A Wonderful Experience

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

A Wonderful Experience is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Two Worlds on 19 december 1919 and in Light on 27 december 1919 as A Wonderful Seance.


  • in The Two Worlds (19 december 1919 [UK])
  • in Light (27 december 1919 [UK]) as A Wonderful Seance

A Wonderful Seance

Light (20 september 1919, p. 303)

Sir A. Conan Doyle's Account.

Sir A. Conan Doyle, it will be remembered, in his recent address at Wimbledon, referred (as already reported by us) to a sitting he had had with Mr. Powell, the Welsh medium, at which he had spoken with his son who had passed over. We are now able to give from the "Two Worlds" Sir Arthur's story of this event in detail:-

Upon the occasion of my lecture at Portsmouth a Mr. Powell returned with me to our rooms, and most kindly gave us a sitting. There were present my wife, sitting on my left, Mr. Frank Blake, President of the Southern Counties Spiritualist Union, upon my right; next to him Mr. and Mrs. MacFarlane, leaders of the Portsmouth branch; and on their right Mr. Harry Engholm, once well known upon the London press, and now one of the leading cinema producers in tho world. This gentleman was intellectually convinced of the truth of Spiritualism, but had never before been to a séance.

Mr. Powell insisted upon being searched, and was then bound by me to a wooden armchair. Remembering the possibility of getting out of bonds of rope — especially such cable-like rope as is used by Mr. Maskelyne in his absurd bogus performances — I cut six lengths of stout twine, and tied the medium in six places to the arms and legs of the chair. So thoroughly was this done, that at the end of the sitting it was quite impossible to loosen him, and we were compelled to cut him free. A small megaphone belonging to the late Admiral Moore was placed beside him. This was circled with luminous paint so as to be visible in the dark. The lights were then turned out, and the room in total darkness, we sitting in a semi-circle round the medium, but none of us touching him, though we joined hands with each other, so as to intervene between him and the room.

Within a couple of minutes the breathing of the medium became loud and stertorous. A voice then addressed us, which issued from his own lips, but which was quite unlike his normal voice, and remained absolutely consistent throughout. It was deep, strong and virile, while that of Mr. Powell was essentially Welsh, gentle, musical and rather slipped. The voice greeted the company, and announced the presence of Black Hawk, the control. The deep voice spoke with an air of good-humoured raillery, addressing us by name. I was christened "Great Chief" and Mr. Engholm "Little Chief," with all good wishes to our respective wigwams. There was an interval of silence while the steady snoring of the medium sounded in the darkness.

Then we saw the luminous band of the megaphone rise in the air, and it circled round our heads, sometimes slow, sometimes swift, as smoothly as if it were swung at the end of a string. Then it remained motionless, poised in the air above us. Presently it vanished, and returned with flowers taken from the mantelpiece inserted into its narrow end. These flowers, I may say, were at our backs and quite out of reach of the medium. They were carried round to our noses in the dark with an accuracy which showed that whoever held them could see very plainly where we were.

We were then touched by various objects which proved to be taken from the mantelpiece and elsewhere, but lay within the circle when the light was eventually turned on.

Black Hawk had spoken from time to time, and the breathing of the medium continued steadily from the same position. The Indian control now said, "Leely is here. Leely wishes to speak with the lady of the Wigwam." A dear friend of ours named Lily died some years ago, and as she had shared our spiritual experiences we had always believed she might be the first to find her way back. We can trace no way by which her name or existence could have keen known to the medium. An instant later a quick, excited voice said, "Jean, Jean, I am here." In the darkness I could hear incoherent words of love as the two friends gasped out little messages of affection. My wife assures me that the voice was that of the dead lady, but I could not hear enough to be able to corroborate. Then came silence again, with a brisk current of cold air which played upon our faces. Shortly afterwards we turned up the light, and found to our surprise that a great wooden pedestal, weighing, I should think, from forty to fifty pounds, had been brought from the corner and placed in the centre of our semi-circle. Some people may reasonably ask what is the use of heavy phenomena of that sort in the presence of the finer ones, but at least in its solid materialism it gave a sufficient answer to those who might be rash enough to suppose that our imaginations had produced the other results.

Next evening, we sat at the same hour, under the same conditions, save that the medium was weary, having delivered an exhausting address. Physical phenomena and movements of the luminous trumpet were as before, and the huge pedestal was once more lifted into the circle, and was placed upon my head. An examination had shown us that the heavy crown of this pedestal was balanced upon a single loose screw in a wide socket, so that any careless handling would have sent it down with terrific effect upon our skulls. In spite of the darkness it was held so steadily that there was no accident, but the strength which placed it so gently on my head, and afterwards rubbed the side of it down my cheek, must have been enormous.

Then came what to me was the supreme moment of my spiritual experience. It is almost too sacred for full description, and yet I feel that God sends such gifts that we may share them with others. There came a voice in the darkness, a whispered voice, saying, "Jean, it is I." My wife! felt a hand upon her head, and cried, "It is Kingsley." I heard the word "Father." I said, "Dear boy, is that you?" I had the sense of a face very near my own, and of breathing. Then the clear voice came again with an intensity and note very distinctive of my son, "Forgive me!" His life was so admirable that I could only think that he referred to our perfectly good-humoured difference about Spiritualism, concerning which, in the bustle of his medical and military life, he really had no chance of forming an opinion. I told him eagerly that I had no grievance of any kind. A large, strong hand then rested upon my head, it was gently bent forward, and I felt and heard a kiss just above my brow. "Tell me, dear, are you happy?" I cried. There was silence, and I feared he was gone. Then on a sighing note came the words, "Yes, I am so happy." Whilst this was going on I was dimly conscious that another conversation, to which reference is made below, was going on between Mr. Engholm and some voice at the other end of the semi-circle.

A moment afterwards another gentle voice, claiming to be that of my wife's mother, recently deceased, was heard in front of us. We could not have recognised the voice as we could the other. A few loving words were said, and then a small, warm hand patted both our cheeks, with a little gesture which was full of affection.

Such were my own experiences. In a letter which lies before me, Mr. Engholm says: "The séance was conducted under unusually strict test conditions, and for one was very much awake indeed. All my senses were alert, and whilst Sir Arthur and his boy were carrying on a conversation of a very private and sacred nature, I was suddenly addressed by a very dear old friend, a well-known newspaper correspondent, in terms and on a subject that left no doubt in my mind as to who the unseen personality was. There were as a result two distinctively different voices speaking at the same time, each of which could be recognised by voice characteristic alone. My ears did not deceive me."