01. December 2015 · Comments Off on The Wanderings of a Spiritualist – A Book Overview · Categories: Afterlife, Death, Uncategorized

conan_doyleI read a lot of old and obscure books and recently I read The Wanderings of a Spiritualist by Arthur Conan Doyle. YES, he is also the noted author of the series of the famous Sherlock-Holmes stories. I found this book interesting for many reasons. First of all it is by one of the world’s most famous fiction writers, famous for his immensely popular Sherlock Holmes mysteries, the first of which was published in 1887.

Secondly, it is a journal (read ‘blog’) of his lecture tour in Australia and New Zealand in the early 1920s. The content is concerned with Conan Doyle’s experiences on his travels rather than the details of his lectures. In between descriptions of the places he visits and the people he meets, he provides occasional substantiation for the validity of his spiritualist beliefs, which by then were quite strong. Reading this book opened my mind to further research of the Spiritualist side of Sir Arthur.

Sir Arthur’s introduction to the occult took place while he was still a practicing physician in Southsea, UK. During the yearsACD+Book 1885 to 1888, he was invited to participate in table turning sittings at the home of one of his patients, General Drayson, a teacher at the Greenwich Naval College. The medium was a railway signalman, and some amazing phenomena and apportations (physical manifestations) took place. His interest became aroused as a result. Here’s what he had to say about it at that time, “I was so impressed that I wrote an account of it to Light, the psychic weekly paper, and so in the year I actually put myself on the public record as a student of these matters.”

Sir Arthur became even more convinced of the certainty of the Afterlife as early as 1886 after reading books written by the New York Supreme Court judge, John Worth Edmonds (1816-1874), one of the most influential early American Spiritualists, who claimed that after the death of his wife he had been able to communicate with her. He was the author of: Letters and Tracts on Spiritualism; Spiritualism, Volume I (1853); and Spiritualism, Volume II (1855).

In 1893, Sir Arthur joined the SPR, (British Society for Psychical Research), a society formed in Cambridge one year earlier in order to scientifically investigate the claims of Spiritualism and other paranormal phenomena. Other members of the Society included the future Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, philosopher William James, naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, scientists Williams Crookes and Sir Oliver Lodge, philosopher – economist Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900) and poet and philologist F. W. H. Meyers (1843-1901). As far as death survival and mediumship were concerned, in 1902, when he first met Sir Oliver Lodge, he had not yet arrived at any definite conclusions. However, Myers’ classic book, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, made a deep impression on him.

Sir Arthur continued his studies and investigations. After the death of his son in the First World War in 1917 at the peak of his literary career, at age 58, he took a decisive step and wrote The New Revelation and The Vital Message. In these two books, he firmly associated himself with the cause of Modern Spiritualism. The New Revelation is a non-fiction account of Sir Arthur’s philosophical look at religion. He spent many years of his life lecturing about spiritualism and even wrote many pamphlets and essays about the matter. In The New Revelation, he expounds on his thoughts about ESP, psychic phenomena, and communication with the dead through mediums.

ACD_MelbournTownHallAfter a lecture tour of the UK, in 1920 he accepted an invitation to make a four month lecture tour of Australia and New Zealand on the subject of Spiritualism. He and his wife and children arrived in Adelaide in September 1920. This brings me full-circle. I found the most interesting articles were regarding his thoughts and reactions of the public to his lectures. Evidently this tour was a major event and he drew crowds of many thousands wherever he spoke. But what renders the book so engaging is his descriptions of the many side trips he took into the outback or to meet with notable mediums, séances, etc.

I also found interesting, parts of the book which were dedicated to his thoughts on subjects such as the future re-emergence of Germany as a world power, the consequences of colonialism and the merits of limited alcohol prohibition. At a distance of 95 years, the author’s views on these subjects make for interesting historical reading.
In 1922 and 1923, Sir Arthur toured the United States with lectures on Spiritualism. Early in 1928, he visited South Africa, and in the autumn, he toured several European countries. In 1925, he was nominated Honorary President at the International Spiritualist Congress in Paris.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was an untiring promoter of Spiritualism, who vigorously championed the cause of life-after-death. It ACD_Familyis interesting to note that twenty of Sir Arthur’s over sixty books are about Spiritualism! In his later years he often expressed a wish that he should be remembered for his psychic work rather than for his novels. His faith in the possibility of communication with departed souls was strong and he cared little whether others agreed with him or not.
I am sure that many rationalists wonder how a scientific man like Sir Arthur, a trained doctor and the creator of a super-rational detective, could have developed as a steadfast spiritualist? The best answer I can offer is that he spent so much time investigating and seeking evidential proof that he was eventually convinced of the legitimacy of life after death based on the sheer volume of evidence.

In conclusion, Victorian Spiritualism exerted an indirect influence on the emergence of the esoteric movements of modern Theosophy and the more recent New Age Movement. It also had an impact on psychoanalysis (the notion of the subconscious), and last but not least, the modernist artists and writers, such as William Butler Yeats, James Joyce (the concept of epiphany), Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.

In my humble opinion whether you’re a Spiritualist or not, we owe a great debt to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the indefatigable world-wide promoter of Spiritualism! You can find the book for free here or on Amazon here.