My Talks with the Dead

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

My Talks with the Dead is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in John Bull on 29 september 1923.

My Talks with the Dead

John Bull (29 september 1923, p. 13)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Whose lectures and writings on Spiritualism have aroused interest throughout the whole world.

The Claims of a Spiritualist


It is the policy of JOHN BULL to concern itself with the problems that concerns the people. And what problem could be more vital to every human being than the question of the after-life? Here, one of the greatest living exponents of Spiritualism sets forth his views.

For thirty-six years I have studied psychic questions. I actually wrote an article upon them in the year 1887, so that I put myself on record. During this long period I have read voluminously, I have experimented constantly with mediums good or bad, I have noted and studied my results, and finally I have written six books about the matter. I hope then that I may say that my conclusions are not shallow and that they are founded upon as complete a study as can be afforded in one human lifetime. If so it follows that they should be met not by prejudice or contempt, but by sober examination.

For the results are of enormous importance — far the most important advance in knowledge which the human race has ever made. We Spiritualists say that we can teach the doctors the real nature of death, and the clergy the real nature of after-death conditions. It is a huge claim and it should be met by rigid criticism and tested in every fashion, save only by unreasonable ridicule.

When I say that I believe these things to be true I understate the case. I know them to be true. How can we know anything in this world save by the evidence of our senses? Everyone of my senses has joined to assure me that death is not an impenetrable barrier, and that those who have shed their mortal bodies can, none the less, give us sure proofs that they continue to exist. My eyes have seen the faces of the "dead," my ears have heard their voices, my hands have touched them, my memory has responded to their reminiscences, my experience has confirmed what they have told me.

These things have not occurred when I was alone and might have deceived myself, but in the presence of others who have seen and heard as I did, and who had their own independent proofs. They have not been imagined because I desired them. On the contrary, I started from absolute materialism and fought against the facts until I could fight no longer.

Do I exaggerate then when I say with a most solemn sense of responsibility that I know that these things are true.

Let me take instances, a few among many. Sitting with Mr. John Tickner, an amateur medium of New York, he went into trance and my mother used his organs of speech. "Do you remember how hot it was the day we parted? Do you remember that I was tired? Do you recall taking my pulse?" And so on — every word true. Whence came that information? Is it not more reasonable to accept the plain explanation which the voice itself gives than to deal with tangled and improved "explanations" of cryptomnesia and the like, which break down utterly when applied to objective phenomena.

Another case. My brother, General Doyle, came back by direct voice, Evan Powell being the medium. He discussed the health of his widow with complete knowledge. He mentioned the name of a healer in Copenhagen whom he wished her to consult. I found, on inquiry, that there was such a man. If that voice was not that of my brother whose voice was it?

Yet another. I have seen in good light a solid object moving about without human contact in accordance with the requests which we made to some invisible agent. That agent was clearly intelligent. What can an invisible intelligent agent be save a spirit?

I could fill this journal with the cases which have come under my personal observation. But it is notorious that many of the world's best intellects, who speak with far more authority than I, have had the same experiences and come to the same conclusions. Lately at Munich Dr. Notzing has demonstrated the phenomena to a hundred scientific men who all assented, and Dr. Geley has recently done the same to forty representative men in Paris. The man who now denies the phenomena is simply ignorant and behind the times.

The real fight is between the super-materialist who would explain the phenomena by extended human powers, and the Spiritualist who sees the intervention of a second personality. The champion of the former school is at present Professor Richet, of the latter Sir Oliver Lodge. Richet's great book is a classic as regards the material happenings, but it shows such misapprehension of the whole spiritual position that it loses its value.

If these are the dead why should communications often be of low quality? "We should expect them to be semi-divine," says Richet, But a scientific man should not expect, he should observe, and follow facts.

The whole spiritual thesis is that death makes no change in the individual and therefore it is a confirmation of that thesis when we get low level messages. On the other hand, if we aspire to high things then we find ourselves exalted company and get the very highest teaching that has reached the earth for two thousand years. I have had, through the hand of my own wife, in my own home, messages of such beauty that I do not know where, in all religious literature, I can find anything so lofty and inspiring.

It is objected that if we are in touch with disembodied beings they should be able to solve all our earthly problems.

This is plausible but unsound. Their intellects are only a little more advanced than our own and they have their own lives and problems to engage their energies. There are many cases on record where they have interfered in material matters, and sometimes, as through Joan of Arc in France, they have settled the fate of nations, but it is evident that their constant interference would weaken our own energies. They are there to teach us our destiny, to remove our fears of death, to mitigate the grains of separation, and to establish religion upon a basis of knowledge rather than of faith. This teaching can of course only come from the higher spirits. As to the lower it is we who are in a position to teach them.

What do these higher spirits teach us? They give us full accounts of their own death, of the conditions which they found awaiting them, of the infinite mercy and Justice of God, of the dismal results of ignorance and sin. They picture a life quite different from anything which the theologians have described — a life of gradual evolution, of the continued use of our natural faculties, a busy, happy, rational existence with familiar surroundings translated into more ethereal terms.

They include bigotry among the more serious of the sins and enjoin us to be broad and charitable, but they deplore the complete separation of all present Christian sects from direct contact with spiritual forces, and their ignorance as to the fate awaiting them. Such are the messages which reach us, accompanied by the closest detail as to their present conditions. Some say that this is the devil's teaching, but if so it must surely be admitted that Satan is a reformed character.

It is true that we find no support in the modern churches, though they talk of that Communion of saints which we practise, but when we explore backwards to the New Testament or to the pre-Nicene fathers we find ourselves entirely at home. Paul's list of the gifts of the Spirit are exactly those, which we find in our mediums, and cover all psychic phenomena.

The disciple John enjoins us to "Try the spirits." Every word and act of the Great Master has its clear message to us. We feel that we, by devious roads, have come back upon that old inspired faith from which the churches have wandered, and that it is needed now for the regeneration of the world.

Our aim is to simplify Christianity, banish the letter of theology from it, get indirect touch with the spirit, unite religion and science, and give the world certainty as to its object end destiny.

Our progress has been slow but it has been steady, and in the last few years it has wonderfully accelerated. Wherever I have gone in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, or here in the old country, I have found that those who are brought face to face with the facts are prepared to give them serious consideration.

We have to fight the conservatism of the old churches and the pre-possessions of official science. We suffer also from our own faulty presentment of our case, and from the folly or roguery of many who use us for their own selfish ends. Above all we have to contend with the opposition of materialists.

It in this materialism which has been the cause of all our worldly woes, though it may and does often disguise itself under religious terms. We are destined to destroy it, fighting it with its own weapons of reason and scientific demonstration.

But before we can win the human heart must be chastened and made receptive, and chastening comes with trouble. The world war was the first stage. I fear it will not be the last.

Arthur Conan Doyle