Voice Mediumship and Moulds

"The History of Spiritualism"
Volume II, Chapter 6
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


It is impossible to devote separate chapters to each form of psychic power, as the result would far transcend the limits of this work, but the phenomena of voice production and also of moulds are so clear and evidential that some fuller account of them may not be superfluous.

Many thousands of people can echo the words of job, "And I heard a voice," meaning a voice coming from someone not living on earth. And they can say this with the assurance of conviction, after a series of exhaustive tests. "The Bible narrative abounds with instances of this phenomenon,* and the psychic records of modern times show that here, as in other supernormal manifestations, what happened at the dawn of the world is happening still.

* See Usborne Moore's "The Voices" (1913), p. 433. S.P.R. JOURNAL, Vol. III., 1887, p. 131.

Historic instances of voice messages are those of Socrates and Joan of Arc, though it is not clear that in either case the voice was audible to others. It is in the light of the fuller knowledge which has come to us that we may conclude with some probability that the voices they heard were of the same supernormal character as those with which we are acquainted today.

Mr. F. W. H. Myers would have us believe that the Daemon of Socrates was "a profounder stratum of the sage himself," which was communicating with "the superficial or conscious stratum." And in the same way he would explain the voices which came to Joan. But in saying this he is not explaining anything. What are we to think of the reports that ancient statues spoke? The learned, anonymous author, said to have been Dr. Leonard Marsh, of Vermont University, of that curious book "Apocatastasis; or Progress Backwards," quotes Nonnus as saying:

Concerning this statue (of Apollo), where it stood, and how it spoke, I have said nothing. It is to be understood, however, that there was a statue at Delphi which emitted an inarticulate voice. For you must know that spirits speak with inarticulate voices because they have no organs by which they can speak articulately.

Dr. Marsh comments on this:

The author seems not to have been well informed in regard to the speaking power of the spirits, since all ancient history declares that their voice was often heard in the air, speaking articulately, and repeating the same words in different places; and this was called, and universally known, by the name of "Vox Divina."

He goes on to say that with the statue mentioned the spirit was evidently experimenting with the perverse material of which it was made (probably stone) to see if he could make it articulate, but could not succeed because the statue had "no larynx or other organs of voice, as modern mediums have." Dr. Marsh in his book set out to show that the Spiritualistic phenomena at that time (1854) were crude and immature in comparison with ancient spirit intercourse. The ancients, he says, spoke of it as a science, and asserted that the knowledge obtained by it was certain and reliable, "in spite of all fraudulent daemons." Granting that the priest was a voice medium, the speaking oracle is easily explained.

It is worth noting that the Voice, which was one of the first forms of mediumship associated with modern Spiritualism, is still prominent, whereas many other aspects of earlier mediumship have become rare. As there are a number of competent investigators who consider that voice phenomena are among the most convincing of psychic manifestations, let us glance at the records.

Jonathan Koons, the Ohio farmer, appears to have been the first of the modern mediums with whom it appeared. In the log-hut already mentioned, called his "Spirit Room," he had in 1852, and for some years after, a number of surprising phenomena, included among which were spirit voices speaking through a tin megaphone or "trumpet." Mr. Charles Partridge, a well-known public man, who was an early investigator, thus describes hearing the spirit known as John King speak at a seance at the Koons's in 1855:

At the close of the seance the spirit of King, as is his custom, took up the trumpet and gave a short lecture through it-SPEAKING AUDIBLY AND DISTINCTLY, presenting the benefits to be derived both in time and eternity from intercourse with spirits, and exhorting us to be discreet and bold in speech, diligent in our investigations, faithful to the responsibilities which those privileges impose, charitable towards those who are in ignorance or error, tempering our zeal with wisdom, etc.

Professor Mapes, the well-known American chemist, said that in the presence of the Davenports he conversed for half an hour with John King, whose voice was loud and distinct. Mr. Robert Cooper, one of the biographers of the Davenport Brothers, often heard King's voice in daylight, and in the moonlight when walking in the street with the Davenports.

At the present day we have come to have some idea of the process through which the voices are produced at a seance. This knowledge, by the way, has been corroborated by communications received from the spirits themselves.

It appears that ectoplasm coming chiefly from the medium, but also in a lesser degree from the sitters, is used by the spirit operators to fashion something resembling a human larynx. This they use in the production of the voice.

In the explanation given to Koons by the spirits they spoke of using a combination of the elements of the spiritual body, and what corresponds to our modern ectoplasm, "a physical aura which emanates from the medium." Compare this with the spirit explanation given through Mrs. Bassett, a well-known English voice medium in the 'seventies: "They say they take the emanations from the medium and other members of the circle, wherewith they make speaking apparatus which they use to talk with."*

* THE SPIRITUAL MAGAZINE (London), 1872, p. 45.

Mrs. Mary Marshall (died 1875), who was the first English public medium, was the channel for voices coming from John King and others. In London in 1869 Mr. W. H. Harrison, editor of THE SPIRITUALIST, conducted exhaustive tests with her. As the early Spiritualists were supposed to be people who were easily imposed upon, it is interesting to note his careful scrutiny. He says,* speaking of Mrs. Mary Marshall:

* THE SPIRITUALIST (London), Vol. 1, p. 38.

Tables and chairs moved about in daylight, and sometimes rose from the ground, whilst at the dark seances voices were heard, and luminous manifestations seen; all these things purported to come from spirits. I therefore resolved to be a constant visitor at the seances and to stick at the work till I either discovered the assertions to be true, or detected the imposture with sufficient accuracy and certainty to expose it in the presence of witnesses, and to be able to publish the facts with complete sectional drawings of the apparatus used.

The voice calling itself "John King" is backed by an intelligence apparently entirely different in kind from that of Mr. or Mrs. Marshall. However, I privately assumed that Mr. Marshall did the voice, and by attending a few seances found that it was a common thing for Mr. Marshall and John King to speak at the same time, so I was obliged to throw over that theory.

Next I assumed that Mrs. Marshall did it, till one evening I sat next her; she was on my right-hand side, I had hold of her hand and arm, and John King came and talked into my left ear, Mrs. Marshall being perfectly motionless all the time, so over went the other theory. Next, I assumed that a confederate among the visitors to the circle did John King's voice, so had a seance with Mr. and Mrs. Marshall alone; John was there, and talked for an hour.

Lastly, I assumed that a concealed confederate did the voice, so attended two seances where Mrs. Marshall was present among strangers to her, in a strange house, and again John King was as lively as ever.

Finally, on Thursday evening December 30th, 1869, John King came and talked to eleven persons at Mrs. C. Berry's circle, in the absence of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, the medium being Mrs. Perrin.

While Mr. Harrison satisfied himself in this way that no human being present produced the voices, he does not mention-what was the case-that the voices often gave internal proofs of identity such as neither the medium nor a confederate could have supplied. Signor Damiani, a well-known investigator, in his evidence before the London Dialectical Society, declared * that voices that had spoken to him in the presence of unpaid mediums had subsequently conversed with him at private seances with Mrs. Marshall, and had "there exhibited the same peculiarities as to tone, expression, pitch, volume, and pronunciation, as upon the former occasions." These voices also talked with him on matters of so private a nature that no one else could have known of them. At times, too, they foretold events which duly came to pass.

* Report of the London Dialectical Society (1871), p. 201. S.P.R. JOURNAL, Vol. IV, p. 127.

It is natural that those who come in contact for the first time with voice phenomena should suspect ventriloquism as a possible explanation. D. D. Home, with whom these voices occurred often, was careful to meet this objection. General Boldero, describing the seance when Home visited him at Cupar, Fife, in 1870, writes:

Then voices were heard speaking together in the room, two different persons judging from the intonation. We could not make out the words spoken, as Home persisted in speaking to us all the time. We remonstrated with him for speaking, and he replied, "I spoke purposely that you might be convinced the voices were not due to any ventriloquism on my part, as this is impossible when anyone is speaking in his natural voice." Home's voice was quite unlike that of the voices heard in the air.

The author can corroborate this from his personal experience, having repeatedly heard voices speaking at the same time. Examples are given in the chapter on Some Great Modern Mediums.

Admiral Usborne Moore testifies to hearing three and four spirit voices simultaneously with Mrs. Wriedt, of Detroit. In his book "The Voices" (1913) he quotes the testimony of a well-known writer, Miss Edith K. Harper, formerly private secretary to Mr. W. T. Stead. She writes*:

* "The Voices," pp. 324-5,

After considering a record of about two hundred sittings with Mrs. Etta Wriedt during her three visits to England, of which the notes of the general circles alone would fill a huge volume, were they written IN EXTENSO, I will try to relate, in brief, a few of the most striking experiences my mother and I were privileged to have through Mrs. Wriedt's mediumship. Looking over my notes of her first visit in 1911 the following details stand out as among the principal features of the seances:-

(1) Mrs Wriedt was never entranced, but conversed freely with the sitters, and we have heard her talking to, even arguing with, some spirit person with whose opinions she did not agree. I remember once Mr. Stead shaking with laughter on hearing Mrs. Wriedt suddenly reprimand the late editor of the Progressive Thinker for his attitude towards mediums, and the evident confusion of Mr. Francis, who, after an attempted explanation, dropped the trumpet, and apparently retired discomforted.

(2) Two, three, and even four spirit voices talking simultaneously to different sitters.

(3) Messages given in foreign languages-French, German, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Dutch, Arabic and others-with which the medium was quite unacquainted. A Norwegian lady, well known in the world of literature and politics, was addressed in Norwegian by a man's voice, claiming to be her brother, and giving the name P-.

She conversed with him, and seemed overcome with joy at the correct proofs he gave her of his identity. Another time a voice spoke in voluble Spanish, addressing itself definitely to a lady in the circle whom none of the sitters knew to be acquainted with that language; the lady thereupon entered into a fluent conversation in Spanish with the Spirit, to the evident satisfaction of the latter.

Mrs. Mary Hollis (afterwards Mrs. Hollis-Billing) was a remarkable American medium who visited England in 1874, and again in 1880, when a presentation and address were given her in London by representative Spiritualists. A fine account of her varied mediumship is given by Dr. N. B. Wolfe in his book, "Startling Facts in Modern Spiritualism." Mrs. Hollis was a lady of refinement, and thousands obtained evidence and consolation through her powers. Her two spirit guides, "James Nolan" and an Indian named "Ski," talked freely in the Direct Voice. At one of her seances, held at Mrs. Makdougall Gregory's house in Grosvenor Square on January 21, 1880, a clergyman of the Church of England* "had the thread of a conversation taken up by a spirit where it had been broken off seven years before, and he professed himself perfectly satisfied with the genuineness of the voice, which was very peculiar and distinctly audible to those sitting on either side of the clergyman who was addressed."

* SPIRITUAL NOTES, Vol. I., p. 262, iv.

Mr. Edward C. Randall gives an account of another good American voice medium, Mrs. Emily S. French, in his book "The Dead Have Never Died." She died in her home in Rochester, New York, on June 24, 1912. Mr. Randall investigated her powers for twenty years, and was convinced that her mediumship was of a very high character.

Mrs. Mercia M. Swain, who died in 1900, was a voice medium through whose instrumentality a Rescue Circle in California was able to reach and do good to unprogressed souls in the beyond. An account of these extraordinary sittings, which were under the control of Mr. Leander Fisher, of Buffalo, New York, and lasted for twenty-five years, from 1875 to 1900, will be found in Admiral Usborne Moore's book, "Glimpses of the Next State."

Mrs. Everitt, a very fine non-professional medium, obtained voices in England in 1867 and for many years after. Most of the great physical mediums, especially the materializing mediums, produced voice phenomena. They occurred, for instance, with Eglinton, Spriggs, Husk, Duguid, Herne, Mrs. Guppy, and Florence Cook.

Mrs. Elizabeth Blake, of Ohio, who died in 1920, was one of the most wonderful voice mediums of whom we have any record, and perhaps the most evidential, because in her presence the voices were regularly produced in broad daylight. She was a poor, illiterate woman living in the tiny village of Bradrick on the shore of the Ohio River, on the opposite bank of which was the town of Huntingdon, in West Virginia. She had been a medium since childhood. She was strongly religious and belonged to the Methodist Church, from which, however, like some others, she was expelled on account of her mediumship.

Little has been written about her, the only detailed account being a valuable monograph by Professor Hyslop.* She is said to have been repeatedly tested by "scientists, physicians and others," and to have submitted willingly to all their tests. As, however, these men were unable to detect any fraud, they did not trouble to give their results to the world. Hyslop had his attention drawn to her by hearing that a well-known American conjurer, of many years' experience, had become convinced of her genuineness, and in 1906 he travelled to Ohio to investigate her mediumship.

* PROCEEDINGS of the American S.P.R., Vol. VII (1913), pp. 570-788.

Hyslop's voluminous report describes evidential communications that occurred.

He makes this not unusual confession of ignorance of ectoplasmic processes in the production of voice phenomena. He says:

The loudness of the sounds in some cases excludes the supposition that the voices are conveyed from the vocal cords to the trumpet. I have heard the sounds twenty feet away, and could have heard them forty or fifty feet away, and Mrs. Blake's lips did not move.

It still remains to get any clear hypothesis to explain this aspect of the phenomena. Even to say "spirits" would not satisfy the ordinary scientific man. He wants to know the mechanical processes involved, as we explain ordinary speech.

It may be true that spirits are the first cause in the case, but there are steps in the process which intervene between their initiative and the ultimate result. It is that which creates the perplexity more than the supposition that spirits are in some way back of it allthe scientific man cannot see how spirits can institute a mechanical event without the use of a mechanical instrument.

Nor can anyone else, for that matter, but the explanation has been given again and again from the Other Side. Professor Hyslop's want of knowledge of the link existing between the sounds and their source would be less surprising were it not for the fact that the spirits themselves have repeatedly supplied the answer to the questions he raises. Through many mediums they have given almost identical explanations.

Dr. L. V. Guthrie, superintendent of the West Virginia Asylum at Huntingdon, Mrs. Blake's medical adviser, was convinced of her powers. He wrote:*

* OP. CIT., p. 581.

I have had sittings with her in my own office, also on the front porch in the open air, and on one occasion in a carriage as we were driving along the road. She has repeatedly offered to let me have a sitting and use a lamp chimney instead of a tin horn, and I have frequently seen her produce the voices with her hand resting on one end of the horn.

Dr. Guthrie gives the following two cases with Mrs. Blake where the information supplied was not known to the sitters, and could not have been known to the medium.

One of my employees, a young lady, whose brother had joined the army and gone to the Philippines; was anxious to receive some word from him, and had written letters to him repeatedly and addressed them in care of his Company in the Philippines, but could receive no answer. She called on Mrs. Blake and was told by the "spirit" of her mother, who had passed away some several years, that if she would address a letter to this brother at C-- she would get an answer. She did so and received a reply from him in two or three days, as he had returned from the Philippines, unknown to any of his family.

The next case is even more striking.

An acquaintance of mine, of prominent family in this end of the State, whose grandfather had been found at the foot of a high bridge with his skull smashed and life extinct, called on Mrs. Blake a few years ago and was not thinking of her grandfather at the time. She was very much surprised to have the "spirit" of her grandfather tell her that he had not fallen off the bridge while intoxicated, as had been presumed at the time, but that he had been murdered by two men who met him in a buggy and had proceeded to sandbag him, relieve him of his valuables, and throw him over the bridge. The "spirit" then proceeded to describe minutely the appearance of the two men who had murdered him, and gave such other information that led to the arrest and conviction of one or both of these individuals.

Numerous sitters with Mrs. Blake noted that while the medium was speaking, spirit voices were heard at the same time, and further, that the same spirits pre served the same personality and the same intonation of voice through a course of years. Hyslop gives details of a case with this medium where the voice communication gave the correct solution for opening a combination lock to a safe, when it was unknown to the sitter.

Among modern voice mediums in England are Mrs. Roberts Johnson, Mrs. Blanche Cooper, John C. Sloan, William Phoenix, the Misses Dunsmore, Evan Powell the Welsh medium, and Mr. Potter.

Mr. H. Dennis Bradley has given a full account of the voice mediumship of George Valiantine, the well-known American medium. Mr. Bradley was able himself to secure voices in his own Home Circle, without any professional medium. It is impossible to exaggerate the services which Mr. Bradley's devoted and self-sacrificing work has rendered to psychic science. If our whole knowledge depended upon the evidence given in these two books, it would be ample for any reasonable man.*

* "Towards the Stars" and "The Wisdom of the Gods."

Some few pages may also be devoted to a summary of the very cogent objective evidence which is offered by the casts that have been taken from the bodies of ectoplasmic figures-in other words, of materialized forms. The first who explored this line of research seems to have been William Denton, the author of "Nature's Secrets," a book on psychometry, published in 1863. In Boston (U. S. A.) in 1875, working with the medium Mary M. Hardy, he employed methods which closely resemble those used by Richet and Geley in their more recent experiments in Paris. Denton actually gave a public demonstration in Paine Hall, when the cast of a spirit face was said to have been produced in melted paraffin. Other mediums with whom these casts were obtained were Mrs. Firman, Dr. Monck, Miss Fairlamb (afterwards Mrs. Mellon), and William Eglinton. The fact that these results were corroborated by the later Paris sittings is a strong argument for their validity. Mr. William Oxley, of Manchester, describes how on February 5, 1876, a beautiful mould of a lady's hand was obtained, and how a subsequent mould of the hand of Mrs. Firman the medium was found to be quite different. On this occasion Mrs. Firman was confined in a lace net bag which went over her head and was fastened round the waist, enclosing her hands and arms. This would seem to be final as regards any fraud on the part of the medium, while it is also recorded that the wax mould was warm, which shows that it could not have been brought into the seance room. It is hard to see what further precautions could have been taken to guarantee the result. On a second occasion a mould of the foot as well as of the hand was obtained, the openings of the wrist and ankle being in each case so narrow that the limb could not have been withdrawn. There seems to have been no explanation open save that the hand or foot had dematerialized.

Dr. Monck's results seem also to stand the test of criticism. Oxley experimented with him in Manchester in 1876, and had the same success as with Mrs. Firman. On this occasion different moulds from two separate figures were obtained. Oxley says of these experiences, "The importance and value of these spirit moulds cannot be overestimated, for while the relation of spiritual phenomena to others of doubtful and sceptical turn is valuable only on the ground of credibility, the casts of these hands and feet are permanent and patent facts, and now demand from men of science, artists, and scoffers a solution of the mystery of their production." This demand is still made. A famous conjurer, Houdini, and a great anatomist, Sir Arthur Keith, have both tried their hands, and the results, laboriously produced, have only served to accentuate the unique character of that which they tried to copy.

In the case of Eglinton it has been recorded by Dr. Nichols) the biographer of the Davenports, that evidential casts of hands were obtained, and that one lady present recognized a peculiarity-a slight deformity-characteristic of the hand of her little daughter who had been drowned in South Africa at the age of five years.

Perhaps the most final and convincing of all the moulds was that which was obtained by Epes Sergeant from the medium Mrs. Hardy, already mentioned in connexion with Denton's experiments. The conclusions are worth quoting in full. The writer says-

"Our conclusions are:

"1. That the mould of a full-sized perfect hand was produced in a closed box by some unknown power exercising intelligence and manual activity.

"2. That the conditions of the experiment were independent of all reliance on the character and good faith of the medium, though the genuineness of her mediumship has been fully vindicated by the result.

"3. That these conditions were so simple and so stringent as completely to exclude all opportunities for fraud and all contrivances for illusion, so that our realization of the conclusiveness of the test is perfect.

"4. That the fact, long known to investigators, that evanescent, materialized hands, guided by intelligence and projected from an invisible organism, can be made visible and tangible, receives confirmation from this duplicated test.

"5. That the experiment of the mould, coupled with that of the so-called spirit photograph, gives objective proof of the operation of an intelligent force outside of any visible organism, and offers a fair basis for scientific investigation.

"6. That the inquiry 'How was that mould produced within that box?' leads to considerations that must have a most important bearing on the philosophy of the future, as well as on problems of psychology and physiology, and opens new views of the latent powers and high destiny of man."

Seven reputable witnesses sign the report.

If the reader is not satisfied by such various examples of the validity of these tests by casts and moulds, he should read the conclusions which were reached by that great investigator Geley, at the end of his classical experiments with Kluski, already shortly alluded to.

Dr. Geley carried out with Kluski a number of remarkable experiments in the formation of wax moulds of materialized hands. He has recorded* the results of a series of eleven successful sittings for this purpose. In a dim light the medium's right hand was held by Professor Richet and his left hand by Count Potocki. A trough containing wax, kept at melting-point by warm water, was placed two feet in front of Kluski, and for the purpose of a test the wax was impregnated (unknown to the medium) with the chemical cholesterin, this to prevent the possibility of substitution. Dr. Geley writes:


The feeble light did not admit of the phenomena being actually seen; we were aware of the moment of dipping, by the sound of splashing in the liquid. The operation involved two or three immersions. The hand that was acting was plunged in the trough, was withdrawn, and, covered with warm paraffin, touched the hands of the controllers of the experiments, and then was plunged again into the wax. After the operation the glove of paraffin, still warm but solidified, was placed against the hand of one of the controllers.

In this way nine moulds were taken: seven of hands, one of a foot, and one of a chin and lips. The wax of which they were composed on being tested gave the characteristic reaction of cholesterin. Dr. Geley shows twenty-three photographs of the moulds and of plaster casts made from them. It may be mentioned that the moulds exhibit the folds of the skin, the nails and the veins, and these markings in nowise resemble those of the medium. Efforts to make similar moulds from the hands of human beings were only partially successful, and the difference from those obtained at the sittings was obvious. Sculptors and moulders of repute have declared that they know of no method of producing wax moulds such as those obtained at the seances with Kluski.

Geley sums up the result thus:*

* "L'Ectoplasmie," etc., p. 278.

"We will now enumerate the proofs which we have given of the authenticity of the moulds of materialized limbs in our experiments in Paris and Warsaw.

"We have shown that quite apart from the control of the medium, whose two hands were held by us, all fraud was impossible.

"1. The theory of fraud by a rubber glove is inadmissible, for such an attempt gives crude and absurd results which can be seen at a glance to be imitations.

"2. It is not possible to produce such gloves of wax by using a rigid mould already prepared. A trial of this shows at once how impossible it is.

"3. The use of a prepared mould in some fusible and soluble substance, covered with a film of paraffin during the seance and then dissolved out in a pail of water, will not fit in with the actual procedure. We had no pail of water.

"4. The theory that a living hand was used (that of the medium or of an assistant) is inadmissible. This could not have been done, for several reasons, one being that gloves thus obtained are thick and solid, while ours are fine and delicate, also that the position of the fingers in our moulds makes it impossible that they could be withdrawn without breaking the glove. Also that the gloves have been compared with the hands of the medium and of the assistants, and that they are not alike. This is shown also by anthropological measurements.

"Finally, there is the hypothesis that the gloves were brought by the medium. This is disproved by the fact that we secretly introduced chemicals into the melted wax, and that these were found in the gloves.

"The report of the expert modellers on the point is categorical and final."

Nothing is evidence to those who are so filled with prejudice that they have no room for reason, but it is inconceivable that any normally endowed man could read all the above, and doubt the possibility of taking moulds from ectoplasmic figures.


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