Wartime Revelations of a Ghost Hunters’ Dining Club
The Ghost Club was a private, but not quite secret, dining club that met in London to discuss ghosts, naturally. Sir William Crookes, one of the leading lights of the Society for Psychical Research, was President of the Ghost Club throughout the duration of the war.
According to the Ghost Club’s own history, it was founded in Cambridge in 1862, although rumours of Cambridge Ghost Clubs go further back. However, the Ghost Club of the First World War was one that had been refounded in London in 1882, the same year as the institution of the Society for Psychical Research.
The Ghost Club would also be affected by the war; and some members affected most deeply. They, too, would send their sons and spend the war years on tenterhooks, waiting on every post, for news from the Front.
The Ghost Club in 1914
In 1914, the Ghost Club had twenty-two members and, like Crookes, many of them were also members of the SPR. Usually, eight or nine turned up for meetings. All of them were interesting, but few are remembered now, save for the Irish poet William Butler Yeats.
The Ghost Club met once a month on Wednesday evenings at the Maison Jules on Jermyn Street. Before the declaration of war, the Club listened to Yeats talking about his séance sittings and an investigation of an alleged miracle, along with Everard Feilding and Maude Gonne, of a picture of the Sacred Heart that had dripped blood.
The Ghost Club did not meet in August or September, but when they gathered in October the Hon. Sec. Dr Robert Fielding-Ould recalled that back in 1911 fellow member Alfred Percy Sinnett had made some ‘communications […] in reference to the war’. They regretted that Sinnett had not been able to join them, but Yeats had his own prophecy.
Was W.B. Yeats Warned of the Coming War?
Smoke – smoke everywhere – tramping men – high hope – a young face – thunder – oblivion.
Yeats had visited a medium on 17 July 1914, who had spoken while in trance of ‘smoke – smoke everywhere – tramping men – high hope – a young face – thunder – oblivion.’ Yeats believed that a battle scene had been unmistakeably described.
Vice-Admiral William Usborne Moore then gave ‘an interesting discussion on warfare in general’ that sparked a general conversation on the subject, during which Lt Col. Dudley Sampson made frequent warlike declarations. For his part, Alexander Constantine Ionides was concerned about ‘the prevalence of these false war rumours’ and argued for ‘the necessity of carefully distinguishing between subjective and objective phenomena’. Ionides’s son, Theodore Alexander, would take a commission in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
The Occult View of the First World War
Sinnett was able to join them the next month and ‘gave a short dissertation on war from an occult standpoint’. According to Sinnett, the physical war taking place was ‘a reflection of an equally bitter struggle now taking place on the Astral Plane between the White and Black Lodges’. The German Kaiser was ‘obsessed by Black influences’ that had suppressed his own personality. Luckily, ‘the Germans would be expelled from France next week’, which would have been the week beginning Monday, 9 November. The failure of an earlier prediction of a Zeppelin attack on London at the end of October was explained as having been ‘side-tracked’ by other events and would now occur sometime between 6 and 8 November, ‘if no influence intervened in the meantime to prevent it’.
When they met again in December, Sinnett must have been somewhat embarrassed by the non-conformity of worldly events, but made no apology. Instead, he extended his occult analysis: ‘the present war was waged not only on the astral and physical planes, as it had been in the Great Atlantis Struggle, but was now going on on higher planes and that since the Atlantian period it had been gathering increased potential energy.’
Pictured left: President of the Ghost Club, Sir William Crookes, with the medium Florence Cook and the spirit ‘Katie King’, from The History of Spiritualism by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (original image colourised for use on angelsinthetrenches.com).
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