Most likely the majority of people reading this blog are not familiar with the historical movement of Spiritualism, which had its heydays way before their time. Hunting ghosts in an old building or experimenting with a OUIJA board is totally different from the adventures we can find in the extremely rich Spiritualist literature produced in the second half of the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th century, or even with Spiritualism as it is practised today.
There’s a lot of prejudice against Spiritualism. Many writers and other people feel a definite contempt for what people in that exciting era believed and experienced. But although there was a lot of trickery and many manifestions were doubtful or fraudulous, many were genuine. There’s an enormous body of scientific literature written during those years when Spiritualism bloomed (much of it available on internet) and scientists in those days were not more stupid or gullible than scientists in our time. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Things happened. Strange things. Wonderful things. Creepy things. Unbelievable things. There is not a shadow of a doubt that they really did happen.
Another question – the most important and hardest to answer is: were those manifestations really caused by the spirits of the dead, or by some other agent ‘playing dead’ . Answering that question is still – and always will be – a matter of what you believe.
Spiritualists came together for seances, most of the time small groups of people around a medium. A typical seance started with singing and often praying. Silently people wished for the contact with a deceased loved one. But there were no magic incantations, no ‘calling the dead’ , as is often thought. It depended on the medium what kind of manifestations would happen – if anything happened at all. Sometimes rappings were heard or lights seen. Some mediums fell into a trance, others stayed awake. Some seances were in darkness, in others some light was allowed. There were ‘materialisation mediums’ where the ‘dead’ took shape, ‘direct voice’ mediums who gave messages through an agent which was not their own voice, while other mediums caused tables to move, apports to materialise or instruments to play. Most mediums had a ‘guide’ , a spirit who was helpful in the proceedings and was supposed to take care of the medium when she temporarily left her body. Spirit manifestations were not seen as creepy. No Yvette Fielding types screaming or people running away from the scene in a panic. Spirits were welcomed as friends.
We are in the year 1923.
Apart from the monstrous costs in human lives in WWI, the terrible Spanish Flue pandemic (1918-1919) took millions of lives worldwide, many children among them. A multitude of parents lost their offspring. Many illnesses children in our times are protected from by vaccination were still dangerous and often deadly in 1923. Tuberculoses raged and mortality was high. So no lack of grief, and many turned to spiritism for consolation.
This introduction was necessary to give you some idea of what we are talking about.
I hope you’re still with me, because I want to tell you a weird story I found in a Dutch Spiritualistic magazine: Geest en Leven (Spirit and Life) of 1923. And yes, it is fantastic and unbelievable, but read on.
Some time before Christmas a seance was held with a ‘direct voice’ medium. I wish I could translate the story in the old and elaborate wording in which it is written, but maybe better not. You would probably fall asleep. In any case, while the medium was in a trance, voices of children were heard, talking with their emotional parents and talking to each other. Older children were heard reprimanding the younger ones to behave.
Then a father asked his invisible child: “Dear, do you have Christmas trees in the spheres?” ( Spiritualists seldom refer to ‘heaven’ in the Christian sense, but to the ‘hereafter’, the ‘spheres’, the ‘other side’ , the ‘Summerland’ or the ‘astral’)
The child answered that there were many pleasures in the spirit realm, but no Christmas trees. Which was a pity. Would they like one? Yes, they would.
In follow-up meetings the children were asked about what presents they would like to have, also the children who were too little to speak to their parents. And a plan was made.
A large Christmas tree of 10 feet high was obtained and richly ornamented with the usual glitter, balls and bells and with many presents in and under the tree, according to the wishes of the many young and older children. There were soft fur animals, dolls and toys for boys that made sounds, and many could move . Some children specifically asked for specific toys. There were also objects that smelled nice and tasted even better, like bonbons, so the spirit children had every reason to get excited.
The older children helpfully instructed their parents: “There will be many children and a lot of energy, and with toys and bells that move and make sounds, you can all hear and see our presence.” The kids requested cards too, one on top of the tree, with the biblical text ‘Let the children come to me’ .
When everything was in preparation the spirit children were told that their presents would go to a children’s hospital after the celebration. That announcement was received with elation, and the children said that they wanted to give the presents themselves to the children they had already chosen. (don’t ask me how that worked, I’m as flabbergasted as anyone) .
The seance was held on Christmas Eve. Instructions were received from the Other Side about which songs to sing. Thanks to the ‘direct voice’ medium the room was full of excited children, talking and whispering like any group of children waiting for the big moment. Sometimes older children were heard instructing the younger ones to wait in line and to behave. But there was more than sound.
There were materialised hands bearing a blue light, and two children – stillborn – materialised sufficiently to be seen climbing on their mother’s lap. The ages of the children varied from 2 till 18 years old. They seemed all to recognise their parents and kiss them, which was felt, and a voice from somewhere told the bereaved parents what was going on. Some children expressed their happiness with the toys, and when the circle sang, the astral children and their helpers from the afterlife joined in.
Early the next Christmas morning the tree and all the presents were brought to the hospital to make children of flesh and blood happy.
At the next seance the invisible children told the circle how delighted they were with the procedure at the hospital where all of them had been present to see to it that the toys were given to the children they were meant for.
Yes yes, dear reader. your boggle boundary is reached now, I suppose. Mine too. But this is not all. It even gets a lot weirder.
For in the 2013 december issue of the longstanding English Spiritualist magazine ‘Psychic News’ (which you can find here: http://www.psychicnews.org.uk/ ) there was an interesting story about just such a Christmas seance in 1978, told by Tony Ortzen, the editor of another respectable and old U.K.Spiritualistic magazine ‘Two Worlds’ . http://www.twoworldsmag.co.uk/
Ortzen tells us that the 90 minutes seance was the center of intense psychic activity. This time it wasn’t a bunch of sweet little nicely behaving kids that called the shots. This time there were polterchildren making fun of the shocked participants.
Ortzen writes: “Bells and other instruments sounded. Toys were taken from the tree and handled by invisible hands. Some were flung across the room. Christmas cards were torn open. The tree pirouetted and started to move, thereby brushing rudely against the members of the circle and making stabbing movements. At a certain moment the 6 feet tall, heavy tree in its bucket with earth stamped on the ground and toys and ornaments flew everywhere and were thrown over the floor. Someone got a plastic truck against his person.
When the lights came on, it was a mess as if a hurricane had just passed. Needles from the battered tree were lying everywhere and the floor was strewn with toys. Bells still rang and a trumpet moved through the room, hitting the ceiling.”
Comparing this story with the one in 1923 we are tempted to conclude that heavenly(?) hooligans took over this 1978 seance. Not much fun, and undoubtedly lots of broken dreams for the living. For who is prepared to get attacked by a Christmas tree making fun of ‘Peace on Earth’.
Has this been the last time such a Christmas seance was organised? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.