Reporter Tells of Widow Reuniting with Her Husband During Materialized Seance
In the headline image above: Seance participant Lady Zoe Caillard was photographed at her home ‘The Belfry’ in the Belgravia district of London. She is reported to have opened her own chemist shop at her home in 1927.
British Spiritualist journalist Maurice Barbanell commented about materialization seances in his 1949 memoir Power of the Spirit. He described seeing visitors from the ascended realm take shape “in what is, to all intents and purposes, a complex duplicate of the human body”:
You see and handle forms which are solid and life-like. They are not ghosts. These materialised forms have a heartbeat and a pulse beat; their faces are perfectly formed with normal hues; their hands, complete even to fingernails, are warm to the touch and the grip is firm. The eyes have the usual pigmentation. The materialisations speak with voices which are replicas of the ones they had on earth. They move with human gait towards you. The colour of the hair follows the usual mortal fashion, blonde, brunette or grey as the case may be. Sometimes they even reproduce the clothing that they wore, but usually they are garbed in robes that drape the figure.
The substance that makes this possible is ectoplasm, which has been analysed. It is highly plastic and malleable. Just as protoplasm is the basis of material construction, so ectoplasm is the foundation for these materialised formations.
Materialisation is the apex of Spiritualism’s phenomena, so far as a physical demonstration is concerned. Its purpose is to provide the supreme evidence for Survival.
Maurice’s 1959 memoir This Is Spiritualism includes a detailed description of a materialization seance with medium Louisa Bolt (Mrs. Ashdown) that he personally witnessed circa 1935; otherwise, he attended Direct Voice (disembodied voices) seances with her. During this epoch, it was common for materialization mediums to be fastened to their chairs with ropes so there could be no suspicion for any kind of duplicity among sitters and scientific researchers.
At one of the voice seances attended by Maurice, his wife – who loved animals – received an apport (materialized object) of “a beautifully coloured glass miniature of a dog’s head which probably once formed part of a locket.” He mentioned about Louisa in an ironic way: “Her slight, pale figure suggested anything but a materialisation medium.”
The following paragraphs are from Chapter Fifteen “A Spirit Signature” of This Is Spiritualism.
The seance that I am about to describe is one that will always live in my memory, for a spirit promise was fulfilled that night. A materialised form stood in front of me and, as he said he would do, some months earlier, wrote his signature on a piece of paper which I held out to him.
As is usual for this type of seance, a “cabinet” had been made by curtaining off a recess in the room. Mrs. Bolt, at her request, was roped to a chair in the cabinet. The red light was strong enough for me to see clearly the time on my watch and to be able to read the notes I was making.
A few minutes after the seance began, the four other visitors and I felt the cold psychic breezes which always accompany the production of these phenomena. Just as the cabinet, we are told, is used to store and condense the spirit power necessary to produce materialisations, so the cold breezes are said to indicate part of the process used by the invisible operators to obtain their results. The drop in the temperature is unmistakable.
From within the cabinet there appeared a small, white hand, which, we were informed, belonged to Ethel, the guide in charge of the phenomena. In a soft, gentle voice we heard her ask: “Can you see my face?” Then she appeared in front of the cabinet, a beautiful figure, clad in dazzling white raiment. I noticed, as I have frequently done, that although a red light illumined the room the ectoplasmic robing was snowy whited. Neither did it reflect the red light.
Ethel insisted on showing us her strikingly beautiful face-incidentally, it bore no resemblance to that of the medium. Mrs. Bolt is good-looking, but she would be the first to admit that her features could not compare in beauty with those of her guide.
Ethel asked each one of us to step forward and shake hands with her. Her hand was soft and warm. To all intents and purposes it resembled a completely formed human hand. When I shook hands with her, she allowed the drapery over her arm to brush me. I asked permission to handle this spirit robing, and it was readily given. I can only describe it as having a gossamer texture, far softer than the finest silk, and giving me the impression of feeling cobwebs.
One of the five visitors was Lady Caillard, whose husband, Sir Vincent, had promised to materialise. In earth life he was a well-known industrialist who had been president of the Federation of British Industries. I had not met him, before his passing, but had got to know his voice through hearing it at seances with Estelle Roberts and Louisa Bolt. The voice I heard coming from the cabinet was similar to Sir Vincent’s speech as I had heard it at the other seances. The best testimony, however, came from his wife, who was easily able to identify it.
“I am doing my best,” he said to her; “it all seems so difficult, because I am excited. I shall be with you in a moment. Let me get strong enough to bear the light.” This clearly indicated that, in addition to the labours of the guides, the manifesting entity also had his contribution to make.
Next Sir Vincent addressed me, saying: “I shall keep my promise.” A few moments later I heard him say to Lady Caillard: “I am quite ready. I am more than ready.” In an earnest tone he prayed: “Oh God, give me strength.”
Then he appeared in front of the cabinet’s curtains. He was several inches taller than Ethel. I would have guessed his height as six feet. His features were completely materialised, even to his distinctive moustache. He called his wife by the nickname that she said he always used when addressing her. Then he turned to the side of the cabinet where there were some roses, brought by his wife, which had been placed in a bowl on the table. “My flowers,” he exclaimed. With a clearly visible materialised hand, he took two roses out of the bowl and asked her to come forward. When she did so, he handed the flowers to here. “This is our final accomplishment,” he said. First he took her by the hand, and then he embraced her.
Lady Caillard, a practising Roman Catholic, had started her inquiry into Spiritualism when her husband’s passing left her grief-stricken with bereavement. Gradually the evidence for his survival had accumulated through many mediums and varied phases of phenomena. This, however, was the first time that he had materialised, to keep a promise he had made at earlier seances.
The materialised Sir Vincent kissed his wife several times and, during their embraces, whispered words of endearment and encouragement to her. He had already told his wife, a very sick woman, at previous seances, that their reunion was not far away. He referred again to their forthcoming reunion which, incidentally, took place five months later, when she died.
When she returned to her seat in the seance room, Sir Vincent insisted on shaking hands with each one of us. Like Ethel’s, his was a real hand. I know it was. When he shook hands with me, he slapped me with his other hand. They certainly belonged to a man! His hands were harder than Ethel’s, which I had clasped earlier in the seance.
Sir Vincent announced that he would have to withdraw for a few moments inside the cabinet to get “more power.” When he reappeared, Lady Caillard drew his attention to the fact that she was wearing on her wrist a watch which she had had specially made for him. By pressing a little raised catch, the watch chimed first the hours, then the quarters, and lastly the minutes, so that the time could always be told, even in the dark.
“Look, here is your watch,” she said. As she held out her wrist, his materialised hand released the catch, and the watch chimed the time.
Then he asked me for my notebook on which to write his signature, and so fulfill his promise made at an earlier seance. I had been taking notes in a “braille” notebook, a type I always used at seances because it contains raised lines and enables me to write in the dark if necessary.
I moved forward to the cabinet and proffered my notebook, which I had turned over so that his writing should avoid the raised lines. After he wrote part of his signature, he complained of the ridges, and asked for a plain sheet of paper. This I gave him. His wife handed him a pencil. I held my notebook with the plain sheet of paper on top of it. “Now we can see through a glass darkly, but then face to face,” he said. [1 Corinthians 13:12]
Then he wrote his signature. “Have I kept my promise?” he asked. I assured him that he had. Sir Vincent stepped right out of the cabinet and showed us that he was a fully-formed, materialised figure. “It has been a grand reunion,” he said.
Even this was not the end of the seance. I was asked to step forward to see Ivy, a little coloured control who helps Mrs. Bolt. Ivy asked me to hold a toy piano which she wanted to play. I knelt down to comply with her request. In my kneeling position I observed that she was just my height. I could see her black face, white teeth, thick lips and pink tongue.
Thus, at one seance, three distinctive, yet different materialisations had been made visible to us.
Maurice Barbanell wrote about Louisa in Power of the Spirit(1949):
In any accounts of outstanding voice mediumship I must include Louisa Ashdown, whose husband was associated with her for many years in devising scientific appliances to improve spirit communication. Their spirit co-operator was a man who had been a pioneer in this country of telephone, electric light and X-ray apparatus.
Maurice reported in This Is Spiritualism about the mechanical appliances implemented during Louisa’s mediumship:
First came an apparatus, the Reflectograph. This consisted of a keyboard connected with a screen, on which illuminated letters appeared when the keys were depressed by spirit power.
Next came the Communigraph. This was in the form of a circular table with a glass top, through which illuminated letters were shown when spirit operators made contact between a pendulum and electrical points attached to a keyboard below the table. After each word was finished, a star was flashed on the screen. At the end of every communication a bell was rung. Two books were written on this instrument, every word being spelled by the communicator and recorded by a stenographer.
The final achievement involved sealing a Morse key so that it could not be operated in any normal way, and receiving spirit communications through it.
The two books mentioned by Maurice Barbanell were brought to publication by Lady Zoe Caillard: a pamphlet entitled Sir Vincent Caillard Speaks from the Spirit World(1932) and the published book A New Conception of Love by Sir Vincent Caillard, written on his communigraph (1934) transcribed and with an appendix by Lady Caillard.
Mark Russell Bell