Table of contents:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Spiritual Experiments
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Spiritual Experiments

For a long time in our culture, the beginning of January was marked by Christmas fortune-telling, the most sophisticated of which is "calling the spirits." It turns out that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, who gave the world a great detective, knew a lot about mystical practices. Today we will tell you about the spiritualistic experiences of the great writer and share the most interesting observations described by him in the History of Spiritualism (1926).

Surely of all the gifts of providence

the most merciful and precious is

our ignorance of what lies ahead.

Arthur Conan Doyle,

No matter how precious the gift of ignorance may be, every mortal at least once wanted to open the curtain of the future and find out his fate. For example, the tradition of Christmas divination is full of hundreds of "ways to connect with the other world" - using felt boots, bulbs, mirrors, combs and everything that can be found on the farm. The most sophisticated readers are familiar with the "summoning of spirits" - the summoning of the dead with the help of a medium, through which souls "communicate knowledge" through a predetermined system of signs - knocking, movement of a plate or with the help of a hanging needle over an inscribed alphabet circle.

In the pioneer camps this activity was one of the most interesting, and the most popular for such extravagant conversations were poets and writers - Vladimir Mayakovsky, Marina Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova, Alexander Pushkin, Lev Tolstoy, the great "leaders" - Peter I, Stalin and Lenin, and - the most sinister - the Queen of Spades. Those who have ever taken part in such events often recall the whole procedure with a chill, and the answers to many burning questions received from the spirit further increase the reverent horror of the "evil spirits" and make them tremble before the secret afterlife.

Believe it or not, such "fun" a little more than a hundred years ago was considered a business by no means idle. In the 19th century in Europe, especially in England, seances were extremely popular, and the whole flower of European society - leading politicians, scientists, religious leaders, and writers - aspired to participate in them. One of the regular participants in the seances was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Here is such a paradox: the writer who gave the world one of the most convinced skeptics and materialists - Sherlock Holmes - considered materialists to be narrow-minded and was one of the leading adepts of spiritualism. At first, he simply acted as an observer of seances, and by the end of his days he became an experienced medium and regularly summoned spirits in his family at his leisure. Sir Arthur considered spiritualism to be the greatest of knowledge and saw in it the way to rid mankind from the darkness of ignorance and delusion. The great writer read many lectures around the world about this subtle phenomenon, wrote several books, with curious sketches of one of these - "The History of Spiritualism" - we are sharing with you today.

In a nutshell about terms

As Wikipedia carefully tells us, spiritualism (from Latin spiritualis - spiritual, spiritus - spirit) is a religious and philosophical trend, based on belief in the reality of life after death and the ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead through mediums. However, in Russia, the subtleties of translation, as always, mixed the shades of these concepts. And in the Russian language, under spiritualism in the broad sense is also spiritualism as teaching, religion and philosophy, and in the narrow sense - the spiritualistic seances and practices themselves in all their diversity.

In the rest of this article, we will use spiritualism and spiritualism as synonyms.These practices include not only the actual "invocation of spirits" in the ordinary sense and "conducting conversations with them" through the system of signs. Another type of spiritualism is automatic writing - when a medium - a person who “establishes contact with the spirit”, falls into a special state, a trance, and becomes an “instrument” of the spirit, writing down a text that someone “dictates”.

Another practice is writing on slate boards - where messages on the boards are written with chalk "by the spirit itself." Other spiritualistic practices include levitation, materialization of the spirit with the appearance of humanoid beings or their parts in the form of, for example, hands or faces, during a session. Here is an incomplete list of the "miracles" that Spiritualism gave to the world.

First experience

Spiritual seance

In general, Conan Doyle writes that spiritualism is a movement that, as many believe, since the appearance of Christ, has become the largest event in the history of mankind (1). Speaking about the history of this mysterious phenomenon, the author notes that spiritualism is as ancient as humanity itself. However, the teaching itself has an exact date of birth, namely March 31, 1848. On this day, there was a "manifestation of spiritualism to the people" - in all its diversity and with countless witnesses - in the suburb of New York, Hydesville, in the house of the farmer Mr. Fox.

For several years, the inhabitants of the house were haunted by strange knocks, steps and rustles of unknown origin. However, it was on March 31, 1848 that Mr. Fox's daughters, Kate and Margaret, decided to turn to an unknown creature - in response to the blows, they began to snap their fingers. One of the girls said: "Mr. Stomp, do as I do!" and began to clap her hands. In response, there were the same number of claps. Further, the girls' mother, Mrs. Fox, joined the conversation. Here is her story:

I asked the following question: "Can a person do these blows and answer the questions so accurately?" There was no answer. I asked: "If you are a spirit, then knock twice." Two blows rang out. The next question: "If you are the spirit of the murdered, then knock twice." Immediately two blows sounded, and such that the whole house trembled. "Were you killed in this house?" The answer is yes. "Is your killer still alive?" Two hits again. I asked again and again and learned this: the spirit belonged to a man of thirty-one, who was killed in our house and buried in the cellar: the man had a family - a wife, five children: three daughters and two sons; at the time of his death, everyone was alive, but his wife had already died. "If I call the neighbors, will you continue knocking?" I asked. Two blows meant agreement …

The next day, Saturday, the house was already full of people. They say about three hundred people (2).

Local residents formed a whole commission, the purpose of which was to find out all the circumstances of the incident. And they found out. The Boston Journal, which has nothing to do with spiritualism, published the following message in its issue of November 23, 1904:

The bones of the man who made the sounds that the Fox sisters heard in 1848 were found in the house where their family lived at the time. All doubts disappeared - the find confirmed that the sisters were telling the truth about their communication with the spirit.

The Fox sisters were the first to come into contact with the spirit of the man killed in their home - he reported how the murder happened and that his grave is in the cellar of the house.

The discovery of the skeleton entirely corresponds to the testimony made by Margaret Fox on April 11, 1848”(3).

After this amazing incident, spiritualism created a real sensation in the West, the most significant cases of which are fascinatingly and with detailed eyewitness accounts given by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his book.

Spiritualism and the powers that be

After the first contact with spirits, the popularity of spiritualism quickly gained momentum. Among the admirers of the new teaching there were many respected, rich and famous people.Many, like Conan Doyle, practiced spiritism, and even the discoveries and works of some authors have been reported to have been created with the help of spirits. Even from school, everyone knows that the periodic table of elements of Dmitry Mendeleev (1834-1907) dreamed of him ready-made. “I see in my dream a table where all the elements are arranged as needed. I woke up, immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper - and only one place required an amendment”(4).

As for the writers who created their works through the spiritualistic practice of "automatic writing," Charles Dickens is one of the prime examples. Here is what Valeria and Vladimir Dubkovsky write about him:

Dickens has repeatedly admitted that he wrote all his novels under the dictation of an invisible co-author. In fact, all of his work was a vivid example of non-instrumental transcommunication. It is interesting that after the death of Dickens in 1870, this communication was not interrupted, but changed - now Dickens himself acted as a "heavenly co-author."

Dickens made the transition to the Subtle World, having managed to write only half of the novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood". In 1872, a simple printer TP James of Brattleboro, Vermont, unexpectedly began to receive "automatic messages" from the late Dickens with the continuation of the novel. By July 1873, James had recorded the entire ending of the novel. After the publication of the full version, even the most skeptical critics were forced to admit that the text is fully consistent with the style and vocabulary of Dickens (5).

In the book "History of Spiritualism" there is information that Abraham Lincoln consulted with the spirits regarding the date of the publication of the "declaration of independence." So, according to Sir Conan Doyle, the history of the United States has not been without the intervention of an otherworldly force.

Spiritualism and skepticism


Communicating with spirits aroused bewilderment, suspicion, and - often - contempt in the 19th century as much as it does today. As soon as another medium and a person "with abilities" was discovered, in addition to crowds of curious people who sincerely believe in the other world and are looking for answers to their questions, a string of skeptics, materialists and exposers rushed to him, who were looking for answers to the questions of their inquiring mind and tried to catch the medium in fraud.

For this purpose, special commissions, societies, committees were created. They included prominent scientists from different fields of knowledge - doctors, psychology, lawyers, forensic scientists, historians, linguists. Experiments and experiments were carried out directly during the sessions, all actions were carefully recorded and described in detail. As soon as the spiritual mediums were not subjected to tests: they were tied, chained, put in a wooden box, stripped naked and carried out countless manipulations in order to exclude any possibility of manipulating the results of the sessions.

The results of such revelations were different. It happened that the most desperate skeptics sprinkled ashes on their heads and admitted the existence of "inexplicable phenomena." However, more often than not, the reports of such societies ended with a statement of their own scientific powerlessness and the impossibility of explaining the causes of the phenomena taking place, but with a complete denial of any of their "otherworldly" sources.

For three decades, the attitude of the official science towards Spiritualism was as biased and unreasonable as the attitude of the Church towards Galileo once was, and if there was a "scientific inquisition" - Spiritism would certainly be subject to this punishment (6).

Many mediums willingly went to experiments, because they believed that their mission was to open the eyes of humanity. However, realizing the futility of any attempts to prove the existence of mystical phenomena and the right of spiritualism to exist, they began to give rise to suspicion, really "enhancing the effect" of spiritualistic seances with various manipulations and machinations.And they often tried to combine their educational “masses” in front of a wide audience as proof of spiritualism with “elements of the show,” not missing out on the opportunity to earn money.

Cesare Lombroso, a great psychiatrist and founder of criminology as a science, whose works are still the basis for studying in the criminal law field, was invited as an authoritative expert to many commissions to expose mystics. Recording the facts of deception when they took place, Lombroso was fully convinced of the truth of what was happening and by the end of his life became an ardent supporter of spiritualism. Here is what he writes about Eusapia, one of the most popular mediums of his time:

She often performed the most difficult tricks. If she was held by the hands, she could free one and move a nearby object or touch someone; could imperceptibly lift the leg of a chair with her foot; correcting her hair, she could quietly pluck out a hair and lower it on the scales to set them in motion. Once, before a session, Feifofer noticed her in the garden, where she was picking flowers, so that later in a dark room she could quietly toss them, like a "message from the underworld" …

However, when accused of cheating, she was genuinely upset! These accusations have not always been true. It has now been reliably established that she can indeed release pseudo-limbs and act with them as with ordinary hands and feet. Before that, it was long believed that these were her usual arms and legs, which she, distracting observers, imperceptibly released (7).

One of the most unpleasant stories for Conan Doyle is associated with the name of the great illusionist, skeptic and exposer of charlatans Harry Houdini. The writer and the illusionist were great friends. Sir Arthur, wanting to prove to a friend the reality of spiritualistic practices, once invited him to a session at his home.

During the session, Houdini's mother was called, who transmitted through a medium - the writer's wife - a letter addressed to Harry's son. Houdini was shocked and completely disarmed. Conan Doyle had no doubt that he had convinced a friend and acquired a companion with a new conviction. Imagine his surprise when, a few days later, Houdini published a statement in the New York Sun in which he claimed that for 25 years of his professional activity he had not found any evidence of the truth of spiritualistic phenomena. Outraged, Conan Doyle wrote the following letter to a friend:

My dear Houdini: I was sent by the New York Sun with your article and no doubt wanted me to answer it, but I have no desire to spar with a friend in public, so I left it unanswered. But nevertheless, I feel a great regret for this. You have the right to hold your own opinion in this world, but when you said that you had no proof of the existence of {this phenomenon}, you said something with which I cannot compare what I saw with my own eyes. I know from many examples the truth of my wife's mediumship, and I saw what happened to you, and what effect it had on you at that moment (8).

Houdini replied that he could not explain why he did not believe what was happening during the session, but Conan did not convince Doyle. Subsequently, Harry Houdini made a series of exposures of the frauds of mediums who were in favor of Conan Doyle. This was the last straw in the relationship of friends - they did not communicate anymore.

Arthur Conan Doyle's work, The History of Spiritualism, is as fascinating and puzzling as his action-packed detectives. Well, are you imbued with it? Be that as it may, sometimes one wants to believe in the words of the great writer that "the so-called miracles, from which honest thinkers are perplexed, actually exist" (9). At least on New Years and Christmas …

Popular by topic