The Mediumship of Helen Duncan

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The Mediumship of Helen Duncan

Post by Admin on Mon Jun 11, 2012 4:25 am

The Mediumship of Helen Duncan
Helen Duncan by Maurice Barbanell
I shall always contend that my friend, Helen Duncan, the materialisation medium, was
the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice. When, during the war, she was charged at
the Old Bailey under the archaic Witchcraft Act of 1735, some newspapers called it
“The trial of the century.” Obviously an Act which became law more than a century
before Spiritualism began was not intended to apply to modern mediums.
Her conviction, and subsequent imprisonment, led Spiritualists to campaign,
successfully, for the repeal of this Act, which, by being resurrected, implied that all
séances were illegal, and thus jeopardised our religious freedom. In his war memoirs,
Sir Winston Churchill has recorded that he sent a note to the Home Secretary
complaining of the fact that in a time of urgency and peril so much time and money
should be wasted on a “witchcraft” trial.
Counsel’s defence that Mrs Duncan was a genuine medium, and his offer to
demonstrate her powers of materialisation within the precincts of the court, were not
regarded as legally admissible. The “offence” under the Witchcraft Act was
pretending that she could conjure up spirits. Whether she was genuine or not was
beside the point so far as this Act was concerned. Counsel for the defence was
satisfied of her ability to demonstrate her materialisation powers at the trial, for she
gave us evidence just before it opened that she was capable of doing so. Despite the
strain of her ordeal, she willingly offered us an
experimental séance which was remarkable in its results. Yards and yards of
ectoplasm streamed from her, and billowed and flowed in swirling masses until even
experienced Spiritualists like myself gazed with astonishment at the spectacle.
With Helen Duncan I have been privileged to see the growth of a materialisation
inside the cabinet. Outside, I have observed the ectoplasmic forms as they gradually
dwindled in size until they resembled small globes of light, and then finally
disappeared as if sinking through the floor.
Inside the cabinet, I have watched ectoplasm exude from the medium’s nostrils,
mouth and ears in waving billows of luminosity that gradually solidified into the sixfoot
figure of her guide.
Harry Price, a researcher who thrived on publicity, propounded the extraordinary
theory that, instead of being a genuine materialisation medium, Helen Duncan
swallowed yards of cheesecloth which she later regurgitated. To show how
nonsensical this theory was, Mrs Duncan gladly submitted herself to X-ray
examination. Price’s “explanation” was that she had a secondary stomach, like a cow.
The X-ray examination proved that both her stomach and her oesophagus were
normal.
Counsel for the defence at the Old Bailey tried to introduce the X-ray photographs as
evidence, but these too were legally inadmissible.
More than once at Helen Duncan’s séances, I was invited to handle some of the
ectoplasm immediately after it had been produced. It was always bone-dry, and had a
curious stiff “feel”, proving that it could not have been regurgitated.
I conducted an experiment that was conclusive in its result. At my suggestion, Helen
Duncan, and every sitter at one séance, swallowed tablets of methylene blue. These
had the effect of dying into a bluish colour the contents of all our stomachs. Yet when
the materialisations appeared, they were their usual white colour.
Having given these examples of materialisation, I should like, in contrast, to furnish
one that is exactly
opposite - dematerialisation.
Helen Duncan had a psychic gift which enabled her to read written questions placed
in sealed envelopes, and to supply the answers. I tested this ability many times.
Once I wrote a question concerning a woman with a most unusual hyphenated name,
Bayley-Worthington. Naturally, I made sure that the medium did not see what I wrote,
but she was able to repeat my question, including this uncommon name, and to give
me a reply.
I happened to mention this phenomenon to Estelle Roberts, who, never having seen
it demonstrated, expressed the desire to participate in such a séance. I arranged a
meeting between the two mediums. I handed Estelle Roberts a sheet of paper on
which she wrote a question which nobody else could see. She folded the paper and
placed it in an envelope. This was sealed by her and handed to Helen Duncan.
Before attempting to “read” the question, Mrs Duncan followed her usual procedure.
Slowly she rubbed the sealed envelope on her temple, and then at the base of her
spine. She said it was always necessary to do that before she could repeat the
wording on the folded paper. Then slowly she exclaimed: “When—will—I---hear---
from—my—…
Here, a puzzled expression came over Mrs Duncan’s face. “It’s gone!” she
announced.
Estelle Roberts commented: “That is very good.
You have read my question, all except the last two words.” Still looking puzzled,
Helen Duncan repeated: “It’s gone!”
Estelle Roberts assured Mrs Duncan that she was accurate as far as she had gone
and, to confirm her statement, opened the envelope with the intention of showing the
question she had written. Then we were all surprised, for the paper was gone! The
envelope was empty. And the paper has never reappeared.
Estelle Roberts told me that she understood the significance of this strange
happening. She had asked a question concerning someone who had passed on, and
recalled that Red Cloud had said she should not seek information concerning this
individual until a certain time had elapsed, and that had not yet occurred.
Mrs Duncan’s power of materialisation had another curious facet, in which a slate
pencil would write without any seeming visible means of support. This was a
phenomenon she never took seriously, and always had to be cajoled into
demonstrating it.
The requirements were two slates, such as school children use, and a pencil. First I
washed the slates clean and wrote a question with a pencil, making sure that the
medium could not see what I was doing. Then I put the pencil horizontally between
the two slates and tied them round with string.
Helen Duncan placed them beneath a table. She held one hand below the slates to
keep them wedged and to prevent them falling.
I heard the pencil make its usual scratching sound as an answer to my question was
written. When the reply was completed, three distinct taps were heard coming from
beneath the table. This was the signal for Mrs Duncan to produce the slates. When I
opened them, there was a spirit answer written below my question.
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