A new book commemorating the centenary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ‘coming out’ as a spiritualist smashes popular myths about Conan Doyle’s faith and reveals how the man who created Sherlock Holmes came to believe in fairies.
The book, Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light by Portsmouth author Matt Wingett is published on March 11, 100 years to the day a letter from Conan Doyle was published revealing his interest in spiritualism.
The next four years saw him elevated to world leadership of the spiritualist movement. He went on to dedicate the last decade of his life to spiritualist missionary work, publishing numerous books and articles and giving talks about life after death to which people flocked.
In the book Wingett asks: ‘How did the creator of Sherlock Holmes also come to believe in ghosts and even fairies?’
The Light in the title is the specialist magazine dedicated to spiritualism and the occult for which Conan Doyle wrote.
Wingett republishes for the first time in their entirety articles and letters written for Light, an obscure magazine to which Conan Doyle became a regular contributor and a generous benefactor between 1887 and 1920.
Wingett says: ‘The roots of Conan Doyle’s spiritualism go back to his life as a doctor in Southsea in the 1880s. He attended séances, performed experiments in thought transference and investigated hypnosis while writing horror stories, romances and detective fiction.’
As early as 1887, the same year his first Sherlock Holmes’s novel A Study In Scarlet was published, Conan Doyle wrote to the recently-founded magazine, Light, A Journal of the Occult, Mystical and Spiritual informing them he had been converted to the spiritualist cause.
He described the moment in a letter declaring that a sitting he had experienced with a medium could only be explained through spiritualism.
At the time Conan Doyle was not a famous name, and his announcement went unremarked. His spiritualism lay dormant, though he still found time to investigate poltergeist activity in Devon and to donate £4,250 (£505,000 today) to Light.
But it was in 1916, at the height of the First World War, his spiritualism was reawakened.
Again he proclaimed his belief in psychic phenomena through Light. This time, as a famous figure his words had national import.
He was soon giving talks on Death – And The Hereafter around the country in packed meeting halls with grieving people keen to hear his message of hope and consolation during the terrible slaughter of the war.
Before one such talk in Nottingham on October 28, 1918, he was given the news of the death of his son, Kingsley, from pneumonia, weakened by wounds he had sustained on the Somme in 1916. Doyle went on with his talk, citing the consolation of his spiritualism as the reason he was able to do so.
By now, he was fully committed on an emotional and intellectual level to spiritualism. His wife, Jean agreed with Conan Doyle to dedicate the remaining years of their lives to missionary work.
In 1919 he addressed a meeting of 7,000 people at the spiritualists’ National Memorial Service for the fallen at the Royal Albert Hall, announcing to worshippers that ‘a new battle’ lay ahead – that of spreading the word of spiritualism.
Between 1916 and 1920, his missionary work took him all over the country. Doyle estimated in one year alone, he addressed 50,000 people on what he called the ‘new revelation’ of spiritualism, which he believed was sent by God to bring solace to the bereaved. His book, also called The New Revelation became a bestseller, running to six editions in a few months, and was quickly followed by another The Vital Message, which criticised Christianity and called for its overthrow by spiritualism.
n Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light is published on March 11. Preorders can be placed here.