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Madame d Esperance

Category: Other spiritually gifted people

 

Mme. d'Esperance (born Elizabeth Hope, 20 November 1855 – 20 July 1919) was a British author, spiritualist medium and seer, who according to Wikipedia ‘was exposed as a fraud’. 

We will examine the truth behind this statement shortly. 

Elizabeth married a Mr. Reed and was based in Newcastle, which is where the so called exposure took place.  There is an interesting phrase used in Wikipedia about the exposure – “It was pointed out by scientists that the room was so dark [not actually true] that trickery would have been easy to perform, the chair that Elizabeth was said to be sitting on was not examined before or after the séance, and there were no scientific controls in place. 

The séance concerned was being held for the benefit of friends, although it transpired that one guest was anything but a friend, so the trickery was not hers.  Wikipedia’s statement is a bit like saying, ‘she was giving a private dinner party to enable her friends to experience her cooking and one of the guests there later exposed her as a fraud saying no one had actually seen her with the spoons and there were no scientific controls’.  To which the answer is – why should there be!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a great supporter of Elizabeth, and the genuineness of her experiences, and wrote about her in his book on the history of spirituality.  She also had support from ‘The Hon. Alexander Aksakof’, of St. Petersburg who wrote a booklet A Case of Partial Dematerialisation. 

The main book that she wrote describing her experiences and her life is called Shadow Land – or Light from the Other Side.  The observations are extracted from this book.

Abilities

 

As a child, Elizabeth had ‘shadow friends’ and could see objects which to other people were not there, experiences which would probably these days be classed as hallucinations. 

As she became older, other talents surfaced, one of which was automatic writing – much favoured by W B Yeats and his wife Georgie.  The communications received were almost entirely dependent on the company, thus leading one to believe that they were all achieved via inter-composer communication.  In other words her composer was communicating with the composers of those present and information was transmitted to her, after which she wrote it down in semi-trance.  The dimly lit rooms provided the necessary sensory deprivation and she ‘switched off’ mental effort to obtain the input.  Elizabeth herself said:

When the circle was composed of children the phenomena were of a childish character.  When scientists were present the manifestations were of a scientific description.  When ultimately I threw aside the old idea of mediums and mediumship and determined to be no longer isolated from the rest and deprived of my senses, I took the place I ought to have occupied from the first.  We were all the mediums.

In essence the manifestations are always the product of ‘group’ energy.

One  T. P. Barkas, a ‘well-known citizen of Newcastle’ for example, wrote about her abilities at a time when she was still only a young girl, and a young girl he rather generously described as having “average middle-class education”, which in Elizabeth’s case was mostly sewing, drawing, and literature – English fiction. 

Mr Barkas:

It will be admitted by all that no one can by normal  effort answer in detail critical and obscure questions in many difficult departments of -science with which she is entirely unacquainted ; it will further be admitted that no one can normally see and draw with minute accuracy in complete darkness ; that no one can by any normal power of mind read the contents of closed letters in the dark ; that no one who is entirely unacquainted with the German language can write with rapidity-and accuracy long communications in German ; and yet all these phenomenon took place through this medium

 

 

As time proceeded she gained the powers of various forms of table tilting and object moving, although again table tilting – psychokinesis – is actually generally greatly helped if the combined wills of those present is supporting the endeavour.  Thus you need a group of like-minded people to get it to succeed.

In the presence of the same like-minded supportive people, objects started to be apported.  We have one observation from her book whereby a pair of cuff links dropped out of nowhere into a person’s cup of coffee.  Apporting of inanimate objects is actually not that unusual, Charles Fort managed to collect literally thousands of examples, a few of which we have on the site, though it usually occurs unexpectedly and without any bidding on the part of the recipient[s].

But the next talents do indeed stretch incredulity and that is materialisations – people and plants.  Here I cannot be convinced, but I do believe as genuine, Elizabeth’s own admissions that she had no idea how it worked either.  Most of the time they occurred whilst she was in a separate dark space - the cabinet – which was believed a necessary part of the process, as it gave the medium the chance to concentrate in a sensorily deprived place.   She was told what happened afterwards.

IXORA CROCATA

William Oxley, the compiler and publisher of a work in five volumes entitled "Angelic Revelations" witnessed twenty-seven roses being produced at one seance and of the materialisation of a rare plant in flower. He wrote:

I had the plant (ixora crocata) photographed next morning, and afterwards brought it home and placed it in my conservatory under the gardener's care. It lived for three months, when it shrivelled up. I kept the leaves, giving most of them away except the flower and the three top leaves which the gardener cut off when he took charge of the plant.

The claim is made by the skeptics that where a person was materialised, each materialisation was her, which, since some were men, would have been quite a feat, but even assuming it was her dressed up, she had no knowledge of it, the trance state was complete.  She sleep walked as a child and did a number of things of which she had no recollection afterwards, but witnessed by maids and the family, so she was the innocent party I believe.  But maybe her ‘helpers’ weren’t.  There is the suspicion she was used rather shamelessly by those who invited her to hold séances. 

When she was ‘exposed’ – accused of being the materialisation, the materialisation was seized rather brutally by a man in the audience and accused of fraud plus many other things.  There is every suspicion that at the time, she was in a very deep trance state.  The seizing of her made her very ill, which it does if you are not brought out of trance gently:

Shadow Lands

 

What actually occurred I had to learn afterwards.  All I knew was a horrible excruciating sensation of being doubled up and squeezed together as I can imagine a hollow ‘gutta percha’ doll would feel, if  it had sensation, when violently embraced by its baby owner. 

A sense of terror and agonising pain came over me, as though I were losing hold of life and was falling into some fearful abyss, yet knowing nothing, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, except the echo of a scream which I heard as at a distance.  I felt I was sinking down, I knew not where….. and then came a blank from which I awakened with a shuddering horror and sense of being bruised to death.  My senses seemed to have been scattered to the winds…..  I felt as though very little life remained in me and that little was a torment.  The haemorrhage of the lungs which my residence in the south of Europe had apparently cured, broke out again and the blood almost suffocated me.  A severe prolonged illness was the result.

Sensitives are not called sensitives for nothing.  There were quite a number of séances in which materialisations were involved where she experienced nausea and vomiting.

So, on the one hand we have the support of Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The author has sat at materializing seances where he has seen the duplicates of the medium's face so clearly before him that he has been ready to denounce the proceedings as fraudulent, but with patience and a greater accumulation of power he has seen later the development of other faces which could by no possible stretch of imagination be turned into the medium's.

 

 

And on the other the knowledge that ‘magic lanterns’ were also just starting to appear. 

In my view, the jury is out on this, never reject what cannot apparently be explained.  The appearance of exotic plants is rather fun.

William Oxley
I have seen many materialized spirit forms, but for perfection of symmetry in figure and beauty of countenance I have seen none like unto Y-Ay-Ali.  She gave me the plant which had been materialized, and then drew back her veil. She implanted a kiss on my hand and held out her own, which I kissed.  As she was in the light rays, I had a good view of her face and hands. The countenance was beautiful to gaze upon, and the hands were soft, warm, and perfectly natural, and, but for what followed, I could have thought I held the hand of a permanent embodied lady, so perfectly natural, yet so exquisitely beautiful and pure.  She retired to within two feet of the medium in the cabinet, and in sight of all gradually dematerialized by melting away from the feet upwards, until the head only appeared above the floor, and then this grew less and less until a white spot only remained, which, continuing for a moment or two, disappeared.

Life

Elizabeth with a materialised lily

Elizabeth Hope grew up in a tired old house on the East End of London, filled with dark, oak-paneled halls and desolate, forbidden rooms that compelled her to explore.

I was very fond of wandering about from one empty room to another and of sitting with my dolls on the broad low window seats, whence I would be fetched with an exclamation of horror and wonder by our servant, who considered my liking for the haunted rooms as “uncanny” and unnatural, threatening me with the ghosts and their vengeance if I persisted in invading their domains by myself…………… I could never quite understand nurse’s remarks about the loneliness of the rooms, though her threats about the ghosts frightened me. To me the rooms were never empty nor lonely;—strangers were constantly passing to and fro, from one room to another; some took no notice of me, some nodded and smiled as I held up my doll for their inspection. I did not know who the strangers were, but I grew to know them by sight…

She led a lonely and isolated childhood.  Her father worked away from home, she had no brothers or sisters at that time and her mother was at times an invalid.  A brother and a sister had died in childbirth or not long thereafter.  Although she did go to school she had been forbidden to associate with the girls there, so she had no friends.

 

She doted on her father and had a rather strained relationship with her mother.  When her father was home or people came to stay her ‘shadow friends’ became invisible and she became ‘wild and excited over the games and fun which he encouraged’, which of course shows that her mother was not exactly a bundle of fun:

I saw the well known tightening of the lips and frown on her brow as she continued ‘Are you beginning again with those stories.  Have you not learned yet… that such romanticising as this is despicable and wicked.  Have I not told you over and over again that I will not have it…………you are constantly dreaming away the time to the neglect of everything else, gazing into vacancy and hatching stories in order to frighten people.  I thought as you grew older you would have dropped this absurd behaviour.  I am thoroughly sick of wearying myself about you, for I don’t know what is to be done to bring you to a sense of your abominable and wicked conduct.

The doctor, whom she initially trusted, was informed of these visions by her mother and this is what the doctor had to say, remember she was still a child at this time:

Yes, I believe you see these things that other people do not see, I have known of others who have done the same, who have seen men and women and animals which did not really exist.
But these people were mad.
They persisted that they saw shadows moving about them, that they saw old men or women waiting about in corners.  They have gone on seeing, first one thing and then another, till they have become dangerous and we have had to send them to a lunatic asylum to be taken care of........

As Elizabeth says ‘his words froze the blood in my veins’.  Her father was away, her grandmother who seems to have been a sympathetic figure lived away.  She had no one to turn to.  In some senses though she was lucky, because doctors just like these are prescribing anti-psychotics by the bucket load to sensitives just like Elizabeth in our day and age, and very large number are committing suicide as a consequence.  In Elizabeth it just made her isolation more intense and her fear greater.

Luckily her father interceded, took her on board one of the steamers he was captaining and she was ‘saved’ from her mother and doctors.    

She married quite young and found herself transplanted to a strange town in a new house in which she was largely alone again.  And her shadow people returned.  The doctors words still haunted her and she tried knitting, sewing, reading and writing – anything to try to get rid of them, but they did not go away.  As she says’ I had no friends in that place and very few acquaintances so that I had very few sources of amusement or companionship’.

 

But help appeared in the shape of Mr F, the husband of one of her acquaintances and she was persuaded through him to dabble in table tilting.  And from there regular meetings ensued of a small group who found the whole thing fun, amusing and rather fascinating, and the group expanded a bit and the experiences broadened a bit, and the meetings turned into séances and from then the group got larger, word spread and the ‘experiments’ got more interesting.

At one stage the experiments produced a result that involved information about her father’s whereabouts and – an indication of how much she trusted him – she told him what had happened

It was easy enough to give the explanation, but to explain how the kitchen table could know, and knowing, communicate these particulars was a problem not so easily solved.
‘Depend upon it my dear’ said my father, ‘there is witchcraft in it or devilry, one or the other and it is better that you should not meddle with such things’.
At the same time he was quite anxious to try himself and get the table to move and when, after repeated attempts, he at last succeeded he was much interested in the result.

Under the name "Mme. d'Esperance", Elizabeth travelled extensively throughout Europe giving séances in Denmark, France, Norway, Belgium, Sweden and Germany. She spent a great deal of time in both Germany and Sweden [where her sister lived] and became quite well known there. 

The latter part of Madame d'Esperance's life, which was spent largely in Scandinavia, was marred by ill health, which was originally induced by the shock that she sustained at the so called " exposure ".  She moved there in 1880, and for seven years was unable to do anything as a result of the shock and damage done.  She was very ill for much of that time.  But good food and walks in the country, the support and kindness of the local people and the presence of her family gradually helped her get strong again.

Her last mediumistic séance was held on 1 May 1919, in (Østerbro) Copenhagen, Denmark. She died shortly after that, on 20 July 1919.

The ground whereon you would tread is Holy; profane it not with feet soiled with the mire of suspicion, nor regard the instrument by which you must approach it as unworthy of trust.  Come, honestly desiring to learn, not of the faults, failings and short comings of others, but humbly seeking the truth, and you will not seek in vain; but if it be not sought with prayerful minds and earnest desire for help and enlightenment then do not waste time on the search.

 

References

  • Northern lights, and other psychic stories (1899)
  • Shadow land, or, Light from the other side (1897)

Observations

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