Ronald J. Baker: Trance Medium

Ronald J. Baker: Trance Medium

Ronald J Baker was born in Birmingham, England in 1936, the sixth of seven children in a strict Roman Catholic family. He attended primary, junior and convent schools, but all was not well. By the age of eleven, his natural mediumship abilities became noticeable. Although he would have been destined for the priesthood, he couldn’t accept the church’s fire and brimstone view of the world and heaven. He preferred the tranquility of his astral visions. When he was thirteen, he was directed by spirits to seek out Mrs. Millage, a Spiritualist. He attended development circles at Aston Spiritualist Church and trained with Mary Morris, a mystic and trance lecturer. Within the first year, he gave his first trance lecture.

Baker attended college, taking accounting, shorthand, and typing. He became an accounts clerk for an export merchant and later worked for several heavy-manufacturing companies. After Mary Morris died, Ron continued to receive communication from her, as she checked to see that he was doing what she had taught him. At one point, Baker was told to move north. He moved to St. Helens and joined St. Helen’s Spiritualist Church. It was there that he was given messages about sugar, had his urine tested, and was eventually diagnosed as diabetic.

Baker spent time teaching at The Arthur Findlay College and acted as General Secretary of the Spiritualists National Union, but he eventually moved back to Birmingham in 1976. He also worked closely with Gordon Higginson when Gordon gave materialization seances, and with Glasgow medium, Albert Best.

“I’ve had the automatic writing gift since I was 12,” Baker said in an interview for the Psychic News in November 1981. “I’ve utilized it occasionally over the years. It came to the fore several months ago after I resorted to it as a form of diagnosis when healing a patient.”

Baker worked with Scottish medium, Alex Gilchrist to receive messages through the technique known as automatic writing. “I would produce the questions,” wrote Gilchrist in a personal letter. “And he would answer them using automatic writing. It was a fascinating thing to take part in, and altogether we produced 125 questions and answers, which was produced in book form….” Gilchrist said the book, Automatic Writings of Ron Baker, was out of date, and that other questions and answers, which were produced later, remain unpublished. He hoped to publish a new book with expanded contents.

Baker was also a trance medium, and one of his guides was a Doctor. “He told us about an incident where one of his clients had an ear problem and was referred to the hospital to treat the ear. There was no improvement, and Ron’s ‘Doctor’ informed them that the hospital had treated the wrong ear. On checking the hospital notes, it was found that this was true,” Gilchrist wrote. “He [also] relayed a message from a church member who had passed on. The congregation was adamant that he was still alive and had spoken with him earlier that day. Someone was dispatched to his house where they found him dead in his chair!”

Baker moved several times in the 1980s while his health became precarious, and he developed a degree of kidney failure and then a severe episode of meningitis. After going to Glasgow, he returned to Birmingham, where his health deteriorated rapidly, and he became hospitalized.  He died of kidney failure in December of 1986 at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.

Additional Reading:

“Behind the scenes with a Roman Catholic who became a brilliant medium.” Psychic News March 15, 1980

“Psychic partnership leads to spirit guidance on many vital topics” Psychic News April 11, 1981

“Doctor communicates within days of passing.” Psychic News November 21, 1981

 “Church donates 600 pounds to fund.” Psychic News May 16, 1987

Messages from John Quincy Adams

Messages from John Quincy Adams

Joseph D. Stiles was born in 1828 in Waltham, Massachusetts, one of many children born to Joseph and Lucy Stiles. He learned the printing trade at the Universalist newspaper, The Christian Freeman and Family Visitor. He may have listened to John Adams in 1842 when he visited the area after his presidency, but while he was still in the House of Representatives. But little did Stiles know how they would meet in the future.

Stiles would have continued with his position as printer if Spiritualism hadn’t been popularized by the Fox Sisters. In 1850, while his sister was visiting friends in Weymouth, Massachusetts she discovered she was a table tipping medium. The rest of the family became interested. Friends and neighbors visited their house to see if their stories were true.

By 1852, Stiles discovered he also had some abilities. At the same time, the minister of his Universalist church, Murray Spear, left the church to become a Spiritualist medium. Eventually, Stiles found himself unable to compose type at his printing office, Basin & Chandler. He took it as a sign to quit the printing business. He attended several séance circles in Boston to develop his abilities. Tipping tables, physical mediumship, and automatic writing developed quickly.

Josiah Brigham was born in 1788 and was one of the richest men in Quincy, Massachusetts at the time. He had been a commander during the War of 1812 and later owned a large general store and was on the board of directors of two banks. He was important supporter of the Whig party and was a devoted supporter of John Adams. Both he and Adams attended the First Congregational Church in Quincy.

Brigham met Stiles in 1854 when the medium was invited to his house by Brigham’s wife or daughter. Since Brigham was a personal friend of Adams, he became intrigued but remained skeptical when Adams began to deliver written messages during Stiles’ trances. Brigham first checked the writing to determine if it was similar to Adams’. “My attention was attracted to the mechanical style of the address and signature,” he said. “It being precisely in the form which it was the custom of Mr. Adams to use.”

Brigham and Stiles conducted many seances lasting one to three hours from August 1854 until March 1858. During that time, they received hundreds of pages worth of material from Adams. These were published as Twelve Messages from John Quincy Adams in 1859.

Adams had many things to say, but his description of the spirit world is interesting. In his earliest writings he said that heaven was not at all as he had imagined. He hadn’t realized how closely interwoven heaven was with the physical world. He was surprised that the soul could “hold direct communication with the denizens of the Corporeal World or be cognizant of the affairs of men.”

Adams learned that angels could converse with mediums and said circles were formed in heaven in order to communicate with the earthly plane. He first tried to reach members of his own family but became frustrated because they were “conditioned as to be unable to yield.” When he searched the people of Quincy, he found two mediums, but neither was able to maintain a link with him. He was surprised how the process worked. “…I became aware that her spirit was vacating its rightful earthly tenement in order to give place to my own!”

It was not until Adams found Stiles that he was able to make a stable connection. Adams went on to discuss many things, including the people he knew from political circles and other leaders. He also described the way in which souls are trapped by their own making, existing in spheres on the spiritual plane. “Many of these have been citizens of the spiritual country for centuries, yet their shackled conditions have prevented the light of God’s truth from finding a ready entrance to the darkened chambers of their souls.”

Brigham and Stiles published a tome of over 450 pages about Adams. Stiles remained a life-long bachelor and died in Weymouth, MA in 1897.

Additional Reading:

Buescher, John B. (2015) The Notebooks of Joseph D. Stiles. IAPSOP Ephemera published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Brigham, Josiah and Joseph D. Stiles (1859) Twelve Messages from John Quincy Adams. Bela Marsh, Boston

Susanna Harris: Direct Voice Medium

Susanna Harris: Direct Voice Medium

Susanna Kuhn Harris was born in 1854 in New Philadelphia, Ohio, one of eight children born to Henry and Elizabeth Kuhn. Henry was a farmer and teacher in the eastern Ohio town. Susanna lived at home until 1886 when she married photographer, John B. Harris. They had three children, and by 1910, she was listed in the census as having no occupation.

Susanna’s interest in Spiritualism early in her life is undocumented, but by 1910 she began traveling out of the United States to practice as a medium and lecture. In 1916, when she applied for a visa to travel to Great Britain, she was living in Washington, D.C. as an ordained minister and her husband was living in Columbus, Ohio where he still owned his own photography shop.

According to Arthur Conan Doyle, Susanna was a well-known voice medium. In 1914 she was tested by the Vereeniging voor Psychisch Onderzoek in the Hague. She was observed by Henry De Fremery and held her seances in complete darkness, using trumpets to amplify the spirit voices. She had two spirit guides, a young girl named Harmony with a girlish voice and a man who spoke in a deep bass. Conan Doyle thought Harmony might be a fairy spirit, but others believed she was Stella, Susanna’s daughter who died under tragic circumstances.

About 1915, she was observed by W.J. Crawford. He sat beside her and held her left hand and controlled both of her knee movements to make sure she wasn’t moving the trumpets during her seances. He concluded that although she had spasmodic jerks of her knees while Harmony was speaking, she didn’t move the trumpets. He noted that her breathing stayed constant, even when spirits were speaking, indicating that she was not creating the voices with her own vocal cords.  He was “…convinced that Mrs. Harris [was] a medium of great and wonderful power.”

Susanna traveled to Norway in 1920 where she was tested numerous times by their Psychic Research Committee. Although she had no success at the time, Conan Doyle attributed her failure to the researchers’ negative opinions of the process. He later sat with her four times in Melbourne. Each time they had about 12 guests, and Conan Doyle was convinced of her authenticity.

It’s unclear how long Susanna practiced as a medium. Her first husband died in 1921 and she married Joseph Kay in 1923. When she wrote to Estelle Stead she reminisced fondly about her contacts in Great Britain. “I am getting old now and do not expect ever to cross over the water again,” she said. She passed on to the spirit world in 1932 and is buried in Hartville, Ohio.

Additional Reading:

“Rev Susanna Harris- American voice-medium.” In The Pioneer, Volume 8, No. 5, October 2021.

Stanislawa Tomczyk: Polish Medium

Stanislawa Tomczyk: Polish Medium

Stanisława Tomczyk was born in Poland in the late 1800s. She was arrested when she was twenty and that event was said to have brought on “hysteria” and mental dissociation. In 1908, she was found to be controlled by a spirit named Little Stasia while she was hypnotized for therapy. Dr. Julian Ochorowicz, a psychologist, conducted several experiments on Tomczyk between 1908-1909. Little Stasia communicated through alphabetic rapping, automatic writing, and direct speech during Tomczyk’s trance states. Tomczyk was said to be able to levitate objects, stop a clock protected under glass, and influence a roulette wheel. Dr Ochorowicz concluded that the movements were influenced by rigid rays projecting from her fingers.

Several investigators witnessed a series of seances at Geneva but were not impressed by Tomczyk’s abilities. The following year, she was investigated at the Physical Laboratory in Warsaw by a group of scientists under strict testing conditions. During testing, Tomczyk’s hands were examined and washed before each seance. A small object, such as a ball, cork, matchbox, or scissors, was placed before her on a table. She would then place her fingers about six to eight inches from the sides of the object. The object would eventually rise, floating between her fingers on each side.

The results were published by Baron Schrenck-Notzing in his Physikalische Phenomene des Mediumismus, Munchen (1920)  and by Charles Richet in his book Traite de Metapsychique, (1922). Sceptics insisted she was using a fine thread to trick the researchers.

Dr. Ochorowicz did mention seeing a black thread between her hands, but it may not have been an actual thread. Investigators thought it was a psychic line of force. Ochorowicz said: “I have felt this thread on my hand, on my face, on my hair. When the Medium separates her hands, the thread gets thinner and disappears; it gives the same sensation as a spider’s web. If it is cut with scissors its continuity is immediately restored. It is then seen to be much thinner than an ordinary thread.”

Little Stasia was known to be mischievous. She claimed she was not the Spirit of a dead person. Tomczyk thought she might be her double or part of her personality until the day Stasia requested that they take her photograph. Little Stasia rapped in alphabet code “I wish to photograph myself. Prepare the instruments.”

She gave directions on how to position the camera. Making sure the room was dark, Ochorowicz and Tomczyk left the room with the camera. After an hour, Tomczyk was told it was done and they could develop the plate. The picture was published in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques in 1909 with Ochorowicz’s report. He also wrote about bands of energy that she could use to levitate objects. He called them rigid rays.

When he asked Stasia about the light spheres surrounding her portrait. She said she had created the light and could demonstrate it for him. In the next two years, he witnesses bright flashes, tiny threads of energy emanating from Tomczyk’s fingertips, as well as dull glowing orbs floating around the room. He set up three cameras in a dark room. When developed, the light flashes were more visible. In one instance, one was a bright curved line with an irregularly shaped light with two smaller points.

Tomczyk was invited to be tested in Great Britain, between 2 June and 13 July 1914, by the Society of Psychical Research.  During the investigations, she was observed in ‘full light’ conditions. She also wore a blouse with short sleeves so nothing could be hidden. She was observed by several professionals over a series of 11 sittings, including Rev. Everard Feilding who she would eventually marry. Among other things, they witnessed a celluloid ball levitate about nine inches above the surface of a table but listed their results as inconclusive.

In 1919, Tomczyk married Everard Feilding. After she became Mrs Fielding, she discontinued her public seances.

Additional Reading:

Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger(1991) The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House

Richet, Charles (1922) Traite de Metapsychique. N.p.. English edition: Thirty Years of Psychical Research. New York: Macmillan, 1923. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Stolow, Jeremy (2016) Mediumnic Lights, X-Rays, and the Spirit Who Photographed Herself. University of Chicago Press.

David Duguid: Trance Artist

David Duguid: Trance Artist

David Duguid was born at Dunfermline, Scotland in 1832.  He had little education, which was typical of the working class, but was trained as a cabinetmaker. He was able to attend the Government School of Art in Glasgow for four months. He didn’t gain much notoriety as a medium, partly due to his social standing, and worked for a business firm until his death in 1907.

Duguid became interested in Spiritualism and mediumship in 1866. He joined a séance in which table tipping experiments were being tried at the house of a friend, Hay Nisbet, a printer in Glasgow. Duguid experienced shaking in his arms and cold drafts. Mr. Nisbet’s daughter first discovered that Duguid might be trying to write. She provided him with a pencil and paper. Instead of writing, he drew rough sketches of vases and flowers, and then a section of an archway. The name, Marcus Baker, was given as a message.

He tried again a few days later with colored pencils and drew fruit and heads. During the next sitting, watercolors were provided. During trance, Duguid heard again from Marcus Baker, an artist from Belgium who refused to give his real name. He painted a scene with rocks, pines, a hut and a waterfall. The initials J.R. appeared in the corner of the painting. It wasn’t until Duguid attended an art exhibition and found a painting called The Waterfall by Dutch artist Jacob Ruisdal, that they knew who his spirit guide was.

Duguid began working in oil, creating small card-sized pieces of art work in a lighted room with Ruisdal who was often accompanied by another artist, Jan Steen. In 1869, Duguid was instructed to work in darkness, told that drawings could be finished in less time. During one sitting, six pictures were produced, each in one to three minutes. A number of direct writings were also done at the same time.

In August of the same year, a new spirit began to speak through Duguid. He identified himself as a Persian Prince named Hafed. Duguid started regular sittings so that Hafed could relate his personal experiences from the first century Christian era. Forty-six sittings were held from November 29, 1869 to January 20, 1872. Twenty sittings followed later that year for questions and answers. The artists created cards to accompany the story. Forty were completed by May 1875.

The entire experience was published as Hafed, Prince of Persia: His Experiences in Earth-Life and Spirit-life; being Spirit Communications received through Mr. David Duguid, the Glasgow Trance-Painting Medium, with an Appendix containing Communications from the Spirit Artists, Ruisdal and Steen. Illustrated by facsimiles of forty-five Drawings and Writings, the Direct Work of the Spirits by James Burns, London and H. Nisbet, Glasgow.

Additional Reading:

Bennett, Edward T. (1908) The Direct Phenomena of Spiritualism—Speaking, Writing, Drawing, Music & Painting: A Study. William Rider & Son, Limited, London..

A Case of Jewish Spiritualists

Spiritualism is well documented in Europe and North America, but very little information is available on Jewish participation. Cora Wilburn (1824-1906) was a writer whose fiction included Spiritualism. Her novel, Cosel­la Wayne, pro­vides descrip­tions of Jew­ish life and rit­u­als as well as the ear­ly days of Spir­i­tu­al­ism, including abo­li­tion­ism and women’s rights. Matilda L. Levy and Regina M. Block were leaders at Jewish Spiritualism centers in New York and London.

One informative document is R. Aaron Mendel Hakohen’s Haneshamah vehakadish written in 1921. His treatise on the soul and the afterlife was written to convince the scientific community that the soul survives death. It includes the story of two Jewish women whom he referred to as “sisters.” The two remained unnamed and were part of the Ashkenazi Jewish community in Cairo. Ashkenazi Jews are an ancient order which began to settle in Egypt from Russia and Romania in the late nineteenth century. They spoke Yiddish and worked as artisans and peddlers. The “sisters” were married to prominent and wealthy members of the Cairo community.

According to Samuel Glauber-Zimra, this unusual account was told to Hakohen directly by the women. He was more concerned with the facts of the events, not the women’s reasons for having the seances or their thoughts about them. The sisters used automatic writing as their means of communication. Instead of holding a pencil in hand, they used a planchette with a pencil attached. “They would sit in silence as they focused their minds and gazed at the table until it (planchette) began to move automatically across the paper, leading the women’s hands in whichever direction it desired.”

They set aside a room and time every day to hold their seances. At first, the contacts were sporadic, but eventually they were helped by a non-Jewish spirit guide. The guide helped bring forward the spirits of the deceased and other famous individuals. “If they questioned the spirits about future events, they would reply that they did not know the answer….” The spirits were open for questions about business affairs and the afterlife, but Jewish spirits would only communicate within a year of their passing. After that it was believed that they “ascended on high.”

The spirits also participated in healing. One day when a husband came home not feeling well, a spirit doctor informed them that the husband was gravely ill and prescribed a medication. The women did not believe the spirit at first and called a living doctor to the house. He confirmed the diagnosis and prescribed the same medication.

The women first saved their collection of writings which occurred in various scripts and languages, but they eventually burned them all. Even though Hakohen used the women’s seances as an argument to support the existence of the soul after death, he disapproved of Jews practicing Spiritualism. When one of the women’s daughters died, the spirts were blamed and Hakohen chastised the women for their “sinful behavior.”

Additional Reading:

Glauber-Zimra, Samuel (2021) “Summoning Spirits in Eqypt: Jewish Women and Spiritualism in Early Twentieth-Century Cairo.” In Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, Spring 2021, no 38, pp 25-45. Indiana University Press.

https://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/pb-daily/on-the-trail-of-cora-wilburn