Why I Became a Spiritualist

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Why I Became a Spiritualist is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Graphic on 2 april 1927.

Why I Became a Spiritualist

The Graphic (2 april 1927, p. 10)

(Above) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lady Doyle, photographed in Australia about the time that Pheneas, Sir Arthur's spirit control, was coming through.

(Below) Houdini, "the Handcuff King," whose death, Sir Arthur says in his article, was predicted by "Pheneas" a year before it actually happened.

[While taking sides neither for nor against the beliefs of Spiritualists, we welcome this very interesting page from the life of our eminent contributor. Dr. Harold Dearden, the well-known psychologist, will write next week on what he regards as some of the delusions and self-deceptions practised by many Spiritualists (not including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).]

When I was a very young man I emerged from Edinburgh University with the degree of Doctor of Medicine.

I was imbued at the time with entirely materialistic ideas, for I was brought up under the shadow of Huxley, Tindall, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill and others, all of whom rapidly destroyed in the case of most of us the religion of our boyhood.

It seemed to me at the time that the material argument was an unanswerable one, and if it were not for my own psychic knowledge acquired by reading and experiment, I should still be in the same frame of mind.

I was always a Theist, for the universe needs a central explanation, but why little man should imagine he should survive death seemed to be as illogical as that the flame should survive the candle or electricity survive the battery which had caused it.

I cannot say that I was satisfied with that, for extinction after death and the loss of all that one has built up in one's lifetime of learning and experience seems a stupid waste of material. But, none the less, I was content to follow Truth so far as I could see it.

I was, however, an omnivorous reader, and one day, quite by chance, I read a book called The Memoirs of Judge Edmonds. I don't know how it came into my hands, but it certainly helped to influence my life. He was chief judge of the New York High Court, and evident from his writing a man of well-balanced intellect; yet, in his book, he narrates how he lost his wife and how, after her death, he was able to keep in constant touch with her largely through the mediumship of his daughter.

I had always looked upon mediums as impostors and rogues; but it seemed impossible to conceive that this girl was deceiving her father in so intimate a matter, and the narrative was mixed with many accounts of the abnormal happenings which had occurred in the Edmonds' household.

One book, or ten books, could not convince me on a matter of such importance, but at least it disposed me to read further and try some experiments for myself.

I formed an experimental circle of my own without any professional medium, and I found, after many sittings, that while some messages carried wisdom, others were foolish and occasionally false. It was such a mix-up that I, in my busy life, could not find time to disentangle it; and though I was perfectly convinced that these phenomena did occur. I was not yet able to say what exact value was to be placed upon them in the general scheme of things.

It was the war which opened my eyes. It was suddenly borne in upon me how enormously important this question is, and how, when all the world was asking what becomes of all these splendid young men, it was only along this psychic line of thought that any definite answer could be obtained.

In the second year of the war a young lady friend of my wife's came to live with us. She had developed that curious faculty called automatic writing, where some power outside oneself seems to take possession of one's brain and hand and to produce a narrative entirely beyond one's own powers.

It happened that this lady had lost three brothers already in the war and that my wife had lost her brother at Mons. These four soldier boys came through the hand of this girl, giving military detail and other masculine points and each preserving his own character.

Finally they developed the gift of prophecy. I remember that one of the dead boys had a brother Willy, who had been captured and was a prisoner at the far end of Germany.

We said to him, "Will Willy escape?" The reply was "Yes." We then said, "How?" The reply was, "In a train." Shortly afterwards Willy did escape. We then sent him a note of what the spirit had said. He wrote back: "This is most amazing. I came across from Silesia in a train, and I believe I am the only prisoner who escaped in that way."

This sort of thing, repeated again and again, absolutely convinced me. It was impossible to stand up against the evidence. I saw then the mistake I had made in dwelling in the past upon negative things. In science it is only the positive which counts. The experiment that fails is discarded. The experiment that succeeds is built into its place.

As to the puerile phenomena, I began to recognize that they were mere signals in order to attract our attention. The whole existence of psychic laws and regulations began to dawn upon me.

From 1916 my wife and I saw clearly that nothing on earth is so urgent as that the human race should have reliable information as to where they are going and what awaits them in the world beyond.

So impressed were we with that thought that we dedicated the rest of our lives to endeavouring to get this knowledge across to the human race, not in any sectarian way, but as a wonderful new instalment of knowledge sent from the Centre of all wisdom to be added to whatever religion the person concerned might already have.

From the time that we undertook that mission until now is eleven years. We have travelled together 60,000 miles ; and I have addressed nearly 800 meetings and over a quarter of a million of people. I have written seven books on the subject ; I have established a central bureau for propaganda in Victoria Street ; we have spent our time, our money, our energies, everything we have, towards the one object, and I think that object is about to be obtained, but claim a share in this.

The most wonderful thing which ever befell us is the coming of Pheneas.

Some time ago my wife had developed writing mediumship of the same type as that of the young lady of whom I have alluded. For years that writing differed in no way from the ordinary experience of mediums.

About five years ago, however, there was a remarkable change. There came to us at that time a high spirit calling himself Pheneas, although spirit manes are by no means the same as those by which the individual was known in life.

Pheneas's own account of himself was that he was an Arab who had emigrated into Chaldaea and had lived in the town of Ur. When I asked him if he had been there in Abraham's time, he said: "Long before then."

He appeared to be an old and very wise spirit. For five years now he has been our constant companion, a brother to us, a father to my children, full of loving care and sage advice. Lately I have asked if I might publish some of his teachings. He has permitted me to do so, and a little volume, Pheneas Speaks, is now appearing.

I have endeavoured to give as fully as possible an idea of Pheneas's powers. This, I can assure the public: that my hands have never touched the work. It has come entirely, either by speech or writing, from the semi-entranced medium ship of my wife.

I will take one point to show the entire reliability of Pheneas and to show that he is something entirely outside ourselves. In all the script the death of only two men is predicted. One was Lord Northcliffe at the time when the first rumours of his illness had come to this country ; and the other was Houdini, the conjuror, a trained athlete in perfect health at the lime. Both predictions were, of course, fulfilled.

With regard to Houdini, who was an ardent anti-spiritist, the prediction of his death came in these words: "Houdini is doomed, doomed, doomed. No longer shall he stand in the way of God's truth." That came through at least a year before his death.

So separate is Pheneas from our own minds that he frequently enunciates strong opinions with which both of us disagree, and occasionally he shows himself to be ignorant of matters with which both of us are well acquainted.

How broad and beautiful and uplifting those views are can only be appreciated by those who study them.

That is the fine fruit of our spiritual mission. That is, for all I know, its apex. Anyhow, we continue to regard ourselves as tools in an unseen hand, working for this special end, and what the Great Mind ordains, that shall be our future.