better
understood by the accompanying graphic chart (Figure 2)(ISS: Unfortunately Figure
2 is presently unavailable), which indicates the general progress of the
trance and some of its outstanding characteristics.
As the graph shows, the subject is first at point A on the normal conscious
level N.C. She continues at this level for some minutes to point B, where the
descent into trance sleep begins, and is characterized by changes which will be
indicated later. For the ensuing four or five minutes the trance deepens until a
point C is reached. Trance proper now begins. The trance continues to point E,
and in this interval two distinct periods are observed, each having quite
different characteristics. From E the medium returns to a level just below full
consciousness. F to G (again at normal consciousness) is the post-trance stage.
Each of the four stages of trance has characteristic objective and subjective features, shown in sections 1 and 2 of the chart. In section 1 we note that at B (the point where the medium begins to lose consciousness) she passes into an excitement period. This (shown in section 2) is due to various parasthesias such as a sense of electrification of the hair, or a cobwebby sensation of the face. She objectifies these sensations and tries to remove them by blowing with the mouth and by making brushing movements with her hands.
Clairvoyance and clairaudience may now begin to appear; the medium seems to see and hear the psychic entities who seem to her to be present objectively and to be approaching nearer to her. One way or another they seem to try to gain her attention.
As time proceeds a psycho-motor retardation sets in. The motions of the hands and arms slow down and finally cease. The limbs take on a waxy flexibility or a cataleptic rigidity. She no longer responds to sensory stimuli. This condition soon passes into the complete converse of total relaxation of the musculature of the body
(Plate 36c). This apparently marks the point at which the last vestiges of voluntary control are surrendered by the medium (but not without protest).
With full relaxation present, the medium now has to be supported in her chair, and deep trance ensues. This shows the skin to be anaesthetic, pulse and respiration below normal. What to the observer appears to be nothing more than a deep sleep, we later find to be the peak of the medium's mental receptivity. During the period
C-D she is engaged in receiving, telepathically or otherwise, hallucinatory visions from the trance personalities dominating her at that time. Throughout the whole of Elizabeth M.'s mediumship the quiescent period of trance was followed by a motor automatism, whose nature and complexity changed. For the first seven months (April to November 1923) it consisted of slaps of the medium's hand synchronously with the calling of the alphabet. Later it became a motivation of the right hand to write on paper, and occasionally it took the form of trance speech.
Due to the depth of the trance (or to other causes not yet known) throughout the whole period of Elizabeth's mediumship, the hand wrote in an extraordinarily blind sort of fashion. It seemed to be directed to one purpose only, that of setting down the script. But it was a blind and trusting automatism which assumed the
co-operation of the observer. It displayed no awareness of the end of the paper, or of a broken pencil, or of the removal of the paper. In all such cases the hand wrote steadily on, regardless of any circumstance which made the automatism valueless. In order to facilitate such matters, the medium was supported in her chair (Plate 36d) and her arm was lifted at the end of each line and returned to the starting point on a fresh sheet of paper.
The blind nature of the writing automatism clearly parallels the unreasoned response so frequently observed in connection with hypnotic action.
Generally the writing was difficult to read, in some scripts, words had to be omitted during transcription, owing to their complete illegibility. This, added to the fact that the communicators, for the most part, issued brief telegraphic sentences or groups of sentences, made most of the scripts, as finally filed, of a brief truncated nature.
|Plate 37a: Examples of
writing by the entranced Elizabeth M.
|Plate 37b: Example of
the normal Elizabeth writing.
Now while all the trance-writing phenomena was characterized by the
non-perceptions mentioned, there were differences between the writings of the various trance intelligences, which suggested a closer relationship between the agent and the subject, than a mere
machine-like reception and delivery. In her normal state Elizabeth wrote slowly and formed her letters with that care so often found in persons who write with effort. (See Plate 37b.) When she was asleep and functioning under the influence of Stevenson, her hand usually wrote in a dashing, headlong, nervous style (see Plate 37a 1). The Livingstone messages were invariably written slowly and with manifest imperturbability (Plate 37a 2). The writing associated with Stead revealed some impetuosity (Plate 37a 3). As well as showing these differences among themselves, these handwritings differed essentially from Elizabeth's own, although in most cases Elizabeth's own traits were still discernible in a modified form. The Livingstone script is small and neat; Stead's characters are large; while Stevenson's are largest and roundest of all, betraying more than the others (and particularly more than the medium's own) that appearance which we call 'cultivated'.
Returning now to the progress of Elizabeth's trance, we find the
motor-automatism followed by the stages of semi-recovery. This invariably showed the onset features in reverse order: a very brief period of catalepsy, followed by excitations. Muscle tone returns, and as one awakening from deep sleep, the medium now comes almost fully to herself and enters the
During this last stage she describes the vision which she had seen during her trance sleep. For, as subsequent investigations showed that these visions and the subject matter of the written message were invariably related, it therefore seemed probable that the vision experience occurred during the quiescent period which preceded the writing. Elizabeth's relating of her
extra-sensory experience is therefore seen to parallel the post-hypnotic execution of instructions given to a subject during the hypnotic state.
Once the medium has related her experiences, she quickly returns to her full consciousness, and in a short time has completely forgotten her trance memories. In cases where memory was present it did not last more than a few hours, although there is some evidence to indicate that she had some memory of her previous visions while she was in the
Complete amnesia was always found in connection with the automatism; this indicated that her normal sense perception was very completely blocked off during the depth of her trance, since the automatisms, particularly the
hand-slapping, were extremely vigorous.
Another interesting aspect of the case was the gradual increase in the number of trance states appearing at one sitting, and their division among the communicating entities. In 1924 two trances often occurred, both used by Stevenson. In 1925 each trance period often showed two divisions, the first given over to Stevenson's scripts and visions, the second open to Livingstone's communications. In April and May 1926, a third division appeared: Livingstone and Stevenson manifesting in the same trance, while a second trance showed evidence of a third intelligence,
W. T. Stead, who had claimed to communicate many times by other means, earlier in our work.
The sleep period now showed three or four major communicators working side by side. This occurrence of several communicators in one trance state had the effect of merging several trances into one prolonged one.
Along with the script, each entity gave the medium an extrasensory perception which she later related. The stream of memories and ideas from each communicator was well defined and unmixed with the ideas of any of the other entities. Yet between the change from one dominating trance entity to the next, the medium made little stirrings and uneasy movements which were interpreted as her efforts to
re-integrate herself. Though less marked, a similar effect was observed when there was a change of
memory-topic by one of the communicators. For instance, if Stevenson presented two unrelated messages in one trance, between the writing referring to the first topic, and the vision referring to the second, the medium showed the same signs of striving to return to consciousness.
All this being so, it is apparent, especially to the physician and to the psychologist, that the onset and release from trance shown by this woman, disclosed a mental zone manifesting certain features which resemble those observed with medical hysteria and with other psychopathic conditions. To my mind, such features arose out of the medium's subconscious fear of the unknown, of outside influence, and from a fear of passing into a mental state that was not normal. These are mental inhibitions which tend to prevent,
trance-onset and to retain the normal integration of personality.
With Elizabeth M. it seemed possible for her to pass quickly and safely through the various stages, dip down into deep slumber, where she took on these spiritistic perceptions which differentiated the mediumistic trance from medical hysteria and hypnosis, and then return to everyday consciousness without harm to her normal personality. Indeed, both in the case of Elizabeth and with other mediums whom I have observed, it has been my experience to note that until all these inhibitive features are reduced to a minimum, the mental trance products reveal little more than confusion.
The parallels between Elizabeth's trance and hypnosis suggest and uphold to a considerable degree the theory of what may be termed 'control-hypnosis by a discarnate personality'. In this view, the 'control' or 'communicating psychic personality' is the active factor in producing the trance state, for the purpose of placing the medium in a suggestible condition, which would enable her to receive telepathically the ideas of the communicator, and to reproduce them. In brief, trance sleep with Elizabeth was narrowed down by blocking normal perception, until the stimuli from ordinary sources (sounds, smells, lights, feeling, etc.) lay below the threshold value of stimuli received from the
extra-sensory sources ... "(2)
(1) See American Journal for Psychical Research, Vol. XXV, No. 9, Sept. 1931, for a report on some of the physical phenomena observed with Elizabeth M.