Friday, November 13, 2009

Review of Tymn: The Articulate Dead

Ever since the early days of psychical research, investigators interested in the possibility of life after death have studied mediums, extraordinary individuals who claim the ability to communicate with Spirits. The study of mediumship has also been historically important in psychology for its influence on the development of concepts such as the subconscious, dissociation and anomalous identity experiences (Cardeña, in press). However, in the 20th century interest in mediumship declined somewhat as researchers turned their attentions to other areas. Nevertheless, in recent years there has been a conspicuous resurgence of interest within the parapsychological community with notable publications by David Fontana (2004, 2009) and ongoing research from Tricia Robertson and Archie Roy in the UK and from the Windbridge Institute in the USA led by Julie Beischel (to name just a few). The publication of The Articulate Dead by Michael E. Tymn is a further indication of this revival.

A resident of Kailua, Hawaii, Michael E. Tymn is vice-president of the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, a free-lance journalist specialising in paranormal subjects and a regular contributor to the UK Spiritualist newspaper Psychic News.
In The Articulate Dead, he takes a look back through the annals of psychical research and revisits some of the most remarkable cases of mediumship from the glory days of Spiritualism in the period from1850 to 1940. Beginning with a preface written by Donald Morse the book is divided into four parts. The first covers the work of some of the earliest psychical researchers such as Sir William Crookes, Sir William Barrett and F.W.H. Myers and covers the spread of Spiritualism from America into Europe. It outlines the development of Spiritism in France and discusses the work of Victor Hugo and Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail. It even includes samples of messages from The Spirits’ book published under the name of Allan Kardec in 1857 and from Stainton Moses’ Spirit Teachings published in 1883. The second and third sections of the book move on to examine the work of prominent mediums Leonora Piper and Gladys Osborne Leonard and the fourth discusses some other intriguing cases of otherworldly communication including the Poetaster spirit Patience Worth and the delightful band of monks who gave archaeological assistance to the Glastonbury Abbey excavations via the pen of Frederick Bligh Bond. Next, there is a short Epilogue in which Mr Tymn regrets the fact that they don’t make mediums like they used to and places the blame on lack of patience, moral climate and possibly electrical interference. (O tempora! O mores!) Finally, the book wraps up with a useful glossary and a psychical research timeline starting from 31 March 1848 with the onset of the Hydesville rappings and ending in 1940 with the death of Sir Oliver Lodge.

The author is clear from the outset that his purpose in resurrecting these old cases is to provide evidence of a spirit world and with this aim he deliberately avoids controversial cases. As a result he steers away from the escapades of the bold Eusapia Palladino and the controversies of the Mina "Margery" Crandon mediumship. However, I have to confess that I miss them. As the “Margery” case split the American Society for Psychical Research and helped contribute to the career misfortunes of Frederick Bligh Bond, I think it (and other contentious cases) were relevant to some of the stories told. As Oscar Wilde once said “Truth is rarely pure and never simple”! The book is nearly divided up in such as way that each chapter can be read and understood by itself, however this leads to quite a bit of repetition and links between the various chapters are not always made. For example, it might be interesting for the reader to know that the Hester Dowden (Mrs Travers Smith) who appears in a ouija board session in chapter 5 with Sir William Barrett also had a hand in the automatic writing experiments of Frederick Bligh Bond in chapter 19 and that her colleague “Miss C.” (of “Pearl Tie Pin Case” fame) was none other than the Irish automatist, Geraldine Cummins, who ended up suing him.

Mrs. Travers Smith also appears in the book’s last chapter, “Disaster Survivors Communicate”. This gives an account of a famous Dublin séance which began at 8.30 May 7, 1915 when contact was apparently made with the spirit of art aficionado Sir Hugh Lane. Mrs. Travers Smith was sitting at a ouija board with playwright Lennox Robinson (both blindfolded) along with the Rev. Savell Hicks who was taking notes when unexpectedly the board spelled out, “Pray for Hugh Lane” and then the ominous message “I am Hugh Lane, all is dark.” (Travers Smith, 1919: p 33-34)

The story continues in The Articulate Dead:

“After several minutes, Hicks told Travers Smith and Robinson that it was Sir Hugh Lane coming through and that he had communicated that he was aboard the Lusitania and had drowned. On her way home that evening, Travers Smith had heard about the sinking of the passenger ship by a German torpedo, but she had not yet read the details, nor did she or the others know that Sir Hugh Lane was a passenger on the ship sailing from New York to England. In her 1919 book, Voices from the Void, Travers Smith states that she knew Lane and had heard that he had gone to New York, but it never occurred to her when she heard of the sinking that he was on board.” (Tymn, 2008: p.224)

Mrs Travers Smith may not then have suspected that Hugh Lane was on board the Luisitana, however fears about his safety had first reached Ireland around midday on May 5th. His Aunt, Lady August Gregory, Patron of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, heard a rumour from the postman that the Lusitania had been lost, then a telegram arrived from a New York lawyer to confirm this and inquiring after Hugh Lane’s safety. Lady Gregory was entertaining guests at the time, including playwright George Bernard Shaw, but worried for her nephew she quickly enclosed the telegram in a letter to another Abbey Theatre Director, W.B. Yeats, and began to make further inquiries (Gregory, 1921 p 215-216) By the time Mrs Travers Smith sat down at the Ouija board in Dublin, concerns about Hugh Lane’s safety had been circulating in Ireland for more than two days, particularly in the theatrical circles of which her séance partner Lennox Robinson (former Manager of the Abbey theatre) and her house guest, Geraldine Cummins (recently produced Abbey playwright) were very much a part. As evidence for a spirit world, this case is much less impressive than would appear at first glance. From the point of view of historical accuracy, a sharp-eyed reader will spot other irregularities, as well as some printers’ errors which will hopefully be ironed out in a second edition. Nevertheless, if you are a Spiritualist you will like this book, if you have friends who are Spiritualists they would probably like to receive it as a present, and for hard-core historians and researchers, Alan Gauld’s excellent book Mediumship and Survival can still be tracked down on Ebay and Amazon Marketplace.

Wendy Cousins

Wendy E.Cousins is an Irish University lecturer/psychologist and an Associate of The Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology (CERCAP), Lund University.


Cardeña, E. (in press). Anomalous identity experiences: Mediumship, spirit possession, and dissociative identity disorder (DID, MPD). In Carlos S. Alvarado, Lisette Coly & Nancy L. Zingrone (Eds.) The Study of Mediumship: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. New York: Parapsychology Foundation.
Fontana D. (2004) Is There an Afterlife: A Comprehensive Overview of the Evidence ? O Books: UK.
Fontana D. (2009) Life Beyond Death: What Should We Expect? Watkins Publishing: London.
Gauld, A. (1982) Mediumship and Survival: A Century of Investigations. Heinemann: London: UK
Gregory, A. (1921) Hugh Lane’s Life and Achievement. John Murray: London
Travers Smith, H. (1919) Voices from the Void. E. P. Dutton: London.

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