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Victor Hugo’s Conversations with the Spirit World
A Literary Genius's
Hidden Life

By John Chambers
Published by Inner Traditions
384 pages, paperback

W hen I first heard the title of this book my reaction was of surprise, even scepticism, for although I was fairly familiar with the work of the French novelist, poet, playwright and statesman Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885), I had no idea he was a ‘table-turning’ enthusiast, or was in any way associated with the ‘occult’.
      Those who haven’t read any of Hugo’s masterpieces – two of the most famous being Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – may at least have seen one of the many films or TV shows adapted from his works.
      Forced into exile during the reign of Napoleon III, Hugo and his family lived briefly on the Channel Island of Jersey – from exactly 1852 to 1855 – and it is this period in their lives that John Chamber’s book centres around.
      Throughout this time, the Hugo family conducted hundreds of table-turning séances with entities from the beyond – and some very peculiar entities at that!
      Back then, table-turning (as well as other types of mediumship) was a form of evening entertainment, much in the same way that TV watching is today. It’s therefore little surprise that the séances recorded in Chamber’s book were attended by numerous friends of the Hugo family, such as the author Delphine de Girardin.
      Due to the advent of the religious movement Spiritualism, which flourished in Europe and America from the 1840s to the 1920s, Hugo was fortunate to have lived during one of the most exciting periods in the history of psychic research.
      The book begins on a very compelling note, as it contains an introduction by the late, great Martin Ebon, who explains a little about Vietnam’s third-largest religious movement – Cao Dai. And, he informs us, one of its three major saints is Victor Hugo.
      Apparently, the spirit of Hugo first made his presence known to Caodaists during a séance in 1930, and has presumably been communicating regularly since, offering such ‘pearls of wisdom’ as “death will be vanquished by uplifted conscience” and “there are… other universes than ours in the infinite.”
      Ebon points out that Hugo’s spirit “was appointed titular head of the movement’s ‘foreign missions’, that is, its actual ambassadorial representation abroad.”
      It’s fortunate that the Hugo family took the trouble to transcribe the hundreds of conversations they had with those in ‘the spirit world’, because much of this material is really quite compelling and unique, especially considering that it was obtained during the early days of Spiritualism.
      Some of the communications have a contemporary ‘channelled’ theme to them, reminding me slightly of Barbara Marciniak’s controversial Pleiadian material.
      We are told, for instance, that the earth is a prison for souls who have sinned, and that everything contains a soul, including insects, animals, trees, rocks, and even blades of grass. Reincarnation, moreover, is able to take place across the whole spectrum of existence.
      Among the entities who made their presence known at the Hugo family séances (some of them on more than one occasion) are Shakespeare, Plato, Hannibal, Galileo, Rousseau, Sir Walter Scott, and even Jesus himself.
      Other, far stranger entities include the Lion of Androcles, an inhabitant of Jupiter named Tyatafia, a spirit called Death, and Balaam’s Ass, who tells us that all souls upon the earth suffer, and are punished. “The plant is the grimmest of the prisons of the souls,” he says. “The lily is sheer hell.”
      The majority of spirit communications, which make up a large portion of Chamber’s book, have a cryptic, poetic quality to them, almost as though Hugo had written them himself. For it should be mentioned that Hugo was a brilliant and prolific poet – some say France’s greatest.
      That Hugo’s unconscious mind somehow influenced the information obtained from the séances is a possibility that Chambers explores. Some readers will find the spirit communications immensely interesting; others will find them frustrating, vague and pretentious.       One part in the book that made me want to tear my hair out is a chapter titled ‘Galileo Explains the Inexplicable’, which should probably be retitled ‘Galileo Makes No Sense Whatsoever’.
      “God speaking is God language,” declares the great astronomer, “God language is God mouth, God mouth is God body, God body is God man, God man is God beast…” And on and on it goes, page after nonsensical page. Either the information is so profound it’s beyond our understanding, or it’s simply rubbish. I suspect the latter.
      Thanks to Chamber’s informative, engaging – and, in parts, novelistic – style, this book is a real page-turner, full of bits and pieces of interesting history.
      Not only does Chambers delve into the life of Hugo, and the spirit communications that he and his family obtained, he covers so many other fascinating topics as well, such as the channelled writings of the poet James Merill, the Priory of Sion and the theory that Hugo was one of its grand masters, as well as the teachings of the Zohar, a collection of Kabbalistic texts that Hugo was familiar with.
            This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of psychic research and Spiritualism, as well as ardent fans of Victor Hugo and his work.

– Reviewed by Louis Proud in New Dawn No. 110

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