Monday, February 7, 2022

The Spiritualism of Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes was a critical thinker. He did not rationalize; he did not fantasize; he did not accept anything on faith; he did not accept anyone’s claims or testimony without cross-checking. He derived his conclusions through analysis of empirical evidence and application of sound logic. The paradox is that the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was not a critical thinker. Doyle was a rationalizer, a man of faith and spiritualism, who believed in psychic phenomena and claimed that the dead could talk through mediums and automatic writing. 

Doyle’s spiritualism caused a fracture in his friendship with Harry Houdini. On June 17, 1922, Houdini attended a private seance in a hotel room at Atlantic City with Doyle and Doyle’s wife, Jean Doyle, who used to serve as a medium for contacting the dead. Jean tried to contact Houdini’s deceased mother. Apparently a connection with the world of the dead was established and Houdini’s mother talked through automatic writing, executed by the pen in Jean’s hand. The automatic writing produced fifteen pages of text in grammatically perfect English. 

When Houdini read the text, he said that his mother could not have dictated it since her English was terrible and she had no sense of grammar. He suspected that Doyle and his wife had composed the text by themselves. After this incident Houdini became a critic of Doyle and the mediums which claimed that they could communicate with the dead through automatic writing. 

In 1917, two cousins, Elsie Wright (16 years old) and Frances Griffiths (9 years old), claimed that they were being visited by fairies. Five pictures in which the two girls could be seen playing with one-foot-tall fairies became public. Doyle was impressed by the pictures, which he interpreted in his article, “Fairies Photographed,” published in the 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine, as the visible evidence of psychic phenomena. The one-foot-tall fairies were just cardboard cutouts, but Doyle was convinced that the fairies were real. 

He ended his article, “Fairies Photographed,” with these lines: 

“The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth-century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life. Having discovered this, the world will not find it so difficult to accept that spiritual message supported by physical facts which have already been put before it.”

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