on 27 April 2013
My library includes nine books by Geraldine Cummins (1890-1969), probably the greatest automatic writing medium ever. They include The Spirits of Cleophas (1928), Beyond Human Personality (1932), The Road to Immortality (1933), Mind in Life and Death (1956), and Swan on a Black Sea (1965). Thus, I hesitated a little before reading this biography of Ms. Cummins, first published in 1980 and recently republished by White Crow Books, doubting that it offered anything I had not already read. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the book refresh my memory on things I had forgotten, but there were some stories that I did not recall having read and which I found fascinating.
The daughter of Professor Ashley Cummins, M.D., Cummins played international hockey for Ireland and worked, during her younger years as a librarian, playwright, short-story writer, and novelist. She was also involved in the suffragette movement. Her first book, The Land They Loved, published by Macmillan in 1919, was a novel. Her introduction to mediumship came during June 1914, when she met Hester (Dowden) Travers Smith in Paris and observed her receive messages from "alleged deceased persons" by means of the ouija board. With Dowden and Cummins working the ouija board together at a later date, the oft-cited "Pearl Tie-Pin Case" unfolded in which Cummins's cousin, who had been killed on the battlefield, asked Cummins to make sure his pearl-tie was given to his fiancée. At the time, no one knew of the fiancée or the pearl tie-pin, but both were later verified. However, her dedication to mediumship actually began in 1923, after she met Beatrice Gibbes, a London resident and member of the Society for Psychical Research. Gibbes took her under wing and helped her develop as a medium. Over the next 25 years, Gibbes acted as Cummins's manager, arranging for sitters, keeping records, removing pages during the sittings, and checking on evidence. Cummins spent eight months of every year living with Gibbes in London, while the other four months of the year were spent in Dublin.
Gibbes described Cummins's condition during the automatic writing as "semi-trance or light dream-state or sometimes in a deeper condition of trance. Her hand is assumed to be controlled by some outside entity or influence, quite separate from her own personality. The method adopted by her is as follows: she sits at a table, with her left hand covering her eyes and her right hand resting on a block of foolscap paper. After a pause during which she endeavours to make her mind a blank, her hand begins to write and the name of her guide or control `Astor' is written. He announces the presence of some `communicator' who then, after a few seconds of introduction by Astor, writes his or her name."
The handwriting almost always resembled that of the communicating entity when alive. Much was offered in the way of evidence during personal sittings, but much of Cummins's writings were historical scripts. The Scripts of Cleophas were purportedly communicated by one Cleophas, a Christian convert of the first century, through seven scribes collectively called the "messengers." As these messengers explained it, Cleophas, was too elevated to communicate directly, and so "plucks from the tree of memory all these matters that had been within his knowledge, gives them to the Scribe, who gives them to the `messenger,' who enters into the thought of the writer." The book discusses the lives of the apostles after the death of Jesus. Biblical scholars endorsed their intrinsic merit and said that the writings gave new meanings to several obscure passages in the New Testament.
Beyond Human Personality and The Road to Immortality were purportedly dictated by Frederic W. H. Myers, a pioneering psychical researcher who died in 1901. They contain much about the nature of the afterlife. Sir Oliver Lodge, another pioneering psychical researcher and a good friend of Myers's, reviewed the scripts and found them to be very characteristic of the Myers he knew. While sitting with Gladys Osborne Leonard, another medium, Lodge communicated with Myers and asked him if he knew anything about Miss Cummins. "His reply was to the effect that he had communicated through her," Lodge wrote, "and that in a general way he had managed to get through what he wanted, though he admitted it was difficult, and he couldn't be sure that it was always exact, but still on the whole he was willing to pass it as fairly representing what he intended to say."
Interestingly, Cummins was initially skeptical relative to the spirit hypothesis. At first, she subscribed to the theory that it was all coming from her subconscious. "My slow, conscious mind could not have invented these impersonations," she wrote. "So [I] became all the more interested and conceitedly pleased with [my] subconscious powers." At some point during the 1920s, Cummins came to agree with Gibbes, thus abandoning her subconscious theory. "...these investigations presented to me a vision of the latent powers of the individual self and also a belief in the immortality of the soul," she wrote. "Better still, they gave me a philosophy with which to withstand the buffets of the world - best of all, an understanding of many of the mysterious sayings of Christ, and they cast for me a certain illumination on His recorded life..."
In concluding her 1951 book, Cummins wrote: "I am inclined to accept with reservations the unrefined spiritualistic view - humdrum bodies as the outward expression of the soul, existence in a non-physical world, but in a world of substance. Why not? It seems that we human beings see each other because we are all traveling on the same wavelength, at the same rate of speed...Death may perhaps be defined as simply a change of speed. Our souls cast off our material bodies and occupy bodies of another more rapidly vibrating substance."
Although author Charles Fryer never met Cummins, he thoroughly researched her and offers a very interesting and intriguing summary of her career, including some transcripts apparently not mentioned in Cummins's books. One such transcript involving George Mallory, who died on Mount Everest in 1924, was especially interesting to me.
on 11 November 2013
This book's an appreciation of Geraldine Cummins (1890-1969) the Irish medium and novelist. It's compact and at times very interesting, and includes quotes from the texts Cummins produced via automatic writing. At first it covers her life - she didn't marry and focussed on psychic material (mostly automatic writing) rather than writing fiction - but thereafter the book is mostly a discussion of her psychic output from many "sources" e.g., Cleophas (an early Christian history), Frederic Myers (1843-1901), Percy Fawcett (explorer - 1867-1925?), George Mallory (1886-1924), T E Lawrence (1888-1935), and Mrs Coombe Tennant (1874-1936).
In cases of automatic writing there's always doubt about what's going on e.g., is the material from fragments of personality, from telepathy, from super-ESP, or from a disembodied entity in another dimension? What's the evidence? Briefly, the quality of the Cummins automatic texts is good ... allowing for checking of facts and styles (of sources) where possible.
I was somehow uncomfortable with the way Charles Fryer organised the book. For my taste there weren't enough signposts to help see the shape of, and the highlights of, Cummins work. At times I found Fryers discussions disappointing e.g., 1) not disentangling the arguments about cross-correspondences (relevant to Myers) and failing to stress that material from Myers showed terrific knowledge of the classics; and 2) understating the importance of the Coombe Tennant scripts (i.e., "Swan on a Black Sea").
On the other hand I was most impressed by the Mallory and Lawrence scripts, and the Lawrence script - about whom I know more - rings true. I've never encountered a better explanation of why Lawrence buried himself in the army and air force. Perhaps it was (as described in the script and as he'd been advised by a sage in the Middle East) to avoid fame and its tendency to disintegrate personality.