chapter  4
12 Pages

“Rachel Comforted”: Spiritualism and the Reconstruction of the Body Aer Death

ByJOANNA BOURKE

Tragedy struck Edith Cecil-Porch Maturin four times between 1900 and 1917. First, her twelve-year-old son died in 1900, followed ve years later by her nephew. Another nephew and son were killed during the First World War. When, in 1920, she decided to publish the words her rst son had spoken to her immediately aer his death, she dedicated her book, Rachel Comforted: Conversations of a Mother in the Dark with Her Child in the Light, to “other Rachels still uncomforted.” e Rachel she was referring to gures in the Old Testament story of a woman who “mourned for her children and refused to be comforted, because they were not [alive].” Despite Maturin’s conventional religious beliefs, neither the Bible nor the consolations of the established churches soothed her anguish over her child’s death. In contrast, her experiences with spiritualist communication (using a planchette, a small, heart-shaped board supported by two casters and a pencil which, when a person rested her ngers lightly on the board, traced letters without apparent conscious direction) had provided comfort-and she wanted to share this release with all the mothers recently bereaved in the carnage of the First World War. ere were two ways in which communicating with her child “in the light” helped: it convinced Maturin of an aerlife, and it reassured her that this aerlife was familiar and thus not to be dreaded. Maturin described how her “wounded

mother-heart” was relieved to discover that her son had not become a “faraway, unapproachable angel” but possessed a body almost identical to the one she had hugged, and that he was residing in a place where there were cottages covered with roses, cricket courts, electric lights, motor-cars and trains, pets, furniture, songbirds, owers, and class dierentials. When she asked her son whether he was happy, he replied that only her grief marred his pleasure: “Are you happy, Sunny?” she asked, to which her son replied via her planchette, “Yes, yes, yes, Mother. Quite, quite, quite. Kisses 12,000” (Maturin, 1920). Rachel was comforted.