A séance at Laurier House
With his cautious policies and shrewd political skills, he successfully led Canada for almost 22 years. But behind closed doors, he held secret séances and had frequent conversations with his dead mother. As Canada's longest-serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King's public persona was staid and serious. After his death in 1950, however, his fascinating private life slowly came to light.
McLellan asks the spirit of King several questions. But soon, "his spirit" tells the group that there are too many "hostile vibrations," and insists that the room be cleared (except, of course, for McLellan and the psychic). After the room is cleared, there's a flurry of activity - one of the reporters has hidden behind the sofa! As a result of the chaos, the spell has been broken and the séance has come to an end.
. He began dabbling in spiritualism during the 1920s, but it was the 1930s when he really began consulting the spirits more often through séances and "table-rapping."
. In these sessions, King would often speak to his grandfather (William Lyon Mackenzie), his father, his brother, his mother, his best friend Bert Harper and his political mentor Wilfrid Laurier - all of whom had died years earlier.
. According to most Mackenzie King experts, the prime minister never completely based his political decisions on messages from the spirits. He was usually just looking for reassurance that he was doing the right thing. He was also looking for moral support and a reconnection with lost friends.
. King knew that many Canadians wouldn't understand his belief in spiritualism, so he tried to keep these activities secret from almost everyone but a few close friends and advisers.
. King was also very superstitious about numbers - seven and 17 were two of his favourites - and he paid close attention to the "messages" he got from his dreams. He regularly described his dreams in his diary.
. Spiritualism was first popularized in the 1840s by the Fox sisters of New York. They developed a system of communicating with the dead via tapping noises on tables (which came to be known as table-rapping). Séances and levitations were also part of this phenomenon. Spiritualism soon became quite popular throughout North America and England and was often viewed as a social pastime for the middle- and upper-class Victorians.
. Many Victorians believed there was a "scientific" element to spiritualism. Others felt that it was a good alternative to the established Christian churches, since it still meshed with Christian ideas about the afterlife and the soul's immortality.
. A number of spiritualist societies sprung up in the 19th Century, helping "legitimize" the movement. These included the Society for Spiritual Diffusion, founded in the United States around 1854, and the Society for Psychical Research, founded in England by a Cambridge University professor in 1882.
. Well-known Victorian spiritualists include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series; Lewis Carroll, author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; and 19th-century British prime minister William Gladstone. In Canada, the 19th-century British immigrant writers Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill (as well as Susanna's husband John Moodie) also dabbled in spiritualism throughout the 1850s and 60s.
. Although a number of people (including Mackenzie King) still practiced spiritualism well into the 20th century, its mass popularity was fading by the end of the 19th century as numerous scandals and frauds within the movement were exposed.
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: March 6, 1977
Guest(s): Geraldine Smith
Host: Bruce Rogers
Producer: Angus McLellan
Photo: National Archives of Canada
Last updated: February 28, 2012
Page consulted on December 17, 2012
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