Dorothy Begg: Medium, Teacher, Friend
DOROTHY EVELYN CONANT BEGG was born June 21,1898, the daughter of Hiram Edward and Eva Woodruff Conant. She was the first baby born in Lake Pleasant: and the only child born in Lake Pleasant until after World War I. At 18, she married Robert Burns Begg, a former Sargent Major in the British army. Begg's great-great-grandfather was the brother-in-law of Scottish poet Robert Burns. The Beggs lived in Greenfield for a while after they were married before moving to a farm inBernardston. Mr. Begg became seriously ill in 1940. Knowing that she would not be able to operate the farm herself, Mrs. Begg orchestrated the family's relocation to Lake Pleasant. Her grandmother's father, Joseph La Fume of New York City, attended a seance conducted by the founders of so-called Modern Spiritualism, Margaret and Kate Fox, during the height of their fame and as a result became friendly with the Fox sisters. Near the end of their lives, as they lived in abject poverty and struggled with alcohol problems after fame and fortune had passed them by and been replaced by vicious attacks on their characters and their psychic abilities, Mrs. Begg's grandfather helped financially support the Fox sisters and had them buried in his family's cemetery plot when they died. I remember Mrs. Begg's mother, then Eva Carlisle, a medium, and her grandmother, Mrs. Woodruff, from my childhood, but I didn't meet Mrs.Begg until after she moved back to Lake Pleasant. After Mr. Begg died in1942, Mrs. Begg lived for the rest of her life with friend and companion Barbara Adams, first on Massasoit Street, then on Denton Street at a cottage she called "Still Waters." She was a "home medium" and never charged a fee. She rejected trance mediumship because she did not want to give up control of her mind and body to an entity from the spirit world. She conducted seances for a few years, but the work made her sick and she spent her later years doing psychometry. People would write her letters which she would "psychometrize," then she would respond with her psychic readings. Psychometry is divination from physical or auric contact with a person or with an object belonging to or handled by the person. The psychometrist "reads" vibrations through psychic sensing, "seeing," "hearing," "tasting, "smelling," and/or "feeling" information in connection with the person who is receiving the reading. Mrs. Begg estimated that she had thousands of clients from all over the country and the world.
Mrs. Begg translated some of the automatic writing which my mother did. She concluded it was an ancient language of an unknown source. Mrs. Begg also helped me interpret my automatic writing which was always in English and usually was connected with my art work. I used to go to her house during the summers in the 1950s and 1960s. We would listen to music, Beethoven and Mozart, and talk about Theosophy and Rosecrucianism. Mrs. Begg used to loan me books by Madame H.P. Blavatsky, the founder and leading exponent of Theosophy, the occultist, Manly Hall, and many, many others. She also gave me a copy of a book of her own poems, "Ghost Flowers " Her grandson, Kevin Daniel Talbot of Kingston, New Hampshire, is a professional photographer. Several years ago, he published a book containing 24 of Mrs. Beggs poems, each illustrated by one of his photographs. He has a website on the internet which focuses on the "reincarnation" of Mrs. Beggs "Ghost Flowers" ... http://www.ghostflowers.com. By the time I moved full-time to Lake Pleasant in the early 1970s to take care of my mother who had had a stroke, Mrs. Begg was in poor health. She struggled along for a few years, then went into Poet's Seat Nursing Home in Greenfield where she died of cancer on March 11, 1977. I had visited her at the nursing home near the end and she said to me as I was leaving: "It's been a wonderful experience. I wouldn't have missed it for the world." A few days later she was dead. Her obituary in the Greenfield Recorder said in part; "She was a poet whose work appeared often in the pages of the Recorder, Unity and Ideals magazines. A book of her poetry, 'Ghost Flowers,' was privately printed by her friends and admirers in 1967. In her latter years she carried on a quiet ministry by mail to more than 2,000 correspondents who found inspiration and help in her poetry and letters."
I have been exposed to Spiritualism all my life, but Mrs. Begg enhanced my understanding of it, and together we did a lot more delving into things beyond Spiritualism. I came to realize that there was much more to the spirit world than just the "eternal Summerland," that there was a network of Universal Truths that went far beyond the sort of messages that characterized Spiritualism as practiced in Lake Pleasant. Many people who came to the two temples were satisfied with the messages they received, evidentiary messages that proved the continuity of life and communication between the worlds of matter and spirit. Theosophy takes you further into the mysteries of the universe, gets you in contact not with the spirit of your dead grandfather, but with higher, more evolved spirits, Master Teachers and the Wise Ones.
The principal founder and guiding light of Theosophy was Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who was born in Russia in 1831, lived in Europe, India, and the United States, and died in 1891. Along with others, Madame Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. In the proverbial nutshell, Theosophy's fundamental goal is to foster universal siblinghood on earth based on the essential divinity of human beings. Theosophy is the formulation of the nature of the universe and how the universe functions, including the nature of humanity and the origin and destiny of human beings. It fuses Eastern and Western thought and belief and attempts through works and example to offer ideas to benefit humanity and to change and elevate the hearts and minds of the masses. Theosophy contends that nothing is accidental. All is purposeful, and order, and law. Through reincarnation and Karma, human beings are challenged to take responsibility for their own thoughts, and words, and deeds, and to work out their own ultimate salvation.
Theosophist writer C.W. Leadbeater published "The Hidden Side of Things" in 1913 and summarized Theosophy as the three great truths given Sensa in "The Idyll of the White Lotus." Those truths include: "The soul of man is immortal, and its future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendor have no limit. The principle which gives life dwells in us and without us, is undying and eternally beneficent, is not heard, nor seen, nor smelt, but is perceived by the man who desires perception. Each man is his own absolute lawgiver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to himself the decreer of his life, his reward, his punishment. These truths, which are as great as is life itself, are as simple as the simplest mind of man. Feed the hungry with them." Leadbeater then restated those three great truths as-. "Man is immortal; God is good, as we sow, so shall we reap," and concluded "Those therefore who would study and practice occultism must develop within themselves these three priceless possessions - knowledge, common sense and love."
A special supplement published by the Greenfield Recorder-Gazette in June 1954 to mark the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the Town of Montague; contained a story written by Mrs. Begg. The introduction to her story titled "Through the Years," reads: "Calling on her delicate and true memory, Dorothy Evelyn Begg of Lake Pleasant in this history sets in words and poetic phrases the tempo that was Lake Pleasant 60 years ago. This talented writer has captured the feeling that thousands have had for the little pine-covered area and, what's more, carried it through her writing, which she kindly loaned The Recorder-Gazette for this 200th anniversary edition. Dorothy Begg's recollections and reminiscences follow:
Six generations of our family have known and loved these pine-scented streets of Lake Pleasant. To me, it is in truth, a Ghost Town, and no play in words intended upon the faith that builded its temples and made its citizens a race set apart. Each street, each house, holds many precious memories for me. To the generations walking these grounds today it would seem as though I were pipe-dreaming if I described the camp as I knew it, though there yet remain a few old-timers to nod their heads and remember with me.
When one tries to turn backward time in its flight, it is often difficult to distinguish between what one actually remembers and what one has heard as an oft-told tale around the supper tables of childhood, and so I may borrow from the past I did not really witness, yet truth
will be served.
My own earliest memories center about two outstanding features of the summer sessions in the early 1900s. My chin just rested on the bedroom window sill, and the chill of the straw-matting under my bare feet was less cool than the shudders of fright that played tag along my spine as roused from childhood's deep slumber, I beheld and heard the awesome splendor and sound of the Scalpers' dawn-march around the camp.
Dressed as wild Indians, with war-paint in all its hideous brilliance, torches flaring, war-hoops curdling the blood, and the mournful dirge of their band echoing back from the hills, it was hard for a three-year-old not to believe that her last hour had come! No amount of assurance consoled me. I went screaming back to the safety of my bed and clung to the blankets for dear life! To be told that it was only the third of July celebration of the Scalpers didn't mean a thing to me.
Hadn't I seen the savages? Heard them? As the summers passed and my chin crawled slowly up that same window pane, until I looked down from the lofty height of 18 years' growth, and though knew now what it really was, the sound of that so individual threnody brought the same
chills, so deep was the impression carved in my babyhood.
The second chiller, though perhaps not quite as colorful, was the twilight march ofJenny Rhind, wending her way into the woods ringing
her bell to call the faithful to the pow-wow. There was something about the sight, and the dead-arm way she rang that bell that frightened me I followed the trail many times, and stood silent and overawed in the leafy background, just out of sight o the meeting, too far away to hear, but near enough to see.
And what I saw was not too comforting, for the gestures of the medium standing in the rapt circle, were incomprehensible to a child. The swift darkness descended as I watched, and sent me flying homeward. How sinister the stir the hoptoad made in the dry leaves! Our night hours were, for the most part, very dark, for the arc-lights at the street corners often failed, and we all carried lanterns after supper, the odd shaped and lengthened shadows of our progress adding to the adventures of Going Out. Indeed, a night errand assumed all the perils of a Message to Garcia. And now for the lighter side, the happier memories. There were the trips to Jacob s Well to fetch the glass pitcher, and not spilling any of the precious water, so dear to our parents. The well was our Fountain of Youth, for those who drank of its depths were said to live "forever." Forever is a long, long time and yet our colony certainly was composed of many old people who were surprisingly youthful.
Ah, it was something to go for the water or the mail in those days!! The air of gentility that pervaded the atmosphere was as real and as felt as the heat from the sun. Low voices, smiles, politeness, and generosity toward stranger as toward km made every walk an adventure and every task light. I do not recall that anyone worked in those days. Our home was literally swarming with friends, guests from 10 in the morning until midnight. When the mechanics of living were attended to, I do not know.
Laughter and fun were the order of our days. And for entertainment, if so inclined, we could attend the free band concerts every afternoon held in the grove behind the Temple, a delightful open-air, affair. Or, cross the bridge that spanned the railroad tracks and roller skate in an open pavillion; re-cross the same bridge (now but a memory) and dance in the open air dance hall on the Bluff. This was in the summer months when the camp was in full swing. On the night of the full moon, many of us, often a hundred, gathered on the Bluff and watched the moon rise over the mountains to the east; long before the golden orb had bounded clear, someone had started a song, and, as we all knew the words, we all joined in. Benches lined the Bluff then, and after an hour, perhaps when our song had escorted the moon into higher fields of blue, the older people would kindly retire and leave the benches, and the moonlight, as did poor Charles Landsberry,"to love and lovers." Down by the water, beneath the railroad banking, a boathouse supplied the same lovers, and others, with canoes or rowboats, and the hardiest would hire them and row out into the golden moon-path. Sometimes the haunting strains of a violin would drift back, and the night would be filled with music. Long before that hour, though, one old-timer would have ushered in the rosy dusk by rowing into midstream and playing "Taps" on the cornet he had played for Lincoln. When the boatman had tied up all the boats for the night, there still remained the wide, pineneedled pathway around the lake for those whose romantic hearts would not let them go home and shut out the stars.
Does all this sound like "Shangri-La?' Yes, it does, and yet, "June may be had by the poorest comer," and here at the lake the finest things in life were free. The pace we moved at was slower, yet I do not recall that the essential things were left undone. We ate, were clothed, paid each man his due, and found time to know one another, to enjoy the art of Iiving. There were no cold numbers over our doorways, nor on our lintels, but names, names were rich in meaning for chose who dwelt within. Names that had been given to us, we believed, from the "Summerland" where had gone on to wait for us the loved and the lost.
The mediums of that day (as well as this) often had Indian guides or teachers, and so named many things Indian-fashion out of love and courtesy to those who had given them so much wisdom and aid. Houses were sometimes called wigwams, or lodges, and so above the entrance hung the signs of each: "Shooting Star," "Pond Lily," "Red Fern," "Owl's Roost," "Black Hawk's Lodge," "Sunshine," and so on. Laugh ifyou feel so inclined, and yet I think it was no cause for laughter among us, but a delight in so honoring those we loved.
We also loved flowers, and each little wigwam or larger lodge had its garden place, white stones rimming in the beauty of the flaming colors. I remember, too, the Iittle park in the center of the camp, circled with the fragrantly blooming locust trees, and how, on gala nights, the Ladies Neighborhood Club strung the beautiful, brightly colored Japanese lanterns on wires from tree to tree. The candlelight within rivaled the radiance of the fireflies without, and the air was sweet with bloom. Flowers one so seldom sees today, whose names are almost unknown to this generation: carnation, pinks, Sweet Williams, hearts-ease, lobelias, lemon verbenas ... scent rich and pungent and lasting.
And how the very good sound of their sweet names brings back the faces of those who planted them! How can one speak of a Place and not its People? The silks and satins and brocades I spoke of earlier were worn by the visitors who came to our Temples. Among ourselves we wore what we pleased, and thus, as time went on, many characters grew up amongst us. The more original one becomes, the more distinctive one is and if our religion were different, why not our dress? Ginghams, percales, paisleys, as dainty as the flowers they bent above! Where, oh WHERE are the tiny violets, the tiny roses, and the tiny daisies of those long-ago materials now?