Guided by Spirits: World Leaders and Séances
When First Lady Nancy Reagan stated that she and “Ronnie” consulted psychics and astrologers during the popular 80s President’s two terms, there was a barrage of public outrage (especially from the Religious Right) and ridicule (especially from the Left Wing press).
But the fact is, many world leaders have consulted the stars for guidance at one time or another. William Lyon Mackenzie King, the foremost Canadian political leader from the 1920s through the 40s, sought spiritual contact and political guidance from his deceased mother, his pet dogs, and the late US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Hopefully not in that order.)
Séances Common Procedure in the Court of Queen Victoria
One of the most eminent believers in the bizarre was Queen Victoria of England. Victoria and her husband Prince Albert participated in Spiritualist séances as a matter of course. It was noted in the Royal ledgers that on July 15, 1846, the esteemed clairvoyant Georgiana Eagle demonstrated her powers before the court at Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. That was the beginning of a long relationship with the occult for the Queen.
In 1861, the year Albert died, a 13 year old boy by the name of Robert James Lees, acting as a psychic medium, passed a message from Albert to the Queen in which he called her by the pet name known only to her and her late husband. According to the book Whisperers by J.H. Brennan, “The voice of Albert came through the medium and spoke to his delighted widow. Lees paid nine visits in all to Buckingham Palace and his séances impressed the Queen so much that she asked him to join the royal household as resident medium. Lees refused the offer, apparently on the advice of his spirit guides.”
After her death, Queen Victoria was reported to send messages to her last surviving daughter, Princess Louise, through a diviner named Lesley Flint.
So, what happens in a séance? Well, there are lots of ways they can be conducted. Firstly, payment from the seeker to the psychic is required – referred to as “crossing one’s palm with silver” – in order for the ceremony to work properly. Occasionally a Ouija or “Spirit Board” is used, but usually just having a circle of people holding hands is enough to conjure chatty ghosts. The medium leading the ceremony will often perform table turning, automatic writing, speaking in tongues, and levitation.
Charlatans in the Séance Circle
Photographs were often manipulated to show the vomiting of ghostly “ectoplasm” from the medium’s mouth or ears. One infamous photo, not doctored, shows an unnamed charlatan moving the table with her knee.
Around the time the world’s most celebrated magician and illusionist, Harry Houdini, began his big debunking campaign and exposed many mediums as frauds and fakes, the practice fell out of favor. Houdini was once a believer, but in the 1920s, after the death of his mother and many unsuccessful (and expensive) attempts contact her, Houdini began focusing his energy on debunking psychics and spiritualism.