Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



Just as Andrew Jackson Davis was called the “John the Baptist” of Modern Spiritualism, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was called the “St. Paul” of Spiritualism. He was a prolific writer on the subject and an avid proponent. And, of course, he is renowned for his Sherlock Holmes classics.

Sir Arthur’s introduction to the occult took place while he was a physician at Southsea, United Kingdom. During the years 1885 to 1888, he was invited to participate in table turning sittings at the home of one of his patients, General Drayson, a teacher at the Greenwich Naval College. The medium was a railway signalman, and some amazing phenomena and apportations took place.

The phenomena were, quite frankly, too amazing for Sir Arthur, and he underrated both the honesty of the medium and the intelligence of the sitters. Nonetheless, his interest was piqued.

Shortly thereafter, he joined the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and carried out a series of experiments with a Mrs. Ball. From these experiments, Sir Arthur was convinced that telepathy was genuine. As far as survival and mediumship were concerned, when he first met Sir Oliver Lodge in 1902, he had not arrived at any definite conclusions. However, Frederick Myers’ classic, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, made a deep impression upon him.

For nearly 30 years, Sir Arthur continued his studies and investigations. Finally, at the peak of his literary career, at approximately the age of 58, he took a decisive step and wrote The New Revelation and The Vital Message. In these books, he firmly associated himself with the cause of Modern Spiritualism.

His critics – and there were many – attributed his newly found faith to bereavement suffered during the war; he vehemently denied these statements. His youngest son, Kingsley, died of pneumonia during the war. A year after his son’s death, he attended a sitting held by a Welsh medium. There, his son spoke to him. Later on, he stated: “It was his voice and he spoke of concerns unknown to the medium.” Shortly thereafter, he saw his mother and nephew, in his words: “As plainly as I ever saw them in life!” The cynic would call his jump into Spiritualism nothing more than a manifestation of grief. The clear-headed thinker would see this as an answer to his prayers and worries. Thankfully, Sir Arthur was a clear-headed thinker.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most substantive book on Spiritualism is the two-volume set, The History of Spiritualism. This is an absolute must-read for all students of the subject. Within its pages, he discusses a wide range of subjects and personalities linked with the Modern Spiritualist Movement, both in America and the United Kingdom.

Addressing the remarks of his critics, he writes in The History of Spiritualism the following:

“The sight of the world which was distraught with sorrow, and which was eagerly asking for help and knowledge, did certainly affect my mind and cause me to understand that these psychic studies, which I had so long pursued, were of immense practical importance and could no longer be regarded as a mere intellectual hobby or fascinating pursuit of a novel research. It was this realization which, from early in 1916, caused me and my wife to devote ourselves largely to this subject, to lecture upon it in many countries, and to travel to Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada upon missions of instruction.”

Further on, he declared:

“As for the charge of credulity which is invariable directed by the unreceptive against anyone who forms a positive opinion upon this subject, I can solemnly aver that in the course of my long career as an investigator, I cannot recall one single case where it was clearly shown that I had been mistaken upon any serious point, or had given a certificate of honesty to a performance which was afterwards clearly proved to be dishonest. A man who is credulous does not take twenty years of reading and experiment before he comes to his fixed conclusions.”

We cringe at Sir Arthur’s use of the word “performance”; however, this statement bears great weight upon his support for the cause.

He began his mission in 1918, with visits to most of the major cities of Great Britain. Then, during 1920 and 1921, he visited Australia and New Zealand. Early in 1922, he went to America and toured the Eastern states; the following year, he traveled as far as California. In 1928, he left for South Africa, and in the autumn of that same year, he preached Spiritualism in the Northern countries of Europe.

Let it not be said that his promulgation of Spiritualism did not come without a price. He expended a tremendous amount of physical and emotional energy. Furthermore, it is estimated that the decline in his literary output, because of his devotion to Spiritualism, translated into a loss of approximately £200,000, an amazing amount of money for the time.

Sir Arthur was not exempt from professional conflicts either. During 1922, when the Society for Psychical Research was involved in a scandal surrounding spirit photographer, William Hope, Sir Arthur stood up valiantly in defense of Mr. Hope. This caused a riff between him and the prestigious S.P.R. His association with the S.P.R. was further antagonized by Theodore Besterman’s review of Mrs. Hack’s Modern Miracles at Millesimo Castle. Finally, believing that the honor of Ernesto Bozzano, investigator of the famous Italian medium, Eusapia Paladino, was compromised by the Society, Sir Arthur resigned his membership. This resignation widened the already growing gulf between Spiritualists of the day and psychic researchers. This caused many Spiritualists to resign their membership to the S.P.R.

At the International Spiritualist Congress, held in Paris, in 1925, Sir Arthur was nominated Honorary President. In the same year, he had a public discussion, in London, with Sir Arthur Keith on Spiritualism. He won many points during this public debate.

It was during Sir Arthur’s Presidency of the London Spiritualist Alliance that Mrs. Cantlon, one of the mediums sanctioned by the Alliance, was charged with fortune-telling (quite illegal at the time). When the Alliance was assessed with costs amounting to £800, he voiced a vigorous protest in The London Times, alleging that this was nothing more than an organized persecution of Spiritualists. He then started a drive for the modification of the Fortune Telling Act and, on July 1, 1930, he led a petition to Council. Six days later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle passed to Spirit.

True to his ways, even death did not silence him. On July 13, 1930, a large reunion was held in Albert Hall, London. A chair was left empty in honor of Sir Arthur. Estelle Roberts, one of England’s finest and most respected mediums, said that she saw clairvoyantly Conan Doyle in the chair and offered a personal message from the great writer to his family; they accepted the message as evidential.

Since then – as is often the case amongst so many Spiritualists – numerous mediums, on both sides of the Atlantic, claim to have given spirit messages from Sir Arthur. Most were simply the renderings of psychic spot-lighters. However, one communication was evidential, revealing, and quite noteworthy. In fact, it so impressed psychic researcher and officer of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), Harry Price, that he discussed the communication in the January, 1931, issue of Nash Magazine, under the title of “The Return of Conan Doyle.” The medium who had given this communication was the prestigious Eileen J. Garrett.

In an address before members of the London Spiritualist Alliance, in October 1931, Sir Oliver Lodge (author of the Raymond series) best summed up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s views and approach to Spiritualism and Spiritualist phenomena as follows:

“His methods are not mine, he regarded himself as a missionary, a trustee of a great truth which he felt bound to with others, whether they would receive it or whether they would reject and ridicule it, but one cannot but admire the completeness and self-sacrificing character of his life and doctrines. Occasionally, I think, he lacked the wisdom of the serpent, but the goodness of his motives must be manifest to all.”

Truer words could not be echoed regarding this remarkable figure in the history of Modern Spiritualism.

A lovely Obituary Note was written by Dr. L.R.G. Crandon, husband of Boston’s famous physical medium, Margery Crandon, in the August 1930, issue of Psychic Research, the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. Further on, in that same issue, researcher Harry Price, wrote the following:

“The passing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at 9:15 a.m. on July 7th, 1930 removes the greatest personality spiritualism ever possessed – or is ever likely to possess. By sheer personal determination he raised the subject of psychic phenomena into the arena of acute controversy – and kept it there.”

Dr. Crandon, who, with his wife, Margery, had become close friends and associates with Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle, gave a most touching tribute in the Obituary Note referenced above. He wrote:

“On Monday, July 7, 1930, the world of literature, storytelling, happy-home living, and the world of Spiritualism lost a leader. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has passed over.

“So many will write obituaries of him in general terms that it will be perhaps of value for us to write of him in a more personal way.

“The Margery Group has lost a tireless champion. From the first Sir Arthur’s big Celtic heart has appreciated Margery’s work and has fought for it whenever challenged.”

He ended his tribute with the following:

“July 7, 1930, the day of his going over, the Margery Group held a seance, and, for the first time in over three years, Walter did not come through. A perfectly reasonable (not evidential) explanation was given by Mark, one of Walter’s helpers, who manifested himself at this sitting. He said, in effect: ‘Walter is busy as one of a reception committee to a great Spirit, newly arrived.’

“And so, he has passed for a time, serving in a new sphere, we have no doubt, and immortal in our hearts, we are sure.”

Books written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, other than the Sherlock Holmes series, include:

The New Revelation, 1918; The Vital Message, 1919; Wanderings of a Spiritualist, 1921; The Coming of the Fairies, 1922; Our American Adventure, 1923; Our Second American Adventure, 1923; Memories and Adventures, 1924; Spiritualists’ Readers, 1924; The Land of Mist, 1926; History of Spiritualism, 1926; The Case for Spirit Photography, 1924; Pheneas Speaks, 1927; Our African Winter, 1929; The Edge of the Unknown, 1930.