Remembering Patience Worth 100 Years Later —An Interview with Her Foremost Fan
Posted on 17 June 2013, 13:08
It was 100 years ago, on July 6, 1913, that Patience Worth first announced herself to three St. Louis, Missouri women experimenting with a Ouija board as their husbands played pinochle in another room. She told them that she lived “many moons ago,” but did not want to talk about herself, even though the three women pressed for more information about her. She wanted to provide knowledge and wisdom, which she did. Over the next 24 years, she would dictate approximately four million words, including seven books, some short stories, several plays, and numerous poems, many in archaic English.
She received worldwide acclaim in English-speaking countries and was called a literary genius by reviewers from Los Angeles to London. Her works were compared with Shakespeare and Chaucer. Her most famous work was a 644 page book titled, The Sorry Tale, primarily about the last days of Jesus, which was released in June 1917. Containing some 325,000 words, it was dictated one letter at a time. A reviewer for The New York Globe stated that it exceeded Ben Hur and Quo Vadis as “a quaint realistic narrative.”
It was determined that Pearl Curran, one of those three women first hearing from her, was the actual medium. She was a 31-year-old housewife with no more than eighth grade education. Many scholars and scientists studied Mrs. Curran and were completely stymied as to her ability. It was not scientific to suggest that Patience Worth was a spirit and so the majority opinion was that Patience was s secondary personality in Mrs. Curran’s subconscious. However, as to how all the knowledge and wisdom got into her subconscious nobody seemed to have any answers.
W. T. Allison, professor of literature at the University of Manitoba, said that Patience Worth “must be regarded as the outstanding phenomenon of our age, and I cannot help thinking of all time.” And yet, Patience Worth is all but forgotten today, though she still has a few fans around. Perhaps her foremost fan is Amos Oliver Doyle, (below) who recently started a web site about Patience at http://www.patienceworth.com/about/ I recently put some questions to Doyle and he graciously responded.
How did you become interested in the Patience Worth story?
More than 50 years ago I read an article about Patience Worth in a small dusty book in a rural public library. There was only a paragraph or two about her but over the years the story of Patience Worth and Pearl Curran continued to present itself to me. I bought Irving Litvag’s book Singer in the Shadows when it came out in 1972 and became fascinated by his easily readable story of Pearl Curran and Patience Worth. Other books followed including Casper Yost’s book Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery, Herman Behr’s Light from Beyond , Walter Franklin Prince’s book The Case of Patience Worth and a recent book by Prof. Daniel Shea, The Patience of Pearl. All of these books helped to keep me fascinated with the story of Patience and Pearl. I managed to read most of the writings of Patience Worth as well as her original notes stored with the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis.”
What keeps you interested in the story?
“Well, I’m an old man and I would like to know if there is any validity to the hope of mankind for life after death. I think that the story of Patience Worth and Pearl Curran may provide an additional clue to the answer to that question.”
Do you have any favorite books, poems, or sayings by Patience?
“Wow! It would take a book to answer that question. It is difficult to select a favorite but several things immediately pop into my mind. Perhaps I am most appreciative of her poems. That’s not to say that I find all of them memorable or that they are all gems, but there are many that stick in my memory.
“When I married my wife, I selected the poem by Patience Worth, ‘Knowing Thee’ to be read as part of the ceremony. The last stanza is ‘Beloved, I might not hope—-had I not heard thy pledge! Nor could I have believed, save that I had believed in thee! I could not believe that I might comprehend eternity, save that I had known thy limitless love! Surely, thou art the symbol of my New Day—-wherein I might read the record of my eternity!’
“There are many favorites but the titles would be meaningless to your readers unless they have access to her work. I especially like the lines in ‘Predestined Love’ the last of which are ‘Thou, who are but the essence of my song’s wine hast blossomed long before, within its very grape, and ripened with my season’s heat and cold. Who then denies that from my first voiced crooning, thou hast been the vibrant chord?’
“I find this a beautiful way to write about soul mates. Of course there are many others. While The Sorry Tale has received the most notoriety and I believe that it is perhaps the most impressive work of Patience Worth, I think that Telka is the most evidential work. According to Dr. Prince, who investigated the case of Patience Worth in 1925-1926, ‘. . . . it is a most extraordinary production, deserving to be called a masterpiece.’ This is the work that has many obsolete English (Anglo-Saxon) words once in good usage and many archaic and rare words. I believe that this work provides the best evidence that the writing of Patience Worth was not coming solely from the subconscious mind of Pearl Curran (below). Dr. Prince documented more than 170 proverbs and aphorisms of Patience. Several of my favorites are: ‘Some folk, like the bell without a clapper, go clanging on in good faith, believing the good folks can hear them.’ (I think of this when I encounter pseudoskeptics.) ‘Should’st I present thee with a pumpkin, would’st thou desire to count the seeds?’ (I think this is similar to ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ but Dr. Prince had a different interpretation.) ‘A pot of wisdom would boil to nothing ere a doubter deemeth it worth tasting.’ (Again, I think of pseudoskeptics.)”
Many of the learned men who studied Pearl Curran concluded that Patience was a secondary personality buried in her subconscious. Do you recall having heard or read of any of them venturing an opinion as to how all that archaic language, wit, wisdom, philosophy and knowledge got into her subconscious mind?
“Well, yes, everybody has an opinion about Patience Worth, I suppose. Unfortunately those who speak the loudest, publish the most or have impressive credentials are often looked to for an explanation of the source of knowledge of Patience Worth. And of course they all have an opinion, but their opinion is just conjecture; they have no facts to support it. Unfortunately, their opinions are referenced over and over again in other publications as if they were fact.
“Casper Yost wrote a rather comprehensive article, The Problem of Knowledge, concerning Patience Worth. He was present from the very beginning of the Patience Worth transcriptions and researched the language found in the writing of Patience Worth. He was also a close friend of Pearl and John Curran and knew Pearl Curran (and Patience) rather well. I would refer readers to his dissertation in Prince’s book. I think that ‘problem’ is the biggest stumbling block for most people claiming that Patience Worth was the dissociated secondary personality of Pearl Curran. Perhaps that is why one does not find a lot of vociferous challenges to spiritualistic theories proposed as an explanation of the knowledge of Patience Worth.”
So what is your take on who or what Patience Worth was?
“I guess that my opinion is that I don’t believe that there was a spirit or group of spirits floating around somewhere just waiting for Pearl Curran to contact them at her leisure. The spontaneous repartee from Patience was just too available to Pearl, on cue, as it were. That knowledge evinced by Patience Worth may have been coming from someplace within Pearl, someplace that is variably called the unconscious mind, or subconscious mind , or to use F.W.H. Myers’ term, the subliminal mind. But I can just as well call it her “soul mind.’
“Simplistically speaking, I think that Pearl Curran may have been the reincarnation of Patience Worth and/or, Telka, or Theia, or Hope Trueblood. Perhaps as proposed by some spiritistic theories, Pearl Curran may be part of a “group soul” an “oversoul, if you will, containing all of those other personalities. An often used analogy is to compare these various identities or personalities to facets in a gem stone. With the current personality being the foremost facet in the current life but the soul entity is not the facet; it is the whole gem stone. Perhaps what we see in Pearl Curran /Patience Worth is the whole gem stone, that is, the eternal oversoul that contains all of its life experiences.”
You’ve no doubt discussed the Patience Worth story with friends. What is the usual reaction to the story?
“No, I rarely discuss the Patience Worth story with friends: Family, yes! Friends and acquaintances, no! I think I am too reticent to discuss Patience Worth with most people. I like to think that I respect their belief systems and I have no wish to convert anyone to a new paradigm. It takes a special kind of person to be receptive to Patience Worth. My wish is to find people interested in literature and to help them to know how good the writing of Patience Worth really is. On the rare occasion that I do bring up Patience Worth, most people don’t react at all. Well, no, that’s not exactly true; some of them seem receptive but do not follow through by reading any of her writings.”
I recall reading that you did a little genealogical research in an attempt to identify Patience Worth. What did you find out?
“Well, I am still pursuing that research. It is not easy to trace the genealogical history of a young unmarried woman with no property purportedly living more than 300 years ago in England. Patience Worth said that she was from England. Casper Yost and others, after playing a cat and mouse game with Patience about where she was from, deduced that she must have been from Dorset England. I think that Patience led them along in this belief but Patience never said she was from Dorsetshire. After all, the ‘House of Worth’ was in Devon and a major port of debarkation to America from England was Plymouth England in Devonshire not Dorset.
“There is documentation of at least two Patience Worths born in America . One was the daughter of William Worth and Faith Patterson born in 1681 in New Jersey. Her brother, William Worth, born in 1682, named his first child Patience Worth also. She later married Benjamin Lawrence in 1742. Neither was the Patience Worth of Pearl Curran; however it wouldn’t surprise me if someone eventually finds that Pearl Curran’s Patience Worth was somehow related to the William Worth family in New Jersey.”
Have you found much interest in the Patience Worth story today?
“No, not really. Some people say her writing is ‘not understandable.’ They don’t want to make the effort to understand it. Others are interested but need some guidance. I have had sporadic emails from people who are interested, one of whom wanted to sell me some copies of Pearl’s later efforts at writing for $10,000 but, while I would have liked to have had them, I could not afford them at that price.
“To wind this up, your readers might be interested in one of those ‘Intimations of Immortality’ that happened to me recently. My stepdaughter started going to a hypnotist for migraine headaches and my wife went along for one session. The hypnotist has an ex-son-in-law who is somewhat psychic and he did a short reading for my wife. During the reading, he said ‘Pearl sends her regards.’ Now my wife didn’t know who ‘Pearl’ was, as there is no ‘Pearl ‘ in our family, living or dead, until she remembered that I had an interest in Pearl Curran and Patience Worth and that I had put together an amateur web site of the poems of Patience. Perhaps that message from Pearl was for me. I like to think so. It makes me feel better about everything.”
Many scientists and scholars sat with Pearl Curran and tested Patience Worth by asking her to comment on various subjects. She would usually respond without hesitation. Here is some of what Patience had to say:
On how man is to know God: “Alawk! Thy heart is packed afull o’ Him, brother. Aye, and thou knowest. Then speak so, and say ‘tis well, for sure as sun shall rise, thy dust shall rise and blow unto new fields of new days. Thou hast walled up thy heart o’ words and yet it showeth although the patches o’ thy words.”
On wisdom: “Experience bein’ the rootin’, setteth man upon the roadway unto new wisdom and that wisdom is tenuous as moonlight, evasive as smoke, aye, or as mist, all-encompassing as air, sustaining as bread, inexhaustible, ever-reaching, infinite. Man may take this unto him according to his inclination.”
On hope: “The seine each man flings to the water of the day, and ah, the motley catch! And yet, and yet each morrow men do cast and cast, and e’er shall cast and cast and cast.”
On comedy: “The fingers of wit tickling the fat side of wisdom”
On death: “Cheap pence paid for eternity and yet man whines!”
On life: “Life is but a jest – and Death, why Death laughs at the jest.”
On immortality: “How can I say this thing called Immortality, the ever-is? When it is, there be nae sic a thing as aught else. The hope of man be in symbol, answered each day – And he will not read.”
On conscience: “Conscience is the wailing of ego o’er its own consciousness.”
On the Golden Rule: “The law of living, and egad, how oft doth man remember it?”
On New York: “ A gaudy bubble paused, reflecting the motley day; A tenuous thing, a magic thing, the culmination of man’s desire, the pinnacle of his attainment, A gaudy bubble.”
On London: “Well, I’m sayin’ you, ‘tis a sogged puddin’, Heavy o’ wit, smug in honor, yea, honorable with age.”
On Goethe: “What a song – and what an understanding! What harmony, what magic trick was his! Behold! he hath made his tongue holy, through his use in utterance of it!”
On Abraham Lincoln: “Behold, how humility, faith, and simplicity write with sure hand a luminous script ‘pon the page of the day!”
On the doctors of her day: “A sorry lot, eh? Aye, and they did for to seek of root and herb;—aye, and play ‘pon the wit, or the lackin’ o’ it!”
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores.
Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery is available from White Crow Books.
Next blog post: July 1
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