Seeking to Establish and Share Knowledge and Understanding
Madam d'Esperance - Physical Medium
The Mediumship of Mme. d'Esperance
mediumship of Elizabeth Hope (1855-1919), who worked under the
pseudonym of Mme. d'Esperance, is not only an example of the quality
evidence available through physical mediumship, but also, the problems
that occurred in respect of female mediums in Victorian England.
Spending her early childhood in London, she claimed to see 'shadow
people' that no one else could see, and consequently, she was viewed as
mentally ill. Her problems were made worse by having an absent father
and a mother who scolded her for the stories that she told about those
whom she saw. After consulting a physician and being told of similar
people who had been imprisoned in asylums, Elizabeth related how: 'I
shivered with fear, and prayed almost frantically that I might be kept
from going mad'.(1)
Her encounter with the 'shadow people' continued, only bringing about
more doubt about her sanity and the increasing possibility of being
taken to 'the mad house'. By the age of fourteen, she had suffered a
complete nervous breakdown. After a period of having little encounter
with the 'shadow people', this was interrupted when she was at school;
one morning she awoke to find that an essay to be submitted, had been
produced in her own handwriting during the night while she had been
asleep. Due to its excellence, she was interrogated at school regarding
its source, and after further questioning by the rector, it was
accepted as being her work, despite it apparently originating through
another source. She married when aged nineteen, and resided in
Newcastle, and the 'shadow people' then reasserted themselves in her
life. It was about this time that Elizabeth heard of Spiritualism from
a friend, although she was initially unable to accept the phenomena
claimed for it.
her apprehension, she joined a circle in the early 1870s, and attempted
table-tipping and, 'there seemed to be a tremendous vibrating movement
in the wood of the table-top...which gradually spread itself to all
parts of it'. When the others removed their hold of the table, 'still
it moved'. Elizabeth then experimented with this activity and
discovered that a basic communication could take place with the unseen
table-mover. Following this, she was able to also demonstrate an
ability in clairvoyance. Having had her interest motivated, she began
to read about the subject that she found 'all very bewildering'.(2)
At this point, she believed it appropriate to mention the 'shadow
people' to her friends; receiving understanding and co-operation; she
began to feel less anxious. The next stage in Elizabethís development
was the attempt at obtaining automatic writing; this again was
successful and she recalled that: 'These unseen correspondents of ours
soon became familiar to us'. One was a Walter Tracy, an American who
had been at Yale, involved in the American Civil War, and drowned when
aged only twenty-two. Elizabeth noted how he: 'very soon made himself a
favourite with our circle; he seemed to bring with him a veritable
atmosphere of fun, good humour and liveliness'. It is interesting to
note how years later, Elizabeth met a man who had been at Yale, and the
details that he gave about life in Walter's time, e.g. places, customs,
etc, 'were identical with Walter's'.(3) Walter was joined by Humnur Stafford, a philosopher, and Ninia, a young girl, as Elizabeth's controls.
progress was made when Elizabeth was able to draw refined pictures of
communicators in the darkness; one of which was completed in about
thirty seconds. When others heard of her ability, she found herself
besieged by requests to witness her mediumship. In time, she travelled
to other countries, e.g. France, Norway, Belgium, Sweden and Germany,
due to the demand for her mediumship. Continuing the
attempt to develop, on first trying to produce materializations, she
said that she sensed how, 'the air around me seemed agitated as though
a bird was fluttering about'. Nonetheless, she felt a hand upon her
that she recorded as having 'the effect of soothing my fear and
excitement'.(4) The first materialized form was partial and
both Elizabeth and the sitters, saw a man's face smiling at them in the
light of the gas lamp; Elizabeth suddenly realized that it was Walter.
After this experience, more people were selected to join the circle and
witness the events that took place; in the day, they were conducted
with some light allowed through the upper window, and in the evening,
there was light from gas jets. These seances, with guests, were
successful, and Elizabeth recorded how the cost of the sťance room,
etc, was met through a fund contributed to by the members, with any
surplus being given to the poor and sick, about whom she felt very
was clear progress in the production of materializations; Walter, a
frequent visitor, 'seemed to make himself rapidly familiar with all the
company'. At the conclusion of this particular series of sťances, one
next-visitor who began to make an appearance was Yolande, a young Arab
girl, and Elizabeth pointed out that she, 'soon became, as it were, the
leading feature of our sťances'. Elizabeth also related how on one
occasion, Yolande 'gradually dissolved into mist under the scrutiny of
twenty pairs of eyes, [her] shawl was left lying on the floor...the
shawl would itself gradually vanish in the same manner as its wearer'.
During these occasions, Elizabeth did not fall into the usual
trance-state and also became aware of the link between herself and the
materialized person, and stated: 'There seemed to exist a strange link
between us...I seemed to lose, not my individuality, but my strength
and power of exertion, and though I did not then know it, a great
portion of my material substance'.(5)
mediumship also fulfilled the purpose of Spiritualism, i.e. to reunite
the bereaved with those who had died, and demonstrate their continuing
existence. She recorded how on one occasion, a young sailor
materialized and 'I heard cries and exclamations of joy'. The boy had
walked towards one of the sitters and 'flung his arms around her'. The
sitter told the circle: 'It is my son...my only child, whom I never
thought to meet again. He is not altered...He is just my boy'. Another
instance cited was when a Mrs. Bitcliffe came to one of Elizabeth's
sťances, shortly after her husband had died; the sťance was almost at
an end when her husband materialized. A statement was drawn up by one
of the sitters, and signed by others present, saying 'Not only did I
recognise him, but his wife, my wife, and another lady present, all
knew him immediately he appeared'. Additionally, there were two more
sitters who acknowledged him. At a later sťance, Mrs. Bitcliffe brought
her two young daughters, and their father materialized for them. The
girls embraced him and asked questions, e.g. from where had he obtained
his 'white clothes'? Elizabeth also narrated how a woman materialized
only days after her funeral and 'was instantly recognised by several'
who had known her.(6) Requests to attend her
sťances continued to be made by various persons. One was William Oxley,
and in the sťance that he attended on 4 August 1880, a magnificent
plant of nearly two feet in height was brought to him; it was later
found to be an Ixora Crocata, native to India. The production
of magnificent flowers into the sťance room was a common occurrence.
The greatest accomplishment in this respect was on 28 June 1890, when
Yolande apported a seven-foot high Golden Lily. She explained that she
had only borrowed it, and it had to be returned; not having the power
to dematerialize the plant, it was kept in the property in the
meantime, but 'then vanished in an instant, filling the room with an
the tests conducted by Oxley, he decided to place plaster casts on the
wrists and legs of the materialized figure of Yolande: this would
demonstrate that Yolande was indeed a genuine materialization as she
would have to dematerialize to exit from the casts. This was, as Inglis
noted, 'a test which "Yolande" passed'.(8) Oxley wrote a
number of books concerning materializations and these included his
observations regarding those produced by Elizabeth. One
of the more curious features of Elizabeth's mediumship were the
occurrences when she was found to be missing at the time of a
materialization: the immediate response was naturally that the medium
was a fraud, but the situation appeared to have been far more complex
than this. This was demonstrated when, during one sťance, Yolande was
seized by a sitter who asserted the figure was the medium herself. But
matters were not quite as simple as that, i.e., Yolande's clothing
could not be found; moreover, as Inglis remarked, 'nobody who knew her
could conceive of her being involve in a deliberate fraud'.(9)
In fact, others had remarked on how a medium would vanish from sight during materializations: for example, in Light
(1882, p.197), Stainton Moses detailed how, in one sťance, materialized
forms joined the circle and were recognized by the sitters, being
followed by the male form of the one of the medium's controls, and yet
the medium could not be seen. Curnow refers to similar occasions, e.g.
when Colonel Olcott secured Mrs. Compton, the medium, to prevent
movement; when materialized forms appeared, Olcott found no trace of
the medium. The situation became even more bewildering when he weighed
a materialized girl and on request, she even made herself considerably
lighter. Following this, Mrs. Compton was weighed and found to be
nearly twice the weight of the materialized being.(10) The
question of the relationship between the medium and those who
materialize is obviously an important one that remains unexplored, and
it is regrettable that despite so much 'investigation' of physical
mediums for so many years, so much remains unexplained. Despite
the problem that arose from the occasions when she was no longer
visible during materializations, Elizabeth was able to demonstrate her
separateness from the next-world visitors; in 1893, Nepenthes, a
Egyptian, materialized and joined the circle, and both she and the
medium were seen at the same time. Another feature noticed was that of
partial-dematerialization by Elizabeth. One researcher, Aksakov,
believed there was a distinct link of association between the
appearance of the materialization and the medium. He investigated the
matter, the results of which were detailed in his A Case of Partial Dematerialization;
subsequently, he 'had an experience which strongly suggested that, in
some cases at least, the body of the medium is entirely absorbed for
the production of apparitions outside the cabinet'.(11)
Elizabeth's psychic abilities were not limited to mediumship; she
described an occasion when she became separated from her physical body,
and of this state, i.e., the same that communicators enjoy, said: 'How
wonderfully light and strong I felt! For the first time I knew what it
means to live...'.(12)
was acutely aware of the duality of her role as a medium and the
unresolved conflict brought her to despair at certain times;
eventually, she developed ideas not in mainstream Spiritualist thinking
at the time. Her book Shadow Land reveals her melancholic
nature, and the distress with which she so often found herself
confronted. In addition to her own problems, she also highlighted the
outrages to which young female mediums in Victorian England were
subjected, invariably by middle-aged, middle-class male academics,
saying: 'My blood boils within me when I hear of sensitive
mediums...being subjected to the indignities and insults of these
"investigators"'.(13) Owen notes how Elizabeth 'spoke, too,
of spy holes and surprise strippings; in addition to the usual ropes,
bolts, and screws, as "the investigator of this class" sought to catch
out the unsuspecting medium'.(14) Boddington
commented on how Elizabeth, 'placed herself without fee or reward at
the disposal of scientific investigators'; furthermore, how
unacceptable behaviour by sitters 'resulted in a broken blood vessel
and an illness of a month's duration. At other times, prostration and
nervous weakness followed'.(15) Fodor also refers to the
occasion when after an incident involving a sitter, Elizabeth fell into
ill health for two years and her hair turned grey.(16) Although
Elizabeth had worked with some light present, she decided not to sit in
a cabinet so that she could see, as well as hear, what occurred during
the sťance; she described this as being 'rather uphill work', but was
successful. She narrated one incident that she witnessed when a young
boy was reunited with his parents, brother and sister. Going to his
mother, the materialized child 'stroked her face with his tiny hands
and drew himself back to...beside his brother and sister'.(17)
Elizabeth continued to demonstrate her mediumship, going as far as
allowing the materializations to be photographed in March 1890, the
report and photographs being included in Mediums and Daybreak
(March 28 and April 18, 1890). Further progress was made when it
was discovered that in photographic practice sessions, faces were seen
behind Elizabeth, just as the photograph was to be taken, and these
duly appeared on the plates when developed. A number are included in Shadow Land; after this book, Elizabeth wrote Northern Lights.
Unfortunately, at the outbreak of war in 1914, she was in Germany and
was no longer able to travel; moreover, her notes and records for
further writings were confiscated and not returned.
life of Mme. d'Esperance is an adequate example of some of the problems
faced by gifted mediums, particularly female mediums, in Victorian
Britain. It was through their trials and tribulations that modern
Spiritualism came into being; the price that they paid was
considerable, and surely one that twentieth century Spiritualism should
(1)E. d'Esperance, Shadow Land (or: Light from the Other Side) (London: Redway, 1897), p.31.
(2)d'Esperance, Ibid., pp.88,89,127.
(3)d'Esperance, Ibid., pp.133,134.
(4)d'Esperance, Ibid., pp.226,227.
(5)d'Esperance, Ibid., pp.245,248,253,271.
(6)d'Esperance, Ibid., pp.275,276,278,280,282.
(7)N. Fodor, Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science (London: Arthurs Press, 1933), p.84.
(8)B. Inglis, Natural and Supernatural (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977), p.385.
(9)Inglis, Ibid., pp.385-386.
(10)W. L. Curnow, The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism (Manchester: Two Worlds Publishing, 1925), p.102.
(11)Fodor, Op. Cit., p.85.
(12)Cit., S. Muldoon and H. Carrington, The Phenomena of Astral Projection (London: Rider and Co, 1951), p.81 (This relates the full account).
(13)d'Esperance, Op. Cit., pp.403-404.
(14)A. Owen, The Darkened Room (London: Virago, 1989), p.231.
(15)H. Boddington, The University of Spiritualism (London: Spiritualist Press, 1947), p.443.
(16)Fodor, Op. Cit, p.85.
(17)d'Esperance, Op. Cit., p.343.
NB. This article appeared in the October 1997 NAS Newsletter and is reproduced their with their kind permission..