Books reviewed by SPR reviewers

Peter Lord
Tom Ruffles

Winifred Coombe Tennant (1874-1956) was a compulsive diary-keeper for most of her life, the total amounting to about a million and a quarter words.  Of this vast quantity, Peter Lord has selected entries from the years 1909-24 for reproduction here, and the results (200,000 words) represent just over a third of the original for that period.  Editorial interpolations bridge the gaps and orient the reader, essential given the complexity of Winifred’s life and times.  Lord, author of a companion volume, Winifred Coombe Tennant: A Life through Art, has done a huge service in bringing Winifred to a wider audience, and his annotations to the entries are informative and even-handed.  The text is enhanced by a wide range of photographs, many taken from the family collection, supplemented by items drawn from the Tennant papers in the West Glamorgan Archives.  He tops and tails the volume with a potted biography of Winifred’s early life and a brief envoi describing her life after 1924.

The diaries are useful background reading for anyone interested in the cross correspondences and the early history of the SPR.  Lord has excluded much of the material relating to Winifred’s mediumship as being too complex, but he provides some fascinating context against which to read books like Signe Toksvig’s Swan on a Black Sea: A Study in Automatic Writing – The Cummins-Willett Scripts (1965) and Archie Roy’s The Eager Dead (2008), and papers in the SPR’s Proceedings such as Gerald Balfour’s ‘Some Recent Scripts Affording Evidence of Personal Survival’ (1914) and ‘A Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs Willett’s Mediumship, and of the Statements of the Communicators Concerning Process’ (1935).

For those who know Winifred primarily as ‘Mrs Willett’, the more rounded character that emerges from the diaries will come as a surprise.  For those who know her  primarily as a major figure in the distasteful exercise in ‘spiritual eugenics’ known as The Plan, as expounded in The Eager Dead, she will surely be a more sympathetic character than the one Roy presents.  That is not to say she did not have major flaws.  One again feels sorry for the collateral damage of her adulterous relationship with Gerald Balfour: Lady Better Balfour, whom Winifred strangely adores until the rupture with Gerald after the death of her son Christopher; and her husband Charles, invariably referred to in her diaries baldly as “CCT”.  Her pathologically self-absorbed mourning at the loss of her infant daughter Daphne in 1908, amply demonstrated here, must have been a trial to all round her, at least until she largely switched her obsessive grief to Christopher, killed in 1917 on the Western Front, and she gives no sense of an appreciation that Charles too must have suffered at losing two of his children.

Poor Charles clearly could not gain his wife’s full love, divided unevenly as it was not only between him and Gerald, but also the long-dead Edmund Gurney, who was in regular contact from the Other Side.  One is hard put to determine whether Charles was kept in ignorance or was complaisant during the affair with Gerald.  Winifred was good at keeping secrets, as the revelation of her identity as Mrs Willett only becoming widely known after her death, in the obituary published in the SPR’s December 1956 Journal, attests.  C D Broad in his foreword to Swan on a Black Sea quotes her son Alexander saying that a favourite motto of hers was “Never give unnecessary information!”.  Significantly Charles’s Who’s Who entry stated that he had two sons (ie Christopher and Alexander) which implicitly indicates his acknowledgement that Henry was not his.

Even so, it is a shock to realise that Charles was in residence at the time Winifred became pregnant by Balfour, and bizarrely, on the very day she conceived, Charles asked Balfour if he would be the Coombe Tennant’s children’s guardian, to which request Gerald “agreed with pleasure”.  Whether ignorant or choosing to look the other way, Charles seems to have generally tolerated his wife’s frequent absences as she pursued her various activities (there is just one incident recorded of him losing his temper, over a trivial incident which was probably stress-related).  One gets the impression that he spent a lot of time at the Tennant family home in London, perhaps his way of dealing with a difficult situation.  Winifred found him dull and narrow-minded, but one longs to hear his side of the story.  The impression is that Charles symbolised restrictions against which she chafed but it is hard to know because he barely figures in the diaries, partly because they led separate lives for much of the time, and partly because she did not find much about him worth recording.

For her part, possibly Balfour’s wife Lady Betty was happy for Winifred to ‘entertain’ her husband.  There is a telling entry (9 August, 1909, before Winifred and Gerald commenced their affair) in which Winifred says:

"I had a little talk with Lady Betty and wept in her arms.  She is a noble and great woman.  She told me she so wanted the bond between Gerald and me to be a source of strength and peace to me, and not an added sorrow ... Lady Betty told me to make use of Gerald to the utmost and that I should always find him the same, unchanging."

Three days later she writes:

"Received divine letter from Betty Balfour.  She says ‘Gerald’s friendship for you is a great new joy in his life – a great new tenderness.  I rejoice in it’, and she wants me to think of Fisher’s Hill [the Balfours’ residence] as a home where I can come to have ‘free and unfettered intercourse with your friend.’  Wrote to her.  I deeply honour her."

However much she dressed it up with frequently-used terms such as honour and nobility, it did not stop Winifred from carrying on with Lady Betty’s husband and taking liberally the injunction to make use of him to the utmost and have free and unfettered intercourse with him.  When Winifred writes of Balfour on 15 September 1911 that “Our love is compact of purity and therefore wrongs no-one”, a natural reaction is one of astonishment at such self-serving self-delusion that ignored anyone peripheral to the self-absorbed pair.  When Betty had a baby in 1912 Winifred was devastated by what she saw as a betrayal of her – Gerald having sex with his wife – melodramatically outlining the day in the diary in black, but somewhat comforted by Gerald’s declarations that he had no interest in the child whatsoever.  Yet even after Betty knew about the liaison and Henry’s paternity, she accepted the situation, and remained on friendly terms with Winifred, partly as a result of their shared interest in women’s suffrage (surely ironic for someone so passive in her domestic arrangements).  One wonders if Betty was grateful to have Gerald’s attentions turn elsewhere as he and Winifred do seem to have been two of a kind.

In one way the adulterous relationship was good for Winifred.  After Daphne’s death she became obsessed with the idea that her own life was essentially over, and all she longed for was to join her daughter.  The mediumship was essentially a way to reinstate he relationship with Daphne and develop her love affair with Edmund Gurney, for whom Balfour was to an extent a proxy (though overlaid with a more earthly element, even if dressed up as The Plan).  This allowed Winifred to sublimate her death-drive, though never erase it, in her desire for Balfour.  One obvious question is why Winifred and Gerald did not divorce their unsatisfactory spouses and marry each other.  They did discuss the possibility but decided against it.  Obvious reasons would be the difficulty of divorce and the scandal, especially an issue given Gerald’s brother Arthur’s political career and their own social standing.  But there is also the sense that the semi-clandestine nature of the liaison appealed to Winifred’s sense of self-dramatisation.

In these early years Winfred does not appear to be the self-confident figure of Roy’s book, or indeed of Broad’s foreword to Swan on a Black Sea,in which he characterises her as “a somewhat formidable lady”.  She is frequently diffident, unsure of herself and prone to hero-worship, whether of Gurney and the equally deceased Henry Sidgwick and Frederic Myers, or Sir Oliver Lodge and later Gerald, when writing about whom in the early years she seems to dissolve and positively gush; you know their relationship has turned a corner when she refers to him as “Gerald” rather than the habitual “belovèd”.  Gerald, reading between the lines, comes across as a seducer from the start, pressing Winifred’s emotional buttons.  He cites Dante’s Vita Nuova, which Winifred gladly accepts as symbolic of their relationship, even though the courtly love quickly transformed into a physical one, overlaying any professional relationship based on the cross correspondences.

Her recorded activities turn away from the SPR after the First World War, mainly to politics, but even those whose interest in her primarily revolves around psychical research will find her later life fascinating.  The diaries help to project her as a many-faceted person rather than simply one of the names involved in the cross correspondences.  She clearly exhibited a great sensitivity to the suffering of others, perhaps a reason for her identification with Gurney, who had felt the same.  She cared deeply about the plight of children, and disliked injustice in all its forms.  At one point she discovers that an old couple had been given notice to quit their cottage on the Tennant estate because they could not afford the rates and taxes, and she paid them herself.  Perhaps typically she can write, after noting that the estate is geared to maximising profit: “I can hardly eat my own good food or look at my comfortable house when I think of where it comes from and how it is paid for!”, while continuing to enjoy the lifestyle that the estate’s income provided for her and her family (the Afterword notes the extent of her picture-buying in her later years so clearly her disposable income was considerable, and she could not have engaged in public life without private means).

She had a deep love for Wales and its cultural life, took a sophisticated interest in politics and social reform, local and national, was a firm supporter of women’s suffrage, and was one of the first female magistrates.  Firmly Liberal in inclination, she disliked authoritarianism in politics and expressed anti-monarchist sentiments on occasion.  Her administrative work was admirable – the list of committees on which she served during the Great War is extensive and she was to train travel what the frequent flyer is to aircraft.  She took an active interest in Tennant estate business at a time when such a role was uncommon for women, spurred on by Charles’s loosening grip, and was clearly a capable administrator.  She might have become a Member of Parliament, standing unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Forest of Dean, and doubtless would have done the job well given her energy and attention to detail and shrewd grasp of politics, domestic and international.  She was a member of the British delegation to the League of Nations at Geneva and a close friend of Lloyd George.

Of course she had a certain narrowness of view common to her class; it is amusing to read about her shopping for clothes and feeling exhausted (admittedly pre-war), or a sense that her clearly comfortable upper middle-class lifestyle was onerous.  She frequently complains about the grind of organising the household, yet enjoys the luxury of a chauffeur-driven car and a full-time nurse for the children.  Servants are often a trial, and as she points out after the death of an unsatisfactory land agent, “If one has no agent, underlings try and mount the high horse.”  She wrote to the Times in 1935 about the importance of service as training for married life, perhaps not appreciating that its absence in her own life had not done her any harm and that its presence would hardly have caused her to treat Charles more kindly.

In short, she comes across as someone not, as the title of this book indicates, situated between two worlds, but someone who saw herself within two worlds, able to shuttle between them almost at will, and comfortable in both.  Small details only to be found within the intimate confines of a diary cast side-lights on her public persona, and little snippets, such as A W Verrall’s bad arthritis, SPR administrator Alice Johnson looking old, Winifred’s own extensive dental problems, her active dislike of her sisters-in-law Eveleen (F W H Myers’s widow) and Dorothy, help to make more human names familiar from the publications and histories of the SPR.

Hopefully the full diaries will eventually be made available to researchers who want to examine the fine detail of her life not available in an abridgement, and follow the trail after 1924:  the Darwin Correspondence Project may be a suitable template for Winifred’s diaries.  As an example of Between Two Worlds’ limitations, Lord supplies a paragraph following the entry for 12 October 1917, when Winifred had received a letter from Sir Oliver Lodge, which states: “Winifred seems to have had no contact with Lodge since their disagreement nearly three years before.  The rapprochement marks the beginning of an estrangement from other SPR colleagues and their methods.”  After the first sentence there is a footnote which says: “See the Diary for 6 December 1914.”  This is clearly a pivotal moment in her association with the SPR, and as Lord indicates, it marks a diminution in the number of references to psychical research in the diaries thereafter; in fact the entry for 14 October 1917 is highly critical of the SPR strategy of keeping mediums involved in the cross correspondences rigidly separated, and argues for a more collaborative effort (“A clearing house of SPR stuff is what is wanted...”).  So one turns eagerly back to the entry for 6 December 1914, to find that the diary skips from Saturday 5 December to the following Tuesday, the 8th.  There had been a passing reference to her irritation with Lodge for exerting pressure on her to produce scripts when she was not in a suitable frame of mind, but no sense of a rupture between them.  He slips from view as her priorities change, so it is a surprise to read that they had had a serious disagreement that affected their relationship.  The full text may hold useful information for the specialist concerned with such matters.

Despite her varied and often high-profile activities, it is easy to forget that until recently Winifred was largely unknown outside the confines of psychical research.  The Times did publish an obituary on 1 September 1956 focusing on “A life of Service in South Wales”, even though for much of her life she lived elsewhere, and referring to her as “Mrs Charles Coombe Tennant”, but she was generally neglected outside discussions of mediumship.  The Daily Telegraph obituary of Henry, or Dom Joseph as he became (28 November 1989), has no mention of his Coombe Tennant parentage whatsoever, something that certainly could not happen today.  Winifred is a figure of some significance in the history of the early twentieth century, and Lord’s skilful editing has given psychical researchers and historians of the period access to an important primary source. 

Between Two Worlds. National Library of Wales, May 2011. ISBN-13: 978-1862250864
Gordon Rutter
Tom Ruffles

The subtitle does not reflect the analytical approach taken by Gordon Rutter, who replaces Melvyn Willin and Jim Eaton for the latest in David and Charles’s series devoted to ostensibly paranormal (or just plain weird) photographs.  Rutter uses his technical knowledge to try to determine the issues at play in a given image, and supplies a reasonable, if not necessarily definitive, explanation for a surprising number of them.  This should be helpful to people who find some anomaly in their own snaps, but will perhaps disappoint those expecting the supernatural to be displayed before them.

For as Rutter intimates – and can be confirmed by examples which reach the SPR’s Spontaneous Cases Committee – people are often rather optimistic in interpreting some oddity as paranormal.  He covers issues such as orbs, condensing breath, camera straps, slow shutter speeds, pixel noise, pareidolia, and definitely not least, ‘photographer blindness’, which can catch the most consummate professional (always treat the claim “there was nobody else around when I took it” with caution, however sincerely made).  Such explanations should help to educate photographers so that they can rule out the normal before proclaiming uncritically that they have evidence of the paranormal.  This will surely save psychical researchers some time (though orbs seem remarkably resistant to patient explanations featuring the effects of flash on dust particles).

Many of Willin’s examples were drawn from the SPR’s archives, and Eaton’s from his Ghoststudy.com website.  Some of the images included here were passed to Rutter as a result of his talks on paranormal issues and his well-known interest in the subject, but many surfaced as the result of an appeal made as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival in early 2009 for photographs showing anomalies.  The project was called Hauntings: The Science of Ghosts and was organised by Rutter with Richard Wiseman and Caroline Watt.  The criterion for acceptance was that photographs were previously unpublished, either in print or online.

The response was enthusiastic, and thanks to the nature of the internet, international, with a large quantity, largely taken recently, sent in.  Most were easily explained, but there was a small percentage which warranted further investigation.  The hundred best were posted online and comments invited, leading to a huge number of hits and an impressive degree of debate, sometimes to a high standard.  There was a voting mechanism, with the four options being: genuine ghost, normal explanation but not faked, fraud or uncertain.  Totting up the 300,000 votes cast, the five images which voters found most convincing were chosen, and these appear at the end of the book.  A summary of the research was given by Wiseman at the SPR’s 2009 conference at Nottingham.

As one would expect, images cover a wide range of effects.  Orbs/lights and mobile phones have their own sections, and there are plenty of ghostly figures and faces appearing as extras.  Historic locations feature extensively, unsurprising given the number of photographs taken at them.  One odd inclusion is the old picture of a small girl in a gingham dress which seems to show a strange little face peering over a wall.  This is not quite the same image as the one which can be seen on the Science of Ghosts website.  Rutter explains that there were two photographs, one taken after the other.  The earlier one is in the book, the one on the website was taken moments later.  The one in the book was used presumably because the girl is looking down, and there is no need to superimpose a large oval over her features to shield her identity, as in the website one in which she is looking at the camera,.  But in the book there is a red circle to show where the ‘face’ looking over the wall is, and it is in the wrong place, being positioned well in front of the girl, rather than just behind her.  As the whole photograph is included in GCOF3, the salient detail is hard to see, especially if the reader is looking in the wrong place.  The website version is cropped and the pixieish ‘face’ is much more obvious as a result.  It does not appear to be a chance configuration of light, shadow and leaves.

You would think, given the length of photography’s history, and in particular the stupefying numbers of images unleashed by the digital revolution, that there would be a vast supply of convincing examples of the paranormal captured by the camera, and authors would be spoilt for choice.  But having looked at all four of David and Charles’s Paranormal/Ghosts Caught on Film volumes, many of those in the SPR’s archives including the ones collected by Maurice Grosse and Cyril Permutt, as well as samples of those submitted to websites, there are fewer decent ones than might be supposed.  Rutter is naturally conscious of the problem of fakery on top of technological and cognitive limitations, and with Photoshop, and now phone apps, certainty becomes ever-more elusive.  The books put out by David and Charles provide a valuable compendium, produced to a high standard, of historical and contemporary examples, but those taking an open yet critical approach who are hoping for photographic evidence for ghosts must wonder if it will ever be forthcoming.  They can only keep looking.

Ghosts Caught on Film 3. David & Charles, August 2011. ISBN-13: 9780715339039
David Taylor and Andrew Homer
Tom Ruffles

Amberley have published another volume in their useful series of gazetteers, this one linking those two natural bedfellows, paranormal research and pubs.  David Taylor is the founder of the West Midlands group Parasearch, and has a wealth of practical experience.  Andrew Homer is joint national investigations coordinator for the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena and managing editor of its magazine Anomaly.  They are both good communicators and in this book they look at over sixty pubs in the Black Country, providing a readable mix of folklore, archival research and recent investigations.

.An introduction gives a potted outline of the evolution of the pub and theories of ghosts, and is followed by a guide to haunted pubs in the area.  These are arranged alphabetically irrespective of location, which is fine when reading straight through, but for field reference a geographical index would have helped.

The authors end with two non-pub appendices, one on local sightings of Spring-Heeled Jack, the other an intriguing phantom hitchhiker case from 2000.  The whole is well illustrated and attractively presented, and will be of interest to residents and tourists alike.  The term Black Country may not be the greatest marketing name, but Taylor and Homer have provided ample justification, if one were needed, to visit this part of the country and sample its attractions, both earthly and otherwise. 

Beers and Spirits. Amberley, October 2010. ISBN 9781848682665
Cracknell, Robert
Tom Ruffles

This is not a case book, and psychic detection arrives fairly late on in Robert Cracknell’s career.  We begin at the beginning, in 1935, and trace his fractured childhood, including an unhappy period as an evacuee in Nottingham.  After an abortive stint in the RAF he became a tramp, living on the edges of society.  He had trouble finding a niche, and drifted for many years; as Colin Wilson says in his introduction, Cracknell falls into the category of outsider.  This part of the book could very easily have veered into misery memoir territory, but Cracknell’s inner strength and lack of self-pity, plus a determination to learn from every situation in which he finds himself, allow him to write dispassionately about this period.  The implication is that his challenging experiences assisted the development of psychic abilities, though he is adamant that these are possessed by all, not a select few, and what he does can be done by anybody.

Cracknell’s explorations of the psychic side of his life make for interesting reading. He tells us about the profound influence Meher Baba had on him, brushes with black magic, a meeting with the witch Alex Sanders, another with a security-obsessed Uri Geller, in love with his own celebrity.  A visit to the set of Coronation Street to meet William Roache may have had a calming influence on the place, but clearly not enough, as there were still phenomena there for the Most Haunted team to investigate later.

Psychic detection is less prominent than is promised by the subtitle.  There are confidentiality issues, but Cracknell concedes that police forces do not admit to using psychics.  Unfortunately this means that there is no independent corroboration of his statements concerning his involvement (and the cynical sceptic will also notice the repeated references to his associations with downmarket newspapers like The News of the World and most notably The Sunday People).  He hints that he has been involved in far more cases than he details, but it is unclear why he presents these ones rather than others, and to what extent the ones he does mention were materially assisted by his efforts.  Since the police aren’t saying, it is impossible to assess his claims.  Cracknell says that some of his predictions were lodged with the SPR but if they were, the files seem to have disappeared.  Going by his own accounts here, the results are decidedly patchy, even though he claims something like an 80% success rate overall.

The section on Genette Tate, who vanished in August 1978, age 13, is brief and not particularly informative.  After accusing Genette’s father John of abusing Genette, Cracknell says he was “astonished” that John Tate, who “seemingly had an alibi” for the time of her disappearance, was not charged with abuse.  The “seemingly” suggests that the alibi was not a strong one, but in his book Genette is Missing, John Tate states that he was in Exeter that afternoon with his wife Violet, Genette’s step-mother.  That seems fairly robust.  Psychics, including Gerard Croiset and Nella Jones, swarmed all over the case, to the extent that the ubiquitous Colin Wilson contributed a chapter to Tate’s book specifically on the involvement of psychic detectives.  Wilson was keen for Cracknell to solve the mystery as he was trying to place Cracknell’s autobiography for him and success would have guaranteed a sale.  Business is business.

Wilson devotes rather more space to Genette in The Psychic Detectives than Cracknell does in his book.  According to Wilson, Cracknell predicted that Genette’s body would be found within ten days, a prediction missing from Cracknell’s book.  Cracknell also omits the information, which Wilson includes, that Violet told Cracknell that her husband was having an affair.  This person, it transpired, was Genette’s step-sister, aged nine.  John Tate confessed to the police and the story appeared in a Sunday newspaper in May 1980.  He was not prosecuted, Wilson says, because of the distress already experienced by the family.  Rather different times, one feels.  In any case, Wilson is completely satisfied that Tate’s alibi for Genette’s disappearance was genuine, as must have the police.  He does not mention Cracknell being involved in Tate’s confession, nor is there any reference to Genette having been abused, but in Cracknell’s version, Tate went to the police as a direct result of Cracknell being hired by the News of the World to reopen the case “some years later“, and confessed to abusing both Genette and her sister.

Melvyn Harris in Sorry, You’ve Been Duped says that almost five hundred psychics supplied information on Genette‘s disappearance, and the police had to deal with some 1,200 letters.  He says that one of these individuals, left unnamed, came unbidden from Cornwall to Devon, and “shook like a leaf” at the scene of the abduction.  This person said that Genette would be found in two days and the murderer caught the day after that.  When these predictions failed to come to pass he disappeared, though later he claimed in a newspaper to have been called in by the police.  Cracknell was on holiday in Cornwall when the story broke, so one does wonder if he was the person being described by Harris.  Despite all this unsavoury hoopla, Genette is still missing.

Another claim concerns the Yorkshire Ripper.  Cracknell says that following an eighteen month lull in murders he was having dinner with Colin Wilson and unspecified others.  He told his fellow diners that there would be a final murder, after which the killer would be arrested.  The eighteen month figure is wrong: Sutcliffe murdered Barbara Leach on 2 September 1979.  The next and penultimate murder victim (others survived in between) was Marguerite Walls, murdered on 20 August 1980.  She was not initially considered a Ripper victim as he had changed his MO.  Sutcliffe’s last murder victim was Jacqueline Hill, on 17 November 1980.  The gap between the deaths of Barbara Leach and Jacqueline Hill was not eighteen months, but was a considerable period.  Someone would only think though that the Ripper had not killed in the interval if they were relying on newspapers for their information and missed the death of Marguerite Walls.

At the dinner, Cracknell said that the Ripper would murder again “very soon”, which, he says, is precisely what happened.  Colin Wilson’s account in The Psychic Detectives is slightly different.  Cracknell is vague on details, but Wilson dates the meal to November 1980, actually with the sales director of the publisher which had accepted Cracknell’s autobiography, and in his version Cracknell specifically predicted that the next murder would be in two weeks.  It was actually six days, Wilson says.  Melvin Harris has a chapter fittingly entitled ‘The Yorkshire Ripper and the Psychic Circus’ describing the contributions made by psychics to solving the case.  Despite Cracknell saying that he will always be associated with the Ripper investigation, Harris seems to have missed him completely.

The longest chapter devoted to a case is that of the kidnap of the eighteen-year old daughter of Oscar Maerth, Gaby.  This was Oscar Kiss Maerth, author of the repulsive 1971 book The Beginning was the End, which postulated that human intelligence was caused as a by-product of apes eating the brains of their fellows to increase their sex drive.  The family lived in some style on the shores of Lake Como and Cracknell was flown out to try to help find Gaby.  Cracknell says that she had been kidnapped six months earlier.  He did not like Maerth, whom he found self-absorbed and selfish, pleading that he was not a rich man when he seemed to have substantial wealth.  Cracknell says he provided pertinent information, though Gaby’s freedom was not obtained by his efforts or those of the local police, and she was released in rather murky circumstances.

Cracknell tends to be vague about dates anyway, but here he manages to get the year completely wrong.  He says the kidnap occurred in 1980, but Gaby was abducted on 7 May 1982 and was released at the beginning of October, five months later.  The report in the Times (4 October) said that initially a ransom of £2.2m was demanded but was later reduced to £550,000.  A police source suggested that about £70,000 was paid, though an accurate figure was not available.  Gaby claimed, somewhat implausibly one feels, that she had been kept drugged in a tent the whole time by her captors.  As Cracknell suggests, there is surely a lot here that was never made public, but at least he managed to obtain a nice fee from the Sunday People for his trouble.

This is an expanded version of the autobiography published in 1981, Clues to the Unknown, but some of the text has not been altered since the first edition.  We learn that Sue Blackmore is about to take her PhD, and Cracknell wonders if she will follow the sorts of ideas he propounds.  The intervening thirty years have shown Blackmore following a very different path to the one that might have been predicted as she put the finishing touches to her thesis on Extrasensory Perception as a Cognitive Process.  Uri Geller is referred to as a “relatively” young man, which he must find ’fairly’ flattering.  Cracknell is pretty contemptuous of Gordon Higginson, president of the Spiritualists’ National Union for over two decades, but there is now no reason to withhold his name as he died in 1993 (not that his identity was difficult to work out).  Cracknell’s hostility to the Spiritualist movement is repeatedly expressed, and from what he says it is mutual.  He is an individualist, not suited to the constraints of a movement.

He comes across as a strong personality who has weathered adverse circumstances and emerged stronger for it.  Whether he deserves the (presumably self-proclaimed) accolade of being the No 1 Psychic Detective Agency is an open question, as there is not enough here to be able to make an adequate judgment, and no opportunity to evaluate claims from competing psychic detectives who covet the top spot.  Given the woeful track records of many psychics in crime detection, particularly considering the high stakes, it is wise to be cautious.  But leaving aside uncertainty over Cracknell’s hit rate, this is a very readable account of one person’s spiritual journey.

As I was writing this review, news arrived of the death of Osama Bin Laden, hiding not in a mountain cave but in a suburban compound not too far from Islamabad.  This is definitely one situation where accurate information would have been useful, but as far as I am aware, not one psychic detective – including Cracknell – made a firm, unambiguous and verifiable prediction about what was an unlikely location.  In Renée Scheltema’s film Something Unknown is Doing We Don't Know What, Nancy Myer was asked where he was and responded that she would not answer on camera as it would get her killed, presumably by vengeful Al-Qaeda operatives, and Stephan Schwartz was surprisingly uninterested in such a project.  Hard information derived psychically that made sense beforehand, and not retrospectively, would have been invaluable.  An opportunity to demonstrate the existence of the blue sense lost. 

The Lonely Sense. Anomalist Books, March 2011. ISBN: 1933665513
Ross Andrews
Tom Ruffles

Amberley Publishing continues its series documenting the country’s paranormal heritage.  Ross Andrews contributes guides to Oxford and the Forest of Dean to add to his one on Cheltenham (reviewed for the SPR website by C J Romer).  Andrews has a great deal of experience as a ghost hunter, including involvement with the Gloucestershire group PARASOC, and his enthusiasm is palpable.  The emphasis in both these books is on presenting locations that can be visited, rather than accounts from anonymous premises, and they are organised into geographical sections making them ideal for the visitor with limited time.

The Oxford volume begins with a stroll round some of the city centre’s most haunted spots, including the site of the execution of the Protestant martyrs Latimer and Ridley, whose screams echo down history, the Sheldonian Theatre and Bodleian Library, and the Bridge of Sighs.  The second chapter moves inside, taking in the theatres, a pub and an hotel. The third chapter is devoted to haunted colleges, and Oxford Castle has its own.  A pair of chapters deals with miscellaneous Oxford ghosts and some further afield in the county.

Andrews notes that a lot of Oxford ghost stories hinge on town vs. gown, religion or the Civil War, so reading up on its ghosts is an opportunity to learn about the history of this beautiful city and the surrounding countryside.  One gets the impression though that he has not personally carried out investigations here as the volume is free of case reports, with the stories being collected second-hand rather than resulting from local group activities.

The Forest of Dean volume is different in that respect.  It covers mostly that part known as The Royal Forest Route, and unlike the Oxford book Andrews has first-hand experience of investigations in the area.  Two chapters describe a variety of haunted locations in the forest, then one focuses on Littledean.  Goodrich and Raglan Castles and Tintern Abbey have a chapter to themselves.

The meatiest section, almost half the book, is devoted to St Briavel’s Castle, which Andrews has examined extensively as a member of Phamtomfest, a non-profit group set up specifically to organise investigation there.  He goes into considerable detail, outlining a wide range of phenomena.  This is fascinating stuff, though it renders the book less useful for someone who wants a general guide to forest locations but does not have a particular interest in St Briavel’s Castle (and as he concedes, the level of detail provided may contaminate future reports).  Both books conclude with brief sections of advice for the ghost hunter.

As with other Amberley guides the physical quality of the books is good, but the copy editing on these ones could have been tighter.  Andrews writes clearly but the facetious tone does grate after a while.  Both are well illustrated, mostly with the author‘s own photographs.  If you want to have a handy and relaxed guide to the spookier elements of these places, Ross Andrews’ books are useful companions. 

Paranormal Oxford and Paranormal Forest of Dean. Amberley Publishing, October/March 2010. ISBN 9781445600024/ ISBN 9781848685918
McLuhan, Robert
Tom Ruffles
To the outsider, the intricacies of serious paranormal research and the commentaries on it by sceptics can seem arcane. Criticism and defence can become increasingly convoluted, often requiring technical expertise to get to grips with the issues. It can eventually all come to seem sterile and pointless, not worth the effort to unravel what, if anything, is going on. Enter Robert McLuhan, who cuts through the fog to take a look at the sceptics (or perhaps rather pseudo-sceptics) and the rhetorical tricks they employ which so often are more concerned with dismissing evidence to their own satisfaction than seeking the truth. It transpires that the two sides are not symmetrical, and those who are sympathetic to psi claims tend to have a better understanding of opposing positions than vice versa.
 
The book’s title is catchy, but while James Randi is a prominent figure in the text, it is not particularly about his Million Dollar Challenge, and does not go into its mechanics. Instead, the book charts McLuhan’s journey of discovery as he examined the sceptical literature and found it wanting. He noted that assessments of the entire field were often based on superficial analysis of a narrow range of cases which came up again and again. By contrast the psychical research literature was far more extensive, richer and impressive than the sceptics would have the casual reader believe. 
 
McLuhan examines a wide range of phenomena, such as mediumship; laboratory experimentation; out-of-body and near-death experiences; how psychic abilities might operate in the world (what they mean for those who experience them); what makes sceptics tick, and much more. He takes a number of debates between those on either side of the divide, such as Rupert Sheldrake and Richard Wiseman (animals who know when their owners are coming home), and Gary Schwartz and James Randi (star mediums), and analyses the sceptical approach to see how adequate it is in critiquing the psychical research material.
 
For example, poltergeist cases, such as the Tina Resch and Seaford cases, tend to be far more detailed than one would think from sceptical accounts. Yet such misrepresentation becomes part of the standard narrative, endlessly regurgitated as if it were the last word required on the subject. When Randi ‘investigated’ Tina Resch in Columbus, Ohio, it turned out that he was not allowed in the house and had not carried out significant interviews, but had based his verdict on a second-hand study of visual material. A little digging throws up a more intriguing story than you would infer from reading Skeptical Inquirer, and McLuhan duly provides the wider context. He adds that this case is also an example of the tendency to suggest a guilt by association, the implication being that Resch’s significant legal problems later retrospectively made the poltergeist case still less trustworthy (“see, told you so, a bad ‘un all along”). But that is as patently unfair as it would be if I were to say that all CSICOP Fellow Robert Baker’s work should be ignored on the grounds that he turned out to be a plagiarist.
 
Clearly there is a double standard (to put it politely) in the sceptics’ approach, which McLuhan pulls out neatly, basing what they consider to be definitive conclusions on a superficial examination of the evidence with the admixture of broad assumptions, the whole topped off with a dash of cheap derision. They would jump with glee if they caught psi proponents doing the same thing. Of course sceptics do play a positive role in keeping parapsychologists on their toes by ensuring that experiments are as rigorous as possible. Parapsychological standards tend to be much higher than for other areas of research, but for the die-hard sceptics it is never enough.
 
McLuhan introduces the concept of “rational gravity”, the process used by sceptics to restore normality by manufacturing normal scenarios for anomalous events, even if on closer inspection they turn out to be weak or even implausible (the flipside is irrational gravity, the wish for a paranormal explanation to be true even when the facts do not bear the interpretation, which is also a problem). Beginning with an a priori assumption and forcing the evidence to fit it - or dismissing it if won’t fit - makes scepticism seem more like a theological position than a scientific tool for better understanding the world.
 
Dismissing parapsychology as pseudoscience is a powerful weapon as it conjures up images of ignorance and stupidity - and who wants to be considered ignorant and stupid, or naïve, or credulous, or any of the other hot buttons sceptics press? By creating a climate of easy dismissal, those people who are potentially interested but uninformed are not likely to bother to make the effort to weigh up the evidence for themselves. Time is short, so what is the point wasting it on bunk and flim-flam? The sceptics don’t even have to read the stuff themselves but can pull out a few stock verdicts which vaguely fit in order to dismiss it.
 
However, it is important not to bracket all sceptics together and there is a danger of in-group/out-group polarisation which distorts the wide range of views represented by both proponents and opponents of psi. Chris French is a world away from Randi, for example, and I have seen him amicably share a platform with Sheldrake in a way I could not imagine Randi doing. Randi is certainly an extreme example of the reflexive debunking tendency, and McLuhan mentions a few others who should rightly be lumped in with him. His list though includes Joe Nickell, who in my experience is a careful investigator. Perhaps significantly, Nickell and French do not figure much in the book.
 
Rather weaker than the dissection of the sceptical approach is the link McLuhan makes between the paranormal and religious experiences, claiming that “psi is not merely a facet of human experience; it is a potential gateway to religious belief”. One can argue that a positive assessment even of the survival evidence need not lead to a religious interpretation of it. I was surprised to see the sentence “As secular critics say, the decline of religion means not that people now believe in nothing but that they will believe in anything.” One wonders who these secular critics are, given that this is very close to Emile Cammaerts's dictum in his study of G K Chesterton about believing in God. It is of course untrue, whoever says it. Anyway, McLuhan may be correct in bringing in religious speculation, but perhaps at this stage it is best not to multiply hypotheses unnecessarily.
 
The book is well written and clearly sets out sometimes complex ideas. Given that McLuhan wrote the SPR’s Abstracts Catalogue, it is not surprising that he is exceedingly well informed, with a wide range of information that he synthesises into a coherent whole. Mistakes of fact (such as saying that Australian Richard Hodgson was British) are rare. This makes it a reliable primer for the newcomer to the field who wants to get a feel for the range of phenomena within psychical research, as much as it will appeal to those interested in (to adapt the title of Marks and Kammann‘s book on psychics) the psychology of the sceptic.
 
Scepticism tends to travel in one direction, and McLuhan has done a fascinating job in turning the microscope round. By the end of the book he has decided that much of the evidence for the paranormal is strong. Even if you do not agree with him, at least it will be on the basis of firm information. To enable the interested reader to follow up the issues raised, there is an excellent bibliography. One suspects that Randi’s Prize will not be included on the reading list of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, but only because they have already made their minds up.
Randi's Prize, November 2010. ISBN-13: 978-1848764941
Meeres, Frank
Tom Ruffles

Authors of regional paranormal books generally fall into one of two categories: those who carry out (what in some cases can only be loosely described as) psychical research; and local historians who are strong on library resources but don’t have much if any primary material to share. Frank Meeres (author of Norwich Through Time and Thetford and Breckland Through Time, both from Amberley, as well as a number of books about other aspects of East Anglian history) falls into the latter category, and he has relied heavily on papers in the Norfolk Record Office, where he is a Senior Archivist, for his rather random look at strange Norfolk, a big county with a lot of strangeness in it.

The book kicks off with John Polidori, Lord Byron’s doctor and author of The Vampyre, who happens to have lived in Norwich for a while. Meeres wonders if elements of his novel could have been inspired by his time in the city, a plausible assumption. More substantial is the chapter on Black Shuck, though it adds nothing new to the subject, and does not mention Simon Sherwood, who has been collecting accounts for some years, and who gave a talk on ‘Apparitions of Black Dogs’ to the 2010 SPR conference. A chapter on witches gathers together a few stories from the area.

Ghosts are divided by location: essentially rural, urban, clerical and modern. This is a useful compilation for the casual reader, with many old standards, such as - to take a few at random - the Drummer Boy of Hickling Broad, Blickling Hall, the haunted bridge at Potter Heigham, the ghostly monk seen hanging at St Benet‘s Abbey (though Meeres does not include the information that it is supposed to be a cyclical ghost which appears on 25 May each year; I have been and found the place heaving, but Edric failed to materialise), and more. Raynham Hall is another old standard, but it is disappointing to see the Brown Lady photograph discussed without reference to the recent research which has shown that there is far more to the story than is contained in general ghost books, and with suggestions how it was probably faked. Accounts gathered by local historian W H Cooke are given their own chapter. There is no index, which makes locating a particular story can be awkward as it can be in one of a number of places.

Long chapters are devoted to the Snettisham and Syderstone ghosts. The former relies heavily on Rev. Rowland Maitland’s authoritative booklet, which is credited, and adds further information, but the latter, mostly comprising long screeds of correspondence, could have acknowledged its obvious debt to Eliot O’Donnell‘s Ghostly Phenomena and Haunted Places in England. By the way, if anyone wonders why there appears to be little reference to the Snettisham Ghost in the SPR’s publications (despite Alan Gauld calling it "famous" in an article on Andrew Lang, who covered it in his The Book of Dreams and Ghosts, as did Andrew MacKenzie in Hauntings and Apparitions), that is because (as Maitland notes, but Meeres does not), it was not called Snettisham, Norfolk when details were first published, but instead Meresby, Suffolk. It is Case P. 220 in Frederic Myers’s ‘The Subliminal Self’ in Volume 11 of Proceedings.

Meeres’ primary interest appears to be true crime, and there is a lot of it in the book. On occasion it can obscure any paranormal element - for example, we get quite a long narrative about William Suffolk murdering his mistress when she dumped him in 1797, and his subsequent confession is printed verbatim, but the payoff is merely three lines recounting an anecdote that some unspecified children in the 1980s, playing at the spot where the gibbet which held his body was supposed to have stood, saw a skeleton lying on the grass, but it had disappeared when they returned with their parents. Other stories similarly have a thin paranormal component, though they still make good yarns - an entire chapter on the non-paranormal babes in the wood ends with the information that one may still hear them wailing on dark stormy nights (nothing to do with the wind in the trees of course).

Frank Meeres has produced a nicely illustrated and enjoyable book, on its own terms, one which will be of interest to those seeking an overview of the supernatural in Norfolk, as found in its central archives. It will hopefully encourage readers to find out more about this beautiful part of the country, and perhaps to delve further into its rich paranormal heritage.

Amberley publish a large number of regional guides to the paranormal. Their website is at: http://www.amberleybooks.com.

Paranormal Norfolk. Amberley Publishing, November 2010. ISBN 9781848684713
Underwood, Peter
Tom Ruffles

Veteran ghost hunter Peter Underwood dips into his files and pulls together a collection of haunted gardens. Or rather, with the odd exception, a collection of rather nice buildings which have allegedly haunted gardens attached to them, the accounts tending to focus on the insides as much as the outsides. Underwood is skilful at interweaving ghost stories, indoors or al fresco, with local history, and the book will be useful to those with a general interest in the places, many of which are open to the public, as to those wishing to know about the ghost sightings said to have occurred in them.

Gardens often have an uncanny quality so it does not seem surprising that they should be associated with ghosts. Thirty-seven are included here, the majority in England, but several in the other home countries, a few on the Continent, three in the USA and singletons in Jamaica and Singapore. In general there are no huge surprises. Some are better known than others, some very well indeed, and none more so than Borley Rectory, which is included even though there is nothing new added to the story and nothing left for the pilgrim to see. Entries are in alphabetical order irrespective of country, rather than grouped geographically. The book is well illustrated, mostly from the author’s own collection.

There is a distinct sense of recycling material from previous books, but Underwood always writes well and seems to have known a lot of interesting people, often of an elevated social class, with a huge fund of anecdotes between them. The text is more detailed than is sometimes the case in books of this type, and the whole is attractively packaged by Amberley, making Hunted Gardens a pleasure to read. It is well worth having to hand if you intend to visit, as Underwood is knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and his book will inform you about a place as much as about the ghosts that walk there.

Haunted Gardens. Amberley Publishing, November 2009. ISBN-13: 978-1848682610
Pilkington, Rosemarie (ed.)
Tom Ruffles
ESPRIT: Men and Women of Parapsychology, by Rosemarie Pilkington
 
Although it is possible to find occasional interviews and auto/biographical pieces, historians of psychical research and parapsychology have long needed the sort of series that psychologists enjoy with History of Psychology in Autobiography. The sole compilation of autobiographical sketches of eminent parapsychologists so far has been Rosemarie Pilkington’s 1987 Men and Women of Parapsychology. Long out of print, it has now been republished by Anomalist Books, with the addition of ‘ESPRIT’ as a prefix and ‘Volume 1’ as a suffix, heralding the arrival in due course of a further two volumes edited by Pilkington.
 
ESPRIT contains a dozen contributions from individuals who were over 65 in 1987 and who had made a significant contribution to the field. The twelve are Jule Eisenbud, Montague Ullman, Jan Ehrenwald, Eileen Coly, Joseph H. Rush, Gertrude R. Schmeidler, Emilio Servadio, Renée Haynes, Hans Bender, Karlis Osis, George Zorab and Bernard Grad. Of the twelve, only two – Eileen Coly and Bernard Grad – were still with us at the time of the 2010 reprint. We can all think of people whose recollections would be welcome, and it has to be a matter of regret when the opportunity to gather memories is lost.   In fact, this is how the idea of such a book came about. Pilkington was at the 1983 Parapsychological Association conference, a time of major loss in the field – Arthur Koestler, J Gaither Pratt, Louisa Rhine (not long after the death of her husband J B Rhine), and Laura Dale, and she realised what had died with them.
 
That was the spur to collect “personal reflections by the ‘elder statespersons’ of the field” so that those who had not known them personally might still be able to benefit from their experience.  To indicate how easy it is to be too late, Bender’s contribution is surprisingly short, but the reprint has a new editor’s note which explains that he had sent a draft and then suffered a stroke, so was unable to expand it. A couple who ‘got away’ were John Beloff, who characteristically, but entirely erroneously, felt that nobody would be interested in his career, and Ian Stevenson. It is a great shame that such eminent individuals did not contribute, but hopefully, with the example of Volume 1 before them, such refusals will be less likely in future.
 
To provide guidance, contributors were asked to consider five areas: how they became involved in the subject; what they thought were their most important contributions; what they might have done differently, or what beliefs had changed as a result of their experiences; what unusual experiences they might have had that exceeded their “boggle threshold”; and what advice they would give to young people entering the field. Pilkington interviewed Coly and Servadio, but all the others were given free range in what they supplied.
 
On balance I think I prefer the interview format because an essay can be edited and polished, and the writer occasionally bang on longer than strictly required about a topic, whereas an interviewer can guide the conversation and return to a subject that has not been answered satisfactorily, finding out things that might not make it into books and papers. A good example is the account by Servadio of how he took LSD and psilocybin with Eileen Garrett, which elicited more detail than a written response might have done, assuming it was mentioned at all.  There is a partial bibliography for each author, plus a general bibliography at the end of the book, though these have not been updated past 1987.
 
Apart from a tendency to begin their interest at a fairly young age (which helps to explain why they are in the book, as they had been around long enough to have built up significant careers), and the sense that a number were very good friends, to be expected in a small field, there is not a huge amount that unites them. Occasionally an academic interest was stimulated by an extraordinary experience, as with Ullman, Osis, and Zorab, not forgetting Coly, who had the constant example of her mother, Eileen Garrett. A rough breakdown shows that only three could be classified as full-time in parapsychology (Coly, as an administrator, Bender, and Osis), four were psychiatrists (Eisenbud, Ullman, Ehrenwald, and Servadio), there was a single psychologist (Schmeidler), a physicist (Rush), a biologist (Grad), and two who were general psychical researchers/historians (Haynes and Zorab).
 
The only figure associated closely with the SPR in the dozen, and the only one I knew personally, was Renée Haynes, but I am told that volumes 2 and 3 will include more SPR figures. I particularly enjoyed Haynes’s piece with its rather patrician style, reminding me of the ‘noblesse oblige’ atmosphere that used to prevail in the SPR, one that has thankfully largely disappeared in these socially more relaxed times.
 
As Pilkington points out, the book has been cited many times since publication, showing the value of her idea (not least, it has to be said, to obituarists).  The sort of initiative shown in this and its projected companion volumes should be formalised with an organised effort by one of the major organisations – the SPR, the Parapsychological Association or the Parapsychology Foundation – to collect accounts in a systematic way on a continuing basis, before memories are lost forever.  The British Library has an extensive programme designed to gather oral history from a wide a range of individuals, acknowledging its importance to future researchers. Psychical research and parapsychology should be treated no differently.
ESPRIT. Anomalist Books, October 2010. ISBN: 1933665505
McCorristine, Shane
Tom Ruffles
The history of the ghost is one of sad decline. Before the Reformation it had a place in the order of things which was relatively unproblematic, returning from Purgatory and interacting with the living to make requests, give advice, and generally carry on unfinished business. Ghosts had some substance to them, a purpose in death, but their successors acquired a certain diffidence. Modern ghosts are rootless and insubstantial (one might say bloodless), decentred from involvement with the living to that strange half-life in which we can never be sure whether they are ‘out there’ or ‘in here’.
 
Protestantism increased the distance between living and dead by discarding Purgatory, which made the origin of ghosts problematic. If it was unlikely that they would forsake Heaven to linger on earth, that left only one place from which they could originate, hence a tendency to identify ghost-seeing with evil spirits. Unfortunately for the new world view, scepticism about ghosts was not far removed from scepticism concerning the soul’s immortality, and could even constitute a bridgehead for atheism, but the obligation to interrogate the phenomenon more closely than hitherto laid the foundation for an evidence-based approach to ghosts.
 
The problem of the ghost’s status could be resolved by internalising the experience as an erroneous percept.  Hence the evolution of the idea of ghost-seeing as a form of dreaming while awake. Ghosts were no long objective beings but products of the mind, a by-product caused when it was not fully engaged with reality.  The inability to distinguish between objective and subjective allowed these “spectral illusions” to become incorporated into a medical model as pathological. The problem with pathologising ghost seeing, though, was that so many normal-seeming people appeared to experience them.  In the popular imagination they maintained their solidity, and this ambiguity has provided a rich source of inspiration for novelists dealing with the fantastic (in Todorovian terms) ever since.
 
As an example of this elusiveness, McCorristine notes the importance of Catherine Crowe’s 1848 The Night Side of Nature in the development of serious attempts to develop a framework for understanding ghosts, because of her insistence that they should be examined seriously as phenomena in themselves rather than as an outcropping of theological doctrine, while at the same time mixing fact and fiction. This “factionality trap”, in which the ghost account was never definitively assigned to one or the other, was already a problem in Crowe’s time.  McCorristine cites Daniel Defoe’s ‘A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs Veal’ as an example of a factional ghost story, and notes subsequent debates over whether Defoe believed (or even wrote) it, and whether it was designed merely as a marketing device. This problem of interpretation still challenges psychical researchers.
 
The ghost as objective entity was questioned by sceptical writers who asked how an incorporeal entity could wear clothes, an ability which suggested that ghosts were in fact products of the seer. How far such hallucinations corresponded to external reality was open to question. McCorristine shows how such a seemingly trivial issue of how ghosts were clothed became an important point in how they were assessed by critics, Spiritualists and, as usual somewhere in the middle, psychical researchers. Faced with a spectrum of opinion, the Society for Psychical Research fought hard to create a constituency for its findings that was “neither sceptical nor superstitious”, as Myers put it.
 
While ranging across over a century and a half, the bulk of the narrative deals with the early history of the SPR, and this period has been subjected to close reading. The work on thought-transference/telepathy is examined in depth because it was used as an underpinning mechanism for a variety of phenomena, including ghosts, in the attempt to achieve a “grand synthesis”. Such efforts are indicated clearly by the title of Frank Podmore’s 1909 book Telepathic Hallucinations: The New View of Ghosts. Part of Spectres of the Self is devoted to the accounts collected and categorised by the SPR in its ‘heroic’ phase between its inception and the beginning of the twentieth century. It was astonishingly productive not only in collecting material but also in seeking to incorporate it into a theoretical framework, ploughing a distinctive furrow and moving away from the Christian perspective which informed earlier narratives. It tried to draw that elusive boundary between fact and fiction, and provide criteria for handling the ‘evidential residue’.
 
The SPR’s efforts are situated in the context of changing attitudes towards religion and the hereafter, and developments in communications technology. By examining the critical response which followed the publication of Phantasms of the Living (1886), the SPR’s major achievement in this period, McCorristine is able to trace the fault lines dividing psychical researchers from the strengthening currents of academic psychology which considered such concepts to be pseudo-scientific. He then traces the shift in emphasis, after Edmund Gurney’s death two years later, from phantasms of the living to those of the dead, in order for Myers to accommodate his evolving thinking on human survival.
 
McCorristine seems pessimistic that this melee of competing views will ever be resolved, with advocates of rival positions concerning the aetiology of ghosts locked in perpetual combat, each unable to convince the other. The modern ghost hunter, weighed down with meters and recorders, will not welcome his characterisation of ghosts as a “soporific psychic reality”, and will take issue with the suggestion that labelling ghosts as projections of the subjective mind allows all shades of opinion, from sceptic to believer, to consider seeing a ghost as “real, truthful and authentic”. The ghost is not as easily disposed of as that.
 
The author has drawn on a wide range of sources and produced a useful analysis of a period of huge ferment in the ways ghosts were understood. Despite the subtitle indicating that the book is specifically about England, it actually ranges more widely, taking in Kant, Schopenhauer, debates in French psychiatry, and Prussian Christoph Freiderich Nicolai’s paper ‘A Memoir on the Appearance of Spectres or Phantoms Occasioned by Disease, with Psychological Remarks’, which is included as an appendix in the English translation which appeared in 1803.
 
Spectres of the Self provides a useful commentary on Owen Davies’s magnificent five-volume set Ghosts: A Social History. It has to be said that while crammed with useful insights into ghost culture in the modern period, it is often densely written and hard work to unpick. One minor annoyance from an SPR perspective is the acknowledgement to the Syndics of Cambridge University Library for permission to quote from the SPR’s archives when this permission is not in the Syndics’ gift. However, as a well-constructed example of the welcome burgeoning of academic literature dealing with historical aspects of psychical research, this book will assist anyone who puzzles seriously over ghosts and their veridicality.
Spectres of the Self. Cambridge University Press, July 2010. ISBN: 9780521747967 (p/b) ISBN: 9780521767989 (h/b)
Holder, Geoff
Tom Ruffles
The prolific Geoff Holder, who has written widely on the paranormal, mostly in connection with Scotland, does something slightly different in his latest book by drawing together a range of supernatural lore relating to the ill-fated Jacobites. Taking this thematic approach allows him to create a useful gazetteer for those interested in the supernatural, Jacobite history, and the fractious relations which have often prevailed between England and Scotland.
 
The book is divided into several sections. The first is a succinct but clear exposition of the historical context – the political, religious, and social divisions which generated so much strife – including a useful timeline. This part provides a foundation to understand the people and beliefs involved in the somewhat complicated narrative of Jacobitism. The second looks at how the supernatural was viewed and interpreted in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. This covers such matters as omens, prodigies and prophecy, and how they played a role in propaganda and the shaping of events (often becoming self-fulfilling); how the monarch’s effectiveness at employing the King’s Touch, being God-given, came to be seen as a criterion for assessing legitimacy; second sight; witchcraft and magic; fairies; and of course ghosts.
 
These two sections form the framework for understanding the third, which is the location guide. This is divided into Scotland, England and Ireland, and Scotland and England are further sub-divided into regions for Scotland and counties for England. Naturally most pages are devoted to Scotland. Site entries follow a standard format: the date when it became significant, where it is, including a map reference and the postcode to assist GPS users, what there is to see today, visitor information, what happened there, and of course the weird stories, including Jacobite ghosts. As not every location associated with the Jacobites has such stories attached to it, this is not a complete guide that movement (though it does include all the major battles), only the stranger bits of it.
 
The volume concludes with a bibliography and an index which makes searching the book easy. The whole is liberally sprinkled with illustrations, many taken by the author, showing that he put his boots on to do his research rather than sitting at his desk with a pile of tourist brochures. As a package this scores well compared to many regional volumes which do not allow someone trying to use them as field guides to locate information easily. It is also worth stressing that although Holder’s background is in the paranormal, he is very good on the personalities, and describes battles very clearly.
 
Some of the stories will be familiar from other collections, but Holder has taken a novel approach in focusing on the life and times of the Jacobites, and produced an extremely worthwhile guide as a result.  The text is well written, though the language is sometimes informal veering into slang. What he has achieved is to write a book that will appeal to fans of the paranormal as much as to those who enjoy visiting battlefields or historic houses, while injecting some serious history in a palatable form which manages to combine a quizzical eye for folly with compassion for the suffering such folly causes. Whatever one’s opinion of the folklore and strangeness he recounts, the general reader will close the book knowing a bit more about this tragic period than when he or she opened it.
The Jacobites and the Supernatural. Amberley Publishing, October 2010. ISBN 9781848685888
Wood, Alan C.
Tom Ruffles
Military Ghosts, by Alan C Wood, Amberley Press, 2010.
 
A field of human activity like warfare, in which sudden and violent death is a commonplace, might be expected to throw up large quantities of ghosts, assuming that they correlate with extremes of human emotion. Such seems to be the case judging by Alan Wood’s book – not to be confused with Ken and Sharon Hudnall’s 2007 book of the same name – on ghosts relating to armed forces and combat through the ages.
 
Wood writes with authority as he is not just someone who has been interested in the paranormal for over sixty years, but served in the RAF from the late 1940s, before joining the police for the rest of his working life. He covers dozens of ghost stories from a broad period of history, some familiar, others less so, and including personal experiences of both a ghost and a poltergeist. There is a good sprinkling of Scottish cases to reflect the author’s roots.
 
The book is logically structured, dealing separately with ghosts and legends relating to the three services. It is mostly devoted to British personnel, but Wood does stray overseas, notably including a few cases from the United States. All sorts are here, from benign spirits to evil presences, from ghosts that have personality to ones that seem to be only an echo of past events. Along the way Wood recounts stories of great bravery and endeavour, great cruelty, and unspeakable suffering.
 
Entries are generally short, with little attempt at analysis. For example, the Sir George Tryon and Camperdown story is recounted, but there is no mention of the analysis to which Melvyn Harris subjected it in Sorry, You’ve Been Duped. Similarly the Edgehill and Souter Fell ghost army stories have been closely scrutinised by Peter McCue and Alan Gauld in the SPR’s Journal, but their findings are not reflected in Wood’s book. But to be fair, such gazetteers are not designed to be academic texts and what it lacks in depth it makes up in breadth.
 
Wood has included useful appendices containing locations of haunted airfields (ordered alphabetically), a bibliography – oddly not including Bruce Barrymore Halpenny’s extensive Ghost Stations series which contains many of the same cases – and lists of haunted locations in the UK (ordered by county) and abroad (ordered by country). The latter two are useful but unfortunately do not key into the text with page numbers, which necessitates some hunting to find the passage to which the item refers.
 
Military ghosts are popular as they combine topics of deep interest to many, indeed obsession for some (and Amberley publishes widely in both subjects).  Even though there is much more to be said, this is a chunky book containing a large number of stories told in an engaging style, and is a worthy edition to the ghosthunter’s, military buff’s or just plain tourist’s bookshelf.
Military Ghosts. Amberley, October 2010. ISBN 9781445601717
Halliday, Robert and Murdie, Alan
Tom Ruffles
Cambridge Ghosts, by Robert Halliday and Alan Murdie
 
As well as being one of the most fascinating cities in Britain, Cambridge, according to Robert Halliday and Alan Murdie, is one of the most haunted. That is not surprising given somewhere so old and imbued with history, and the authors have produced an enjoyable popular tour of its spooky side.
 
This is an updated and extensively rewritten version of the authors’ The Cambridge Ghost Book, published in 2000. They have also restructured it: the original listed each location alphabetically on the contents page whereas this edition categorises them according to whether the featured ghosts are in colleges, found in city centre premises, are out in the “suburbs”, or are wider afield in the district. This is a useful method of organisation, particularly if used on a walk, but the drawback is that it is not possible to find a particular site at a glance without searching the entire section. Perhaps the next edition could combine the same general structure with a separate index.
 
The authors have been busy collecting stories in the last ten years, and there are some additions to those in the original edition.   The major change is a new section listing places of interest outside Cambridge but within easy striking distance, such as The Old Vicarage at Grantchester, Madingley Hall, Sawston Hall and that staple the Old Ferry Boat at Holywell. The last was investigated – and the myth inadvertently created – by the late Tony Cornell (Cambridge graduate and life-long resident), to whom the authors have dedicated the book.
 
As well as the places they discuss personalities, notably M R James and T C Lethbridge. Cambridge is of course firmly linked to the Society for Psychical Research, and the authors have made use of the Society’s archives which are housed at Cambridge University Library. They consider the early SPR and those of its major figures who were associated with the university, and particularly Trinity College.
 
They also cover the origins of the Ghost Club (which is still in existence) at Trinity in 1851. I would dispute the assertion that the Ghost Club is the oldest continuously running paranormal research society in the world, and I say this diffidently given Alan Murdie’s long association with the Club. I would argue that its history over the last 160 years is one of several organisations with the same name, and that the honour of world’s longest continuously running research society should go to the SPR. A minor error is the spelling of Frederick Warrick’s name (as in the Perrott-Warrick fund). Perhaps by now he, wherever he is, is used to it being spelled ‘Warwick’.
 
One other notable difference between this volume and its predecessor is that the very attractive line drawings have been replaced by photographs. The result is that Cambridge Ghosts is more extensively illustrated, but perhaps at the expense of atmosphere. The text though is clearly and entertainingly written, and this is an attractive and informative guidebook for resident and visitor alike.
Cambridge Ghosts. Arima Publishing, September 2010. ISBN-13: 978-1845494537
Underwood, Peter
Tom Ruffles
Anyone expecting to read an account of precisely what led Peter Underwood to resign his life presidency of the Ghost Club, or to enjoy watching him settle old scores (if any exist), will be disappointed. This brief account of the Ghost Club - or Clubs, as it has gone through a number of separate manifestations during its existence, each one generally having a tenuous connection to its successor - has little to say about the split that led to the formation of the Ghost Club Society, but rather concentrates on Underwood’s presidency of the Ghost Club, a reign which lasted over thirty years.
 
The history begins with the obscure origins of the Ghost Society (or Cambridge Ghost Club) in 1851, and the formation of the Ghost Club in 1862. It is unlikely that Edmund Gurney (b 1847) or Arthur Balfour (b 1848) were members of the original 1851 society, as Underwood claims. That the 1862 version attracted attention is indicated, as Underwood notes, by George Cruikshank’s dedication to the Ghost Club of his book A Discovery Concerning Ghosts, published the following year, though Underwood doesn’t add that Cruikshank was probably being sarcastic. More space is devoted to the 1882-1936 incarnation as the records have survived, but perhaps the section on its members and activities could have been expanded further.
 
More too could surely have been said about the Harry Price years (1938-47). One gets the feeling that Underwood’s interest in the earlier days is slight compared to when the Club was under his guidance. His main focus is what he terms the “third revival“, the period from 1954-93.
 
Underwood became president in 1960, and ran the organisation with huge energy, attracting a large number of celebrity supporters, the sort of thing the SPR was good at in its early days. I have to declare an interest here as I applied to join the invitation-only organisation (as it was before the organisation relaxed its rules following Underwood’s departure), and was rejected. I can see I missed some tremendous meetings addressed by a who’s who of the paranormal world.
 
This is actually a revised, expanded and much more professionally produced version of a booklet Underwood produced in 2000, under the slightly different title “The Ghost Club Society - A History” (White House Publications; the cover carries the title “A Short History of the Ghost Club Society”).
 
The change of title is significant because Peter Underwood resigned the life presidency of the Ghost Club in 1993 and became life president of the new Ghost Club Society. The original title was misleading as the booklet was about the history of the Ghost Club up to 1993, not the new Ghost Club Society which began in that year.
 
For this version the word ‘Society’ has been omitted from the title, which makes it more accurate, as it is still a history of the Ghost Club ending in 1993. The new title allows Underwood to avoid the anomalous situation of describing individuals as members of the Ghost Club Society before it was actually formed, which he had in the first edition. Unfortunately Underwood’s website still proclaims (or at least does at the time of writing) that he is “Life President, Ghost Club Society (founded 1851)”, which of course it wasn‘t.
 
The ending of the new booklet is substantially different to the old. In the original edition, Underwood merely says that “1993 saw the emergence of the present ‘GHOST CLUB SOCIETY’ with myself as Life President”, with no reference at all to the Ghost Club from which the new organisation split, and no indication why the Society was formed.
 
The new edition does now acknowledge that the Ghost Club continued, and Underwood says that he resigned as its president after receiving negative comments, though he did not leave the Club itself. The Ghost Club Society was formed in competition, but Underwood gives a misleading impression when he says that “For a while both clubs staggered along”, which suggests that neither now exists.
 
The Ghost Club Society appears to be defunct (as long ago as 2005, according to Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, third edition, 2007; she also gives more of the background to the efforts to revive the Club after Harry Price’s death, which Underwood leaves out). However, the Ghost Club continues to thrive, with a full programme of activities.
 
It is also surely incorrect to refer to the “third revival” as occurring between 1954 and 1993”, as if the Ghost Club changed character at that point. The Club retained its character after Underwood left, and is still the same organisation as reconstituted in 1954. The entry should read “1954 to date”.
 
Throughout their respective histories there has been an overlap in the membership of the Ghost Club and the Society for Psychical Research. The SPR is featured a number of times, but whereas many potted histories of the Society focus on the Cambridge connection and omit the role played by William Barrett and Edmund Dawson Rogers in its formation, Underwood goes the other way and excludes Sidgwick, Myers and Gurney from its foundation altogether, implying that the SPR began solely as a Spiritualist organisation.
 
The booklet is only 43 pages, which seems rather perfunctory for a history stretching back nearly 160 years, even if information about the early period is in short supply. The poor-quality illustrations of the first edition have been replaced with much better quality ones mostly taken from the author’s collection, and there is an excellent index. This brief survey will be of use to anyone interested in the history of the several associations that have been called “The Ghost Club”, but the definitive account, including its evolution since 1993, remains to be written.
The Ghost Club, Limbury Press, October 2010. ISBN 978-0-9565228-1-8
Jonas Elrod and Chloe Crespi (a documentary film)
Tom Ruffles
Apparently just an ordinary thirty-something with a peculiar haircut, Jonas Elrod was living a mundane life in New York City. His background was in commercial and music videos and several years ago he was in San Francisco working on a film. One day in his hotel room the temperature suddenly fell for no discernible reason, and he found that he could see strange clouds, patterns, swirls of light – and spirits, which were able to communicate with him. After this he found that he could regularly see paranormal phenomena such as spirits, demons and angels, people’s auras, colours and orbs.
 
Back in New York he found that he was still able to see them. Naturally confused by what was happening to him, and apprehensive about other people’s likely response, he kept it quiet, even though the beings were urging him to publicise their existence. What brought him out of the closet was meeting his girlfriend, Mara, as he felt he had to tell her. She was sceptical but agreed to support Jonas as he explored what it all meant. This exploration forms the basis of Wake Up. Jonas travels to meet people who might be able to assist him in his efforts to understand, while Mara encourages him to evaluate what is of worth and what is nonsense.
 
The film begins with statistics about belief in paranormal phenomena in the US, showing how widespread it is. Jonas had not previously considered himself to be spiritual, he tells us, hence his profound surprise at what had happened. His first step is to rule out physiological possibilities, to which end he has an MRI scan and psychiatric evaluation. These establish that he has no brain abnormalities, neither is he schizophrenic. He is not, according to a psychiatric opinion, suffering from delusional thinking.
 
The question he is left with is: if these things that he can see but which are invisible to others are real, then what are they? To try to answer it he spends two years travelling the United States seeking answers from various people in the enlightenment business, such as a Sufi mystic, an acupuncturist, a medium channelling a 35,000 year old Atlantean (yes, it’s J Z Knight!), a Buddhist, native Americans and sundry parapsychologists.
 
His first stop is his childhood home at Douglasville, Georgia, where in a rather stilted scene at the dinner table he informs his bemused but supportive parents of his weird experiences. Curiously, given his declaration that he had not been particularly spiritual, his mother tells us that as a child he was a keen churchgoer, and his uncle had been a minister. While in town he attends his local Baptist church and speaks to the pastor.
 
From there Jonas goes on a whirl of travelling in order to meet anyone who might help.  To begin with he is nervous, but he grows in confidence as the film progresses. His persona is that of the ordinary chap confronted by extraordinary phenomena. He does not see himself as unique, and significantly he is is very uncomfortable and disengaged at Knights’s establishment outside Seattle, Ramtha‘s School of Spiritual Enlightenment, perhaps not liking her particularly showy style. Not coincidentally this is the funniest sequence in the film. The school seems to be doing very well, with large numbers of students present when Jonas visits. He tries blindfold archery, but is not very good at it. He is told that he is thinking too much, and the instructor claims you create your reality as you are your own God, and cannot be prevented from finding your goal (which begs the question why bother to look). But Jonas’s scepticism is apparent as he acknowledges that part of him does not want to join the spiritual club.
 
This reluctance is also indicated when back home he tries spiritual cleansing to evict spirits, complaining about the “shit I’m going through”. He is clearly ambivalent about what is happening to him. He says that he is uncomfortable and wants to be free of entities, yet at the same time he considers it a gift.
 
Rather more interesting than Ramtha is the London-born Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who lives in California. He posits that the rational mind has created a veil between us and the spirit world, and he is interested in Jonas as Jonas seems to have penetrated that veil. Vaughan-Lee does though challenge Jonas’s statements that he is interested in spiritual growth, asking exactly what that means. Vaughan-Lee agrees that it is scary when parameters change, and growth is about moving out from ego to divine nature, saying “yes” to the mystery of life. Jonas finds him fluent but somewhat obscure, a fair assessment.
 
Still on the mystical path, he and Mara meet Joan Halifax, a Buddhist monk at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who works with the dying. It turns out that Mara has the same name as the man who tempted the Buddha, who asks him what makes him think he can achieve enlightenment. Mara cries, seeing herself as a possible barrier to Jonas’s progress.
 
Abdi Assadi, an accupuncturist/healer, says that he has had similar encounters to Jonas himself, though he does not give details. He tries to give Jonas perspective, seeing an alternative reality which he considers a magical thing and a positive aspect to one‘s life. He stresses the importance of focussing on human relationships, which he considers true spirituality.
 
Jonas’s one overseas trip is to Rome, to meet someone who says that he is able to photograph the energy released when one meditates. Umberto di Grazia, described as a researcher/medium, achieves very odd results, photographing Jonas meditating and then manipulating the images, though we are not told how the software he uses affects the results.
 
Turning from explorations of mysticism to parapsychology, Stephan Schwartz of the Cognitive Sciences Laboratory discusses interconnectedness, non-local consciousness and the Akashic database. Schwartz says of Jonas’s story that it is an interesting experience on the path – but it is not the path. In similar terms, at the University of Arizona Gary Schwartz says that we create energy which moves through space so we are interconnected with everybody else through the energy we generate. We are both antennae and receivers; information is all there for us to process.
 
Jonas has chosen his parapsychologists carefully, because Roger Nelson, discussing the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton, also stresses connectedness. His research, using Random Event Generators dotted around the world, has found a mind/matter connection which carries information, in a “resonant wave”. When our minds focus on, or even sometimes before, a significant event, our group consciousness reduces the variability of the REG data. Throughout, mystics and parapsychologists are interweaved to imply their equivalence.
 
His search reaching a climax, Jonas goes on a vision quest at Skokomish Nation, Washington. He tries a sweat lodge and we then see him sitting in a small circle in the rain, surrounded by four hundred little packets of tobacco which he has painstakingly constructed (albeit with Mara’s help). The process is designed to allow you to open up to your inner self, and to God. Jonas doesn’t look as if he is open to God, seeming to be more likely to suffer exposure than reach enlightenment, but you admire him for trying.
 
Yet afterwards, weathered and rough looking, he is elated, focusing on the spiritual aspect of his ordeal. He says that he had a great time there. More to the point, he has reached a spiritual resolution, even if it is not particularly profound: “all pointers point in the same direction”; all religions point to the same thing, the path you are on being less important than being on a path. He has reached some kind of peace with himself. It is an upbeat climax to his journey, though his final attitude to the spirits he presumably still sees in his daily life is unclear.
 
The film cuts to Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who says that we cannot escape the fact that we are all connected, the world is one. It then cuts to Stephan Schwartz, saying much the same. Others in turn echo their sentiments. It is typical of the genre (originating probably in LeShan’s Clairvoyant Reality) to find a similarity between the ideas of those with a spiritual or mystical perspective, and those pursing scientific approaches to the paranormal. The implication is that all ways of reaching spiritual truth are equivalent, and that mystical and scientific approaches can be reconciled into an overarching Truth.
 
From a psychical research viewpoint, the problem is that Jonas is not tested in any way (did any of the parapsychologists featured offer?) and we have to take his word for it that he really does see what he says he does. The focus is not whether the entities are veridical, but about his spiritual journey. It will therefore only satisfy those interested in the stages of his search, and anyone who wants to know whether the beings exist or are only in Jonas’s mind will be disappointed.
 
The viewer, of any persuasion, will probably be left asking: “Why him?” These do not seem to be common abilities - the opening statistics talk about widespread beliefs, not experiences - and one does wonder why they should be bestowed on this particular young man who had not been in a prior situation nor undergone any training that would facilitate psychic communication. In the end the viewer is none the wiser. Because there is no way to verify Jonas’s claims, we have no way to assess his sincerity. For all we know, he could just be playing a role to make a documentary. When he is pressed to describe what he can ‘see’ in a clinical setting, he becomes inarticulate and unconvincing. Considering that the whole venture is kick-started by Jonas’s ability, we are told very little about what he actually sees.
 
Wake Up was co-directed by Jonas with Chloe Crespi and was edited from about 400 hours of footage. It had its premiere in early 2009 and is now coming out on DVD from Beyond Words, who also distributed The Secret (Norman Vincent Peale repackaged) and What the Bleep Do We Know. It is low budget with a simple, unfussy presentation, generally eschewing the gimmickry that (among other things) so marred What the Bleep. While it clearly shares a similarity to those films, in its structure as a road movie documenting one person’s search for an underlying reality, the film it most closely resembles is Something Unknown is Doing We Don’t Know What. A number of Wake Up interviewees will be familiar from the earlier films, and there is nothing in the views expressed or evidence provided that is new.
 
There are some interesting names in the credits. Jonas and Crespi clearly tapped into the parapsychology community for help, with name-checks for such well-known figures as Julie Beischel, Larry Dossey, Dean Radin and Marilyn Schlitz, among others. Rather more surprisingly is a credit for James Randi, though one would be surprised if he thought of the project as anything other than ‘woo’, to use the trendy sceptical term.
 
The film is the edited record of Jonas’s learning process as he examines and comes to terms with his ability. But of course the title is telling us that this is not just an account of his journey; it should be ours as well. It is giving us a command - in the nicest way - to wake up from our spiritual sleep, as Jonas himself has done, or perhaps more accurately is doing. Having carried out his own puzzled investigation, he becomes a guide should we decide to set out on ours. There is more to reality than we are normally aware of, he is saying, and Wake Up sets out to help us make the effort necessary to expand our horizons.
 
Unfortunately you get the impression that while the spiritual paths chosen by the people Jonas meets may work well for them, they are very narrow paths that would not suit large numbers of people, many of them without the dedication (or in some cases the financial resources) necessary to follow where Jonas has led. Crucially, what is missing is the critical analysis to enable the viewer who seeks to explore possibilities to work out what is of value from what is banal nonsense. If we want to follow Jonas, fine, but it is still not clear what his qualifications are to be our guide, and whether his map is leading to sunny uplands or round in circles.