Tales from work experience - Alfie

Having spent the week looking through the archive, we picked out material that we took a particular interest in. Katie examined the notebooks of Nina Mdivani (the wife of Conan Doyle's Son, Dennis) while I concerned myself with Conan Doyle's interest in spiritualism.

I found many letters to Conan Doyle from people all round the world detailing, in vivid detail their spiritualistic experiences. There were two from America, one from New York requesting that they meet Doyle and the other from Boston who reckoned that he was communicating with his dead son.

The most interesting (and most disturbing) account was a collection of diary entries from a woman named E.Brackenbury (No first name was written, but there were constant references to "My husband"). The location of E.Brackenbury's residence is unknown because no address was written on them. This infers that Brackenbury sent it in an envelope with an accompanying letter.

The content of the diary entries entailed Brackenbury's dreams over the course of a few days in mid-April 1923. She notes one day that she bought an Egyptian Mummy's head from a 'curiosity' store in Hampstead. The head supposedly belonged to an old man who was interested in Egyptian curios. He passed away many years ago. The night that she took it home, the nightmares started.

She recalls initially "lying upon warm sand" in a desert like setting when suddenly she "became conscious that two brown hands had seized me by the back of the neck." This being pushed her along violently, gradually tightening its grip until it directed her into a dark hollow cave. She notes that "The whole atmosphere was so evil and terrifying that I forgot the hands on my neck and tried to run only to find myself unable to move." After gasping for air she dreamt of passing out and "falling through space for what seemed interminable ages and waking up with a jump still gasping for breath and soaked in perspiration." She asked her husband to open the window.

After talking and smoking with her husband until 4am, she fell back asleep and entered a second "not so clear and consecutive" dream in which she was in the same cave but sitting round a fire with an old woman. She gives a vivid description of the woman, who had a "wide grinning toothless mouth, [a] black wrinkled face and bedraggled wisps of grey hair hanging limply over a shrivelled dried up body." Brackenbury continues: "Then she spoke, apparently to some unseen person, and these were the words I heard between each peal of laughter, 'see he has brought her death … Death! Death! Death!"

She moves on and writes that the woman's "flesh round her mouth and across her forehead slowly cracked and fell away leaving nothing but a ghastly grinning skull." The dream continued in this manner until she woke at 6:45, but she shortly fell back asleep. In the next dream, it becomes more violent.

It starts, again, in a desert of hot sand and blue sky that stretched for miles without any sign of life or other people. "I was overwhelmed by a feeling of utter loneliness that almost amounted to panic. I thought I was the last living being in the whole universe; if I cried out no one would hear; if I ran no human being would ever cross my path. Complete loneliness and desolation surrounded and engulfed me."

She then became detached from herself in an existential experience within the dream. She remembers looking at herself and then seeing a single tent and just outside was a brown man who was crying with his head in his hands. Two black slaves then lifted the tent flaps up and she saw herself lying unconscious in the tent. Soon after, the brown man was carrying her unconscious body across the desert with the slaves trailing behind him. The journey ended when they reached the entrance of a cave.

"Carrying me in he laid me upon a flat slab of stone which slopped a little at the end. The two slaves then entered and knelt down, one either side. One held knife with which he made an incision in the left side of [Brackenberry's] abdomen." She then describes how a man dressed in a white robe, whose face she was unable to see, "inserted his hand and pulled out the intestines. I remember a strong smell of incense filling the cave, but could not tell where it came from."

This was but one disturbing set of dreams over the course of the few days. I was amazed at how much trust this woman put in Doyle, and I would be intrigued as to what he made of the dreams. It is certainly frightening at how much of an impression the Mummy's head had on her experience. It made me aware of the attraction of spiritualism that may provide answers to those experiences that are seemingly unexplainable.

It was.... an experience to read such material. 

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