Patience Worth -
Proof of Reincarnation?
'Patience Worth' was the pen name used by St. Louis
housewife Pearl Lenore Curran to author a perplexing variety of novels, poems
and prose during the early part of the 20th century. What is different about
Patience Worth is that Mrs. Curren claimed that she was the
spirit of a 17th
century English girl who channelled her thoughts and ideas through her. If so,
could Patience Worth be proof of reincarnation? Probably not, but it's an
interesting story anyway.
Curran was born Pearl Lenore Pollard in Mound City, Illinois, on 15
February, 1883. The family later moved to Texas and then to St. Louis when Pearl
was 14. Academically below average the young girl did possess a talent for
music, taking lessons and training in piano and voice as the family moved yet
again, this time to Palmer, Missouri.
From the age of 18 to 24 Pearl worked at various jobs
in Chicago during the winter, returning home to Missouri during the summer
months to teach music. When Pearl was 24 she married John Howard Curran, living
a comfortable and uneventful middle-class existence in St. Louis. The Currans
did not own books, were not well-travelled or particularly well-educated, and
spent their time playing cards with friends, attending the theatre or going out
Patience Worth comes
through the Ouija Board
In August 1912 one of Pearl's neighbours showed her a
Ouija board, and persuaded her to place her hands on it, despite Pearl's
reservations and complete disbelief in anything connected with spiritualism.
Although the results were as negative as Pearl had suspected the ladies
continued their experiments, occasionally receiving vague 'communications'
through the board, but nothing intelligible. Then on 8 July 1913, a message
began to come through, it read - 'Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience
Worth my name. If thou shalt live, so shall I.'
message was to be the beginning of a 25 year period during which the 'entity'
Patience Worth communicated to the world ostensibly through Pearl Lenore Curran.
As Pearl became more and more interested in the numerous messages the women were
receiving from Patience, she began spending more time on the Ouija board.
However, it soon became clear that the Oiuja Board
method was far too slow and cumbersome to deal with the sheer amount of material
being received, so Pearl turned to direct automatic writing.
Automatic writing, the process of
recording material that does not originate in the conscious mind of the writer,
had previously been used by the notable English medium and Church of England
Minister William Stainton Moses, who experimented with the technique in the
1870s and early 1880s. Much more recently, in the early 1970s, 'psychic healer'
Matthew Manning claimed to have made
use of automatic writing to record messages which apparently came from a 17th
century man named Robert Webbe. In common with William
Stainton Moses, Pearl Curran never went into a trance to record the messages.
The method she used was simply to sit in a brightly-lit room and wait for the
sentences to form in her mind while in a conscious state, and then write or type
them out. While the words poured into her head, Pearl would feel
pressure and then scenes and images would present themselves before her and she
was able to note the details of each scene, the road, trees, landscape and
people. Occasionally she would see herself in the scenes.
One problem Mrs. Curran experienced was that the messages
were received in a dialect which was often difficult to understand. This was
partly explained when Pearl learned from her communications that Patience
Worth was a young girl who had lived on a farm in the county of Dorset, on the
south coast of England, in the 1600s. Patience's family had subsequently
emigrated to America and she had been murdered by Indians there. In all the
years of communicating with Patience Worth, this is all that Pearl ever found
out about her. However, it was noted by most of the visitors that sat with
Pearl during her communications that the character and temperament of Patience
Worth, with her biting, satirical wit, was very different to that of Mrs.
In 1916, Casper Yost's book Patience Worth A
Psychic Mystery, was published by Henry Holt.
Yost was editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and had promoted
Mrs. Curran's claims of contact with Patience Worth in a series of articles in
the paper beginning in February 1915. William Marion Reedy, the editor of the
weekly St. Louis-based journal Reedy's Mirror, also became a convert and
published glowing articles about Pearl Curran / Patience Worth's literary
creations. The result of all this publicity was that the name of Patience Worth
soon became known throughout the world.
The Works of Patience Worth
In the 25 years she was 'communicating'
Patience Worth dictated a vast amount of literary work to Mrs. Curran, including
six novels, hundreds of pages of poetry, proverbs, prayers, and
conversation. Many of her works were published under the name Patience Worth,
including the novels The Sorry Tale, a story of the time of Christ,
Telka, an 'Idyl of Medieval England', and Hope Trueblood, a
nineteenth-century tale. Many critics, including those from The New York
Times and The Bookman, praised her literary efforts, impressed not
only by the beauty of some of the imagery, but also by her use of archaic
languages and words, descriptions of objects that had been out of use for
hundreds of years, and her knowledge of foreign lands. How, they wondered, could
a modest St Louis housewife have acquired such precise historical details and
such sophisticated literary skill? Others were not so kind, noting that the
appearance of Patience Worth coincided with a revival of
Spiritualism in Europe
and America, creating an environment where much of the public were only too
willing to believe in the reality of the reincarnation of a 17th century English
girl in 20th century St. Louis. The sceptics also wondered how Patience,
supposedly a resident of 17th century England, managed to dictate a novel set in
the Victorian era (Hope Trueblood).
After 1922, communications from Patience became fewer and
fewer and eventually ceased altogether. Interest in the phenomenon of Patience
Worth soon faded as well, and when Pearl Curran died in 1939, both her and her
communicator were virtually unknown. Perhaps because there was never a solution
to the mystery and no proof was ever produced that a girl named Patience Worth
actually lived in 17th century Dorset, the case is regarded with scepticism by
most people today, if they have heard of it at all.
Proof of Reincarnation?
So was there a spirit from the beyond speaking through
Pearl Curran? Was Pearl the reincarnation of a 17th century English girl called
Patience Worth? Or, as seems more likely, was it all a product of Pearl's
unconscious mind? The case was meticulously investigated at the time by the
sceptical Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, research officer of the American Society
for Psychical Research from 1920-24, and founder and research officer of the
Boston Society for Psychical Research. Although Prince had previously
investigated the multiple personality case of a disturbed girl called Doris
Fischer, he was inclined to believe that Patience Worth did not fit into this
category, as the 'entity' did not replace Mrs. Curran's normal consciousness, it
co-existed with it. In Prince's thorough summing up of the evidence The Case
of Patience Worth he states -
our concept of what we call the subconscious must be radically altered, so as to
include potencies of which we hitherto have had no knowledge, or else some cause
operating through but not originating in the subconscious of Mrs. Curran must be
Perhaps the progress currently being made by scientists and psychologists in
studies of the human personality and its various idiosyncrasies will one day
shed more light on the strange appearance of Patience Worth. As Patience herself
said, when questioned on her own existence -
'A phantom? We'el enough,
Prove thee, thyself to me;
I say, behold, here I be
Buskins, kirtle, cap and pettiskirts,
And much tongue!
We'el what has thou to prove thee?'