We are going to spend some time in the Séance Circle, one of the richest and most evocative rooms in the Mansion. According to our analysis, it's the eye of the storm, the center, the pivot, the Act Two that creates the transition from Act One to Act Three.
The Imagineers explored both spooky and whimsical approaches to the Séance Circle. Like so many features of the Mansion, this one goes back to Ken Anderson, who seems to have favored a creepy look.
This concept sketch by Dorothea Redmond, sometimes misattributed to Marc Davis (like for instance, moi in the original version of this post), is as darkly atmospheric as anything Claude Coats might have done.
Our chief interest today, however, is in Marc Davis's concept art for the Circle.
Davis retained Ken's idea of having a séance scene, imagining a medium by the name of "Madame Z" presiding. Typically, Marc's approach was more whimsical. It may be pure coincidence, but this first sketch reminds me of the scene in The Sword in the Stone in which Merlin packs his bag. Davis did not work on that film, but it would have been Disney's second most recent animated feature at the time (behind Jungle Book). There are a lot of airborne items in Marc's sketch that are similar to what Merlin put up there.
This second sketch is full of interest. It has a head speaking inside the crystal ball, which is NOT something drawn from traditional fortune-telling craft but obviously foreshadows the direction they would go with that gag. For the items flying around above the table, this time we can point to some probable sources of inspiration much older and more remote than recent Disney films. We have already seen that Marc made direct use of Émile Grillot de Givry's Le musée des sorciers, mages, et alchemistes when he painted his Witch of Walpurgis changing portrait. He probably went back to the same book for inspiration in this case as well.
The temptation of St. Anthony was for a long time a favorite subject for artists, who could let their imaginations run riot in depicting the myriad demonic manifestations that appeared to the ascetic, tempting and tormenting him. It looks like some of those flying beasties ended up filling the air in Marc's sketch.
But a demonic assault on a desert saint is not exactly the same thing as ghostly manifestations at a séance, and as we shall see, the Imagineers eventually settled for reproducing the sort of thing you might really find in a good 19th century séance or "spirit theater" magic show. In other words, they decided to go for a REAL fake séance and not a FAKE fake séance.
You will also notice in that last Davis sketch exactly three musical instruments floating around: a bell, a horn, and a tambourine. Those are exactly the three that ended up in the finished attraction in the inner circle around the Leota table, as opposed to the other instruments and furniture floating around the outside circle, on the other side of your doombuggy.
In fact, there's yet another Davis sketch of the séance, seldom seen, that has nothing at all floating overhead except for those three instruments.
The choice of those three may well have come from another source, not de Givry but something closer to "real" ghost shows, as we shall see.