Showers, Mary (ca. 1857– )
British materialization medium, daughter of General C. L.
Showers of the Bombay Army. As a child she conversed with invisible
people, sat for the first time in the circle of her family
in the spring of 1872, produced raps and movement without
contact, obtained poltergeist manifestations in daylight, performed
direct writing, and saw spirit forms among which
‘‘John King’’ and ‘‘Peter’’ rose to prominence.
In 1874, Showers and her mother came from Teignmouth
to London to give séances to representative Spiritualists. The
test conditions in these early séances were taken charge of by
the spirits. At the beginning of the séance, coils of rope or tape
would be placed in the cabinet. At a signal, the curtain of the
cabinet was drawn aside and the medium was discovered tightly
bound.
The usual materialized spirit form was a girl, ‘‘Florence,’’
who was eight inches taller than the medium, could vary her
height, and was often seen by Florence Marryat together with
the medium. Marryat describes these experiences in her book
There is No Death (1891).
Marryat found herself so much in rapport with Showers that
she wrote
‘‘We could not sit next each other at an ordinary tea or supper
table when we had no thought of, or desire to hold a séance,
without manifestations occurring in the full light. A hand that
did not belong to either of us would make itself apparent under
the table-cloth between us—a hand with power to grasp ours—
or our feet would be squeezed or kicked beneath the table, or
fingers would suddenly appear and whisk the food off our
plates.’’
An attempt at exposure of Showers was made on April 2,
1874, at the house of Edward William Cox. When ‘‘Florence’’
appeared between the curtains of the cabinet, Cox’s daughter
Mrs. Edwards opened the curtains wider. The spirit resisted; in
the struggle the headdress fell off and revealed Showers. Cox,
however, seemed satisfied that the medium was entranced and
had unconsciously impersonated the spirit.
Although Cox may have believed that the medium was entranced,
the episode cast strong doubts upon the genuineness
of Showers’s phenomena. Cox himself reinforced such doubts
in a letter dated March 8, 1876, to the medium D. D. Home
(printed in full in Home’s Light and Shadows of Spiritualism, London,
1877)
‘‘I am satisfied that a large amount of fraud has been and
still is practiced. Some of it is, doubtless, deliberately planned
and executed. But some is, I think, done while the medium is
in a state of somnambulism, and therefore unconscious. As all
familiar with phenomena of somnambulism are aware, the patient
acts to perfection any part suggested to his mind, but
wholly without self-perception at the time, or memory afterwards.
But such an explanation serves only to acquit the medium
of deliberate imposture; it does not affect the fact that the
apparent manifestation is not genuine.
‘‘The great field for fraud has been offered by the production
and presentation of alleged spirit-forms. All the conditions
imposed are as if carefully designed to favour fraud if contemplated,
and even to tempt to imposture. The curtain is guarded
at either end by some friend. The light is so dim that the features
cannot be distinctly seen. A white veil thrown over the
body from head to foot is put on and off in a moment, and gives
the necessary aspect of spirituality. A white band round head
and chin at once conceals the hair, and disguises the face. A
considerable interval precedes the appearance—just such as
would be necessary for the preparations. A like interval succeeds
the retirement of the form before the cabinet is permitted
to be opened for inspection. This just enables the ordinary
dress to be restored. While the preparation is going on behind
the curtain the company are always vehemently exhorted to
sing. This would conveniently conceal any sounds of motion in
the act of preparation. The spectators are made to promise not
to peep behind the curtain, and not grasp the form. They are
solemnly told that if they were to seize the spirit they would kill
the medium. This is an obvious contrivance to deter the onlookers
from doing anything that might cause detection. It is
not true. Several spirits have been grasped, and no medium has
died of it; although in each case the supposed spirit was found
to be the medium. That the detected medium was somewhat
disturbed in health after such a public detection and exposure
is not at all surprising. Every one of the five mediums who have
been actually seized in the act of personating a spirit is now
alive and well. There need be no fear for the consequences in
putting them to the proof.
‘‘But I have learned how the trick is done. I have seen the
description of it given by a medium to another medium who
desired instruction. The letter was in her own handwriting, and
the whole style of it showed it to be genuine.
‘‘She informs her friend that she comes to the séance prepared
with a dress that is easily taken off with a little practice.
She says it may be done in two or three minutes. She wears two
shifts (probably for warmth). She brings a muslin veil of thin
material (she gives its name, which I forget). It is carried in her
drawers! It can be compressed into a small space, although
when spread it covers the whole person. A pocket-handkerchief
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Showers, Mary
1403
pinned around the head keeps back the hair. She states that she
takes off all her clothes except the two shifts, and is covered by
the veil. The gown is spread carefully upon the sofa over the
pillows. In this array she comes out. She makes very merry with
the spiritualists whom she thus gulls, and her language about
them is anything but complimentary.
‘‘This explains the whole business. The question so often
asked before was—where the robe could be carried It could
not be contained in the bosom or in a sleeve. Nobody seems to
have thought of the drawers.
‘‘But it will be asked how we can explain the fact that some
persons have been permitted to go behind the curtain when the
form was before it, and have asserted that they saw or felt the
medium. I am sorry to say the confession to which I have referred
states without reserve that these persons knew that it was
a trick, and lent themselves to it. I am, of course, reluctant to
adopt such a formidable conclusion, although the so-called
‘confession’ was a confidential communication from one medium
to another medium who had asked to be instructed how the
trick was done. I prefer to adopt the more charitable conclusion
that they were imposed upon, and that it is easy to find how this
was likely to be. The same suspicious precautions against detection
were always adopted. The favoured visitor was an assured
friend; one who, if detecting trickery, would shrink from proclaiming
the cheat. But one was permitted to enter. A light was
not allowed. There was nothing but the ‘darkness visible’ of the
lowered gas rays struggling through the curtain. I have noted
that no one of them ever was permitted to see the face of the
medium. It was always ‘wrapped in a shawl.’ The hands felt a
dress, and imagination did the rest. The revealer of the secret
above referred to says that, when she took off her gown to put
on the white veil, she spread it upon the sofa or chair with pillows
or something under it, and this is what they felt and took
for her body!
‘‘The lesson to be learned from all this is, that no phenomena
should be accepted as genuine that are not produced under
strict test conditions. Investigators should be satisfied with no
evidence short of the very best that the circumstances will permit.’’
Cox’s reference to the means by which ‘‘spirit forms’’ were
produced fraudulently in a ‘‘communication from one medium
to another medium who had asked to be instructed how the
trick was done’’ is thought by Trevor H. Hall (in his book The
Spiritualists, London, 1962) to refer to Florence Cook and Mary
Showers, who were known to each other and indeed collaborated
with each other in a joint performance of fully materialized
‘‘spirit forms’’ at the house of Sir William Crookes. It is particularly
significant that at the final séance with the phantom
‘‘Katie King’’ on May 21, 1874, Crookes himself noted that the
face of the medium Florence Cook was covered with a red
shawl, ostensibly to protect her from the effects of light, and
that this established the separate identity of phantom and medium,
seen together.
Although some sitters at the Crookes séances with Florence
Cook noted marked similarities between the medium and the
phantom ‘‘Katie King,’’ Crookes himself was at pains to establish
specific differences. If the phenomena of Florence Cook
was fraudulent, it is likely that her friend Showers was an accomplice
at séances when the differences between medium and
‘‘spirit form’’ were apparent.
Both Trevor H. Hall and E. J. Dingwall are satisfied that the
circumstantial evidence strongly indicates that Cook’s phenomena
were fraudulent and that Showers was an accomplice.
Their conclusion that such fraud was known to Crookes and
that he connived at it, using the séances as a cover for an affair
with Cook, is much more speculative, although it is undeniable
that Crookes was tremendously impressed and captivated by
the beauty of the materialized phantom ‘‘Katie King.’’
The story of the connections between Showers, Cook, and
the investigations of Crookes and Cox is a complex one. The
best sources are the writings of Hall and Dingwall.
Sources
Dingwall, E. J. The Critic’s Dilemma. Dewsbury, England The
Author, 1966.
Hall, Trevor H. Florence Cook and William Crookes A Footnote
to an Enquiry. London Tomorrow Publications, 1963.
———. New Light on Old Ghosts. London G. Duckworth,
1965.
———. The Spiritualists. New York Heliz Press, 1963. Reprinted
as The Medium and the Scientist. Buffalo, N.Y. Prometheus
Books, 1984.
Marryat, Florence. There is No Death. 1891. Reprint, New
York Causeway Books, 1973.
Thouless, R. H. ‘‘Crookes and Cook.’’ Journal of the Society
for Psychical Research 42 (1963).