Dowden, Hester (Mrs. Travers-Smith)
Professional medium whose psychic development was
marked by the successive appearance of five spirit personalities
‘‘Peter,’’ ‘‘Eyen,’’ ‘‘Astor,’’ ‘‘Shamar,’’ and ‘‘Johannes.’’ She
was later known for her experiments in automatic writing. She
was the daughter of Prof. Edward Dowden. Her first circle was
formed during the winter of 1914. At the second or third sitting
an entity calling himself ‘‘Peter Rooney’’ made his appearance.
He claimed to be an Irish American who had spent most of his
life in jail. Rooney committed suicide by throwning himself
under a tramcar in Boston.
Reportedly Sir William Barrett made inquiries and found
inconsistencies in the tale. Rooney was questioned at a subsequent
séance and admitted that he had lied because he had no
desire to communicate his real name. He claimed to have been
interested in psychical research during his life and wished to assist
investigations now. He introduced many features to the séance,
initiated blindfold sittings on the Ouija board, and tried
experiments in telepathy.
Eyen claimed to have been an Egyptian priest in the temple
of Isis in the reign of Rameses II. He was attracted to the medium
by a piece of cerecloth in which his mummy was wrapped.
Astor, the third control, professed to be the guide of Geraldine
Cummins, with whom Dowden often sat. She was chiefly interested
in the activities of Cummins and clairvoyance and
Shamar, the fourth control was a Hindu. She claimed to be
the medium’s spirit guide, Eyen being ‘‘the guide of her astral.’’
She sent communications from living persons who were asleep
or drowsy.
Johannes was the latest development as a spirit guide. He
claimed to have lived 200 years before Christ and studied in the
Alexandrian Library. He gave philosophical teachings that
were similar to the Neoplatonic philosophy of Plotinus
(205–270 C.E.). H. Dennis Bradley became convinced of the reality
of Johannes as an independent personality as a result of
a direct voice sitting with the medium George Valiantine in
February 1924.
Reportedly Bradley had many sittings with Dowden and
later developed automatic writing himself. He could not keep
pace with the terrific speed of the communications from Johannes,
although he wrote in shorthand. Leaving his hand limp,
he discovered that he could write at an infinitely quicker pace
and without exhaustion.
Of the existence of the first four controls, Barrett, in his introduction
to Mrs. H. Travers-Smith’s book Voices from the Void
(1919), states, ‘‘I am strongly disposed to consider many of
them as distant psychic entities and not in all cases mere phases
of the personality of the automatist.’’
The author Lennox Robinson and Rev. Savell Hicks were
sitting with Dowden when this message came through ‘‘Pray
for Hugh Lane.’’ Then, on being asked who was speaking ‘‘I
am Hugh Lane; all is dark’’ came through. Shortly after, it continued
‘‘It is Sir Hugh Lane, drowned. Was on board the Lusitania.’’
At that moment boys were selling the evening newspapers
in the street. Robinson ran out. When he came back he
pointed to the name of Sir Hugh Lane in the story of the disaster,
reported for the first time. The communications from Sir
Hugh Lane described the scene on the Lusitania ‘‘Panic. Boats
lowered. Women went first. Lost in an overcrowded boat, fell
over. Lost all memory until I saw a light at the sitting.’’
The medium knew Sir Hugh Lane personally but had heard
that he had gone to America before the sinking of the Lusitania.
On her way home that day Dowden saw posters ‘‘Lusitania
reported sinking’’ but had no personal interest in the news as
she knew no one on board. Lane continued to come through
in séances afterward and wanted several of his wishes communicated
to his executors.
In a similar instance, the following message was spelled out
rapidly ‘‘Ship sinking; all hands lost. William East overboard.
Women and children weeping and wailing—sorrow, sorrow,
sorrow.’’ The newspaper stop press was heard being called out
in the street. The medium bought a paper. It contained the
news that the Titanic had gone down. She believed that the
name William East was incorrect and that it must have been
Double Blind Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
William Stead. Dowden later served as the amanuensis for The
Life Eternal, supposedly written by Stead from the spirit world
in 1933.
Reportedly Dowden channeled several romantic scripts descriptions
of King Arthur’s Round Table and of the missionary
journeys of St. Philip the Evangelist. When she sat with Frederick
Bligh Bond, a group of Glastonbury monks came through
and recited details of the burial of abbey relics in 1080. Cummins’s
writing mediumship developed in her sittings. The communications
often referred to the future. Events in her life were
sometimes foretold years ahead. Her first book, Voices from the
Void (1919), contains an account of her own experiences. Her
second volume, Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde (1923), was
featured in the Daily News, on July 27, 1923. The article
claimed he gave criticisms of many writers. Of George Bernard
Shaw, he writes
‘‘I had a kindly feeling for poor Shaw. He had such a keen
desire to be original that it moved my pity. He was without any
sense of beauty or even a sense of the dramatic side of life. And
yet there was the passionate yearning to be a personage, to
force his person on the world, to press in, in spite of the better
taste of those who went before him. I have a very great respect
for his work. After all, he is my fellow-countryman. We share
the same misfortune in that matter. I think Shaw may be called
the true type of pleb. He is so anxious to prove himself honest
and outspoken that he utters a great deal more than he is able
to think. He is ever ready to call upon his audience to admire
his work, and his audience admires it from sheer sympathy with
his delight.’’
The Oscar Wilde script was produced in cooperation with
psychical researcher S. G. Soal (also an automatist), who held
the pencil. He later wrote a critical reflection upon his experience.
Bentley, Edmund. Far Horizon A Biography of Hester Dowden,
Medium and Psychic Investigator. London Rider & Co., 1951.
Dowden, Hester. Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde. London
T. Werner Laurie, 1923.
———. Voices from the Void. London Rider & Co., 1919.
Soal, S. G. ‘‘Note on the ‘Oscar Wilde’ Script.’’ Journal of the
Society for Psychical Research (July 1926).