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    Erlendur Haraldsson and Loftur Gissurarson

    From the publisher’s website: The authors´ preoccupation with Indridi Indridason spans several decades. Erlendur Haraldsson first read about him in the 1960s, perhaps earlier. He joined the Psychology department at the University of Iceland in 1973 and, during his course on paranormal phenomena, he would regularly discuss Indridason, Iceland’s most prolific physical medium. Loftur Reimar Gissurarson, one of Haraldsson’s students, soon became interested and wrote his BA thesis on Indridason (Gissurarson, 1984).

    Based on their research, they co-authored a monograph entitled The Icelandic Physical Medium Indridi Indridason, which was published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Gissurarson and Haraldsson, 1989). The monograph was subsequently reprinted partially and in full in Renaitre 2000 in France, Luce e Ombra in Italy, and Parapsykologiske Notiser in Norway.

    Loftur continued the work and co-authored with William Swatos, the book Icelandic Spiritualism: Mediumship and Modernity in Iceland (Swatos and Gissurarson, 1997), much of it dealing with Indridi and the history of Mediums and Spiritualism in Iceland.

    Indridi Indridason. White Crow Books, October 2015. ISBN 978-1-910121-50-4

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    F. W. H. Myers, a founder of the SPR, has been listed on the 'Spooky Isles' website as one of the six most influential 'ghost' hunters' in history.

    F. W. H. Myers, a founder of the SPR, has been listed on the 'Spooky Isles' website as one of the six most influential 'ghost' hunters' in history.

    M. J. Steel Collins's article lists him alongside Catherine Crowe, Elliott O'Donnell, Harry Price, Andrew Green and Peter Underwood.

    The artice can be found here:

    http://www.spookyisles.com/2016/04/6-great-ghost-hunters/

     

    (Posted 2 April 2016)


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    David Jaher

    From the publisher’s website: History comes alive in this textured account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini and the so-called Witch of Lime Street, whose iconic lives intersected at a time when science was on the verge of embracing the paranormal.

    The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics—and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities.

    Tom Ruffles

    During the early 1920s many of those who were suffering a sense of loss after the upheavals of the preceding decade became receptive to the consolations of Spiritualism, temporarily reversing its gradual pre-war decline.  David Jaher’s fascinating study explores one particular facet of this rekindled enthusiasm, the mediumship of Mina Crandon, known as ‘Margery’, and the enquiry into physical mediumship conducted by the Scientific American magazine which saw Margery intensively investigated.  As Jaher’s subtitle indicates, the magician, escapologist and larger-than-life personality Harry Houdini played a key role in the story.

    The Scientific American announced a competition at the end of 1922 as the result of a challenge issued by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that it examine psychical phenomena in a rigorous manner.  The idea was not taken up by the magazine for purely altruistic reasons: its publisher, Orson Munn, had been spending freely on his personal life and needed to boost circulation.  The project had been preceded by well-attended tours of the US by Sir Oliver Lodge and, with even greater fanfare, Conan Doyle, which showed that there was public interest in evidence for survival of bodily death.  The offer of a prize built on a culture of competitions in the inter-war period (notably dance marathons) and was sure to generate publicity and sales.

    The arrangement was that a medium who could demonstrate genuine physical mediumship in front of a committee nominated by the magazine would receive a $2,500 prize (mental mediumship and other psychic abilities were excluded).  Another prize to the same value was to be awarded for production of a ‘psychic photograph under test conditions’.  Initially it seemed a straightforward mission: put together a panel of experts, have them test mediums, winnow out the fraudulent and deluded, and see if anybody could pass stringent tests to provide incontrovertible evidence that their productions were truly paranormal.  If that should occur, the successful individual would get the money.  The reality, as one might imagine, proved far from straightforward.

    The judges were William McDougall, president of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) and head of the psychology department at Harvard;  Walter Franklin Prince, the ASPR’s research officer, and later founder of the Boston Society for Psychical Research, an independent splinter organisation of the ASPR; Hereward Carrington, previously an ASPR investigator and prolific author on psychical subjects, Daniel Frost Comstock, physicist, engineer and Technicolor pioneer; and Harry Houdini, naturally a much bigger draw than the others, but potentially a loose cannon among his staid colleagues.  They were assisted by Scientific American associate editor James Malcolm Bird as secretary, with responsibility for day-to-day arrangements.

    Canadian-born Mina Crandon was the wife of prosperous Boston, Mass., surgeon and instructor at Harvard Le Roi Crandon, whom Jaher paints as a rather sinister character despite his urbane surface polish.  Propelled by her husband’s interest in mediumship after he met Lodge, Mina had attended séances as a sitter, tried her hand as medium, and during 1923 found she had a talent for it, with her late brother Walter Stinson, who died in a railway accident in 1911, acting as her control.  Walter was an outgoing, blunt kind of chap who said what was on his mind, a contrast to the ethereal didacticism which might be expected in the séance room.  In early 1924 the Crandons agreed to participate in Scientific American tests, but stipulated that these would have to take place in Boston rather than the magazine’s offices in New York.  To safeguard her identity Mina adopted the pseudonym ‘Margery’ (leading to her occasionally being referred to incorrectly by writers as ‘Margery Crandon’).

    To begin with the contest had gone well, if slowly, the panel easily identifying the frauds who presented themselves in an attempt to win the money.  But when it came to Margery, the situation was more complicated.  Margery was not like the previous candidates.  There were class issues arising from her social background, and her physical allure was a barrier to complete objectivity.  She was blonde, younger than her husband by 17 years, and confident around men.  Sitters were wined and dined at their elegant Lime Street home on Boston’s Beacon Hill before séances, and a cordial atmosphere was established.  The Scientific American investigators were invited to stay at the house rather than at an hotel, creating a sense of obligation.  If what she did in the séance room was fraudulent it was done with a subtlety that had been beyond her rivals for the prize and the committee, minus Houdini, were impressed enough with the wide range of physical phenomena she produced to continue testing her.

    These phenomena mostly took place in the dark, and as well as two-way communication with Walter, Margery was noted for the production of ectoplasm, rather disgusting-looking tuberous forms possibly consisting of animals’ internal parts. Other elements in her repertoire included dramatic table levitations, materialisation of limbs, raps, breezes, scents, trance writing in a variety of languages, apports, music, luminous shapes, and ringing a bell in a box out of reach.  There was allegedly the production of Walter Stinson’s thumbprint in wax, later the cause a fierce controversy that generated its own literature to which Jaher fails to do full justice.  Even without the thumbprints, by any standard it was an astonishing array of phenomena, undermined somewhat by Le Roi’s presence next to Margery at sessions.  As might be expected, once he had had the opportunity to observe Margery in action himself, Houdini had strong reservations.

    Houdini’s charisma means that he is the natural focus whenever he appears and Jaher sketches in enough of his background to assist the reader in understanding his motivations and methods.  He was on a mission to debunk phoney mediums, and he did not spare Margery.  Utilising his skills in deception, he went to extraordinary lengths to exert total control over her, including commissioning the construction of a large box for her to sit in.  Nothing happened when she was so confined – except the cabinet was destroyed.

    Despite Houdini’s scepticism, for a time it looked like she might take the money, and she was more intensively scrutinised and for far longer by the Scientific American group than any other medium who came to them.  Houdini’s influence rolled back the panel’s inclination to award the prize to her and the competition descended into chaos as the judges tried to make up their minds.  Bird was forced to resign as secretary after his objectivity became compromised and Houdini denounced him as an accomplice of Margery.  Finally only Carrington was firmly behind her genuineness, while Houdini used his stage shows to demonstrate what he considered to be Margery’s modus operandi, though this was largely based on supposition.  In February 1925 the Scientific American decided against awarding the prize to Mina Crandon, essentially on the grounds that even if they had not caught her cheating, she could have, and she could not prove to their satisfaction that she hadn’t.

    Into this evidential morass stepped McDougall along with Eric Dingwall, the SPR’s research officer, who conducted their own investigation into Margery’s mediumship.  Houdini however dismissed this effort as fatally flawed by what he saw as Dingwall’s financial dependence on the Crandons.  Le Roi in turn found Dingwall to be much more reasonable in his approach than Houdini had been, though Dingwall, after initial enthusiasm for Margery’s results, eventually proved to be ambivalent, expressing doubts about their validity.  Further investigations similarly failed to support the genuineness of Margery’s phenomena.  Following the cessation of academic interest, Jaher treats Le Roi’s death and Mina’s decline into alcoholism briefly, and the book’s closing pages capture the sadness of her later years.

    Having reviewed Margery’s career, the reader will still be asking why Margery would have wanted to put herself through all that effort simply for the kudos of winning a magazine competition.  The number of séances she undertook must have been exhausting, though perhaps they acted like a drug, making stimulating what was otherwise a mundane existence, acting as a creative outlet for someone whose horizons were limited to being an ornament of her husband.  A possibility is that she did it to please Le Roi (’the king’) and retain his affections in an asymmetric relationship, but if so it was a high-risk strategy that could have backfired had she been caught unambiguously cheating.  The couple do not seem to have needed the magazine’s money and offered to donate it should they win.  On the contrary, the venture must have cost them quite a lot in hospitality; the Crandons opened their home to the investigators and never charged sitters.

    Certainly Mina met people and travelled, including to London where she was tested by the SPR and at the British College of Psychic Science.  She did not have to be a medium to do either of these though.  She could have met interesting people say as a salon hostess or patroness of the arts, and relaxed foreign travel the Crandons could presumably have afforded.  Mina obtained publicity, but as much notoriety.  There was never a hint from the sitters that the Crandons approached the séances in a cynical manner for some extraneous motive.  Margery carried on with her mediumship after the end of the Scientific American competition, and even after Le Roi had died, when she had nothing to gain.

    It is possible that Mina liked the thrill of control, particularly of men.  There seems to have been a lot of sexual energy generated by the Crandons, both of whom were experienced – this was his third and her second marriage – and a possibility Jaher doesn’t raise is that Le Roi was interested in candaulism which dovetailed with Mina’s fondness for exhibitionism.  Her detractors were able to attack Mina by using her attractiveness and uninhibitedness against her, insinuating that she employed these attributes to corrupt the judges in order to produce a positive verdict.  It is unfortunate that Jaher does not include examples of the fairly explicit photographs of a déshabillé Margery producing ‘ectoplasm’ from her vagina, as these are important to an understanding of her mediumship, but perhaps they were deemed a little rich for the intended readership of his book.

    There is also the question of where she learned her techniques.  Other contestants were usually caught cheating fairly easily, but Margery kept the majority of the Scientific American team in a state of uncertainty for an extended period, and they effectively gave up the effort rather than reach a firm verdict.  There was sophistication to her mediumship which set her apart from her peers and it is intriguing that she was able to put together an act without being caught as she refined it, even if the members of the committee were distracted by her sexuality.  When Nandor  Fodor attempted to get to the bottom of her mediumship shortly before her death she dismissed his enquiry with ‘Why don’t you guess?  You’ll all be guessing … for the rest of your lives.’

    The book is very well researched; Jaher has marshalled a large amount of information into a well-paced engrossing read, presenting a complex story with elegance and humanity.  It is nicely packaged, but I do have a peeve concerning the index: as so often with American books which include both the SPR and the ASPR, the former has been incorrectly indexed under ‘B’ as the ‘British Society for Psychical Research (SPR)’.  Anybody looking for its correct name under ‘S’ will be surprised to find it absent.

    One comes away from The Witch of Lime Street with a firm understanding of why Margery’s mediumship retains its fascination to this day.  What one does not really gain, because of the focus on the Scientific American and Margery and Houdini’s duel, is a sense of her place within the history of psychical research more broadly: how severely she damaged the American SPR, being responsible for the schism that led Prince to form the independent Boston SPR in protest at what he saw as a lack of objectivity in the ASPR’s championing of Margery, a split lasting sixteen years; and most importantly an understanding of her role in the development of parapsychology, a statistics-based academic discipline which J. B. Rhine (who attended a Margery séance and left unimpressed, considering her to have behaved fraudulently) undertook in a more controlled laboratory environment.  Here he was able to conduct experiments that were designed to minimise the risk of fraud and produce reliable results.

    Within his scope, however, Jaher has found enormous dramatic potential in the interplay between Margery and her investigators, notably of course Houdini, and it is not surprising that the film rights have been optioned by STX Entertainment, with Andres Muschietti down to direct and Jaher himself providing the screenplay.  The book will appeal to both specialists and the interested general reader, and will help to increase interest in this enigmatic figure still further.

    The Witch of Lime Street. Crown Publishing Group, October 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0307451064

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    SPR Council member Professor Chris Roe recently gave a talk on 'Parapsychology Research and Education in the UK' as part of a Parapsychology Foundation online conference,

    SPR Council member Professor Chris Roe of the University of Northampton recently gave a talk on 'Parapsychology Research and Education in the UK' as part of a Parapsychology Foundation online conference.  The talk is available on YouTube, along with other conference presentations:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwiaxPhjwLY&index=7&list=PLFuPOenrQTk7ifBpbh2RDc-ZOUww_uxUa

     

    (Posted 14 April 2016)


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    Jenny Ashford and Tom Ross

    From the author’s website: In December of 1982, when Tom Ross was thirteen years old, he took a week’s vacation to Mammoth Lakes in California with his aunt, uncle, and cousin. Almost from the moment they arrived at their condo, they experienced a near-constant barrage of bizarre phenomena that escalated over their stay, and seemed to follow them after they left. Items moved around by themselves, shades flew open when no one was near them, bloody tissues appeared out of nowhere, words appeared on windows in empty rooms, a blue haze seemed to hover near the ceiling, a door chain was broken from the inside by what appeared to be a clawed hand, and disembodied voices emerged from corners. The family was simultaneously terrified and amazed. Thirty-two years later, the four witnesses decided to tell their story.

    http://www.jennyashford.com/

    Tom Ruffles

    The ‘mammoth’ of the title does not refer to the book (a modest 128 pages) nor to the poltergeist episode it describes, which lasted for just a couple of weeks, but to a Californian mountain.  Despite the brevity of both the event and the book, Jenny Ashford and Tom Ross have put together an interesting account, followed by a balanced discussion.  Tom Ross was directly involved in the incident, which took place in December 1982, when he was 13.  He had gone on a break to a condominium in a ski resort at Mammoth Lakes with his aunt Lois, his uncle Red and cousin Wes over the Christmas period.  The condo was owned by an oil company for which Tom’s mother worked but she was unable to accompany them.  He was close to his uncle and aunt, but less so it would seem to Wes who although the same age as Tom was deaf and absorbed in his own world, which mainly consisted of playing computer games. 

    Even before they arrived Tom was feeling apprehensive about the place, the journey putting him in mind of The Shining (which had appeared a couple of years before and which surprisingly he had seen).  Their strange experience began immediately upon arrival, with a heavy oppressive atmosphere, and rapidly became stranger, with objects moved around, including in an organised way that suggested intelligence, coldness, breezes, a feeling of being watched, a blue luminescent haze, writing (the word ‘go’ marked on a window with a plastic bread tie), the TV turning itself on, banging, damage to the front door, and most impressively the moving of a massively heavy bunk bed.  There was often a playfulness about these acts, but cumulatively they were distressing because the degree of force and the ultimate intention were unknown.

    In order to be able to converse about the matter without alarming anyone overhearing them, the group, working on the assumption that they were dealing with a deceased person, christened the force in the apartment ‘The Blost’, a word rhyming with ‘ghost’ but meaningless in itself.  After a while, however, they noticed that Tom seemed to be the focus, and this contention was supported after they left the resort and activity followed them back to Lois and Red’s place where a couple of neighbours were witnesses to small-scale events, including a peripatetic cheese knife.

    Tom came to the conclusion that he was playing some role when he realised he could predict when an object would move.  Yet that realisation somehow broke the spell because when he attempted to move something mentally, not only did that not happen, but the poltergeist activity abruptly ceased.  The turning point was moving from an unsettling fear that some intelligence ‘out there’ was reading his mind to an understanding that he was the agent, able to cause the disturbance with his mind.  At the time his parents had split up and he did not get on with his mother’s boyfriend.  By his own admission he was highly-strung.  On top of all that he would have been going through puberty.  He fits the profile of a poltergeist focus quite well.

    This idea that the poltergeist was not some external intelligence but was the result of recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK) on Tom’s part was reinforced by a later incident when he was in the army and had a peculiar out-of-body experience linked to a physical but unintended effect on a microwave and a fridge in the room. It is described in great detail, with Tom looking down on the scene, his perceptions radically distorted.  There was a witness who panicked when he thought Tom had died, but he was deeply hostile about what had happened because of his religious convictions so Tom was not able to ask him about the episode.  On the surface it was dissimilar to what happened at Mammoth Lakes (for a start he was feeling relaxed rather than stressed, and was aware of his role as the originator as it was occurring) but it suggested that he had some ability to affect his environment which was able to manifest spontaneously.

    The second half examines what happened in 1982 in the light of the broader psychical research literature.  Tom laments the current state of serious poltergeist research despite the glut of films, television programmes and popular books on the paranormal.  In order to understand what happened to him, he has to go back to older cases, notably Enfield and Don Decker, the ‘Stroudsburg Rain Man’, a case which happened shortly after his own, to draw out commonalities and differences.  Concluding chapters briefly cover speculative scientific evidence for the paranormal and a sceptical perspective, plus there is a decent bibliography.

    So how useful is this as a case study?  Even assuming that the witnesses are sincere, relying on memories across such a lengthy period is always a problem.  Ashford interviewed the family but there are no contemporary notes.  Unsurprisingly the distance has led to discrepancies in memories and Ashford has taken ‘artistic licence in order to make the narrative timeline flow better and to try to integrate the witnesses’ versions where they differ in minor ways.’  This tweaking may be minor, as she indicates, but it is still unfortunate when an investigator uses ‘artistic licence’ to smooth inconsistencies.  She may have remained faithful to the spirit of the story as related, but it is not completely accurate.

    The lapse in time means that the authors can present no third-party testimony.  They did get some limited verbal corroboration of peculiar occurrences from a family who shared the accommodation for part of the time, the owners having double-booked; and employees of the ski rental shop said that there had been paranormal activity in the area in which the condo was situated.  A similar enquiry to the complex’s administration office elicited such a quick firm ‘no’ that that was odd in itself.  The company driver who took them to the bus station saw a swinging light and remarked that he had seen things like that at Mammoth Lakes before.  How the possibility of a haunting squares with the RSPK interpretation is left unexplored.

    There is too a danger in writing about relatives and those with whom one is intimate (Jenny and Tom are in a relationship).  The possibility of self-censorship in addressing possibly embarrassing aspects has to be borne in mind by the reader when making an assessment.  For example, Wes is a shadowy figure, either denying that anything odd is happening, or simply ignoring it, immersed in his games.  But he was the same age as Tom, and if puberty was a factor he could have been more involved than he might want to acknowledge, or even appreciate.  His connection is suggested by the fact that something odd happened to him at night when he was asleep which Lois found alarming: on the first night he was pale and breathing so shallowly that she at first had thought he might have died, and he adopted a peculiar sleeping posture.  Possibly he was as disengaged as the book suggests and played no part, but we cannot know for sure: it could be that he was a contributory factor, necessary though not sufficient to generate activity, but his possible influence was not examined out of deference to him and his parents.  Nor are we told if there were any tensions in Lois and Red’s relationships, or between Red and Wes – presumably Red was Wes’s stepfather as he was 28 at the time, a fact only mentioned in passing.

    What is said to have happened was intensely dramatic, but the family members do not seem to have been traumatised, even if they were unnerved at the time.  There is much talk about them being snowed in, Overlook-style, but the roads were clear enough for them to visit a local restaurant, and good enough for the other family who shared the condo to make it.  Admittedly the Greyhound bus did not run every day, but they could have cut their break short.  Instead they stayed on for the entirety of their booking, even though what was happening to Wes at night must have been scary, and despite claiming to be so weary and frightened that by the end of it they were all sleeping in the living room, in their clothes with the light on.

    The authors’ sincerity is palpable, but we are dealing with memories that are well over 30 years old with no independent verification.  Ultimately there is no way to say with certainty what went on and what it all meant.  Whether we are looking at collaborative yarn-spinning, a discarnate entity with considerable power, or significant PK on the part of Tom, possibly with unconscious contributions from other family members, is an open question.  As Tom argues, the poltergeist issue needs a great deal more research.

    Since writing The Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist Jenny Ashford has written about another case, The Rochdale Poltergeist, with Steve Mera.

    The Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist. Bleed Red Books, March 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1508904830

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    The SPR's magazine Paranormal Review is now on sale at Treadwell's Books in London.

    The SPR's magazine Paranormal Review is now on sale at Treadwell's Books, 33 Store Street, London WC1E 7BS.

    Treadwell's website is here:

    http://www.treadwells-london.com/

     

    It can also be purchased direct from the SPR, either on its own or as part of the membership package:

    http://www.spr.ac.uk/page/join-the-spr


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    An interview Tony Cornell did with Dr Carlos Alvarado in 2002 on 'How to sit with a medium' has been uploaded to YouTube.

    An interview the late Tony Cornell did with Dr Carlos Alvarado at the Parapsychology Foundation in 2002 on 'How to sit with a medium' has been uploaded to YouTube.  Tony, a Vice-President of the SPR, was in New York to launch and promote his book Investigating the Paranormal,

    The interview can be found here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Pc2ILvaa5w&feature=youtu.be&a

     

    (Posted 24 April 2016)


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    Steven T Parsons

    From the publisher’s website: Ghostology is simply the study of Ghosts. It is not just about ghost hunting, neither is it is about parapsychology.

    The study of ghosts – Ghostology – is not trying to capture apparitions on camera, although that is sometimes a part of it. It is not trying to record the sounds and the voices of the deceased or of spirits, although that too is a part of it. Ghostology is the holistic study of a fascinating aspect of our humanity, a shared human experience that dates back to the earliest civilisations and is common to all of them.

    Ghostology is not a “How to guide” for those seeking to investigate ghosts but it provides an up-to-date consideration and a discussion of the many methods and techniques that will prove helpful to anyone interested in the subject, for those who actively seek ghosts or who are merely interested in discovering more about this fascinating subject.

    About the author

    Steve Parsons is an Investigator & Researcher of Ghosts, Hauntings and related human experiences.

    Author of numerous published articles and works on Ghosts, Ghost Hunting & related subjects, cited and referenced in many more!

    Tom Ruffles

    Ghostology is a neologism meaning the study of ghosts, a discipline about which Steve Parsons is well qualified to speak.  A member of both Para.Science and the Society for Psychical Research’s Spontaneous Cases Committee, he has a great deal of practical experience in conducting investigations and has lectured and broadcast extensively.  He edited Paracoustics: Sound and the Paranormal with Callum E Cooper, also available from White Crow Books.  Crucially – and this sets him apart from many of those who populate local paranormal groups and Most Haunted-style television programmes – he has a deep familiarity with technology  and a realistic grasp of how it is used, and too often misused, in the attempt to find and record ghostly activity.  It is this combination of theoretical and practical knowledge which makes Ghostology such a valuable book.

    Chapters cover the history of ghost research, the basics of critical thinking, the scientific method and the nature of evidence, conducting an investigation, and the principles of measurement.  The heart of the book is a detailed analysis of the arsenal of equipment which tends to be brought in to monitor environmental factors.  Chapters examine sound recording, video and still photography and the increasing presence of smartphones and tablet computers.  A chapter is devoted to Parsons’ work on photographic orbs in which a stereographic camera elegantly demonstrated that orbs are composed of dust and other particles close to the camera reflecting light back to the camera’s sensor, and thus explainable in terms that do not require the inclusion of conscious spirits which happen to look and behave like dust particles.

    Judging by ghost groups’ websites and paranormal television programmes there is an enormous amount of pseudoscience involved in the way technology is utilised, such as assumptions about the way that ghosts might interact with their environment (for example manipulating magnetic fields) which have no empirical support.  Parsons looks at what precisely items of apparatus are designed to do, what generally happens in practice, and assesses researchers’ claims, finding them to be frequently invalid.  Unsurprisingly, the assertions of vendors catering to this market are often inflated, along with their prices.  The discussion is a significant contribution to a sober assessment of the extent to which inferences based on these gadgets can be trusted.  The key point is that anything used needs to be employed with a full understanding of what its capabilities are, and declarations should not be made which go beyond what it is able to measure.  As in all spheres of life, hype should be treated with caution.  Interpretation has to be grounded in reality, yet much of what groups affirm about the nature of ghosts, and their ability to detect those ghosts, is simply wishful thinking.

    I have one or two criticisms, but these are minor and do not detract from the value of the book.   One is a bugbear of mine: the reference to the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall photograph which repeats the error that the photographers were on a commission from Country Life and goes on to say it has ‘never been fully explained despite several attempts to cast doubt upon its authenticity.  Unsuccessful ‘attempts to cast doubt’ sounds as it has held firm against all efforts to debunk it.  Short of a signed confession by Provand and Shira turning up, it is true the photograph is unlikely to be definitively explained, but the circumstantial evidence against it is strong enough to make it an unconvincing example of a ghost photograph.  The chapter on orbs is excellent, but leaving aside the obvious frauds such as those tedious smartphone apps, which are covered, more on the photographic anomalies which make up so much of the material that members of the public present in good faith as evidence of ghosts would have been valuable.

    A couple of references to the SPR need to be clarified.  Parsons states that the first intensive investigation of haunted premises conducted by the SPR was at Ballechin House in 1897.  The first was actually at Brighton, lasting over a year from August 1888, when George Albert Smith and his wife Laura occupied a house on the Society’s behalf.  It may have been in connection with this case that Edmund Gurney was in Brighton when he died on the night of 22/23 June 1888.  Also, referring to the 1956 report on Harry Price and Borley by Eric Dingwall, Molly Goldney and Trevor Hall published as part of the SPR’s Proceedings (and as a book by Gerald Duckworth & Co.), Parsons writes that the SPR had offered a ‘posthumous apology’ to Price in recent years.  He does not say what form he thinks this apology took, but the SPR does not hold corporate views so as an entity it cannot offer apologies – only individuals can do that.

    It is a pity that Ghostology’s title refers to ghost hunters because it is a phrase with unfortunate connotations.  Many spiritualistically-inclined people find it offensive that the departed should be ‘hunted’, whatever the hunters’ motivations, and feel that it denotes a lack of respect and empathy (‘hunter’ presupposes ‘prey’); while in terms of science, it conveys a macho approach to ghosts which is not necessarily conducive to a dispassionate examination.  The text would have benefited from a final editorial sweep, and it should have had an index, but these are minor points.

    Parsons claims his book is not a guide to hunting ghosts, but it should be essential reading for anyone who wants to study them in the field.  Its strength is in analysing the instrumentation, but Ghostology could be expanded into the definitive guide, from choosing kit to the best way to conduct an investigation.  There are numerous ghost hunting guidebooks on the market, but none with this degree of sophistication in approaching the technical aspects of the task, delivered in a clear and concise manner.  To sum up, strictly speaking it may not be a ‘how to guide’, as the back cover blurb too modestly indicates, but it is full of sound information and good advice for all those who consider themselves spontaneous case researchers or, dare I say it, ghost hunters.

    Ghostology. White Crow Books, November 2015. ISBN 978-1-910121-72-6

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    A number of SPR members will be participating in the forthcoming Science Weekend at the Arthur Findlay Centre, Stafford, 13-15 May 2016.

    A number of SPR members will be participating in the forthcoming Science Weekend at the Arthur Findlay Centre, Stone Road, Stafford, 13-15 May 2016.

    Course tutors are Chris Connelly, Prof. Chris Roe, David Saunders and Rachel Evenden.  The weekend is subtitled 'Practical experience of research with mediumship'.

     

    The Arthur Findlay Centre promotional flyer:

    Spiritualism is grounded in providing verifiable evidence for the survival of bodily death. However, mediumistic phenomena are a challenge to the materialistic world view that underpins much of modern day science and many scientists are quite happy to dismiss the evidence out of hand. However, a small but dedicated community of scientists do take the claims of Spiritualism seriously and have conducted extensive research into its phenomena using rigorous — and at times ingenious — methods.

    This three day course will introduce you to some of these approaches, and give you an opportunity to work with them as you investigate the relationship between states of consciousness (as measured by EEG) and trance phenomena; ways of testing the evidence for “normal” explanations such as cold reading; using technology to explore the physiology of healing; and qualitative approaches to understanding the therapeutic role of mediumship.

    All classes will involve practical workshops and sharing of discoveries and will be facilitated by experts in the field from the University of Northampton. As part of the course Dr David Luke from Greenwich University will give a lecture on Saturday evening which will consider the relationship between mediumship and Shamanism and he will also talk about his research on spirit communication in Shamanic cultures in South America.

    Course Fee includes lunch, refreshments and all tuition fees plus entrance to the Saturday evening lecture An evening meal can be purchased by prior arrangement with the Centre at a cost of £7.50 13th - 15th May, 2016 • Number of Days: 3 • Course Fee: £150 Lunch and refreshments are inclusive. Duration: 10:00am - 5:00pm each day.

     

    The Arthur Findlay Centre's website is here:

    http://www.arthurfindlaycentre.org/

     

    (Posted 29 April 2016)


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  • 05/11/16--10:44: Prometheus and Atlas
  • Jason Reza Jorjani

    From the publisher’s website: In Prometheus & Atlas, Dr. Jorjani endeavours to deconstruct the nihilistic materialism and rootless rationalism of the modern West by showing how it was grounded on a dishonest suppression of the spectral and why it has a parasitic relationship with Abrahamic religious fundamentalism. Rejecting the marginalisation of ESP and psychokinesis as "paranormal," Prometheus & Atlas makes the case that psi is only "super Natural" insofar as our reductive modern scientific models have occluded Supernature for practical purposes. At the same time, Jorjani calls for a conscious recognition of the superhumanly empowering archetypes of Prometheus and Atlas, which he argues have unconsciously driven the daring scientific exploration and discovery of all those cultures that adopted and adapted the cosmopolitan promise of the Hellenic heritage. Embracing the Promethean and Atlantic spirit, and a reach for a fiery fusion of the horizons of the Eastern and Western worlds, would mean the dawn of a new age and an integral society wherein the modern barriers between Science, Religion, Politics, and Art have been dynamited.

    Reza Jorjani, PhD is a native New Yorker and Iranian-American of Persian and northern European descent. After receiving his BA and MA at New York University, he completed his doctorate in Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Jorjani currently teaches Science, Technology, and Society (STS) at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

    Prometheus and Atlas. Arktos Media, February 2016. ISBN 978-1-910524-61-9

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    The Parapsychology Foundation is uploading videos of past talks to YouTube. One features the SPR's Hon. Treasurer and past President Dr Richard Broughton on the topic of 'Emotions and ESP'.

    The Parapsychology Foundation is uploading videos of past talks to YouTube.  One features the SPR's Hon. Treasurer and past President Dr Richard Broughton on the topic of 'Emotions and ESP'.

    The video can be found here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COtP92hFaPE

     

    (Postedd 14 May 2016)


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    The most recent issue of the Journal of the London Institute of ’Pataphysics carries the text of ’Spirit’ Photography, a 1965 booklet written for the SPR by Simeon Edmunds.

    The Journal of the London Institute of ’Pataphysics, issue 12, dated February 2016, carries the text of ’Spirit’ Photography, a 1965 booklet that Simeon Edmunds wrote for the SPR.  It was reissued in 1968 but has long been out of print and copies are now scarce, so it is a pleasure to see it made available once again, albeit in limited quantities.  It is reproduced unabridged.

    A journal devoted to ‘pataphysics may seem a curious vehicle for a dissection of spirit photography, but it is entirely appropriate.  ‘Pataphysics is a philosophical term that was invented by the French symbolist writer Alfred Jarry in the 1890s, and is an attempt to blend art and science – going beyond metaphysics by generating ‘imaginary solutions’ (though solutions to what is intentionally left an open question), tendered in a playful though serious, often paradoxical, way.

    Accompanying Edmunds’ critique is a translated essay by Giorgio Manganelli, "Disquisition on the Difficulty of Communicating with the Dead" (1972), the issue’s centrepiece.  Manganelli was a member of the Italian avant-garde (or rather neo-avant-garde) Gruppo 63, and his ‘Disquisition’ fully conforms to what one might expect from a writer in that tradition.  It cannot be regarded as a contribution to psychical research, yet his elaborate style has its own internal logic and attractiveness.

    In addition the issue contains extracts from the séances in which Victor Hugo participated on Jersey (a subject covered in detail by John Chambers in Victor Hugo's Conversations with the Spirit World: A Literary Genius's Hidden Life), titled ‘Conversation with Death’; a short post-mortem communication allegedly from Oscar Wilde transmitted via Irish medium Hester Travers Smith, originally published in 1923; plus other articles which in true ’pataphysical style defy easy categorisation.

    Manganelli’s elliptically poetic text is juxtaposed with Edmunds’ clinical analysis, duly blending science and art.  Edmunds’ essay, described in the issue’s ‘Prolegomenon’  as ‘a classic investigation by the SPR’, has been illustrated with photographs produced by individuals he mentions (including leaves from the albums of images taken by Ada Emma Deane which are held in the SPR collection at Cambridge), as well as with the cover of the original 1965 booklet.

    In keeping with the philosophy of ’pataphysics, the accompanying photographs shuttle between notions of the scientific, pseudo-scientific and aesthetic, amplifying Edmunds’ words and providing a focal point which is a reminder of spirit photography’s enduring fascination and, like the idea of ‘pataphysics itself, of how slippery its meaning remains.

    Copies of the issue can be consulted at both the Society’s London library and in its archives at Cambridge University Library.

    Further information on The London Institute of ’Pataphysics and its publications can be found here:

    https://www.atlaspress.co.uk/theLIP/

     

    Tom Ruffles

    (Posted 19 May 2016)


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    Thomas Cattoi, Christopher Moreman (eds.)

    From the publisher’s website: This volume offers a sample of reflections from scholars and practitioners on the theme of death and dying from scholars and practitioners, ranging from the Christian tradition to Hinduism, Lacanian psychoanalysis, while also touching on the themes of the afterlife and near-death experiences.

    Contributors: Lucy Bregman, Temple University, USA Callum E. Cooper, University of Northampton, UK Chris A. Roe, University of Northampton, UK June-Ann Greeley, Sacred Heart University, USA Candy Gunther Brown, Indiana University, USA Cynthia Hogan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA Martin Hoondert, Tilburg School of Humanities, The Netherlands Stuart Jesson, York St. John's University, USA Jin Sook Kim, Graduate Theological Union, USA June McDaniel, College of Charleston, USA Jordan Paper, York University in Toronto, Canada Lloyd W. Pflueger, Truman State University, USA Darleen Pryds, Franciscan School of Theology, USA Robert Michael Ruehl, Syracuse University, USA Juanita Ruys, University of Sydney, Australia Lee Irwin, College of Charleston, USA Graham Mitchell, University of Northampton, UK.

    The contents list can be found here:

    http://www.palgraveconnect.com/pc/doifinder/view/10.1057/9781137472083.0001

    Death, Dying, and Mysticism. Palgrave Macmillan, April 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1137472076

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    Chris Aspin

    From the author’s introduction:  ‘Towards the end of 2014, I published a pamphlet in which I listed strange stories told to me over the past seventy years by people living in or near Helmshore in east Lancashire.  The pamphlet quickly sold out, but more importantly it brought a rich crop of other experiences and confirmed my belief that I had barely scraped the paranormal surface of the locality.

    ‘This booklet records a wide variety of strange encounters; and I leave it to the reader to suggest explanations or to admit that this subject deserves to be taken seriously and more thoroughly explored.’

    Tom Ruffles

    True Stories of Our Local Ghosts is SPR member Chris Aspin’s follow-up to his 2014 Strange Stories from a Lancashire Village, again published by the Helmshore Local History Society.  As is often the way, once word gets around that someone is recording experiences and family lore, more people come forward with accounts.  Aspin has added to these with his own researches to produce another interesting selection, though some are not local but were recounted to him by people he met in the Helmshore area.

    The booklet begins with an extract from Joseph Braddock’s Haunted Houses (1956) in which he recounts the ghost stories emanating from a house, Tor View, at Haslingden, which is close to Helmshore.  Tor View was occupied by the family of Braddock’s maternal grandparents from 1893 to the 1920s and he visited it regularly at Christmas as a child.  The main ghost was of a young lady, possibly a previous occupant of the house who was said to have had an unfortunate relationship.  Totally benign, the ghost never gave a moment’s anxiety.  An aunt also saw Braddock’s grandfather at her home at Colne after he died in 1914, come as she thought to reassure her about her engagement to his son, Braddock’s grandmother being opposed to the match.

    Some buildings seem likely candidates for ghosts: Cemetery Lodge at Haslingden, for example, with an odd chill noted by some visitors, a sense of presence, and possibly the apparition of a suicide in the stairway.  The oldest building in the area, Lumb Hall, parts of which date from the sixteenth century, is also reputed to be haunted, with a figure seen, footsteps heard, and a mysterious perfume smelt.  The booklet contains crisis apparitions and intuitions, and even a possible time-slip.  The oldest report is taken from a letter sent in 1786 describing knocks accompanying the death in 1765 of the writer’s wife.

    Not only houses are venues for the paranormal.  As might be expected in Yorkshire, ghosts are found in an industrial setting, such as the one witnessed at a mill.  The ghost of a man murdered in 1950 was seen in a platelayers’ hut on the railway line running through Helmshore, so frequently witnessed by the maintenance gang that he was nicknamed ‘George’.  The sound of a locomotive whistle was heard after the line closed in 1966.  Other ghosts are encountered in the countryside, and then there is the story of the unfortunate sequence of events which occurred after the removal of what was thought to be a ‘witch bottle’ from an abandoned agricultural building, but calming down once the bottle was returned to where it had been found.

    As well as ghosts there are poltergeist incidents.  In one case an exorcism (perhaps in fact a blessing) only made matters worse, arousing the animosity of whatever was causing the trouble.  A longer narrative recounts a poltergeist episode which lasted three weeks in 2010 in the house of a Helmshore woman.  She lived on her own and seems to have displayed a remarkable degree of sangfroid in the circumstances.  She was subjected to, among other things, disappearing keys, furniture moving at night (to the irritation of her neighbour), a strange light, ‘thundering’ footsteps, blasts of ice-cold air on her face, and a moving quilt while in bed.

    Moving away from ghosts and poltergeists, there is a possible UFO case, a pair of youngsters out angling at a reservoir who saw lights under the water that were not a reflection, and cases of dowsing, including that of an amateur dowser from Haslingden who helped (so he said) the police investigate the still-unsolved 1908 murder of Caroline Luard at Ightham in Kent.

    The booklet concludes with a strange experience a Haslingden couple had one afternoon in 1961 or ‘62 while walking and climbing in North Wales.  At about 2pm one day they heard a swishing sound behind them, but could see nothing to account for it.   The sound came nearer, passed them, then faded into the distance.  They were close to a feature known as The Devil’s Kitchen so were inclined to put a sinister spin on what had happened, and were feeling uncomfortable faced with this apparently causeless noise.

    Quickly they decided that it was a natural phenomenon, the sun warming the ground creating the conditions for a dust devil in which warm air rises and spins.  Unlike a dust devil in the desert there was nothing for the warm air to pick up on the rocky mountainside, but the sound was there.  The pair were satisfied with this and the wife has since heard identical noises in the Middle East, supporting their interpretation.  But what caused the sound if nothing was being moved by the air current?  Were they looking for an explanation which seemed plausible because the alternative was too difficult to contemplate?

    The Helmshore district is no different to communities around the country in possessing a rich tradition of strange stories (as Aspin himself noted in his previous compilation), but many are lost because no-one records them.  It is good to have them, but the drawback with many is that witnesses often only agree to publication on condition that names and locations are left out.  In addition authors may abbreviate details for publication or change them in order to disguise their origin.  While understandable, such operations reduce their value.

    To avoid this problem, local historians with such material can donate the complete records to an organisation such as the SPR, or arrange for their donation in their wills, under embargo if they (or their informants) wish.  That way they can be maintained for the benefit of future researchers.  Meanwhile, Chris is still collecting, so if anyone with a connection to the area has a curious tale to tell, I’m sure he would be happy to hear from you.

    True Stories of Our Local Ghosts is 27 A5 pages.  Copies can be obtained from the author at £2.50 inc. p&p - email chris_aspin[at]yahoo.co.uk.

    True Stories of Our Local Ghosts. Helmshore Local History Society, 2015. ISBN 978-0090688125

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    Bryan J. Williams

    From the publisher’s website: Psychic phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (‘mind over matter’) have been reportedly experienced by people from all walks of life. But are these phenomena real? And how could they possibly fit into our knowledge of the human brain? In this monograph, Bryan Williams examines some of the latest findings to emerge from efforts that parapsychologists have made to explore how psychic phenomena may be linked to brain functioning. Although they do not yet lead to a fully working theory, these initial findings do point to possible brain correlates that could be a focus for further study using advanced brain wave monitoring and functional neuroimaging techniques.

    Bryan Williams is an affiliate with the Psychical Research Foundations. He was a co-recipient of the 2008 Eileen J. Garrett Scholarship Award offered by the Parapsychology Foundation in New York.

    Further details can be found on the Australian Institute of Parapsychological Research’s website:

    http://www.aiprinc.org/

    Psychic Phenomena and the Brain. Australian Institute of Parapsychological Research, Monograph #3, 2015. ISBN 978-0- 9870772-2-6

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    The SPR's President, Professor John Poynton, has won the 2015 Network Book Prize, awarded to the most significant book published by a member of the Scientific and Medical Network in 2015, for his book Science, Mysticism and Psychical Research: The Revolutionary Synthesis of Michael Whiteman.
    The SPR's President, Professor John Poynton, has won the 2015 Network Book Prize, awarded to the most significant book published by a member of the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN) in 2015, for his book Science, Mysticism and Psychical Research: The Revolutionary Synthesis of Michael Whiteman.
     
    The Spring 2016 number of the SMN's magazine Network Review carries a review of Prof. Poynton's book, and announces the awarding of the prize.  The news is also on the SMN's website.
     
    Further information on the book can be found here:
     
     
    The SMN website is here:
     
     
    (Posted 8 June 2016)

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    David Saunders reviews The Conjuring 2, the new film directed by James Wan which uses the famous Enfield poltergeist case as its basis.

    Director James Wan returns to the horror genre to create The Conjuring 2, his second feature claiming to be based on the ‘real life case files’ of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the American demonologists who made their reputation (for better or worse) on the Amityville case. The Conjuring 2 is set in England, 1977, at the Hodgson family home in Brimsdown, Enfield, where increasingly violent poltergeist phenomena plague Peggy Hodgson and her four children, Margaret, aged 13, Janet, aged 11, Johnny, aged 10 and Billy, aged 7. The film follows the Warrens, hot from the Amityville case in America, rushing to Enfield to help save the Hodgson family from the malevolent assaults of a demon, which the feature implies to be behind the phenomena at both cases.

    As a horror movie made for entertainment, it does not, for the most part, attempt to provide an accurate reflection of the occurrences at Enfield. This should not be a surprising revelation. In This House is Haunted (1980), Guy Lyon Playfair’s careful documentation of the two-year investigation conducted on behalf of the Society for Psychical Research by himself and Maurice Grosse, Playfair makes no mention of the Warrens’ involvement at all. In contrast, the feature shows the Warrens as playing a pivotal role, with the SPR’s involvement presented as secondary.

    At least the SPR does get a mention, with members Maurice Grosse and Anita Gregory being cast, though no Guy Lyon Playfair, which was rather difficult to accept. Gregory is cast in the role of the sceptical parapsychologist, somewhat zealously in one scene, attributing the occurrence of the phenomena to the behaviour of naughty children and accusing the mother of orchestrating the occurrences. Though this healthy scepticism, reflective of the real Anita Gregory’s view of the case, could play a somewhat larger role in the feature. In one scene, this scepticism leads her to a confrontational encounter with Mrs Hodgson, quite unlike how Dr Gregory or any self-respecting parapsychologist would act in that situation. Grosse, utterly convinced by the variety and frequency of the phenomena, is sadly depicted as an amateur and well-meaning nuisance in comparison to the Warrens. In this version of reality, Grosse is grateful to have them come and take the lead in the case and provides whatever assistance he can.

    The more subtle phenomena in the film reflect the Enfield case in many ways, such as Lego bricks flying around the house, materialisations of objects, Janet being thrown out of her bed and the covers being pulled off in her sleep. The communications with Bill Wilkins through Janet also closely reflect the dialogue as it was actually recorded. Much of the phenomena, however, are greatly exaggerated or entirely invented for effect, with many scenes deviating significantly from the written accounts of the case.

    Focusing on these inaccuracies led to a somewhat jaded viewing experience initially, so in an effort to remain objective I tried to forget that the feature was about Enfield as I knew it. Taken purely as a horror film, The Conjuring 2 is a solid effort, with excellent production values in a classic retro-horror style. As usual, Wan invests a lot of time in developing a tenderness towards his characters, the love they show for one another and the torment they go through. This helps the audience emotionally invest in the characters, making the protracted spooky sequences (of which there are many, possibly too many) much more harrowing for the audience. At just over two hours long, the feature makes use of jump scares relentlessly; structurally and stylistically it is very similar to the first Conjuring opening with a taster case (Annabelle in C1, Amityville in C2) with a slow burn of minor phenomena occurring in parallel in the main case. This leads through to the phenomena increasing in intensity, the involvement of the Warrens, culminating in a bonfire night’s display of a finale, as large a display as one could have witnessed in 1605 if the gunpowder plot had been a success. A full-on CGI and pyrotechnics visual-feast is thrown at the audience as the Warrens battle to save the soul of Janet, crucifixes aloft and incantations recited. This conclusion to the movie is probably its weakest element, while visually impressive, the film is much more effective in conjuring up the scares during the quieter scenes; the finale felt both over the top and anti-climactic at the same time.

    Overall as entertainment, the movie is a satisfying experience, fans of classic horror will particularly enjoy Wan’s polished vision. The feature utilises all the old tricks in the horror movie canon, however, combined with Wan’s flair for jump frights and ability to invest the audience emotionally in the characters, the movie stands above similar efforts. Though for those who know the Enfield case well, to really enjoy this movie I would advise leaving your familiarity with the case at the door. For those hoping to gain a greater insight into what really occurred at Enfield by watching the movie, a copy of This House is Haunted will tell you a great deal more than The Conjuring 2 ever could.

    David Saunders

    University of Northampton

    An interview with Director James Wan and actor Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren) will be in the next issue of the Paranormal Review (sent to all members).


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    Matt Wingett

    From the publisher: Conan Doyle and The Mysterious World of Light traces the spiritualist career of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle between the years 1887 and 1920.

    Starting with his early psychic investigations in Southsea, it tracks his development from a fascinated dilettante to becoming the committed advocate of a world movement. Throughout these years, Light, a magazine dedicated to the mystical and occult, traced his journey, not least by the letters and articles he wrote exclusively for the magazine. It was and still is the organ of the London Spiritualist Alliance, now known as the College for Psychic Studies.

    Every article and letter Conan Doyle wrote for the magazine during this period is here reproduced, often for the first time, as well as correspondence and articles bearing on his own writings.  The book thus tells the story of Conan Doyle's Spiritualism while surrounding his writing with the discussions, debates and controversies of his time.

    It sets his belief in the context of his powerful imagination which created the iconic Sherlock Holmes, his indefatigable energy which made him such an effective missionary and all against the backdrop of the Great War, which was a powerful impetus for his public declaration of faith in 1916.

    For the question of how the creator of the arch-rationalist Sherlock Holmes also came to believe in ghosts, this book holds the fascinating answers.

     

    Tom Ruffles

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fascination with Spiritualism is often considered to have been a sign of eccentricity and embarrassing mental decline, and it tends to be less scrutinised than other aspects of his life.  Matt Wingett has found a novel way to investigate it: by examining the Spiritualist periodical Light and extracting Conan Doyle’s contributions, from the first in 1887 up to 1920.  He has reprinted them in full, plus those parts of articles Conan Doyle placed elsewhere which were quoted in Light; responses to his Light articles and letters; and a selection of the general coverage it gave to Conan Doyle’s efforts in the furtherance of the movement.  The periodical is an important source for a full understanding of Conan Doyle’s views on Spiritualism because it was assiduous in reporting his activities, and in turn he was a loyal supporter of its mission.

    In compiling his book, Wingett drew on the substantial Conan Doyle collection which was donated to Portsmouth city council by Richard Lancelyn Green.  The foreword by Michael Gunton, Senior Archivist at the Portsmouth library and archives, notes the breadth of Conan Doyle’s interests, and how the reputation (not to mention the money) he achieved as a result of the fame accruing from his Sherlock Holmes output enabled him to become a high-profile advocate for Spiritualism.  A preface by Leslie Price, archivist at the College of Psychic Studies, gives the background to Light (which began publication in 1881) and its close association with the London Spiritualist Alliance (formed in 1884), the organisation which eventually became the College of Psychic Studies.

    The opening section describes Conan Doyle’s time in Southsea in the years 1882-90, a period that saw both his emergence as a writer and the development of his interest in Spiritualism and psychical research.  There is a common misconception that he turned to Spiritualism as a result of family deaths during the First World War, but Wingett demonstrates that his interest had deeper roots, extending even earlier than joining the Society for Psychical Research, which he did in 1893.  As was the case with many others, he was profoundly affected by the losses in the First World War and this sharpened his dedication to the Spiritualist cause and his determination to use his fame in its service, but its seeds had been sown much earlier.

    Conan Doyle’s interest in the paranormal ran alongside the Holmes output; indeed 1887, the year of his initial letters to Light, was also the year of Holme’s first appearance, in A Study in Scarlet.  The first letter, dated 2 July 1887, described a séance experience and was followed by another the next month, after which there was a hiatus until 1916 when, rather better known than he had been in the 1880s, he declared his Spiritualist beliefs in Light's pages.  After that the contributions came thick and fast as he enthusiastically adopted the role of champion of the movement.  For him Spiritualism addressed the same questions as, but represented a more humane alternative to, the rigid priest-led Roman Catholicism he had disavowed in his youth. While his logic in pursuing his goal may sometimes have been flawed, there was no doubting his conviction, which expressed itself in a combative but always generous manner.

    Wingett’s real service is not just in reprinting articles and letters, valuable though that is, but locating them within the debates between those who saw Spiritualism as a new religion, those who saw it as a return to a more authentic Christianity, those who saw it as an enemy of Christianity, and those critics who saw it as an enemy of reason.  There was an intense intellectual ferment, and by including material by other writers Wingett shows how Spiritualism tapped into a wider discussion about the place of religion in a world which could contain so much suffering and loss.  The various threads are tied together by his impartial commentary.

    In addition a number of appendices help to contextualise Conan Doyle’s contributions.  The first reprints a selection of articles which appeared in Light in 1916.  In their liveliness and range (ghost stories, prophecies, the Angel of Mons, mummy curse) they show that the magazine was not the dry didactic organ one might assume, and as Wingett indicates they meshed with Conan Doyle’s fiction, which frequently exhibits a taste for the mysterious.  The second appendix contains short biographies of some of the individuals who appear in the book, as well as descriptions of organisations.  Appendix C is a glossary of terms found in Spiritualism, and Appendix D is a bibliography.  The final appendix lists the titles of articles and letters by Conan Doyle in Light, or in which he is prominent, and there is a comprehensive index.  This is an attractive package which will enable anyone with an interest in Conan Doyle to study the growth of his activities in the field.

    There is some overlap with Alistair Duncan’s recent book No Better Place: Arthur Conan Doyle, Windlesham and Communication with the Other side (1907-1930), including uncannily similar covers featuring Conan Doyle with a spirit extra in an Ada Deane photograph, but Duncan looks at his broader career and uses a range of sources.  However, Wingett has been more successful in getting to grips with Conan Doyle’s Spiritualism and is the more satisfying read.  Of course 1920 does not represent the end and the decade to his death holds much of interest, fresh adventures and further controversy, and this volume will be followed by two more.

    These letters and articles from Light made me think that while the Sherlock Holmes stories are endlessly reprinted, and some of his other novels can be obtained if one looks for them, the bulk of his extensive output is not easily located, or if it is can be very expensive.  There is a case for a uniform edition of his novels, stories, non-fiction and journalism, to show that there was far more to him than his immortal detective.  The centenary of his death falls in 2030, which gives ample opportunity for such a project, one that would be a fitting tribute to this complex man.

    Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light:. Life is Amazing, March 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0957241381

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    SPR Council member, and chair of its Spontaneous Cases Committee, Alan Murdie has developed a new website, Europaranormal, gathering his writing on psychical research.
    SPR Council member, and chair of its Spontaneous Cases Committee, Alan Murdie has developed a new website, Europaranormal, gathering his writing on psychical research.
     
    The website says that:
     
    'Europaranormal is the website of Alan Murdie and is devoted to the study of the paranormal from different scientific and cultural viewpoints. It looks at paranormal phenomena occurring both in and out of the laboratory and particularly ghosts and hauntings, poltergeists, precognitive dreams and strange coincidences.'
     
    It can be found here:

    http://europaranormal.com/

     

    (Posted 15 June 2016)


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  • 06/15/16--10:31: Call for Papers: Parazoology
  • This will be a Special Issue of the Paranormal Review, the SPR's quarterly magazine.

    A Special Issue of the Paranormal Review, the magazine for the Society of Psychical Research

    With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the major Warner Bros film written by JK Rowling, due to be released in November this year, our collective imagination is drawn to consideration of what these beasts are or might be and what constitutes ‘fantastic’.

    Attempts at natural history since Herodotus and Pliny the Elder have constantly met with the prodigal and fabulous, of something beyond zoology. We shall call this parazoology: the biology of the supernatural; a study of the life of things that never lived. It is the world of mermaids and unicorns, confined now to fantasy, but once believed to exist; a world of the imagination that can still affect us today. It can also be extended to the study of parapsychological or ‘paranormal’ events concerning animals and their interaction with humans.

    The scope and interpretation of this subject is deliberately left open and scholars from all appropriate disciplines are invited to submit a proposal.

    Abstracts of no more than 300 words plus a short biography should be sent to the Editor, Dr Leo Ruickbie, at paranormalreview@spr.ac.uk before 1 July 2016, with chosen papers of 2,000 words to be submitted by 1 September 2016.

     

    (Posted 15 June 2016)


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