Helen Duncan Confounds the Magicians

 - Will Goldston -

          THE CASE of Mrs. Helen Duncan, the Scots materialising medium is, to my mind, one of the most absorbing in the history of Spiritualism.

For her, it has been claimed that she possesses mediumistic powers which, in some ways at least, exceed those of the famous Rudi Schneider. Yet, at the same time, she is alleged to be a fraud, and the methods of trickery which she is said to employ are so astounding as to be almost beyond belief.

Mrs. Duncan is said to possess a remarkable power of regurgitation; before a sitting she swallows many yards of tightly packed and specially prepared cheese cloth - and rubber gloves. All this material she regurgitates from her stomach during a sťance, persuading it, in some manner to simulate human shape. That, with further elaboration, constitutes the persecuting statement.

An Astounding Sťance

I am one of the fortunate few who have been privileged to attend Mrs. Duncanís sittings. My first experience with her was, perhaps, the more astounding, as I attended more in role of an ordinary person than an appointed examiner.

The sitting took place in the late March of this year (1932), at a house in North London. The mediumís cabinet consisted simply of two curtains drawn across the room. She was in trance within three minutes, and in the course of the next hour and a half some eight different forms were manifested, of all ages, both sexes, and each possessed of an individual speaking voice. I personally carried on a conversation with a small female form called Violet. She told me she was eight years of age, and permitted me to feel her hand.

Now, there is not, so far as I am aware - and I am a magician of lifelong experience - any system of trickery which can achieve the astounding results which I witnessed that evening with Mrs. Duncan.

Nor am I aware of any system of ventriloquism or voice control which can so perfectly simulate the voices of eight different beings. After the sitting Mrs. Duncan repaired in my company to an adjoining room. There, with me, she drank two cups of coffee and ate two tea cakes. I am not sufficiently a medical man to know to what extent the power of regurgitation may be developed in the human subject, but I should be more than a little surprised if it were at all possible to absorb food and drink into the stomach that is already packed with cheese cloth.

Inexplicable Phenomena

My next sitting with Mrs. Duncan was, as far as I was concerned, purely in the nature of a test sťance. I had enlisted with me as co-examiners Henry Rigoletto, Dr. A. E. Neale, and Dr. O. H. Bowen. All three are magicians of the widest experience.

Previous to the sitting Mrs. Duncan had been stripped, examined, and entirely reclothed by two ladies who were present with us the whole evening, and who, we were given to understand, were strangers to her. For our part, we could find nothing in the room, or, more particularly, in the cabinet, which gave us grounds for suspicion.

My own seat was about two feet from the cabinet. A dim red lamp was used for illumination, sufficient for me to see the curtains clearly and the outline of the medium.

The forms manifested on this second occasion were, I thought, a little lacking in clearness and power. Nevertheless, they were essentially of the same type - that is, shining with a curious phosphorescent sheen in the ruby light and entirely self-luminous. I was, and still am, completely at a loss to explain their appearance and disappearance by any material means.

There was no sign or sound which I could possibly construe into evidence of fraud.

Earlier in the evening, I had been warned that an old friend of mine was likely to appear in the course of the sťance.

Was it Layayette?

The form was materialised, but only after considerable difficulty. It had no vocal powers whatsoever. I asked whether it could write anything, and the form nodded its head. After a few moments I heard the sound of writing from within the cabinet, and almost immediately a sheet of folded paper was thrown from the curtains. On it was written the word - "Lafayette." (Lafayette, one of the best known magicians of the past generation, was burned to death on an Edinburgh stage in 1911).

It had been arranged that towards the end of the evening I should be permitted to secure the medium in any way I thought fit. For this purpose I had brought with me a pair of handcuffs of regulation pattern, forty yards of sash cord, and six yards of carpet thread.

When the signal was given to me to enter the cabinet I was surprised to find that the right cuff refused to work, although an hour previously it had been in perfect order. I overcame the difficulty by interlacing the faulty cuff with sash cord and securing the mediumís wrists with a reef knot. To prevent finger manipulation, I tied the two thumbs with carpet thread, using eight knots until the thread cut into the flesh. These preparations took some eight minutes in all.

Shortly after I had taken my seat the voice of "Albert," Mrs. Duncanís control, was heard, apologising for spoiling the working of the cuffs. "What would you like me to do?" he asked. I suggested that it would be very remarkable if Mrs. Duncan were released.

A short space elapsed in silence - it was certainly not more than three minutes. Then Mrs. Duncan walked from the cabinet, quite free.

Source: Psychic News, 1932.


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