Monday, January 19, 2009

Doyle's Belief in Spiritiualism and Faries


While many of Arthur Conan Doyle's books are available as e-text on the Internet, and many web sites are devoted to him and his work, there's scant mention of Doyle's credulous acceptance of spiritualism, fairies and other occult ideas. He is .of course most known for creating Sherlock Holmes
"Modern" spiritualism began in the United States in the mid 19th century. Specifically, it arose in Western New York state, a region known to social historians for the religious fervor which made it a spawning ground for many religious sects. They refer to it as the "infected district" or the "burned over district." Spiritualism was born in the fertile ground of religious fervor of several religions groups, a climate of thought receptive to spiritualist ideas.

Mainstream religions promised eternal life, but in an era of emerging science which demanded verifiable physical evidence, many religious persons wished for tangible evidence of the claims of relgion, particularly of claims of an afterlife.

"...Such apparent evidence appeared in Hydesville, New York, in 1848, in a modest frame house which had a reputation of being haunted. Here occured the event which launched the movement known as "modern spiritualism" to distinguish it from earlier historical beliefs about an afterlife.

By Donald E. Simanek
http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/doyle.htm

htmSuch apparent evidence appeared in Hydesville, New York, in 1848, in a modest frame house which had a reputation of being haunted. Here occured the event which launched the movement known as "modern spiritualism" to distinguish it from earlier historical beliefs about an afterlife.

The Fox family had three teenage daughters who claimed to hear strange rapping noises at night. The girls thought a ghost might be producing the noises, so they tried to respond by clapping their hands. They soon evolved a code for communicating with the ghost of a peddler who had long ago visited the house and had been murdered there. A skeleton later found in the basement seemed to confirm this. Naturally this attracted much local attention.

The Fox girls were instant celebrities. They demonstrated their communication with the spirit by using taps and knocks, automatic writing, and later even voice communication, as the spirit took control of one of the girls.

Soon others, now known as mediums, imitated this and began communicating with the dead, charging for their services, or accepting donations. Seances were conducted in dark or semi-dark rooms w


Skeptics suspected this was nothing but clever deception and fraud. Nonetheless, belief in the ability to communicate with the dead grew rapidly, becoming an organized religion called Spiritualism. Spiritualism flourished well into the 20th century, and still exists today.

Suspicions that the seance-room phenomena were fraudulent were reinforced when Margaret Fox confessed to deception. On October 21, 1888, Margaret appeared before an audience of 2000 to demonstrate how she had fraudulently produced the spirit raps. In her stocking feet, on a small pine platform six inches above

One of those who would not accept Margaret's confession was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the fictional Sherlock Holmes and a convinced believer in spiritualism. He responded:

Nothing that she could say in that regard would in the least change my opinion, nor would it that of any one else who had become profoundly convinced that there is an occult influence connecting us with an invisible world.

The magician Harry Houdini, a showman continually alert to opportunities for self-promotion, publicly exposed mediumistic trickery in his stage shows and wrote pamphlets opposing fraudulent mediums. In spite of this, some spiritualists claimed that Houdini had genuine spiritualistic powers, refusing to accept Houdini's own statements that only deception was involved in his performances. he floor, Margaret produced raps audible throughout the theater by cracking her toe-joints! Doctors from the audience came on stage to verify the source of the sound.

Doyle not only believed in spiritualism and all of the phenomena of the seance room, but he also believed in fairies.

In 1917, two teenage girls in Yorkshire produced photographs they had taken of fairies in their garden. Elsie Wright (age 16) and her cousin Frances Griffiths (age 10) used a simple camera and were said to be lacking any knowledge of photography or photographic trickery.
Photographic experts who were consulted declared that none of the negatives had been tampered with, there was no evidence of double exposures, and that a slight blurring of one of the fairies in photo number one indicated that the fairy was moving during the exposure of 1/50 or 1/100 second. They seemed not to even entertain the simpler explanation that the fairies were simple paper cut-outs fastened on the bush, jiggling slightly in the breeze. Doyle and other believers were also not troubled by the fact that the fairy's wings never showed blurred movement, even in the picture of the fairy calmly posed suspended in mid-air. Apparently fairy wings don't work like hummingbird's wings.

Hardly anyone can look at these photos today and accept them as anything but fakes. The lighting on the fairies does not match that of the girls. The fairy figures have a flat, cut-out appearance. But spiritualists, and others who prefer a world of magic and fantasy accepted the photos as genuine evidence for fairies.
The girls said they could not photograph the fairies when anyone else was watching. No one else could photograph the fairies. There was only one independent witness, Geoffrey L. Hodson, a Theosophist writer, who claimed to see the fairies, and confirmed the girls' observations "in all details".

Arthur Conon Doyle not only accepted these photos as genuine, he even wrote two pamphlets and a book attesting the genuineness of these photos, and including much additional fairy lore. His book, The Coming of the Fairies, is still in print, and some people still believe the photos are authentic. Doyle's books make very interesting reading even today. Doyle's belief in spiritualism, convinced many people that the creator of Sherlock Holmes was not as bright as his fictional creation.

Some thought Conan Doyle crazy, but he defended the reality of fairies with all the evidence he could gather. He counters the arguments of the disbelievers eloquently and at great length. In fact, his evidence and arguments sound surprisingly similar in every respect to those of present-day books touting the idea that alien beings visit us in UFOs. Robert Sheaffer wrote a clever article drawing these parallels beautifully.
On the matter of Conan Doyle's gullibility, Gilbert Chesterton said

...it has long seemed to me that Sir Arthur's mentality is much more that of Watson than it is of Holmes. "

Some interesting things going on back then.would love to have been around it.Of course some of the same things are debated today.
Next post will be another account and an Urban Fairy Story...The picture by the way is one of those referred to above.

4 comments:

DW Golden said...

Wow, this is all news to me. I always just thought of him as the creator of Sherlock.
It makes me very disappointed in modern culture that people believe he is of lower intelligence simply because he holds different beliefs than others. If anything those who can not allow others their own belief systems should be considered of lower intelligence as well as lower on the scale of social development.

DW Golden
Fly with Fairies in a new young adult novel: Purple Butterflies

UniqueNurseGranny said...

Thank you for the thoughtful comment.Unfortunately that does seem to be a popular stance when disagreement occurs.

The Empty Envelope said...

I am fascinated by the history of spiritualism, especially in this time period. There was a lot of issues at that time for the Mormons in the same part of the State, but I'd have to look at dates too.

Have you ever read some of the interesting things in Burlington, WI associated with the Mormons?

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