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Gladys Osborne Leonard & Her Curious Term of Endearment

Posted on 10 March 2014, 10:49

Gladys Osborne Leonard (1882 – 1968) is considered one of the greatest trance mediums in the annals of psychical research.  She was referred to as “England’s white crow” and the “British Mrs. Piper.”  Some of the very best evidence for the survival of consciousness after death came through her mediumship.  Yet, I recently came across something that made me both curious and a little suspicious.

In reading the transcripts of communication from Rolf Little, a soldier who died during World War I, to his mother through Mrs. Leonard, (below) I was puzzled by the fact that Rolf occasionally addressed his mother as “darling.”  While I had recognized the use of this term of endearment between spouses and also directed from parent to child, I had never before heard a son call his mother by such an affectionate term. 


What made me especially suspicious was another transcript in which Claude Kelway-Bamber, also communicating through Mrs. Leonard, called his mother “darling.”  That might be enough for a debunker to cry “fraud” and for a parapsychologist to say it was all coming from Mrs. Leonard’s subconscious, not from spirits of the dead.

I wondered if such a term of endearment might be common in England or have been more common in the early 1900s, when the communication took place.  I discussed it with Dr. Howard Jones, a British educator and scientist, who said he had never heard it applied to a parent by a child. 

After pondering on it for awhile, the explanation dawned on me.  As psychical researchers came to understand, the spirit communicator impresses an “idea” on the mind of the medium, while the medium’s subconscious mind puts words to the idea.  Thus, both Rolf and Claude may have communicated special affection toward their mothers, that when filtered through Mrs. Leonard’s brain, came out “darling.”  With another medium, it might have come out “mother dear.” 

Communicating through the renowned automatic writing medium Geraldine Cummins, Frederic W. H. Myers, a pioneering psychical researcher who died in 1901, stated: “We communicate an impression through the inner mind of the medium.  It receives the impression in a curious way.  It has to contribute to the body of the message; we furnish the spirit of it. In other words, we send the thoughts and the words usually in which they must be framed, but the actual letters or spelling of the words are drawn from the medium’s memory. Sometimes we only send the thoughts and the medium’s unconscious mind clothes them in words.” 

Professor James Hyslop, another pioneering researcher, explained it this way:  “We do not know in detail all that goes on, but we can conceive that a mental picture in the mind of a communicator is transmitted, perhaps telepathically, to the psychic (medium) or to the control.  Even though we do not know how this occurs, we can understand why the message takes the form that it does in the mind of the psychic and why the whole process assumes the form of a description of visual, or a report of auditory images…It is apparent that the pictographic process introduces into the communication various sources of mistake and confusion, and thus explains much that the ordinary man with his view of the messages cannot understand.  Mental pictures have to be interpreted, either by the control or by the subconscious of the psychic, probably by both.”

The “control” referred to by Hyslop, is the “medium” on the Other side.  As it has been explained, very few spirits have the ability to communicate directly through a trance medium.  Thus, a medium is needed on that side as well.  Mrs. Leonard “control” was called Feda, said to be an ancestor and her guide.  Feda would get the message from Rolf, Claude, or whoever was communicating, and then impress the idea on Mrs. Leonard’s brain.  In effect, there were four parties – the spirit communicator (Rolf, Claude, etc.) , the spirit control (Feda),  the medium (Mrs. Leonard), and the “sitter”  (Rolf and Claude’s mothers). 

Indications were that Feda got the message telepathically from the spirit communicators on their side of the veil, and that she sometimes misinterpreted what they were saying.  Thus, there was distortion even before it was impressed upon Mrs. Leonard’s brain.  But then the message could be further distorted as it was filtered through her brain.  Nevertheless, the gist or essence of the messages usually got through, even if the words came from Mrs. Leonard’s vocabulary.

In 1917, the Rev Charles Drayton Thomas, a respected psychical researcher and Methodist minister, began studying Mrs. Leonard’s mediumship. He quickly made contact with his deceased father, John D. Thomas, and his deceased sister, Etta, receiving much veridical information proving their identities.  However, he wondered why they had such difficulty in giving their names and the names of others.  The discarnate Thomas explained to his son the difficulties involved in communicating names: “One cannot sometimes get the names right. If I wish to speak about a man named “Meadow,” I may try that name and find that “Meadow” is not spoken rightly by Feda.  So I then wait and try to insert the idea of a green field, connecting it with the idea of the man described.  We always try for a definite thing which will tell you exactly what we mean; but if we are unable to do that, we have to get as near to it as we can. Sometimes we have to depend upon slender links in giving you the clue.”

As another example, the discarnate Thomas mentioned that when he tried to get the name “Jerusalem” through Feda, she gave the word “Zion” instead.  Etta explained to her brother that it was much easier to send ideas to Feda than it was to send words. She said that she could not get her husband’s name, “Whitfield,” through Feda.  “Is it not strange that I cannot say my husband’s name?” she asked . “I can feel it, but cannot say it; that is, I cannot get it spoken.  I get it on the surface, so to speak, but cannot get it into the medium’s mind.” 

At a sitting four months later, Etta again attempted to get her husband’s name through, but only succeeded in getting the medium to say, “Wh, Whi-, Whit-”.  Etta further explained to her brother that the more she tried to think on the name, the more difficult it was to get it through the medium’s brain, adding that she could not control the medium’s power of expression.  “One may get a word into her mind and yet be unable to make her express it,” she explained.  “Because it is in the mind, it does not follow that her brain will take it. Unless the ideas in the mind are tapped on to the actual brain, one cannot express them.” 

Thomas noticed that Feda could more easily catch a first syllable than a whole name, but sometimes she would catch only the first letter, which he understood was pictured for her by the communicator. When one communicating entity tried to get the word ‘Greek’ through, Feda struggled with “G-, Gre-, Grek, Greg, Greeg.”

Thomas further observed that when Feda had latitude in the selection of words, e.g. “Zion” for “Jerusalem,” communication was easier. However, when it came to proper names, this alternative was not always possible.  The discarnate Thomas also told his son that when he entered the conditions of a sitting his memory would divide into its former earthly conditions of conscious and subconscious. Thus, the same forgetfulness he might have had when in the flesh with regard to names and other things still existed on his side of the veil.

Soon after his death in 1925, Sir William Barrett, (below) a physicist and also a pioneering psychical researcher, began communicating with his wife, Dr. Florence Barrett, through Mrs. Leonard.  Lady Barrett wondered why her deceased husband got the name William through, and not “Will,” as she had called him and as he had called himself.  Also, he addressed her as “Florence,’ although he had called her “Flo” when alive. The formality of it made her question whether it was in fact her deceased husband communicating, even though he provided some very evidential information which she concluded no one else could have known. 


On November 5, 1929, Sir William explained:  “When I come into the conditions of a sitting I then know that I can only carry with me – contain in me – a small portion of my consciousness.  The easiest things to lay hold of are what we may call ideas. [However], a detached word, a proper name, has no link with a train of thought except in the detached sense; that is far more difficult than any other feat of memory or association of ideas.  If you go to a medium that is new to us, I can make myself known by giving you through that medium an impression of my character and personality, my work on earth, and so forth.  Those can all be suggested by thought, impressions, ideas.” 

Sir William went on to explain that it is extremely difficult to get his nickname through because it is a detached word “If I wanted to express an idea of my scientific interests I could do it in twenty different ways.  I should probably begin by showing books, then giving impressions of the nature of the book and so on, till I had built up a character impression of myself.”  But single, detached words, he reiterated, were a real problem.

With all that in mind, it is not difficult to understand why Rolf and Claude called their mothers “darling.”  But I suspect that the “skeptics” might find it difficult to comprehend.

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. 

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Thank you for your comment, although I must confess that I found it a bit confusing.

This type of trance mediumship is rarely found these days, so I’m not sure to whom the suggestions would be made.  However, it is not so simple, since the medium doesn’t coordinate with her control as easily as you seem to see it.  Nor does the control have the opportunity to have an advance meeting with the communicator to coordinate their signals.

Michael Tymn, Thu 28 Aug, 20:07

I would sincerely like to contact the author of this blog so as to convey him my idea of communication of specific words when they are difficult to get through.
I think a little operational efficiency can be introduced into this communication by standardizations.

By standardization means when the “word” is difficult to be impressed upon, but idea is easier or a picture thereof, Why dont we transmit individual letters to difficult words and use some specific sign to state that now its time to get the pen and jot down the words so their first letters compose the desired word? And upon completion there would be another stadard idea that now again communication can go back to words or sentences.

My idea is.
***communication going on***
***difficult word “John Doe” needs to be transmitted***
****medium gets standard Start Lettering Idea = suppose a lighted candle/bulb or…a typewriter ...(we can agree on which to use on this and mediums and their controls can discus this beforehand)***
****medium(or the control) states its time to start letterring***
****medium is transmitted the ideas of Jackal/Jesus, Orange, Hen , Night/ Ninja (some symbol to give a space) Dove/Donkey,  Orange, Elephant****
****medium is transmitted the extinguished candle/bulb or a broken typewriter to state its time to stop letterring***
****communication continues****

My idea depends on a simple fact, words are formed with letters. If we use very simple ideas that are standard, very common, and often can be transitted and interpreted with not much effort——- then linked them each with a letter…any word transmission will be a piece of cake.

These ideas can be get from any common kintergarden alphabet book.
I would really like to communicate with the author in this if mediums can adopt this method.

parijat parijat, Wed 27 Aug, 19:05


I gather that names are much easier with the old table-tilting method as well, although the messages were much slower.  It is my understanding that they do not involve the spirit “control,” and that one of the reasons for the spirit control is to keep out low-level spirits, which, I understand, is quite a problem with the Ouija board. The various forms of mediumship do seem to have their pluses and minuses. 

Bernd, although I have read all of the Findlay books, I did not recall the term “darling” being used in them.  That is interesting.  Thanks for pointing it out to me.  Thus, it may very well have been the intended term of endearment, although I still favor of the theory that the word came from Mrs. Leonard’s vocabulary.

Amos, Richard, Jane, and Karen, thank you for your contributions to the discussion.

Michael Tymn, Sat 22 Mar, 23:18

Hi Michael
People who use a “ouija” board do not seem to have problems with names;even with Polish names that have a bunch of consonants and very few vowels.
This must have been examined by psychic researchers but unfortunately I have not seen any explanation.
i.e what is stopping a medium from switching to a “ouija” board (or table tipping)when she has a problem?
Perhaps you can point me in the right direction
Thanks for a fascinating web site

jack, Fri 21 Mar, 15:39

Could this just be as simple as impersonation? many times have the spirits been caught out? If for example we listen to the recordings of Lesley Flint we see this happen time and time again and yet the communicators seem to be of the opinion that it is the message that counts…not the identity of the spirit that may be sending it. Could this be something to do with the soul group concept that has been suggested many times or could this have (as Joe Fisher seemed to suggest) something to do with kalma? Finally, could these…..dread to suggest be low level spirits or worse demons? always there seems to be more questions than answers. Finally, however, one thing I would very much discount in these circumstances is sub conscience… how would true mediums know so many intimate details about sitters or be able to so accurately predict events through sub conscience alone?.... just my two penneth..

Richard, Sun 16 Mar, 11:17

Michael, I would like to share another example of or a visual image used by Pearl Curran. At one time she was describing her ‘visual accompaniments” to the words of Patience Worth and said, “Now this is strange, for I see myrtles.  It is a flowering tree and I get ‘myrtles’  It is pink and it is white, and it trembles on the air—-all on stems—-like little feathers on the tree, and they tremble in the air.  It is creepy—-not petals like this (after which she drew a picture.)
Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, who thoroughly investigated the Patience Worth case,  tried to identify the ‘myrtles’Pearl had described but all he could find in the encyclopedia was a Mediterranean Myrtle, of a plant habit, color and form really not exactly like the myrtle described by Pearl Curran.
What Pearl was describing was Lagerstroemia Indica, a plant called ‘Crepe Myrtle, a small tree with pink, white and rose inflorescence like crepe paper introduced to England from China in 1759 and subsequently brought to the Carolinas around 1786 where it flourished and eventually was planted throughout the Southern United States.  Pearl would have known this small tree when she was in Texas and there are some growing in the St. Louis area where she lived but they do not achieve a tree form in the colder climes.  The tree would not blossom in England or in New England, where Patience reportedly lived, as the winters were too cold for it to bloom and survive as a tree.
So the Crepe Myrtle was not brought to England or the United States until after Patience Worth lived on Earth in the later 1600s and since is does not bloom in colder climates, Patience Worth would not have known it.  Neither would Dr. Prince, as he also was from New England.  But Pearl certainly would have seen them as a child and young adult in the late 1800s living in Texas. (I have grown them in Illinois where they form a small bush subject to freezing in the winter.)
Dr. Prince tried to make the description of the ‘Mediterranean Myrtle’ fit the description given by Pearl.  But he was woefully off-base and tried to use this as an example that Pearl had not consulted reference books to learn about the Myrtle. What Pearl was seeing in her mind was the Myrtle she had seen in Texas and Missouri and perhaps stored in her subconscious.  That is, this imagery was coming from Pearl Curran, not from Patience Worth although apparently there must have been some trigger (perhaps from Patience) that brought that image forward into Pearl’s conscious mind. - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 11 Mar, 15:36

Hi Michael,I am just reading Arthur Findlay`s book “Where two worlds meet”,and here the expression “darling mother”,or “darling father” is quite common in communications between children and their deceased parents.As the medium, John Campbell Sloan, was a direct voice medium,and Findlays books were written between 1930 and 1950,the use of such a term of endearment seems not at all unusual or suspect.

bernd, Tue 11 Mar, 09:05

Hi, Mike,
I so appreciate your writing about such topics!
Since I became a bit of a medium for Elisabeth Targ, I understand how terms such as “my darling,” “beloved,” “sweetheart,” “dear one,” “my love, and “joy of my heart” could all be interchanged. For me, it’s because of the feeling I would receive, rather than words. I feel the same warmly open-hearted, unconditional, expansive loving from her (in spirit) as I experience from my mother and former partner, who are also in spirit. Once it’s no longer a question of physical sexual loving, the radiant full-on powerful unconditional loving feeling is the same. If I were channeling a message from a spirit where the information kept coming on rapidly, as it does, (from a spirit who is no longer one gender or age or another,) I would just express the quickest term for that concept that came to my mind. I would not have time to adjust the word to the appropriate term for the person-to-person ego loving as it was when the spirit was incarnated. Their love for us here, once they’ve dropped their bodies, is full-on soul love, and it’s difficult to capture that in words.

Jane Katra, Mon 10 Mar, 23:57

It was interesting to note the comment from the spirit on the other side that “when one entered the conditions of the sitting there’s a memory divide into it’s formerly earthy conditions of conscious and unconscious.  “Thus the same forgetfulness he might have had when in the flesh with regard to names and other things still existed on his side of the veil.” He was speaking of forgetting names and Freud stated that whatever you “forget” is an unconscious issue.  So it would seem from that statement that one takes their unconscious issues with them once they leave earth. I believe that is true which is a good reason to have therapy on earth in order to clear as much as possible of our unconscious issues so we don’t take our “baggage” over there. A good book that tells about us working on ourselves between lives if Journey of Souls by Michael Newton, PhD.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and realized there are spirits on the other side who do therapy there also.  Blessings to all and thanks for this story Mike…Karen

Karen Herrick PhD, Mon 10 Mar, 20:53

Very good explanation Michael.
It is likely that the language of the spirit world is not English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Russian etc. etc.  but more reasonably a language of pure thought transmitted by symbols, that is, a kind of visual image of some sort impressed upon the soul entity.  As I recall, a good example of a medium using symbols to convey thoughts is George Anderson who apparently routinely uses religious images stored in his own conscious or subconscious mind and movie titles and themes which apparently he regularly watches, to convey ideas and impressions from spirits.  Pearl Curran who transmitted words from Patience Worth also explained how she saw visual images and scenes, some of which she actually entered into prior to transmitting words related to the scenes from Patience Worth.  She did claim that she actually heard the words of Patience interpreting those scenes.  Maybe that was Pearl Curran’s special gift in that she could actually get words in addition to images and of course that was what Patience Worth was all about—-her words.

But for less talented mediums it is the medium who supplies the words which may or may not be an exact interpretation of the image or symbol she ‘sees’.  I think some ‘wiggle-room’ should be allowed for mediums who are doing the best they can with the gift they are given, to whatever degree, to communicate with spirits.

It may be that relationships change once seen from a higher perspective.  And relationships which we may think to be so endearing here on earth, from a higher perspective may not carry the same emotion, that is, those who may have been a lover, spouse or child in this life may have played many different roles in other lives and from a higher perspective the totality of the relationship(s) is known. Therefore a more formal address may seem more appropriate.
I too think names are very difficult to convey by symbols, for instance what would be the symbol or image for ‘Clarence’ or ‘Eunice’ or any number of uncommon or ethnic names.  What symbol would be given for ‘Flo’ or ‘Will’?  Well, I could give an image of Will Shakespeare but probably the medium would interpret that as ‘William’. (The medium of course would have to have an image of Shakespeare in her memory banks to give an interpretation.)  I am stumped to think of an image for ‘Flo’.  After all, if one has lived many lives, names become less important in the spirit world than they are in this one. - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 10 Mar, 16:03

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