The Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

A Talk with Lady Glenconner on Modern Spiritualism

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

A Talk with Lady Glenconner on Modern Spiritualism is an article written by Mary Conan Doyle, the first daughter of Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in the Waterloo Evening Courier on 8 january 1921.


A Talk with Lady Glenconner on Modern Spiritualism

Waterloo Evening Courier
(8 january 1921, p. 5)
St. Louis Globe-Democrat
(23 january 1921, magazine section, p. 7)

Lady Glenconner brings to the subject of spiritualism a cool and balanced mind, with no hysteria.

Spiritualism isn't really a religion at all; it is common ground on which free thinkers can meet with those who belong to a definite faith.

Her attitude is incredulous that the church should fail to recognize an ally in the new movement.

"Just as prettiness is the bane of art, so solemnity is the bane of religion."


The rare beauty of a room held me fascinated. Its owner must have the same characteristics; spaciousness, harmony, and the fine edge of discipline.

There was no hysteria here, but a cool and balanced mind. What a comforting conviction to one come to talk about spiritualism!

A low voice suddenly caught my ear. "Good evening." "Do you mind if I arrange these flowers while we talk?" Lady Glenconner stood framed in the doorway, making a picture such as Holbein would have loved. The pale face, the vivid flowers, and the rich gleam of a black satin gown merging into a background of dark polished wood.

She moved slowly about the stately room and began asking questions concerning spiritualism in America. I replied watching the sparkle of her rings with each quick movement.

Then my turn came for questions: "What is the religious aspect of the movement here in London, apart from these revelations of a higher materialism?"

She paused, and answered thoughtfully: "Spiritualism isn't really a religion at all. It is rather the common ground on which scientific investigators and free thinkers can meet with those who belong to a definite faith... you see no headway can be made until the materialists have been finally convinced, and the whole weight of effort is focused on that at present..."

I had noticed that fact in looking at the bookstalls. All the literature seemed to be expressly for the sceptic, very little for the convert.

Lady Glenconner told me about her last book. "The Earthen Vessel," to be published shortly in England and the States, and very kindly let me see the proof copy, so that I may say a little to herald what is coming.

The work, which has a preface by Sir Oliver Lodge, deals with a very interesting form of test, hitherto unknown.

With reference to messages received through a medium, sceptics have a favorite argument, that it is really telepathy, or thought-transference between the medium, and the one expecting the message — not necessarily any outside force at all.

These tests completely refute that idea.

The medium receives and transmits certain instruction for the person to whom the message is intended. The name of a book is given, generally in the house of a relation or friend. Its exact position and number on the shelf. Then the page and paragraph. The message may be only three words, but it is applicable only to the person mentioned.

Lady Glenconner has had many messages through of this kind, and they are recorded in her book. each instance bearing full testimony and witness to its accuracy. Others have also received them, and they have come to be recognized as "book-tests."

But here again sceptics objected, that either the medium or the recipient of the message had previously read the book, and that it was again telepathy producing the result.

So, finally, the beat-all test was given when the message was to be sough for in the "Times" newspaper of the following day! (This does not imply predestination. The paper was set up in type, but neither party could possibly have gained access to it.)

This test proved as successful as the others. I think in all there were only two failures, and they were partly accounted for by a third person taking down the instruction — not the one the message was intended for Repetition always renders a slip possible.

The next question was that wellknown theme, should mediums be paid or not?

Lady Glenconner smiled rather sadly, "I think it is certainly better when they are not, but, times being such, the bread and butter having to be considered, they have the right to be recompensed for the time they give. I have had good results from both professional and amateur mediums."

Then we talked about the fact of spirit-communion, whether it was advisable or not. She said that far from being unsettling, it had done everything to steady her and make life easier, and that in countless cases she had found that so with others.

Against this, is the charge of hysteria that opponents of the movement maintain is caused through such communion. But surely it is unfair to saddle spiritualism with all the hysterical women? Are they not equally to be found among the devotees of the high church?

In any case one would think that hysteria was the limitation of the individual and not of the belief.

One remark of Lady Glenconner's was very significant. "I was brought up to spiritualism," she told me. "It never interfered in the least with my religion, but when the time came it was as natural to me as it would have been to send a cable to New Zealand."

It is just being "brought up" to a thing that makes it natural, and insures proportion in one's outlook. Converts to any big thought movement are often inclined to be extremists.

We spoke of mediumship in general, and the classification and training necessary for the work. Lady Glenconner's book touches on a very interesting aspect of this, as explaining the comparative dearth of psychic ability in the masses.

During the middle ages popular prejudice led by the church condemned to death any person discovered to have occult power, in any shape or form. The result is, that in the wilder parts of Scotland and Wales where many of these unfortunates fled for their lives, the present generation has clairvoyance or second sight almost as a normal facility; while in England, where the law was enforced drastically, the type have almost entirely been superseded by the more heavily materialistic.

It is interesting to speculate whether the growth of spiritualism will prove the means of reviving the original type.

The old order changes but slowly in the old country. Although witches are no longer burnt at the stake it was rather remarkable to learn from Lady Glenconner that any sort of psychic demonstration is, technically, against the law, and the practising mediums are liable to be arrested under the "fortune-telling" act!

She thinks it a great pity the line cannot be drawn more intelligently, because fortune telling and palmistry is too often pursued for personal material gain to be of any real benefit to humanity, while it is a constant appeal to egotism. The mistake lies in confusing the spirit with the honest and sober inquirer in physic matters.

It is interesting to know that Lady Glenconner is herself a trance medium and has held circles. It was thru a seance she first became aware of her power, and was directed to cultivate it. She is also deeply interested in theosophy, and has studied it a great deal.

In her estimation it would do all theological students good to take a course of theosophy in their curriculum — to widen their base, so to speak!

But she deprecates very much the attitude of extreme antagonism towards the church that many spiritualists take.

"We don't want to start another 'sect' claiming the whole truth, and at war with every other creed. History proves that all such 'sects' live and thrive for a time only, and are then superseded. Limitation becomes stagnation, and ends in death."

Before all else Lady Glenconner is an optimist and believes in joy. Joy is life, in belief and in worship. To quote one line from her new book: "Just as prettiness is the bane of art, so solemnity is the bane of religion."

This refers to Lenten and Good Friday services and all organized and official mourning. She refers several times to the heavy, materialistic standpoint of some of the church service as contrasted with the spiritual teachings of Christ.

Yet with all, her attitude is not hard, but rather incredulous that the church should fail to recognize an ally in the new movement. But she is convinced there will be complete harmony in the end, especially when the higher teachings transmitted through spiritualism become more widely known.

"It's just misunderstanding keeps people apart in religion, as in the little things of life — not hatred, and antagonism, really." These were her parting words that sent me off cheered, as I hope they will in turn cheer others.

Since this interview the sad news has reached us that Lady Glenconner has lost her husband. It is a supreme test of belief. We can do more than sympathize, we can strengthen her belief by sharing it! Sorrow must touch all sooner or later, but not despair. Surely that is only another "misunderstanding?"