Welcome. This is my blog, and you're my most coveted guest. If I seem a bit too intense, it's only because I have so much that I want to share with you, and I can see that you're eager to begin as well. So, please...make yourself at home, sip an East India cocktail (I blended the pomegranate juice myself), and sample some of my domestic and imported Arcana: useless, but fascinating information about Victoriana, Steampunk and other favoured topics; music which evokes that dark, lost Lenore sensibility; and other pleasant or, perhaps, unsettling non sequiters whispered in a darkened room. Linger long or short, leave a comment or refrain, but remember to come back soon to play a (shhhh) parlour game.
Velkommen. Dette er min blog, og du er min mest eftertragtedegæst. Hvis jeg synes en smule for intenst, det er kunfordi jeg har så meget at jeg vil dele med jer, og jeg kanse, at du er ivrig efter at begynde så godt. Så kan du ...føl dig hjemme, sip et East India cocktail (jeg blandetden granatæble juice mig selv), og prøve nogle af mine indenlandske o importerede Arcana: ubrugelig, menfascinerende oplysninger om Victoriana, Steampunkog andre begunstigede emner; musik der fremkalderdenne mørke, mistede Lenore sensibilitet, og andrebehagelige eller måske foruroligende, ikke sequitershviskede i et mørkelagt rum. Linger lang eller kort,efterlade en kommentar eller afstå, men husk at komme tilbage snart til at spille en (Shhhh) selskabsleg.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
Nocturne in G Flat major
Chopin, darkness, light, sand and wind, starlight tread. Beethoven, love, fear, madness, redemption in the night. Liszt, waltzing widows, desperate bargains, pleasure's secret plight. Now, then, before, always, forever. Promises made on lonely beaches, celestial summer's perfect kiss, passions quenched in salty breezes, the lure of distant mist-draped heights. Bitter interlude. Final, private nocturne. Burned down like a candle. Doomed bleeding beauty. Fated sacrificial night.
We love all things dark and mysterious, macabre and obscure, odd and unfathomable. Nothing is too strange or bizarre for our little blog. And although we would never presume to offer definitive answers to the great questions of life, we shall do our best to enlighten, inform and delight our visitors with our whimsical potpurri of facts, anecdotes, trivia and informational outpourings. We strive not to offend, but to edify those who wish to reach beyond their comfort zone and touch the fabric of another time and place, and of distant, but genuine worlds and lives. As Victorian-themed blogs go, ours may not be the most austere, nor the most comprehensive, but we know what we like, and if our readers like it as well, then all is as it should be in this ramshackle corner of our own personal Victorian empire.
A Musical Note
A Musical Note: We feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by one or more of the following musical selections. Then again, we also feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by a glass of absinthe, a bite of lemon cake, and a foot massage (preferably by someone you know). So, to paraphrase the otherwise completely irrelevant-to-our-blog Mr. Aleister Crowley, "Do what thou wilt...but be open to Chopin."
Follow Us On Twitter
Thursday, March 29, 2012
LEONORA PIPER: WILLIAM JAMES' "ONE WHITE CROW."
"Leonora Piper" is perhaps the one name associated with late 19th century/early 20th century spiritualism which bears no taint of fraudulence, even among those who discount spiritualism as a genuine religion and its adherents as, at best, sadly deluded or misguided souls. Born Leonora Symonds in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1859, Leonora showed mediumistic ability at an early age, her first recorded experience taking place when she was around eight and playing in the family's garden. As she played, she heard a familiar voice whisper in her ear, saying, "It's Aunt Sara, not dead, but with you, still." Understandably frightened, Leonora ran into the house and told her mother what had just happened. It turned out that her Aunt Sara had just died, a fact which supposedly didn't come to the family's attention until some time later.
Other, similar incidents continued to occur throughout Leonora's childhood and adolescence, but she did her best to ignore them. It wasn't until she married Boston shopkeeper William Piper and settled into their new home in the Beacon Hill area of the city that she began to take her gifts seriously. After the birth of her first daughter, Alta, Leonora began to suffer from recurring pain which seemed to be related to an old childhood injury. The pain worsened following the birth of her second daughter, Minerva, and in an effort to relieve it, she agreed to accompany her father-in-law to the home of J.R. Cook, a blind medium who specialized in "curing" illness through psychic means. According to Alta Piper, who wrote an extensive biography about her mother in 1929, whilst visiting Cook, Leonora slipped into trance, during which she received a spirit message from the deceased son of a local judge. Leonora dutifully passed on the message to him. On hearing it, he told her that it was the most accurate spirit message that he had received in the 30 years that he had been a follower of spiritualism.
The incident marked the start of Leonora's public career as a medium. She soon began giving readings in her home, the startling accuracy of which drew sitters from well beyond the city limits of Boston. Word of her reputation eventually reached the ears of William James, renowned psychologist and brother of expatriate writer Henry James (The Golden Bowl, Daisy Miller, The Bostonians) and spiritual seeker.
William James was one of five children born into an independently wealthy New York family headed by Henry James, Sr, a well-known eccentric and devotee of Swedish philosopher and visionary Emmanuel Swedenborg, whose theological beliefs he adopted as his own and never tired of espousing. But the elder James was an intellectual as well, who reveled in the company of New York's intellectual elite, various members of which were regular visitors to the family's home. The James family as a whole seemed to be naturally predisposed to intellectual pursuits. In addition to the younger Henry James' renown as the author of some of the most influential and critically acclaimed novels and short stories of the 19th century, Alice, the sole female among the five siblings, was a respected writer and diarist in her own right, and James' two younger brothers both fought in the Civil War.
William James spent his early adulthood studying in Europe, where he learned to speak fluent French and German, and on his return to the States, decided to embark on a medical career, enrolling as a student at Harvard Medical School in Boston. His studies were interrupted, however, when he took a break to accompany naturalist Louis Agassiz on a trip to the Amazon, where he fell ill with a mild bout of smallpox. The illness precipitated a period of general ill health, seeking relief of which, James returned to Europe where he spent the next several years in Germany. James' philosophical leanings impelled him to attribute his ill health to what he termed "soul sickness." It wasn't until 1869 that he returned to the United States to complete his studies and earn his medical degree, although he never actually practiced medicine. Writing about his interest in philosophy in later years, James said, ""I originally studied medicine in order to be a physiologist, but I drifted into psychology and philosophy from a sort of fatality. I never had any philosophic instruction, the first lecture on psychology I ever heard being the first I ever gave".
James' interest in spiritualism surfaced after his marriage to Alice Gibbens in 1878, with whom he had two sons. Following the death of their second son Herman around 1885, James, like so many bereaved parents before him, turned to spiritualism for comfort. The renowned philosopher had already begun an exploration of so-called spiritual matters some years before. A man known and even revered by some for his pragmatical approach to philosophical questions, James had always harbored a sympathetic attitude toward the idea of spirit contact, and on visiting the deathbed of his friend, Frederic Myers, who had served as the president of the American Society for Psychical Research, had asked Myers to attempt to make contact after his death. James never received the desired messages from beyond. Disappointed, he still continued to pursue his interest in spiritualism, stating that it "one needs only to find one white crow in order to prove that not all crows are black." Soon after making that statement, he found his "white crow"...in Leonora Piper.
James first heard of Leonora Piper through his mother-in-law, who visited the Boston medium under an assumed name not only to maintain secrecy as to her true identity, but to prevent Leonora from digging up personal facts about her life that she might later attribute to her supposed mediumistic abilities. But her secrecy had no effect on Leonora's abilities. On visiting Leonora, Mrs. Gibbens was astounded when the medium purportedly passed on several messages from spirit which referenced a number of her relatives, living and dead, and which contained astonishingly accurate details which Mrs. Gibbens was convinced Leonora could not have known by "any normal means." Impressed and excited, Mrs. Gibbens returned home and gushed about Leonora to her son-in-law who, by his own account, derided her for her credulity. He called her a "victim of a medium's trickery" and even went so far as to demonstrate to her the many ways in which someone like Leonora Piper was able to fool gullible members of the public. But Mrs. Gibbens would not be swayed, and made a second visit to Leonora's home, this time accompanied by James' sister-in-law, who came away equally impressed. Frustrated by the women's insistence on Leonora's authenticity, and now somewhat curious to meet her himself, James made his own trek to the Piper parlor for a reading.
Later, writing about that first meeting with Leonora Piper, James remarked on his surprised at finding her parlor devoid of the usual array of mediumstic props. There were no spirit trumpets or bells for spirits to talk through or to ring, no spirit cabinet, no red-tinted lamps to cast an eerie glow on the proceedings and trick sitters' eyes into seeing things that weren't there. There was only Leonora Piper, a demure, diminutive woman, who told James and the several other sitters present to sit wherever they wished before warning them not to expect to witness anything of a sensational nature during the reading. She was not the sort of medium who made things fly about the room, she explained, and there would be no manifestations of spirit images appearing before them. She would simply do what she always did, which was to go into trance and allow her spirit guides (or "controls") to take over and give messages, following which she would awaken with no memory of what had taken place.
James was impressed with what occurred. Writing about it later on, he said, "My impression after this first visit was that Mrs. Piper was either possessed of supernormal powers or knew the members of my wife's family by sight and had by some lucky coincidence become acquainted with such a multitude of their domestic circumstances as to produce the startling impression which she did. My later knowledge of her sittings and personal acquaintance with her has led me to absolutely reject the latter explanation, and to believe that she has supernormal powers." Following that initial visit, James made appointments for 25 of his friends to visit Leonora, thus hoping to test her veracity regarding other sitters. He was not disappointed in his quest. For the next two years, the "pragmatic philosopher" continued to test the Boston medium, even hiring a private detective (without telling Leonora) to follow her around and make certain that she wasn't gleaning information about her sitters through surreptitious means.
The one caveat for James throughout his testing of Leonora was her use of an alleged spirit control who identified himself as a deceased French physician called "Dr. Phinuit", but since "Phinuit" was never able to give a satisfactory account of his earthly life, seemed to know next to nothing about medicine, and couldn't even speak French, James concluded that the "spirit" was most likely a sub-conscious aspect of Leonora's personality, the fact of which did not detract from his belief in the lady's "tremendous" abilities as a medium.
In the mid-1880s, James took Leonora to England, where he introduced her to some of the great psychical researchers of the day, including Sir Oliver William Holmes, Henry Sedgwick, and FWH Meyers of the British SPR. According to all accounts, Leonora's mediumistic performance in England was every bit as impressive as it had been back in the States, despite being kept under close, constant watch and even allowing her mail to be open and read as proof against fraudulence. Surprisingly, her success in England was met with some instances of scorn once she returned to Boston. After giving an interview in which she stated that she could not be sure whether she was actually being controlled by spirits during trance or whether her abilities were a result of ESP, The New York Herald ran a piece titled "Mrs. Leonora Piper's Plain Statement" in which they pointed to the statement as a confession of fraudulence on Leonora's part. At one point, in an effort to test the depth of her trance, Leonora was subjected to harsh treatment from several psychical investigators not associated with James which resulted in "a badly blistered tongue", according to her daughter Alta's subsequent biographical account of the incident.
Leonora returned to England in 1908 where she was one of several mediums who took part in the famous cross correspondence sessions, during which each medium (all of whom were from different areas, and some from other countries) allegedly received bits and pieces of spirit messages which made no sense on their own, but which, when connected, comprised a coherent message which was supposed to prove the validity of the respective spirit communications. The pressure of her involvement with the sessions had a debilitating effect on Leonora who returned to her home in Boston to find that she had lost her mediumistic abilities, a state which lasted until 1911. When her abilities finally did resurface, she found that she was only able to access them through automatic writing. She was never again able to go into trance.
Leonora Piper died in 1950, her name still associated with that of William James and the investigations she had undergone under his scrutiny. By that time, James was long dead, having passed away in 1910, but not before writing extensively about Leonora, his "white crow", and declaring, as his final verdict on the case, that she "unquestionably displayed supernormal knowledge" of facts which could not be otherwise known to her, but that he remained unconvinced that it was the result of spirit agency.
NEXT POST: THE TRAGIC TALE OF TYPHOID MARY