In my Victorian Gothic novel, The Lady in Yellow, young governess, Veronica Everly, has rooms in Belden House that include a family treasure room. It isn’t long before she discovers it contains a dreaded Ouija Board:
“Flickering firelight turned the room from intriguingly haunted to downright ghastly. The wallpaper was covered with white camellias with black leaves. The furniture, all dark wood upholstered in red velvet, was full of uncomfortable twists and turns like medieval torture devices. There was a cushioned settee and a few French chairs, including an elaborate hooded porter’s chair, set around a table holding a square board and a downturned glass. On the board, the large white letters of the alphabet curved in a bold arch above the words oui and non, while on the left side, a horned devil with a long, snaky tail cavorted, tipping his hat like a cartoon master of ceremonies.“—The Lady in Yellow
The discovery of a room such as this in the remote Yorkshire home of a wealthy noble woman who had the time and resources to explore what she wanted, might not have been unusual in Victorian England. The services of Trance Mediums were sought after by many people who, bereaved in a age of high child mortaility and general early death, sought contact with loved ones who had passed beyond the veil. This was also an age of religious faith, when most people firmly believed in the Afterlife.
That didn’t mean that there were not lots of pragmatic tyes who saw Spirtualism as nothing more than a hoax. This was an age of science, after all.
Spiritualism in Victorian England
This excerpt is from an interesting article on the history of Spirtualism on The Victorian Web.
Go here for the entire article: http://www.victorianweb.org/religion/spirit.html
“What I can’t accept about spiritualism is the idea of millions of dead people (there must be standing room only on the Other Side) kept hanging about just waiting to be sent for by some old girl with a Ouija board in a Brighton boarding house, or a couple of table-tappers in Tring, for the sake of some inane conversation about the Blueness of the Infinite. I mean at least when you’re dead you’ll surely be spared such tedious social occasions.” — John Mortimer’s barrister in “Rumpole and the Dear Departed” (1981)
“Spiritualism, the belief that the dead communicate with the living, became a fad throughout America and Europe during the 1850s. Spiritualism, which owes its beginnings to Emmanuel Swedenborg‘s writings on the spirit world, received additional stimulus from Anton Mesmer’s experiments in what he called “animal magnetism” (hypnotism) that he believed involved the influence of celestial bodies upon terrestrial. Many Victorians, particularly those who had begun to abandon conventional religion, fervently believed in spiritualism, Elizabeth Barrett Browning among them (much to the dismay of her husband).
Although the Victorian era is often associated with scientific and technological progress, many Victorians were prone to the paranormal, supernatural and occult, of which the most popular forms in the late Victorian period included mesmerism, clairvoyance, electro-biology, crystal-gazing, thought-reading, and above all, Spiritualism. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, like many late Victorians, was fascinated by the possibility of
communication with the departed souls….”
The Lady in Yellow is about a noble family suffering under a curse of Lycanthropy. Veronica begins to find out that there is much more going on at Belden House then the mere sighting of the odd wolf in the garden. She discovers a set of photographic plates in which the heads of etheric wolves have been formed around the heads of the participants in Lady Sovay’s séances.
“In the box was a file of glass plates. She pulled one out. They were photographic negatives. Etched on the glass in golden sepia tones, was an image of Sovay de Grimston. Her eyes were hypnotic, her hair loose in long waves of shadowed light. At the level of her throat was a cloud, a mystic vapor that seemed to spread out beyond the edges of the frame. The negative vapor looked so dark that the real one must have been like a blast of snow….”—The Lady in Yellow
The appearance of ectoplasm could be faked. (See the picture above!) But as a lifetime psychic, I know that there is a reality to this exudation of force. If you concentrate hard enough, you can emit a white misty light around the body, but it is most likely only visible to those who have the ability to see such things. That makes it very hard to verify.
Spiritualism Begins with Little Foxes
The rest of if this fascinating article on the History of Spiritualism can be found at Steampunk Opera!
Click here to read it: The Rise of Spiritualism
“While Spiritualism became huge in Victorian Britain, it actually started in the US, in upstate New York with 3 teenage girls.
In the township of Arcadia lived the Fox sisters. In 1848, 15 year old Maggie and 12 year old Kate discovered that when they clapped their hands, raps would sound back. They demonstrated this to neighbors and eventually a system was worked out where a spirit could rap Yes, No or the letters of the alphabet to communicate. The spirit claimed to be Charles Rosa, a peddler who had been murdered by the previous owner of the house, John Bell. Later examination did indeed find human remains buried in the cellar…”
(Sounds like the dreaded Trench Sisters in Rosemary’s Baby!)
Of course, in The Lady in Yellow, practices like these were meant to be kept secret. Lady Sovay had a public image to maintain! As Veronica discovers more evidence of black magic at the de Grimston house, she is targeted by the wicked spirits she is determined to expose.
“The books were old and fine, but their spines were difficult to read in the dark. On one of the lower shelves she found a flat folder wrapped around a sheaf of rag-edged parchments. That looked interesting. She took it into her bedchamber, and under the light of the candelabrum, rifled through the parchments.
Some of the pages were yellow with age, others looked quite new. They were notes, written in a neat, precise, masculine hand that gave them an air of great importance.
Perusing one of the sheets, a strange word jumped out at her: Ectoplasm.
Tonight Our Lady successfully drew forth an astonishing quantity of Ectoplasm within which a spirit began to take form. We queried it via the Ouija Board but the message was garbled, or perhaps communicated in a language unknown to us.
“That must be the mist oozing out of their throats,” Veronica said aloud. Ectoplasm…
A dark mood fell over Veronica. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know these things. Why was she, a girl raised in a convent, sent into this godforsaken house?” —The Lady in Yellow