The Prosecution of Spiritualists

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Prosecution of Spiritualists is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 26 july 1928.

The Prosecution of Spiritualists

The Times (26 july 1928, p. 10)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Contentions.


Sir, — I would ask your permission to make a few comments upon the case against a medium and against the society which employed her, which has just been decided in the Westminster Police Court. The verdict, as I understand it, is "We won't punish you this time, but you are warned for the future."

Without arguing the rights or wrongs of our cult, it is an undeniable fact that we are numerous and earnest, and that we believe that mediums are essential both for study and for the conduct of our Churches. Many believe that they are those "Angels of the Church" to whom Paul alludes, and who were obviously human beings. This being so, any legal action which forbids or restricts them is to that extent religious persecution. That the police should be employed upon such a matter is deplorable, especially as their activities take the hateful shape of agents provocateurs. Still more deplorable is the difficulty of ascertaining what is the hidden power which induces the resuscitation of an obsolete law, and causes strong suspicion that sectarian bigotry may be at work.

In the case of Mrs. Cantlon, she has given hundreds of sittings at our rooms and no sitter has ever complained. Now, it is surely clear that had it been her habit to serve up the grotesque nonsense quoted by the police there would have been re-monstrances. It is strange, indeed, that only the three police witnesses have had so deplorable an experience. When I say this, I do not impugn the truth of the witnesses, but it is a fact that harmony is essential in the seance room. It surely would be a disproof of all our views if higher forces descended in order to carry conviction to police spies. There seems to me to be an element of derision in the absurd messages which they receive.

More serious is the case of Miss Phillimore. She is the secretary of a society numbering more than a thousand people, most of whom regard this subject from a religious angle. She is now responsible legally for all that any medium may do or say, or may be represented to have done or said, upon the premises. This puts her in an impossible position. We are law-abiding people, but we also have a conscience, and it is ill to place us in such a position that our conscience must compel us to break the law. If I may take a personal instance, I have a book-shop which is instituted to give psychic information. Many people in distress come there asking for advice. We usually send them on to such mediums as we have found to be most helpful in such a case, and the results are gratifying. But by this extension or interpretation of the law I am liable to prosecution if that medium should not give satisfaction, or should confuse the future with the past. I would cheerfully face such a prosecution, but it is not a healthy state of affairs. From our point of view, it is the very central core of all religion, the proof of survival, which the police are attacking.

Our demands are moderate and reasonable. What we wish, as a minimum, is that all registered spiritualistic Churches and all serious societies for the stud of psychic matters should be exempt from police persecution. We hold no brief for the mere fortune-teller, whose work has no religious significance and no guarantee of sincerity. But we are very earnest to get what we need. The Home Secretary has informed me officially that there is no hope of a change in the law. This is not a wise resolution. We are a solid body numbering some hundreds of thousand voters. We are of all parties, but we are united against those who refuse us justice, and impose upon us a religious persecution.

Yours faithfully,

ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE (President of the London Spiritual Alliance).
15, Buckingham Palace-mansions, S.W.1, July 25.