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Monday, May 16, 2016

The Witch of Lime Street: A Reading

I am nearing the end of a fascinating book called The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher (Crown).


The book covers a period in the 1920s when Spiritualism was in its heyday and prominent figures such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini were determined to prove or disprove the existence of a true medium or psychic who could communicate with the spirit world. Also involved in this exploration was the magazine Scientific American, which offered a large cash prize to any medium who could demonstrate "telekinetic ability under scientific controls."

The focus of these investigations narrowed down to one woman – Mina Marguerite Crandon, who went by the name “Margery” in an effort to keep her identity private as her fame grew.

Margery claimed that she could channel her deceased brother, Walter, as well as perform a great number of physical demonstrations that Walter was "real." This involved bell ringing, tipping a table, whispering in the ears of the séance sitters, touching sitters, and literally destroying the cabinet-box in which Margery sat during the séances.

Margery constantly upgraded her performances, eventually producing a "teleplasmic hand," which lay still on the table before her as if it were dead and then supposedly vanished. You can read more about Mina Crandon, her supporters, and her detractors, HERE.

I decided to find out what Lisa Hunt’s Ghosts & Spirits Tarot could tell me about Mrs. Crandon and her claims. (To read my review of this deck, click HERE.)

I devised a spread to answer the following questions:

(1) What would you like me to know about Mina Crandon?
(2) What would you like me to know about her brother Walter’s ghost?
(3) What would you like me to know about Mina Crandon’s physical demonstrations, such as bell ringing and the “teleplasmic hand”?
(4) What would you like me to know about the possibility of communicating with the dead?
(5) What would you like me to know about the Summerland? (The Summerland is the name given to the afterlife by Spiritualists and others.)

It seems appropriate to place these cards in the shape of a pentagram, as below:


Ready? Here we go…


(1) What would you like me to know about Mina Crandon?

PAGE OF WANDS

Well, this is certainly not a very flattering portrait of Mrs. Crandon. We have here a Native American ghost called Acheri, the spirit of a little girl who carried disease and death. According to legend, Acheri stood between life and death and wandered the land looking for victims. Pages are usually viewed as messengers in the Tarot, and the suit of Wands typically represents will power, passion, vitality, energy, and confidence – traits that Mina Crandon possessed in spades. Combined with the legend of Acheri, it seems we need to beware of Mrs. Crandon and not come too close.

(2) What would you like me to know about her brother Walter’s ghost?

ACE OF PENTACLES

The character chosen for this card in this deck is Rübezahl, a German forest spirit who “took pleasure in confusing travelers by leading them astray or creating storms in the mountains.” Lisa Hunt tells us that Rübezahl symbolizes “the wild, untamed spirit” and that the steps shown on the card “represent ascension and unexpected opportunities.” Based on the alleged behavior of Walter the ghost, I can see this description fitting him.

The alleged interaction of Mrs. Crandon with her brother’s ghost certainly opened up new opportunities (Ace) for her, with benefits in the physical world (Pentacles). For the Crandons (Dr. and Mrs.), it was really about fame, not money. They did not charge money for her demonstrations and, in fact, paid the way for people who came to examine her claims. What the Crandons were trying to acquire via Walter’s ghost was a place of security and prominence in the realm of psychic phenomenon.

(3) What would you like me to know about Mina Crandon’s physical demonstrations, such as bell ringing and the “teleplasmic hand”?

FIVE OF CUPS

In the Legend of Falkenberg, a corpse tricks a knight named Guntram into marrying her. This gives the Five of Cups in this deck a message about falling victim to folly or getting entangled in situations that we will regret. Certainly this applies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the prominent scientists who “fell for” Mina Crandon’s paranormal displays. Mina was apparently very charming, beautiful, and seductive. She often conducted séances in the nude and threw herself into the laps of the male sitters. She had an affair with at least one of them. According to her detractors, this behavior could easily have contributed to her popularity and credibility among the scientists. Like the corpse in the Legend of Falkenberg, Mina Crandon was able to seduce her audience and deceive them as to her true nature.

(4) What would you like me to know about the possibility of communicating with the dead?

SIX OF SWORDS

How interesting that this card depicts Gilgamesh (a Babylonian demi-god hero) summoning the Ghost of Enkidu (his friend) in order to ask him about life after death. In the story associated with this card in this deck, the underworld is revealed as a place where many are subject to miserable conditions. It seems that perhaps the cards are advising me that before I embark on any journey towards or into communication with the dead, I need to think about whether I really want to open this line of communication. Frankly, the Six of Swords in this case seems to be saying that yes, we can communicate with the dead, as Gilgamesh did. The question is: Should we? Do we really want to? Are we prepared to deal with the outcome?

(5) What would you like me to know about the Summerland? (The Summerland is the name given to the afterlife by Spiritualists and others.)

FIVE OF WANDS

This card presents a tale of lust, betrayal, and vengeance. Traditionally, the Five of Wands indicates conflict, disagreement, hassle, etc. In the story of The Ghost of Oiwa, a man poisons his wife, Oiwa, in order to be with someone else. The wife’s vengeful spirit tricks him into beheading his new bride. In trying to get rid of a problem (the original wife), the man ended up faced with a worse problem. The card represents struggle and regret. I must say that this description of an “afterlife” is not appealing in the least. It sounds more like a Christian version of hell or some sort of “limbo” where spirits must deal with or sort through what they did when they were alive on earth.

Interestingly, as described by John Michael Greer in his book The New Encyclopedia of the Occult (Llewellyn): “In modern Pagan practice, and in those Spiritualist traditions that accept reincarnation, the Summerland is a nonphysical realm in which the souls of the dead dwell before they are reborn into another physical body.” I can see how this might make sense with the story of The Ghost of Oiwa.

Walter the ghost always concluded his appearances in Mrs. Crandon’s séances by whispering, “Good night." So I’ll just say: Good night, Walter (and Margery), wherever you are!

2 comments:

  1. An interesting post especially the bit about "(3) What would you like me to know about Mina Crandon’s physical demonstrations, such as bell ringing and the “tele plasmic hand”?" as a lot of these so called psychic demonstrations were shown to be nothing more than mere tricks.

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    1. Reading about "Margery" I was amazed at how she was able to cause these effects in spite of various restraints and controls placed on her. She would fill her mouth with water to prove that she wasn't doing Walter's voice. It turned out that she would do that, but then swallow the water when the lights went out and refill her mouth through a tube hidden on her body just before the lights came back on!

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