The mediumship of George Valiantine, from Williamsport, New York, is an occasion of dispute and uncertainty.
Valiantine did not become aware of his mediumship until he was forty-three. After hearing noises for which he could not account, he spoke to a Spiritualist who invited him to participate in a séance; he did so and raps were made that stated his brother-in-law was communicating. Valiantine then developed his mediumship, and although having a number of guides, the principal one was his brother-in-law.
Although Valiantine was able to produce a materialization of his guide, he principally became known as a direct voice physical medium in America during the 1920s. He travelled to Britain several times (1924, 1925, 1927, 1929 and 1931), and other countries in Europe, to give sittings.
One of the principal figures in the reporting of Valiantine’s mediumship was H. Dennis Bradley who met the medium in America in 1923. Unfortunately, he heaped vitriol on any person who chose to have a different opinion from his own, and his lengthy record in Towards the Stars has many irrelevancies and often lacks important detail. His subsequent book, The Wisdom of the Gods, is much the same. Nonetheless, they contain valuable information concerning Valiantine’s mediumship despite the shortcomings.
His record of the first séance related how after luminous bands were placed around Valiantine’s wrists to monitor any movement, ‘the phenomenal happened’. He sensed another person in the room who called out to him and said that she was his sister (who had died ten years earlier). At this point he said that, ‘we talked, not in whispers, but in clear, audible tones…Every word was heard by the other three men in the room’. Bradley asserted that the other sitters could not have known of his sister, or the family matters that were discussed with her for some fifteen minutes.
He also observed that, ‘she said sayings in her own characteristic manner. Every syllable was perfectly enunciated and every little peculiarity of intonation was reproduced’. After his sister departed, five more communicators spoke to those present, and ‘each spirit was distinct and each spoke with an accent unlike the other’.
Bradley also witnessed how the trumpet ‘floated in the air and careered around the room’. In later sittings, he confirmed that he heard the voices of communicators and Valiantine simultaneously: ‘Valiantine, the medium, often speaks and can be spoken to at the same moment that the spirits are speaking’. During these séances, sitters were touched and there were partial-materializations: ‘A…hand rested for a second on my right hand…it was surrounded by astral light’. Bradley also recorded how ‘luminous lights floated about the room’.
In addition to sittings with Valiantine, Bradley had sittings with the medium, Mrs Gladys Leonard that were, not surprisingly, evidential. Most interesting, was that Bradley’ sister, communicating through Mrs Leonard, confirmed that she had communicated at the Valiantine séances and also referred to what had been said during these. In view of the sittings with Mrs Leonard and another medium, and the references to the sittings with Valiantine, Bradley believed that he had obtained ‘incontestable proof of the triple link’.
It is an interesting point that Feda, Mrs Leonard’s control, also communicated through Valiantine on numerous occasions; Bradley stated that he had ‘a remarkable accumulation of cross evidence’ that it was the same personality who communicated through the two mediums, in addition to others who had obtained cross- evidence confirming this view.
In one Valiantine séance, Bradley noted that ‘some brilliant silvery stars appeared near the ceiling; later similar lights appeared in other parts of the room’ and the trumpet ‘moved around the room and touched each of the sitters’. Although the séance was to be held in darkness, light did penetrate the room and Valiantine was seen to be in a trance, and at the same time the sitters ‘saw a trumpet suspended without visible support…in mid-air’. Furthermore, after the séance ended, Valiantine was found to be covered in ectoplasm.
Bradley also recorded the many instances of not only when he, but other sitters, including those of a sceptical persuasion, were supplied with evidence. One sitter was addressed by an aunt who gave personal details and family names relating to his mother, even though he had referred to her by forename rather than ‘mother’ to avoid giving information.
At the beginning of 1924, Bradley attended a séance at the British College of Psychic Science, with Valiantine as the medium, and nine other persons, five of whom Valiantine had never seen before. One of these was spoken to by her son who referred to his own children for whom the sitter was caring. Another sitter heard from someone who had been a close friend before he had died, and an Austrian sitter heard from her mother who spoke to her in German.
In respect of this séance, Bradley made the important point that further information would have been forthcoming if the sitters had been more able to hold a purposeful and engaging conversation rather than simply asking for ‘a message’, as conversation does assist the communicators in their activity.
Another séance, held less than a week later, included Mrs Gladys Leonard, her husband, and Hannen Swaffer as sitters; this was a further occasion of evidential communications being received when personal information was supplied by next-world visitors. In a séance at a later date, Raymond, the son of Sir Oliver Lodge communicated with his father; after Raymond had called to his father, ‘the luminous trumpet was lifted, and taken close to Sir Oliver, who was touched on the head and on the body. A conversation ensued between Sir Oliver and Raymond on family matters…Names were volunteered by the spirit’.
Although it has been argued that communications in foreign languages were piecemeal, thereby diminishing the evidential quality of Valiantine’s mediumship, it is difficult to envisage the medium being wholly responsible for all such instances.
During a séance on 27 February 1924, the novelist Caradoc Evans, one of the sitters, heard the voice of his father that he ‘described as struggling through the floor and coming up between his feet’. After the introduction, Evans said that if the communicator was his father, he should speak in his own (Cardiganshire Welsh) language, which he then did, including such statements as ‘Uch ben yr avon. Mae steps – lower lawn – rhwng y ty ar rheol. Pa beth yr ydych yn gofyn? Y chwi yn mynd i weled a ty bob tro yr rydych yn y dre’ (this being the father’s reply to Evans’ question about the family home, which he described. It is up to the reader to decide what would be involved in being able to speak in such a way, and in the case just cited, not knowing what questions would be asked, with of course, the necessary pronunciations; this is apart from the production of the other different languages (e.g. Russian, Spanish, German, Italian) spoken in various Valiantine séances, if these did not arise from genuine communicators.
In the preface to his book, Northcliffe’s Return, Hannen Swaffer records how, at a séance with Valiantine on 25 February 1925, one sitter, a Chinese Countess heard from her father; this was followed by Lord Northcliffe communicating and telling Swaffer what the intended book should be called. Swaffer confirms: ‘I have heard Northcliffe’s voice speak to me on, at least, eight occasions at Valiantine sittings. Once he spoke to me in daylight, in a way which precluded any chance of fraud or trickery’.
One of the more unusual instances of Valiantine’s mediumship occurred in 1927. A sitter possessed an ancient Chinese shell that was used as a horn, although none of the sitters could produce any note from it, no matter how hard they tried. However, in the séance when the shell was brought along, it was heard to be blown from high up, and furthermore, the notes produced were in the appropriate Chinese mode.
An article by Mrs W. H. Salter was included in the SPR’s Proceedings in 1932, in which there was a negative appraisal of George Valiantine. After mentioning the unsatisfactory testing of Valiantine by The Scientific American in 1923, she referred to Bradley’s later charges of fraud being carried out by Valiantine.
Bradley had already made reference in Towards the Stars to the suspicions of Dr Wyckoff about direct writing produced, although Wyckoff admitted that he was not convinced that Valiantine was a fraud and believed, ‘that unquestionably he has mediumistic powers’. But, ‘perhaps not all the time or at will’.
Nonetheless, Bradley subsequently changed his opinion about Valiantine, and recorded this in his book, And After: his change of opinion is startling, particularly in view of his positive reports and the vociferous criticisms of those who challenged Valiantine.
Bradley recorded that when imprints of spirit-hands in wax and smoked paper were obtained, he believed these to be fraudulent; nonetheless, he was careful to disconnect this from the occurrence of spirit voices that he believed were genuine.
Mrs Salter made the interesting observation that when the book was reviewed on 22 October 1931, by the Times Literary Supplement (hardly a publication known for a pro-Spiritualist stance), the reviewer believed there was ‘evidence of Valiantine’s supernormal faculties which no sceptic, as it seems to us, can reasonably call in question’. Indeed, by virtue of the testimony of sitters, there really could be little doubt about Valiantine’s mediumistic abilities.
When dealing with Valiantine’s mediumship in her report, Mrs Salter referred to a number of different séances when events indicated fraud, and suspicious features were noted by sitters, some of whom who were certainly not of a sceptical persuasion. Despite what is included in Mrs Salter’s writing, the reader is often confronted by the common custom of raising objections simply through certain details not being supplied, or possibilities that are really only conjecture, when the phenomena are not easily explained away. For example, in one séance when Valiantine was tied to his chair and the sitters were tied to each other, a complete list of whom the sitters were was not available and by virtue of this, Mrs Salter raised the question of whether the sitters might have colluded. When foreign languages were heard, she believed that the sitter’s own expectations may have influenced what they believed they had heard.
In a séance during which Italian was spoken, she suggested that it was possible a sitter may have pretended to have been the communicator, although she admitted that she had no grounds for doubting the integrity of the sitters present. When a communicator spoke to one sitter, and gave good evidence, Mrs Salter said this only ‘constitutes a case for further enquiry and nothing more’. It is difficult not to gain the impression that Mrs Salter sought to give any explanation to account for the phenomena, no matter how unsubstantiated, if it would preclude genuine mediumistic phenomena.
It was the instance of archaic Chinese being spoken to Dr Neville Whymant, a highly qualified Oriental scholar, involved in the translation of languages, that seems to have caused Mrs Salter some difficulty. It is this case where she suggested that the explanation might lay in the sitter’s suggestibility. To arrive at a conclusion about this particular matter, the reader can review Whymant’s own record of his experiences in Psychic Adventures in New York. At a Valiantine séance, a communicator spoke in Chinese mandarin ‘correct in intonation and pronunciation’, despite the immense difficulty of which Whymant was only too aware through his own teaching of the language.
The communicator said that he was Confucius, and Whymant asked him various questions, e.g. about the meaning of certain Chinese words and an item of textual criticism that had prevailed for many centuries; the communicator then supplied Whymant with two renderings, including the one which was correct, as the communicator knew and pointed out.
Despite her critical stance, Mrs Salter obviously had difficulties in attributing fraud or a this-worldly explanation for all of Valiantine’s mediumship; when suggestions, often lacking substantiation would not suffice, she had to agree that there were events that could not be accounted for, e.g. in the case of Valiantine being found to be covered in ectoplasm, she said that without further data, ‘this incident is likely to remain unexplained’.
Other examples of Valiantine’s mediumship can be easily found: when Dr Vivian was present, ‘while two voices were speaking, Valiantine was simultaneously heard to draw the attention of the sitters to the two voices’. When Admiral Nimmo had daylight sittings, ‘the voice which he heard to come distinctly from within the trumpet gave intelligent and evidential communication.’
A report by Lord Hope concerning his sittings with Valiantine, in the same Proceedings, essentially follows the overall style of Mrs Salter, offering telepathy or the medium possibly overhearing casual mention of certain facts beforehand as possible explanations. However, he related the positive instances that were witnessed together with those that were debateable. He referred to the lack of evidential material by communicators, apart from supposed communications from people who were in fact still alive, others who were fictitious and suggested by sitters in desperation to stimulate activity, and information given in earlier sittings being given back in later ones. Nonetheless, this was not always the case, e.g. Valiantine gave him the names of guides, two of which had been given at sittings with other mediums, and on one occasion, a communicator referred to a girl that Lord Hope knew, and correctly relayed specific information about her.
Another sitter, unknown to the medium, was given the full name of ‘a likely communicator’ and Hope admitted ‘there seemed no likely normal means by which the medium could have learnt this name’.
One communicator said that he was Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, and Hope agreed ‘the accent showed no trace of American [Valiantine’s accent], and was indeed quite unlike the medium’s ordinary voice and also unlike the guide “voices”‘. Hope asked the communicator to speak in German, the language of Martin Luther, and he did so; one sitter confirmed that ‘it was good German of an old- fashioned type’. A Japanese sitter was spoken to by a communicator and ‘was undoubtedly favourably impressed with what he had heard’.
Of trumpet movement, Hope said this was sometimes ‘very impressive’, and on one occasion a trumpet appeared to rise very high and strike something sounding like the ceiling, that was over eleven feet from the floor. Furthermore, two trumpets were sometimes in the air at the same time. In the case of the movement of other objects in the séance room, Hope noted that gramophone slowed down several times when it was ‘a considerable distance from the medium’s chair’ and the table moved from ‘where it would have been very difficult for the medium to have reached it’.
In the case of direct writing, on the occasion when Oriental characters were supplied, Hope suggested how Valiantine could have produced this fraudulently, but nevertheless conceded that the characters ‘were probably written in complete darkness during the sitting’. On asking an expert about the writing, Hope recorded how he ‘told me he did not think he could have done it himself in the dark’.
In addition to Bradley’s record, Mrs Salter referred to séances in 1925, when Lady Troubridge and Miss Radclyffe-Hall, representing the SPR, were present, and how their report was ‘refreshingly free from the obscurity and superficiality of most reports on Valiantine’.
In their report, supplied by Dr V. J. Woolley, they raised a number of justified questions together with criticisms concerning some aspects of Valiantine’s mediumship and the communications provided through him. However, they noted that Valiantine ‘asked no questions that could be interpreted as fishing for information’, and while they believed that it was impossible to arrive at any definite opinions, they felt that in the first séance, ‘that the total phenomena produced at this sitting were beyond what could have been obtained by the fraudulent efforts of the medium unaided’.
In the first séance on 13 March, there was trumpet movement, and Miss Radclyffe-Hall heard from a communicator who was recognized as someone who had died eighteen years earlier, and on being asked to supply the name of a mutual acquaintance, did so, with this being audible to all present. Later, a communicator gave a name to the same sitter that was recognized and complied when requested to supply a further name that was relevant: this being an unusual forename. Further evidence was supplied, to the sitter again, when her father communicated. He gave his name as ‘Radclyffe’ and Valiantine said that he probably did not have sufficient power to add ‘-Hall’ to his surname; in fact, her father was actually called Radclyffe Radclyffe-Hall. This was obviously evidential as a father would hardly introduce himself by his surname, but the medium was unaware of the duplicate name. In the record of the second séance on 16 March, the two researchers noted their reservations and concerns about the content of some of the communications, but agreed that the behaviour of one communicator was ‘characteristic of him and his manner’. The report also said there was ‘some opportunity of ascertaining that the medium…remained seated in his chair when voices were wandering round the circle’, and that the voice of a guide was heard at the same time that Valiantine was speaking.
The third séance on 21 March was not evidential, and had to be prematurely concluded due to the events, and the disruptive behaviour of Bradley who was present. These séances were followed by a daylight sitting on 23 March; in this, taps were heard inside the trumpet and Lady Troubridge and another sitter ‘were satisfied that the medium’s hands made no movement’. Later that day, a séance was held in a red light; Lady Troubridge carefully monitored the medium and said that she ‘could easily discern every feature and movement of his face…I could also see with absolute certainty whether or not his mouth was closed’. She then went on to say that taps were heard in the trumpet, and one at the far end of the room, furthest from Valiantine, followed by a a voice giving his name and greeting the sitter who had her ‘eyes fixed on the medium’s mouth’ which was closed; this was followed by other voices speaking to her.
In Miss Radclyffe-Hall’s daylight sitting on the same day, taps and a voice were heard in the trumpet, and she reported that she ‘could not detect the least suspicious movement’ by Valiantine, and ‘during the whole time that the voice was going on, his mouth remained closed’ and his lips ‘remained without movement’. The communicator said that he was her father and named his wife, asking that she be told that he was ‘all right’. After the séance, both Lady Troubridge and Miss Radclyffe-Hall attempted to reproduce the taps and speech by normal means, but were unsuccessful.
When considering Valiantine’s mediumship, I believe it is fair to argue that it unfortunate that Lady Troubridge and Miss Radclyffe-Hall did not have more opportunity to attend séances with Valiantine. A reading of the available material certainly suggests that far more information about Valiantine’s mediumship would have been forthcoming from them as they were clearly concerned with evidence of survival with an objective approach. Regrettably, Bradley occupies a prominent role and the value of his contribution is highly questionable; as Inglis noted of him, ‘He had put in a great deal of work… investigating mediums, and had little positive to show for it’.
The full status of George Valiantine’s mediumship is really one of some uncertainty; nonetheless, some light is shed on the matter in view of those who attended Valiantine’s séances, holding very diverse opinions, and were unable to account for what was witnessed, or believed they had obtained evidence of survival.
Even in his book, And After, when Bradley modified his opinion concerning Valiantine, he admitted: ‘He is semi-illiterate. He possesses no scholastic education whatsoever…I mention these facts because many of the communications which have been in direct voice under his mediumship have been brilliant in their expression and culture’.