We tell ourselves stories in order to live, Joan Didion wrote.
Like a lot of people searching for answers after the unexpected jolt of tragedy, Jean Elizabeth Leckie developed some odd beliefs that helped her get through it all. The second wife of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, she, just like her spouse, was an ardent spiritualist. She came to believe after the heartbreaking death of her brother, a soldier killed in combat during WWI, someone she desperately needed to be waiting for her “on the other side.” In the April 29, 1923 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, an article delved into her personal relationship with the dead. An excerpt:
“I will say that from my analysis of her personality and her character and the super-evident vigor and keenness of her intellectuality, she is far from being one whose credulity can be readily imposed upon–that she is far from being one whose one self-willed thought can be swayed from its original course without the strongest proofs–material, moral and spiritual.
‘My husband has been a Spiritualist for thirty-six years,’ said she. ‘During long years I was in doubt. I have been a Spiritualist since the Battle of the Marne. My brother was killed there.
We became very frank in our talk after that. She told me she had nothing to conceal; that she hoped that Spiritualism might be spread throughout the world–that it meant the spread of the true religion. When she believed in the life hereafter life in this world took on such a different aspect that it was the duty of all who had investigated the other life to endeavor to link the two lives together.
‘We can help one another in this sphere and the higher sphere,’ she said. ‘They on the other side are ever anxious to communicate with us here. But we should aid them in that communication. From the earthly viewpoint, let me illustrate. There may be some one on your telephone wire who is anxious to talk to you, but if you have your receiver down you cannot hear from him. That is what we are apparently constantly doing in this world–and on the other side they are trying, trying, ever trying to reach us.
‘Oh, if we all only knew–if we all could only realize how like the world here is the world there–waiting to prepare the way for us–waiting to make a home for us. And if we are fond of certain things in this earth; if we like our home and the furniture and the pictures and the books in it; if we like our garden–all those will be there for us–duplicated–on the other side.’
‘But with a higher appeal?’ I queried.
‘Yes, with a higher appeal,’ she said. ‘All the material things that we like here may be duplicated there, but on the other side there is ever an advance. There are higher spheres than the sphere just beyond here. One goes to a sphere higher than the first sphere beyond this world as one becomes more fitted for the higher life. One who has gone to that higher sphere can come back to the first sphere to help relatives or friends who have just passed from the earth. But one cannot pass from the first sphere on the other side to higher spheres until one is advanced spiritually. For example: If a child dies its grandmother who had advanced to a higher sphere than the first, may come back to the first sphere to help the child.’
‘In regard to childhood and old age,’ I said, ‘Sir Arthur told me that while there was no such thing as time, as we understood it, the apparent average age of the other side was about 35 years, that youth and old age adapted themselves to this apparent age.’
‘Yes,’ said she.
‘We often read,’ I said, ‘of a child or an old man appearing to persons sitting in a spiritualistic seance. How would you reconcile that with the 35-year age average?’
‘The spirits appear to their friends and relatives at the period of their lives when they passed away, so that they will be recognized,’ said she. …
Having been told by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that Lady Doyle was an automatic writer, receiving messages from the Spirit World. I asked her as to her method.
‘I do not enter a trance,’ she said. ‘Two or three of us sit at a table. I have paper before me and a pencil in my hand. At the top of the paper I make the mark of the cross. Sir Arthur makes a sharp prayer–and he offers a very beautiful prayer–and then we wait. Generally I soon feel the desire to write. I am unconscious of what I am writing, but I know it is a direct communication from the other side. I know that.'”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle discusses Sherlock Holmes and psychic experiences: