Physical medium Stewart Alexander talks to Sue Farrow about his autobiography, which was published last week to coincide with his annual seminar at Cober Hill, in Yorkshire. The book is dedicated to Stewart’s much-loved sister Gaynor, who passed to spirit in February 2009.
Stewart, it’s many years since a physical medium wrote his or her autobiography. What prompted you to take up the pen?
Quite simply because I felt that my journey of rich experience through Spiritualism in respect of my development as a physical medium – the people I have known, the extraordinary things I have witnessed, my observations regarding the movement, etc – demanded that I should document them.
Also, because many times over the past fifteen years I have been urged to do so by sitters at my public séances and by many people who have attended my talks.
For some years now I have felt strongly that I had something worthwhile to contribute which might result in a better understanding of physical mediumship. Indeed, a bird’s eye view that could prove informative and of interest not only to Spiritualists but also to the world of psychical research. And I wanted to make a kind of statement that would encompass all aspects of my extraordinary journey and serve as a record for future generations who might find it of help on their own journeys.
How long has it taken you to complete the book? It must have been a huge job.
I first conceived the idea as a series of articles, and then about four years ago I started working on them. However, after many months toiling away in my study I found that growing numbers of people were suggesting I should write a book. With that in mind, I put the unfinished series in one of my desk drawers and there they stayed for about two years until one day I took out the text and read through it, wondering if I could use it as a kind of template for a book. Writing does not come easily to me, and at that time I had absolutely no idea what a mammoth task lay before me. A task which occupied me most days of the week from early morning until late at night and often through the night. You ask if it was a huge job – to say that it was would be an understatement. It took over two years to complete – it was the first book I had written and, believe me, it will most certainly be the last. In agonising over every word I wrote, and every opinion I expressed, I wanted the book to represent the very best I would be capable of producing.
The book is obviously a chronicle of your own life and work as a medium. Do you include additional topics, such as the work of past physical mediums?
Yes. Over the past forty-two years I have been a historian of our movement – particularly in respect of physical mediumship. I saw this book as my final opportunity to comment about issues which are, or should be, of interest to all Spiritualists. Since physical mediumship brought me into the movement all those years ago, I have studied it in some depth. Two of the mediums I have chosen to feature in Part 2 of my book are the American George Valiantine who, in the 1920s was perhaps the most celebrated trumpet medium in the world, and the Boston medium Mina Crandon, widely known by the pseudonym ‘Margery’. In the 1920s and early 30s she was regarded by the Spiritualist movement, and by some researchers, as “the eighth wonder of the world” and “the jewel in the crown of American Spiritualism”. Sadly, both their careers were to end in controversy, and ever since they have suffered a terrible press. Countless books and articles have castigated them as having perpetrated fraud on a grand scale. That jaundiced conclusion has largely been based, in my considered opinion, upon speculation and deliberate misinterpretation. My own view is that history has dealt harshly with both of them and in my book I take the opportunity to offer my defence of both Margery and Valiantine by presenting the reader with facts which, for over eighty years, have largely been forgotten; critics have conveniently swept them under the proverbial carpet.
I have also used the book to record my thoughts about such matters as mediumistic mediocrity, Spiritualism as a religion, the movement’s decline and fall over the past fifty years – but also some of its wonderful and bizarre aspects that I have personally witnessed during my journey. I also include my thoughts about the ‘sceptic’ who, for far too long, our movement has rarely replied to.
How did you choose the other mediums you have referred to? There must have been so many you could have mentioned.
Mainly, I chose mediums of whom I had knowledge through books and articles etc, and also from my interviews with elderly Spiritualists who in years gone by had sat with physical mediums who today we can only read about. My talks with them were conducted while I was privileged to be the archives officer for the now disbanded Noah’s Ark Society. The physical séances that they had attended had so impressed them that when they were describing their unique experiences to me it was as if they were talking about séances held only the night before. They had forgotten nothing in spite of the fact that often they were recollecting events which had occurred fifty or sixty years earlier. Such had been the impression made upon their minds.
Yet – incredibly – there are many people today who seriously believe that the physical séance room has no place within our modern day movement. I offer my comments on this and a whole lot more.
You’ve given many public demonstrations of physical mediumship during your life, enabling more people than ever before to experience the rare marvels of physical phenomena. Now that you are retiring from those demonstrations, what will you miss most about them?
That is not easy for me to answer. The truth is that throughout my eighteen years of work before the public I have truly been blessed. On countless occasions I have seen how lives have been changed. I have seen the effect that the séances have had upon some sitters. I cannot say all sitters, because I am certain that there will have been those who remained unmoved by the experience. To me it has been a great spiritual adventure and I have made many, many friends, both in this country and abroad. To make the decision to retire from public work was, for me, difficult in the extreme on many levels but I ‘know’ that the time has come for me to step aside.
Will you continue to sit for further development within your home circle?
Of course I will. I have sat weekly for over forty years now – it is a way of life.
My current circle has sat for well over twenty years – it is, for us, a major part of our lives.
What has been achieved through my mediumship we have achieved together in full co-operation with the spirit people. And they have always told us that in working publicly we would sacrifice further significant development. Many home circle nights were ‘blank’ sittings with little activity because the Spirit World would always reserve vital energy for public sittings which were to follow a few days later.
Of course I am in no way complaining – the circle and I have always felt this was a very small price to pay. The public sittings have enabled unknown numbers of people to see and to witness for themselves the ‘great reality’. A price cannot be put on that.
You are in deep trance during demonstrations, and therefore have no awareness of what has gone on until people tell you afterwards. Are there any experiences among those you’ve been told about that have made more of an impact on you than others?
From down the years, one stands out above all the others, the most wonderfully moving experience that I have ever had. One sitter in particular came to us as a stranger but ended up a most valued friend. I close my eyes and I can see and hear her as she approached me after her first sitting with us and said just six simple words: “Thank you for saving my life.”
To this day I have a lump in my throat whenever I think of it. Many, many things had been said to me over the years – wonderful things – but her words finally ‘made me see’, and I thank her.