Leonard, Gladys Osborne (1882–1968)
Celebrated trance medium born May 28, 1882. Hereward
Carrington designated her as ‘‘the British Mrs. Piper,’’ and she
had a reputation during her lifetime as one the greatest trance
mediums.
In her autobiographical My Life in Two Worlds (1931) she recalled
her life as a child
‘‘In whatever direction I happened to be looking, the physical
view of the wall, door, ceiling, or whatever it was, would disappear,
and in its place would gradually come valleys, gentle
slopes, lovely trees and banks covered with flowers, of every
shape and hue. The scene seemed to extend for many miles,
and I was conscious that I could see much farther than was possible
with the ordinary physical scenery around me.’’
Leonard became a professional singer early in her adult life
and during this period acquired experimental acquaintance
with the phenomena of Spiritualism through table-turning experiences.
She sat with two girlfriends in her dressing room.
After 26 futile attempts, a communicator appeared who called
herself ‘‘Feda’’ and said that in life she had been the wife of one
of Leonard’s ancestors. According to her account, she was quite
young at the time and lived only a brief time after the marriage;
she died at the age of thirteen about 1800. Leonard abandoned
her singing career and henceforth devoted much of her time
to her mediumship.
From her first appearance, ‘‘Feda’’ remained a faithful attendant
of Leonard and was always the first to come through
when Leonard passed into trance. During her first manifestations,
according to reports, through the table communications,
her form and that of other spirit friends were quite distinctly
seen in the subdued light on the white walls ‘‘like clearly-cut
shadows, which showed up perfectly against the light background.’’
However, significant physical phenomena such as ectoplasm
or materialization did not develop. Leonard sometimes
heard voices objectively, slight touches, and little
manifestations when alone, being always aware of ‘‘suspended’’
or blank feeling whenever this happened. Her acquaintance
with physical phenomena came about only after her sittings
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with other mediums who performed materializations and other
phenomena. The first time she herself heard the voice of
‘‘Feda’’ was in a direct voice sitting in the house of H. Dennis
Bradley. It appears that even part of her own power, necessary
for the trance control, was contributed by her husband, as
‘‘Feda’’ was very clamorous whenever a separation came about
through her husband’s professional engagements. ‘‘Feda’’ said
that she could not use the power well enough during his absence.
Occasionally, for medical purposes, ‘‘Feda’’ gave way to
‘‘North Star,’’ another Indian, who did not speak through
Leonard but used her ‘‘hands and arms in an extraordinary
way, making passes over the patient, and certainly he cured several
people of different maladies.’’
In March 1914, ‘‘Feda’’ gave instructions that Leonard must
begin work as a professional medium as soon as possible. At the
same time the medium was deluged with messages ending with
the words ‘‘Something big and terrible is going to happen to
the world. Feda must help many people through you.’’
During the winter of 1914, Hewat McKenzie, the founder
of the British College of Psychic Science, had some satisfactory
sittings with Leonard. On his recommendation, Lady and
Sir Oliver Lodge came, after their son Raymond was killed in
World War I in autumn 1915. Their first evidence of Raymond’s
survival was obtained through Leonard, and the resulting
publicity made Leonard a celebrity.
In 1916 two sitters, Radcliffe Hall and (Una) Lady Troubridge,
approached Leonard after the death of their friend
‘‘A.V.B.’’ Although the sitters and subject were unknown to her,
‘‘Feda’’ gave remarkably detailed information on the subject
and the house where the ladies had lived. The sitters not only
approached Leonard anonymously, but also employed a private
detective to make sure Leonard had not obtained the information
in a mundane way. No deception was discovered.
In 1918, for a period of three months, Leonard was exclusively
engaged by the Society for Psychical Research. Out of
73 sittings, all but three were anonymous. The report of Mrs.
W. H. Salter stated that the sitters generally agreed that good
evidence of surviving personality had been obtained and the
complete trustworthiness of the medium could not be questioned.
Rev. C. Drayton Thomas carried on experiments with
Leonard for years. Important book and newspaper tests were
evolved. Thomas’s deceased father acquired the ability to come
through without ‘‘Feda,’’ who usually acted as interpreter for
others, and he spoke directly from Leonard’s mouth. Thomas
reported several occasions in which he received evidential messages.
For example, on one occasion he was told, ‘‘In tomorrow’s
Times, on page 8, column 5, about six inches from the
bottom, you will find a name which will recall intimate associations
of your youth between the ages of 16–18.’’ The Times appears
to have been ‘‘invaded’’ systematically for information by
this communicator who also disclosed personal traits in referring
to his favorite books, indicating passages on certain pages
in answer to questions put by his son.
In her autobiography, Leonard narrated many interesting
out-of-the-body travel experiences. She stated that she often
met people in the spirit world and brought back memories of
such meetings into the waking state. These spiritual excursions
often received striking confirmation through other means.
Leonard also cooperated with parapsychologist W. W. Carington
in tests to establish whether ‘‘Feda’’ was a secondary personality
or a genuine communicator. After nearly 50 years of
mediumship, Leonard died March 10, 1968.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
‘‘Books and Reports on Leonard Mediumship.’’ Psychic Science
16, no. 4 (January 1938).
Broad, C. D. Lectures on Psychical Research. New York Humanities
Press, 1962.
Carington, W. W. Telepathy. London 1945.
Hall, Radcliffe, and (Una) Lady Troubridge. ‘‘On a series of
Sittings with Mrs. Osborne Leonard.’’ Proceedings of the Society
for Psychic Research 30.
Heywood, Rosallind. ‘‘Mrs. Gladys Osborne Leonard A Biographical
Tribute.’’ Journal of the Society for Psychic Research
45 (1969).
Leonard, Gladys Osborne. My Life In Two Worlds. London
Cassell, 1931.
Lodge, Sir Oliver J. Raymond or Life and Death. London Metheun;
New York George H. Doran, 1916.
Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology.
New York Helix Press, 1964.
Salter, W. H. Trance Mediumship An Introductory Study of Mrs.
Piper and Mrs. Leonard. London Society for Psychical Research,
1962.
Smith, Susy. The Mediumship of Mrs. Leonard. Reprint, New
Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1964.
Thomas, C. Drayton. Life beyond Death with Evidence. N.p.,
1928.
———. Some New Evidence for Human Survival. London Collins,
1922.
Thomas, John F. Beyond Normal Cognition An Evaluative and
Methodological Study of the Mental Content of Certain Trance Phenomena.
Boston Boston Society for Psychical Research, 1937.
Reprint, Ann Arbor, Mich. University Microfilms, n.d.