Hannen Swaffer’s Home Circle
My first contact with Hannen Swaffer’s home circle was in 1932, when I attended as a visitor on the same night that Frank Decker, the American physical medium, was invited to attend.
That was a big night for me, because White Shadow asked me to join the circle, and for all of us, because it was Decker’s visit that paved the way to our own development of the direct voice.
Some psychic gifts seem, to some extent, “infectious”. There must, of course, be the psychic power latent, but sometimes a fillip is given to its development by contact with a medium possessing the same gift.
Dennis Bradley “caught” the direct voice from Valiantine; we “caught” it from Decker.
We had both the direct voice and materialization phenomena that night, Decker’s mediumship, of course, being responsible.
We were sitting quietly in the darkness when suddenly Decker’s guide, White Eagle, gave his “war cry”.
It was so loud and sudden we all nearly jumped out of our skins and the wires of the piano vibrated.
Later, Patsy, another of Decker’s guides, shouted out, “Good night.”
I felt a materialized hand laid upon mine and, at the same time, Decker said he saw clairvoyantly the word “Test”. He wondered what it meant.
White Shadow explained that White Eagle intended the materialized hand to be a test for “the man who writes for the paper”.
He could not speak, as he was not controlling the medium, so he had caused the word to be seen clairvoyantly.
At this sitting, Decker told us that we had latent the power for developing direct voice mediumship.
We asked White Shadow about it and he agreed and encouraged us to try to develop it.
With his permission, we started sitting with trumpets on the floor in the centre of the circle. Within eight months, we heard the direct voice independently of the trumpet.
Then, six weeks after Decker visited us again, the trumpet was used and longer talks in the direct voice were possible.
When I joined the circle, we had two good trance mediums, used by White Shadow and Silver Birch. Gradually, as the physical phenomena developed, Silver Birch took the place of White Shadow as the teacher, while the other medium was used more and more for direct voice.
Both spirits, though they claimed to be simple “savages” – later communications have convinced us that they are really highly evolved spirits, using the astral bodies of the Indians as “mediums” – were most eloquent.
Their language would put any earthly orator to shame. But, as White Shadow’s medium could be used better as the “focal point” of the direct voice, Silver Birch became the teacher.
It was explained to us that all the sitters and their guides had been carefully chosen by the spirit people.
For over two years they had been working for a perfect circle, one in which all the sitters and all the guides would blend in harmony.
At last they were satisfied they had got it. Each sitter brought some necessary power for the phenomena; each guide and spirit helper had some special task.
Gradually the sitters would develop their mediumistic gifts. Each had some special work in front of him.
The guides took us into their confidence, told us what they had to do and encouraged us to question them about their work.
Their descriptions were supplemented by those who could see the spirits at work.
We began to learn psychic laws and cooperation reached a fine point.
For weeks before we heard the direct voice we saw the trumpet moved in graceful motions in all directions.
The guides told us the voice was nearly ready.
“We have had rehearsals,” they said. “We can make the voices all right, but we cannot make them heard in your world.”
On that first night, we heard just a few words.
The guide spoke from the floor, from near the ceiling, from positions all over the circle, but mostly from the floor.
He said it was easier to speak from there. The voice did not come through the trumpet, though this was moved with perfect control.
Each sitter was gently touched by the trumpet, in the order we asked, and one of us felt a materialized hand.
The guides had never used the vocal cords of the medium, even in trance.
They said there was healing power in her voice and if they used her cords that property might be impaired.
They used vocal cords of their own construction. When Anny Ahlers, the actress, controlled the medium a few weeks after her death, she complained that it was very difficult because White Shadow would not let her use the medium’s vocal cords.
The materialization phenomena grew as the direct voice developed. The father of White Shadow’s medium was able to materialize his hands sufficiently to make, for evidence, the loud clicking noise peculiar to his habit during earth life, and strum on the wall in his accustomed manner.
The favourite dog of one of the sitters was sometimes materialized and we heard its tail wagging against the leg of a chair.
A pet cat scratched at the carpet and a bird which the medium had taken into shelter when she found it injured used to materialize and fly about the room.
Often ornaments were moved from a high mantelshelf and were found after the sitting in the middle of the circle.
We often felt materialized hands.
One of the guides must have been huge – he told us that on the earth he was over seven feet tall, which was corroborated by the medium’s clairvoyant vision – for I would sometimes feel both my ankles grasped in one large hand. We heard the heavy tread of the guides going about the room and one of them, for our amusement, repeated a dance he used on earth, chanting, while he did it, an Indian tune which was always played for that particular dance.
At one sitting I shook hands with my “dead” sister, who passed on at the age of seven about twelve years before. I had been told that she acted as my guide, and I had had various messages from her, but this was the first occasion on which she had spoken directly to me. She controlled White Shadow’s medium in trance and spoke so quietly we could hardly hear what she said. She asked me to stretch out my hand towards the medium and she grasped it with her own – one she had manufactured out of ectoplasm.
She told us that trance control was very difficult as White Shadow would not allow the vocal cords to be used. Usually, cords were made of ectoplasm for the spirits’ use, but in her case, she told us, a different system had been specially arranged. By some method of using compressed air – we would not have understood, she said, even if she were able to explain it exhaustively – she was able to make her voice heard without using any vocal cords.
At this sitting, one of the guides explained to us that the circle was formed as much for the “dead” as for the living. Many in the spirit world, it was said, are held back by their desire to communicate with their friends on this side of the veil.
Until they are able to do this, their advance is impeded. We were also told something of the difficulties experienced by the guides.
Before any new phenomenon was introduced, consideration had to be given to the mental reactions of the sitters, for on that depended, to a large extent, the psychic power that was available.
Frank Decker sat with us again in 1933 – about nine months after his first visit – and a few weeks later our own trumpet was used for the direct voice.
When Decker was there, one of the guides was speaking to us through a trance medium and we were surprised suddenly to hear Patsy, Decker’s newspaper-boy guide, announce himself in the direct voice.
Later on, Patsy sang two songs, White Eagle, another of Decker’s guides, spoke to us and White Shadow had a talk with his medium.
This was the first time she had heard White Shadow speak, as always before she was in trance when he manifested.
We saw wonderful control of the trumpet at this sitting, Patsy taking it all round the circle at lightning speed.
The whizzing trumpet came so near to us that we felt a distinct breeze as it went by, but no one was touched by it.
Then, a few weeks later, after Decker had gone back to America and we had no outside help, we experienced our first voice through our own trumpet.
It had taken three years of constant sittings to reach this stage and that voice gave us all a thrill.
Only one word was spoken.
The spirit merely announced her name – it was ‘Lottie’, Hannen Swaffer’s “dead” sister-in-law – but it showed that our own direct voice phenomena had started.
At the next sitting, a guide said two or three words to his medium.
The next time there were seven voices, and so it went on, gradually improving until we were able to hold long, sustained conversations directly with those living in another world, hearing their own voices speaking to us and giving us evidence of their continued existence.
At first the voices were weak, though each was distinctive, and the “personality” spread even to the movements of the trumpet.
In many cases, we were able to tell who was about to speak by the way in which the trumpet was moved.
One guide always traced in the air the letter “S”, the initial of his name.
Another always made peculiar movements which suggested the name by which he was known.
One spirit, the father of White Shadow’s medium, always tapped the trumpet with his fingers before speaking, recalling an earthly habit as a means of identification.
Each of the regular communicators had a special way of introducing himself before the voice was heard.
In the early stages of the direct-voice phenomena, White Shadow’s medium was in trance. The communicating spirits seemed to get additional power from her for, after leaving the floor, the trumpet would always move towards her before a voice was heard.
Later, she was sometimes able to hear the voices while she remained out of trance.
Within the first month of hearing our first voice, we had talks with four of the guides of the circle, the father and sister of White Shadow’s medium, the mother, father and brother of the medium’s husband, Hannen Swaffer’s sister- in-law, my sister, Hall Caine, Gilbert Parker and Lord Northcliffe, Swaffer’s former “Chief” in the newspaper world.
There once occurred at our circle an incident that should warn all home circles who are sitting for physical phenomena.
One of the sitters, a trusted member of the circle, interfered with the phenomena, with the result that the trumpet medium’s health was endangered and all physical phenomena were stopped for weeks.
Again and again, the sitters had been warned not to touch the trumpet, the materializations or any of the phenomena made tangible to them, without the permission of the guides.
For several weeks, the guides had been experimenting with materializations and with the movement of various objects in the room. Unknown to the rest of us, one of the sitters interfered with the phenomena.
The medium’s coat had been taken from her, and moved round the room by spirit agency.
We were surprised to hear the voice of White Shadow, the chief guide, speaking through his medium in trance, telling us that one of the sitters, whom he named, had snatched this coat, with serious effect on his medium.
He said it was “most lamentable.” His medium would wake up very cold, and must go straight to bed. He would bring a spirit healer to try to repair the damage she had sustained.
When White Shadow had gone, the medium came out of trance, sobbing and groaning, obviously in great pain. She spent a night in agony, and found the next morning bruises near her solar plexus.
As White Shadow said, “Each one of you is entrusted with the power of the Great Spirit. None of you can play with it.”
The following week, there were no physical phenomena and no voices were heard through the trumpet. The trumpet medium had not fully recovered from the effects of the previous sitting. She still had bruises as a result.
During the sitting, as well as for a few hours before, she felt pain. Two other members of the circle also complained of pain in the region of the solar plexus, which suggests that the power for the physical phenomena was drawn from other sitters as well as from this medium.
“You are not to worry about things that have passed,” a guide told us. “We must go on with that which we have to do. Remember the great purpose which calls us all together. Remember that we work for the Great Spirit.
All the power and all the love that we have must be used to build up this temple, from which there will radiate a light and a force that will enable many who are sad to find comfort. That work cannot be stopped, because it is part of the work of the Great Spirit.”
At this and following sittings, the remaining members of the circle – the one who interfered did not come any more – had to link hands. That meant I was unable to take notes. Once, when messages of some importance were given, White Shadow was asked whether I could break the link to make notes.
The guide would not allow that, but promised that when his medium was coming out of trance, and the red light was on, he would tell her what were the messages and she would repeat them. This he did, and I was able to take notes of the messages I wanted.
Then, about a month after the interference, we had the first signs of the return of the physical phenomena. There were no voices, but the trumpet left the floor several times. One of the sitters twice saw a psychic rod connecting the trumpet with the medium. There were, also, partial materializations. And an ornament was moved by a spirit hand.
An interesting incident occurred at this sitting, when we were sitting at the table, which we always used at the beginning of the séances. We were discussing a play, the name of which all the sitters had forgotten. The table suddenly started spelling out a word. It got as far as “Scricti . . . “, and then one of the circle remembered the name of the play that was being discussed. It was “Strictly Dishonourable”.
The trumpet and materialization phenomena returned in time and we went on from strength to strength until a crisis came in the history of the circle.
Owing to a personal disagreement among some sitters, one in no way connected with psychic matters and which is now forgotten and forgiven, the circle was reconstructed.
Four of the original members, including the medium of Silver Birch, remained, and two others joined us. The venue of the sittings was changed. At our first séance after the change a fairly heavy table was tilted after we had been sitting for about ten minutes.
With the reconstruction of the circle, and the consequent loss of our trumpet medium, we lost for a considerable period the majority of our physical phenomena and the work of the circle became to a large extent the reception of teaching from the spirit guide Silver Birch.
But there was an occasional slight outburst of physical mediumship, as for instance when Dr. Carl Wickland attended one of our sittings with Mrs Nellie Watts, his secretary.
“Your little lady is here,” Silver Birch said – Wickland’s wife had recently passed on – She is happy, but she is not as happy as she will be. She puts her arm on your shoulder and she puts her other arm on yours” – this was to Mrs Watts – “and she stands between you and says that even death cannot separate you.”
“I can feel her touching me,” said the doctor.