Lecture report by Tom Ruffles

Professor Haraldsson’s lecture to the SPR on 17 June 2010 was preceded by a warm introduction by the president, Professor Deborah Delanoy, and the presentation of the SPR’s award for significant contributions to psychical research, the Myers Memorial Medal. Professor Haraldsson joins a select band of recipients, and he expressed his pleasure at receiving such a prestigious honour.
 
Haraldsson prefaced his talk by saying that Frederic Myers’s influence had been far-reaching, extending even to Iceland, through his book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, and he had been partially responsible both for psychical research and for the growth of Spiritualism in Iceland.
 
As far as “perfect case” was concerned, Haraldsson said that he was only using the term as a convenient shorthand. He was not really claiming that what he was going to discuss this evening constituted a perfect case. As yet, he had not found any weaknesses in it, but with spontaneous cases you can never be sure.
 
He recounted how, inspired by a chance encounter with Human Personality shortly after its publication in 1903, Einar Kvaran had begun a sitter group, something hitherto unknown (as was Spiritualism generally) in Iceland at that time. Nothing much happened for a while, but one evening they were joined by young Indridi Indridason (1883-1912), newly arrived in Reykjavik from the country to begin an apprenticeship.
 
There were violent movements in the table almost as soon as they sat down, which scared Indridason. However, he was persuaded to stay and the group had further sittings. He produced a range of phenomena which impressed his fellow sitters to the extent that they formed an organisation, The Experimental Society, to study them.
 
Sittings took place from 1904-9 and minute books were used to record the details. These were mislaid over time, but two resurfaced a couple of years after Haraldsson and Loftur Gissurarson wrote their report ‘The Icelandic Physical Medium Indridi Indridason‘ (which appeared as SPR Proceedings 57, in January 1989), allowing a fresh examination of this remarkable man.
 
On 24 November 1905 a personality called ‘Jensen‘, a surname common in Denmark, communicated through Indridason. Later the same evening ‘Jensen’ said that he had visited Copenhagen while Indridason was resting during the séance, and described a serious factory fire there, 1,300 miles from Reykjavik.
 
There were a number of issues to be examined in assessing this event: the reality of Jensen‘s identity; the accuracy of the account of the fire; and whether there were any possible explanations other than spirit communication. Haraldsson took the identity of ‘Emil Jensen’ first, and listed the information provided by him about himself and his family.
 
The Experimental Society had not sought to establish whether he had lived, but Haraldsson visited Copenhagen and was able to establish that someone called Emil Jensen, whose details matched the communicator, had existed. He considered the possibility that Indridason had gleaned information about Jensen from newspapers and thought this unlikely for a variety of reasons, not least because no obituary of Jensen could be found in the major Danish newspapers.
 
As to the fire, a conflagration had indeed broken out at a factory in Copenhagen on that November evening at the time ‘Jensen‘ would have reported it in Reykjavik, and even more intriguingly, the historical Jensen, who died in 1898, had lived only a couple of doors away. Conventional news of the fire only reached Iceland at Christmas 1905, when the Danish newspapers arrived by boat. There was no telegraphic or telephonic communication between Denmark and Iceland at that time.
 
Of course it could have been coincidence, but when Haraldsson checked the fortnight before and afterwards in the largest-circulation Danish newspaper, there were only three other fires reported, all less serious, and only this one matched the description given by ‘Jensen‘ in all particulars. Another possibility - that Indridason was in collusion with a fire-setter in Copenhagen - seemed too implausible to consider seriously.
 
Similarly, clairvoyance by Indridason, or telepathy with someone in Copenhagen, seemed unlikely given that the medium had never visited the city and knew nobody there. He had no motivation for reporting the fire, whereas ‘Jensen’ did. Haraldsson compared this incident with Emanuel Swedenborg´s famous 1759 vision of a fire in Stockholm while he was in Gothenburg, and concluded that the Indridason case was better attested.
 
‘Jensen’ played a greater role in the mediumship of Indridason than this one episode, significant though it was. He occasionally materialised in a ‘pillar of light’ at séances, and sometimes both he and Indridason could be seen together in it, while the latter‘s hands were being held. ‘Jensen’ spoke through Indridason with a Copenhagen accent, despite the medium apparently not knowing Danish beyond perhaps a few words, but he provided no more information on a par with his description of the Copenhagen fire.
 
In sum, Haraldsson concluded, this was an unusual case in that it was investigated over a century after it had occurred, on the basis of long-lost documents. In deciding who was responsible for providing the information on the Copenhagen fire, Haraldsson’s felt that the balance of probabilities weighed in favour of a discarnate Emil Jensen.
 
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