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DEAR RAYMOND: THE STORY OF SPIRITUALITY AND THE FIRST WORLD WAR – SOPHIE JACKSON

June 26, 2017

The Church of England lost touch with many (if it has ever been in touch) not least because evangelicals frowned upon prayers for the dead. Thus spiritualism and séances became popular. Spiritualists were universalists so appealed widely to those grieving. (Though one gets suspicious when the departed talk of enjoying a glass of scotch.) They were often discredited e.g. for the predatory homosexuality of Liberal Catholic Charles Leadbeater,

Roman Catholic chaplains, with their definite teaching on heaven, spoke to the me in a way that Anglicans, with all their qualifying sub clauses, couldn’t.

Raymond Lodge died in 1915.

Sir Oliver Lodge, Raymond’s father, set out on a controversial quest to discover the truth about life after death. He was a renowned physicist and member of the Fabian society and took a scientific approach to his journey into spirituality and published his work under a cloud of criticism.

He was closer to his younger son that to any of his other sons because he’d had more time for him. He’d been working long hours when the other children were born.

I’d heard old men, survivors of World WarOne, talk with fondness for Toc H. There is a detailed description of its work at Talbot Houe.

After a fairly accurate description of mainstream Christianity, the book wanders off into rambling accounts of Aleister Crowley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and  Dennis Whatley.

It then peters out into a series of superstitions such as The angel of Mons though it dpesn’t tell us its origin – “A Troop of Angels” was …..reprinted, most influentially in May 1915 in The All Saints (Clifton) Parish Magazine. But when Miss Marrable was sought out for more information, she said she’d been misquoted. None of the soldiers in her story were named, but some soldiers began coming forward saying things like they knew someone who met someone who heard the story from their very reliable friend.

I was vaguely aware of this book, having read comments beginning ‘Tell Mr. Raymond’ in other books – or was that to do with To Kill a Mockingbird? It turned out that the book was called Tell England’. (The name comes from an epitaph by Edmund Garrett that is inscribed on the grave of one of Edgar and Ray’s friends, and is presumably also inscribed on Edgar Doe’s, given that he asked Ray to do so: Tell England, ye who pass this monument,/We died for her, and here we rest content.) The ‘Raymond’ of the book is no relation to Raymond Lodge. Or could it have been Raymond or Life and Death by Oliver Lodge?

 Quotations:

Father and son also shared a dislike of social gatherings. Oliver had never been comfortable at parties, even as a child. So he understood when at one Christmas party round a friend’s house it was suddenly noticed little Raymond was gone. His father found him heading for the front door, determined to go home, sick and tired of the silly party. Oliver sympathised with him, having felt the same in his childhood and took Raymond home before returning to the party himself.

Some of her photographs look obvious frauds today. In a couple of pictures taken of herself and her daughter showing their spirit guides, the extras in the images look distinctly like illustrations cut from a magazine. There is no depth to the faces and the flowing cloth that is draped over them only highlights the flatness of the spirits. In Deane’s picture of her spirit guides, a pre-Raphaelite style girl superimposes herself completely over the medium, her long flowing tresses are not completely covered by reams of chiffon that are designed to sculpt her body shape. The outline of her hair is distinctly hard and solid, the sort of line caused by cutting out an image.

Even Warrick had to admit these photographs were suspicious, yet he still would not accept that Deane had committed a conscious act of fraud. Instead he believed the spirits were either creating the fakes themselves or inducing Deane to make them while in a trance state out of pure mischievousness.

As people found their faith in religion shattered, along with their faith in humankind, there was a growing trend for looking beyond the confines of earth and out further afield. While some in the 1920s were looking backwards, to simpler times and pagan beliefs that seemed more innocent and carefree than the current world they were living in, others were becoming convinced there was life on Mars. This was hardly surprising considering the curiosity shown to the planets beyond earth and the possibilities they held. Mars has always been the centre of attention when it comes to extra-terrestrial life. Visible from earth to the naked eye, until-the 1960s it was thought it could have the potential to support life, with what appeared to be oceans covering parts of its surface.

….. If Mars was not going to save the world at least films about space could be viewed as pure escapism, a modern retelling of the classic adventure story of a journey into the unknown. The pinnacle of this trend was the flawed masterpiece of German expressionist Fritz Lang, Metropolis (1927). The iconic image from the film is the feminine robot that can be seen on the movie posters. Creepy, yet attractive, the machine is meant to be a recreation of the character Joh’s dead wife. Conjuring up the notion of the dangers of wishing the dead back to life, Joh is consumed by his desire to reinvent his wife Hel, to the detriment of his workers. Metropolis is dominated by the skyscrapers where the elite live and work while the ordinary men toil in underground caverns, exposed to danger at every turn and driven to exhaustion.

In many ways Metropolis expresses the growing discontent in Germany towards the rich and influential minority who dominated the lives of the poor majority. A similar disaffection had occurred in England, though to a lesser extreme, when the ordinary soldier in the trenches realised how insignificant he was in the eyes of the commanding officers. In Britain this began the overhaul of the class system and the way the army was run.

Spiritualism featured in a number of silent films, sometimes being portrayed as genuine, at other times being lampooned.

Post-war filmmaking had two roles, first to produce movies that would provide escapism for the audience (this included retellings of classic stories and light-hearted comedies) and secondly trying to shock the audience and bring fresh ideas to the screen. In post-war Germany there was a move towards Expressionist film, which included the remaking of Dracula for the big screen as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922). Though based on the book (and suffering from copyright infringements) Nosferatu was lauded for its use of light and shadows and silhouettes to expand the media and induce terror in the audience.

Over the pages of this book it has, hopefully, been shown how the Great War was a catalyst; it broke down old beliefs and supplanted them with new ones, many of which in themselves were not set to last. It destroyed the long held bonds between the Church and politics. It opened the doors for freedom of religion, however bizarre that religion might be, and it altered the minds of many. The religious turmoil left behind by the conflict is often overlooked, or ignored, mainly because the human cost overshadows, quite rightly, any philosophical debate. But it was significant because it heralded our modern age when people can believe in the powers of crystals, white magic and fairies without being persecuted.

The war had an astonishing impact on the power of the Church, one that it may even be argued is only just being overcome, but it also marred and twisted the memories of those who had served. It has cast up false facts, perpetuated in history books, such as that Church of England chaplains never went into frontline trenches, a complete fallacy that can still be found in high‑quality history books. Religion, faith, belief, the Great War affected them all and without recognising that, we fail to recognise the fundamental way that war changed British society. No longer do men go into battle with the Church declaring it is their divine right to triumph, no longer is faith so blind to the sufferings of the enemy, no longer is God used (at least in the British military) as a tool for stirring up fighting spirit and finding recruits. The war changed us in many ways, not least in the way we think about religion and belief.

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