Books reviewed by SPR reviewers

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:

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 predecessor – 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 own 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, which he formed the same year.  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.  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 that in the old one.  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 indication why the Society was formed and implying a straightforward transition from one organisation to another.  The new edition does now acknowledge that the Ghost Club continued in parallel, 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 obviously 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 does appear 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).  The Ghost Club on the other hand 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 that was reconstituted in 1954, apart from being easier to join these days.  The entry for the Ghost Club 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 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 the Club’s evolution since 1993, when Underwood left in a huff, 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.
Brown, Elizabeth
Tom Ruffles
Dowsing: The Ultimate Guide for the 21st Century, Elizabeth Brown, Hay House, 2010.
Dowsing tends to conjure up the image of an old boy with purple teeth, trousers up under his armpits secured by belt and braces, a hazel twig in his hands striding the fields while spouting bits of weather lore. For anyone expecting Jethro, Elizabeth Brown’s book will come as something of a surprise. She occupies the terrain where the spirituality end of parapsychology meets the New Age, with much talk of tapping into a quantum field of information and Akashic records, the sort of book which is happy to mingle Max Planck, Dean Radin and Deepak Chopra.
Brown has long experience of the subject and writes clearly and engagingly. She sketches in the historical background, particularly the vexed relationship with the Roman Catholic church, and notes some significant dowsers. The instructions on how to dowse are surprisingly brief for a 300-page book, but are easy to follow and should encourage anyone with an interest to pick up their dowsing tools and have a go (actually, even the tool can be dispensed with by experienced dowsers, instead using their bodies in ‘device-less dowsing’). It is not something that only a few people can do; anyone is able to do it, but to achieve expertise requires experience and commitment, becoming attuned to what the rods are saying, asking the right questions, interpreting the answers, and learning to achieve the necessary degree of emotional detachment.
The scope of dowsing has certainly enlarged since Jethro’s day. Where at one time it was solely used to find water, precious metals and the like, it is now used to help with physical and emotional difficulties to optimise physical and mental health in a stressful and polluted world. By structuring questions in an unambiguous manner, dowsing assists on a practical everyday level. It can check pesticides in supermarket foodstuffs, identify imbalances in body chemistry and tell you if you are living a healthy lifestyle. In fact, as long as it is used in the right way, it can assist with any aspect of modern living, even though it does not always give the right answer (Brown self-deprecatingly acknowledges, with examples, her failures at trying to locate objects). It can even assist us to communicate with discarnate entities and enable us to connect with subtle energies far beyond the limited range of our senses. A by-product of dowsing appears to indicate that the universe is actually, contrary to appearances, essentially a benevolent place willing to assist us if we approach it in the right way.
Don’t think you can pick up this skill overnight. It takes effort, and failures can be attributed to the novice’s attitude, or failure to ask the proper questions in the right way. Nor is dowsing particularly amenable to testing, as the stresses of being assessed, plus the negativity of sceptics, can block the dowser’s abilities and produce results at chance levels. Sceptics also have a habit of employing inexperienced amateurs for tests, so increasing the likelihood of failure. This is unfortunate as we are left with anecdotal evidence which will convince many but not provide any kind of rigorous scientific evidence. That this matters can be seen by the recent scandal over the production of anti-explosive devices which were effectively dowsing rods and were dismissed by the US government as “bogus”. While perhaps it was not the device that was ineffective but the users, the consequences of failure were still unacceptably high.
There is a long-standing criticism that dowsers are not tapping into any kind of intangible information network but are responding to intuition and environmental cues. Significantly, one of Brown’s star dowsers, George Applegate, is also an engineer and geologist, and applies this knowledge in conjunction with his dowsing expertise. However, if the evidence Brown presents is accurate, then dowsing can be used in situations, such as map dowsing, where such cues cannot be picked up, and tapping into holographic reality is the more likely answer.
Whatever one’s opinion of the explanatory mechanisms provided by Brown, her book is very readable, and may encourage further research. If that leads to some means of subjecting dowsing to controlled tests then it will have served a valuable purpose, whether dowsing really works in the way described here, or whether success is due to intuition mixed with luck, selective memory, wishful thinking, and all the other ways in which we can fool ourselves to interpret an outcome in a satisfactory way.
Dowsing, Hay House, June 2010. ISBN-13: 978-1848502208
Grossman, Wendy M and French, Christopher C (eds.)
Tom Ruffles
Why Statues Weep: The best of The Skeptic, ed Wendy M Grossman and Christopher C French, The Philosophy Press, 2010.
The Philosophy Press has brought out this anthology, compiled by its founding and current editors, to celebrate twenty-one years of The Skeptic. Or that is what the introduction and back cover imply. As the magazine was first published in 1987, Why Statues Weep has clearly been a while in the making. Leaving aside the reason for bringing us this collection now, if any were needed, it is an entertaining read that showcases a selection of articles typical of the magazine in that they vary in quality but rarely outstay their welcome.
After a tub-thumping foreword by Simon Hoggart, in which he employs the tactic of stirring in a load of phenomena, from spoon bending, the Loch Ness Monster, fake mediums, UFOs, crop circles, telepathy, astrology.... and damning everything that might be anomalous by association, there is a gentler introduction by the magazine’s founder Wendy Grossman. One curious omission is that she gives the impression that the magazine was always called The Skeptic, whereas it was The British and Irish Skeptic until issue IV.2 (March/April 1990), to use the magazine’s own rather eccentric early numbering style which is employed throughout the book even though the magazine had dropped the Roman numerals by the end of Volume 4.
Articles are divided into nine sections, each with a short introduction by Grossman (Chris French’s duties seem to have been somewhat lighter than his fellow editor’s). As the sub-titles suggest – ‘There must be something in it’, ‘Favourite popular myths’, ‘What ever happened to...?’, ‘Beyond a joke’, ‘Faking it’, ‘Science and antiscience’, ‘Skeptics speak’, ‘State of the art’ and ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ – these are pretty much interchangeable, and more specific headings might have been a better method of guiding the reader. The articles, almost forty in number, range widely as might be expected.   Weeping statues only turn up in the introduction oddly, are mentioned briefly, and it’s more a case of ‘How Statues Weep’.
The contributors range from the obscure to the ubiquitous, including (without saying where they fall on that continuum) Susan Blackmore, Richard Wiseman, Chris French, Kevin McClure, Ray Hyman, Tony Youens, Martin S Kottmeyer, David Langford, David Hambling, Paul Chambers and David Clarke. Some authors seem to have made the single contribution to scepticism before moving on to other things. The topics covered are what might be expected: using phoney psychic abilities to con the gullible and desperate; Nostradamus; Carlos Castaneda; pop science stupidities (such as the “we only use 10% of our brain capacity” myth); UFOs; the idea of secret powers in martial arts, and so on. Underpinning these specific subjects are various discussions of the tools of critical thinking. There are celebrity appearances by Stephen Fry, Paul Daniels (in interviews) and John Diamond.
A few particularly interesting articles are worth picking out.  David Berman’s analysis of the 1879 visions at Knock draws on original documents to outline the anti-Protestant context of the events. Lewis Jones profiles that “Scourge of the Godmen” Basava Premanand, interviewing the famed guru buster when he visited London in 1992.   I was amused to see Jones describe him as “a man of modest means” and a couple of lines later say that he had to give away 90 acres of land to raise 2 million rupees in order to get close to Sathya Sai Baba. (After Premanand’s death in 2009 Sai Baba suggested that Premanand’s stance against psychic abilities might not have been quite as firm as he had made out, a sadly common fate for deceased sceptics.) Past Skeptic editor Steve Donnelly interviews the always interesting Joe Nickell on the Shroud of Turin.
Turning to medical matters, Peter May scrutinises an alleged miracle cure to show that far more was going on than appeared to be the case judged only on the basis of the pro-healing video that resulted. Richard Wiseman accompanies Psychic News editor Tim Haigh (one of the best that now-defunct newspaper ever had) to see a demonstration of psychic surgery and gives a gruesome account of what he saw, which seemed to involve real incisions. The one amusing thing in the episode was Wiseman pretending to be a Psychic News journalist to get to see the action. I wonder what the response would have been if he had told them he was representing The Skeptic
Gerald Woerlee’s examination of the Pam Reynolds case is valuable, though perhaps more for his description of the procedures than the explanation he gives for this much-discussed NDE episode. Also on NDEs, Sue Blackmore, who has three articles in the anthology, recounts her unhappiness with the documentary The Day I died, a programme which has achieved minor cult status despite her profound dislike of it. Seeing her rip into quantum coherence in the microtubules is a joy. Many of the articles in Why Statues Weep would not seem out of place in Fortean Times, and there is a degree of overlap in tone as well as content which suggests that many sceptics and those they see as the opposition are not quite as polarised as some of the more strident on either side would like to think.
Criticisms are few. Each article has a brief introduction by Grossman which gives the volume and issue number but not date of publication. It would have been useful to have that information, and easy to provide. A number of the articles had appeared elsewhere before their inclusion in the magazine, and relying on material now published for the third time implies that the choice of decent original work was restricted, which I am sure was not the case. One particularly irritating moment was when Nick Rose discussed research he and Sue Blackmore had done on sleep paralysis funded by the “Perrot-Warwick fellowship”. If you are going to take money left by Frank Perrott and Frederick Warrick the least you can do is spell their names correctly.
Something I missed was examples of the annotated period illustrations provided by Hilary Evans for the magazine’s inside cover. Instead we get just a few cartoons, those of Donald Rooum’s entertaining (and I always think very poignant) ‘Sprite’ blurrily reproduced. Additional artwork would have broken up the text and made the book more visually attractive. The magazine’s current incarnation is glossier than it used to be, perhaps not unrelated to the fact that it is published by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. But this anthology provides a whiff of nostalgia for the functional ambience of the early issues. Perhaps at some point these could be supplied in full either online or perhaps as a CD, so that newcomers can appreciate the range of material in the back catalogue in broader terms than Why Statues Weep allows. Either way, happy 21st (or 23rd by now), and here’s to the magazine’s silver anniversary – an opportunity for another collection? – and beyond.
Why Statues Weep, The Philosophy Press, April 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0953761128
Simmons, Ian (ed)
Tom Ruffles

Electricity of the Mind: The Anomalist no 14, edited by Ian Simmons. Anomalist Books, 2010.
Editor Ian Simmons has chosen a wide range of articles (appropriately fourteen in number) for Issue 14 of the Anomalist, and it will surely provoke the same kind of pleasurable expectation that is aroused on opening a new issue of Fortean Times (FT). It has to be said that Simmons has put together a mixed bag, but the success rate is high, and even those readers whose primary interest is psychical research will find enough to keep them interested, and may find their horizons expanded.
There are two stand-out papers here, one by Theo Paijmans, the other by Mike Jay. Paijmans writes excellent articles for FT, mining the recently available wealth of old newspapers made available through the wonders of digitisation. Here he gives us more of the same, with some fine examples of how searching newspaper runs digitally can assist in uncovering stories. A major benefit of this is the ability to check huge quantities of text quickly, throwing up variants of the same story in different publications. Where authors, including Charles Fort, have relied on perhaps a single source for a story, there might be many versions, and Paijmans gives a number of examples. By examining newspapers from different areas he can show how stories were disseminated across a wide geographical range sometimes over a long period of time.
Paijmans notes that not all newspapers have been digitised, so it may still be necessary to consult the paper record (or increasingly these days a microfilm reader). But while using keywords to interrogate a database is much faster and brings a wide range of related stories from different newspapers within reach, there are a couple of issues that Paijmans does not acknowledge. The first is that particular keywords may miss a story if it was phrased in a different way. If journalists cribbed from each other, they were likely to use similar words, but that was not necessarily the case.
On a related point, researchers today might miss interesting stories because they themselves use different categories, and hence do not use the appropriate keywords. The search is only as good as the keywords used, and things could be missed that a diligent search of the hard copy would throw up; there is still a place for serendipity in this technological age. Paijmans acknowledges the problem when he wonders how the modern researcher would have started had Fort not blazed a trail and done so much categorisation. But that throws up the issue of what might have been missed. Anomalies not yet categorised might still be there, not noticed by the search engine as it chugs through the 1s and 0s.
More significantly perhaps, as digital access becomes the norm, is the separation of reader from the physical text that came off the press. There is a pleasure in handling old newsprint, a connection it gives to the first readers, which a computer cannot replicate. But more important is the danger that stories will be ripped from their original setting, becoming an abstraction for the researcher that the original audiences would not recognise as they skipped from story to story. Researchers may be able to find significant stories faster than someone leafing through endless volumes in an archive, but they lose something too. One is not a replacement for the other, they are complementary activities.
The always reliable Mike Jay looks at Coleridge, though the subtitle is a little optimistic; “The psychic investigations of Samuel Taylor Coleridge”, as he was mostly investigating himself, in true Romantic fashion. The epigram which opens the essay really sums this approach up. A lady asks Coleridge if he believes in ghosts, to which he replies, “No, madam! I have seen far too many myself.” Jay unpicks this sub-Oscar Wilde paradox and highlights how Coleridge’s introspection led him to a psychology of ghosts which has lessons for paranormal investigators today. He had had a singular experience at Valetta in which, coming to from a doze, he saw a man who had left the room some time before, sitting across the table from him. He realised eventually that his imagination, (aided by a heady combination of drugs and alcohol, Jay surmises) had interacted with elements of the environment, such as a flask of port and the chair opposite, to produce the illusion. What he ‘saw’ was a synthesis of external and internal factors.
Rejecting the term ‘supernatural’, Coleridge instead coined ‘supersensual’ to describe, without arriving at a final verdict on them, experiences which contravened our laws of perception, rather than the contravention of the laws of nature indicated by the use of ‘supernatural’. Coleridge pursued his speculations in an essay on Martin Luther, in which he identifies the origin of Luther’s vision of the Devil in his radical change of diet while in prison. Rather like Scrooge’s verdict on his own spectral encounter, there was rather more of gravy than of grave about it.
Jay concludes that Coleridge, being poised to elaborate a new psychology, then drew back, perhaps because he found it beyond his capabilities, though he incorporated these insights into his wider literary theories. The main point was that imagination was not mechanical but was fluid, capable of synthesis and recombination. The issue that this raises, and which Jay does not address, is how far this reach of the imagination affects eyewitness testimony in psychical research, and the extent that a field investigator (or desk researcher like Paijmans) can take someone’s word for it that they experienced something in the way stated. As Coleridge indicated, experiences are a complex admixture of reality and imagination, so is it ever possible to reach beyond the witness’s subjective experience with any certainty?
Technology might help to answer that question, and Bryan Williams, Annalisa Ventola and Mike Wilson provide two linked articles collectively entitled ‘A Primer for Paranormal Enthusiasts’. The first deals with magnetic fields and the second with temperature, and together they outline the strengths and weaknesses of instrumentation in measuring the environment where a haunting is supposed to have occurred, how such measurements might relate to hauntings, and give tips on how to interpret findings. The tips are particularly useful and should help investigators who take such readings to ensure that they are doing so in the most efficient manner. There is an excellent bibliography.
Dwight Whalen recounts the sort of event that should become more familiar as newspapers are digitised and scoured, a strange image seen in the sky at a place called Hetlerville, in Pennsylvania, USA (a place I’m surprised the residents didn’t rename in 1941, just in case outsiders misheard) which occurred in the summer of 1914. As Paijmans found with the accounts he examined, the story had spread, in this case to the Niagara Falls Journal, where Whalen found it by chance. Hetlerville locals saw strange scenes in the sky; Harry Hudleston saw an amazing sight – “an immense house filled with children dressed in white with a black band on the arm of each... the children came out of the house in columns of two, dividing at the door...” Coleridge would have been impressed. A neighbour also saw something, “like a picture thrown on the screen”.
These visions appeared in other places nearby as well, but the curious thing is that when Whalen recently asked someone who had grown up in Hetlerville if the story is recalled there today, she said she had never heard about it before. This makes it most unlike the story with which is shares some similarities: The Angel of Mons. At the time, the Hetlerville visions were put down to a searchlight belonging to a carnival, or the misinterpretation of a star, but the article considers other possibilities such as temperature inversion, or anxiety at the prospect of the Great War. Whalen attempts a symbolic interpretation of the images described which may or may not have some validity, but as he concludes, what happened in that small area of Pennsylvania almost a hundred years ago is now beyond reach of conclusive explanation.
Ulrich Magin explores the little-known (to say the least) Earth Mysteries topic of ‘out-of-place volcanoes’. While only three European countries – Iceland, Greece and Italy – boast volcanoes, there are stories of volcanoes from many more regions where there is just no evidence that such activity ever took place. Magin has collected a number of these, from places where you might think there have been volcanoes in the recent past, such as Norway and Switzerland, because of their mountains, or Russia, because it is so big, to others where the proposition seems ridiculous, not least all the British countries.
Some of the examples seem borderline. Looking at England, there is an account of an earthquake in the twelfth century during which “huge fires burst out of rifts in the earth”, and one in the eighteenth in which cliffs in Dorset began to smoke and then burn at intervals for several months. It’s hardly Mount Etna. On the other hand, a couple of eruptions which allegedly occurred in Ireland, one in Sligo and one in Antrim, were supposed to have killed large numbers of people and animals, and the latter was claimed to have destroyed an entire village.
Magin unsurprisingly concludes that the term out-of-place volcano covers a range of phenomena. These range from misinterpretation of natural phenomena, providing useful case studies in the limits of eyewitness testimony, to hoaxes, or the transposition of real volcanoes onto more familiar locations by hack journalists. The last of these links nicely with Paijmans’s article, and is a common problem with older sources, distinguishing the sincere from the fanciful. Unfortunately the term volcano conjures up a specific image, so perhaps further work is needed to categorise the examples presented by Magin, and others which are surely buried in the literature, in finer detail.
Cameron Matthew Blount considers two cultures in Peru, the Moché and the Nazca and amazingly gets through an entire article concerning the latter without mentioning Erich von Däniken.   His warning that it is unwise to interpret any artwork that does not appear to fit with what is already known as ‘mythological’ as the default is well taken, as he gives examples of images which appeared to be non-realistic but which later turned out to be representational. Unfortunately though, by referring to the “Nazca Astronaut”, the implication is that this figure may well represent a figure which really dressed like that.
He does not actually say “alien visitors”, but it seems difficult to see what else he might have in mind. Rather like von Däniken he downplays the creativity of these early peoples; Blount thinks it likely that they did not have the time or resources to create “complex and abstract mythology”, and nothing to gain by doing so, a dubious assertion, but one that leaves open the possibility that as the “Astronaut”, an astonishingly loaded term to use in this context, if not mythological, must be something else. One wonders why his title mentions the Moché but not the Nazca.
Other articles range just as widely as these. Patrick J Gyger studies witch trials in Fribourg, Switzerland, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, using a collection of cases entitled Livres noirs.  Aeolus Kephas compares Carlos Castaneda and Whitley Strieber, the link (apart from the accusations of hoaxing) being their acting as a conduit between mysterious entities with esoteric knowledge and the mundane world, that and continuing to write after they have passed their sell-by dates. The major difference seems to be that Castaneda possessed a sense of humour which Strieber lacks, and which Kephas rightly links to a sense of self-importance. Their tragedy, he concludes, may have been that because they wrote so much, they were not themselves able to assimilate the lessons they conveyed to others. And they could not find acceptance in either camp.
That John F Caddy presents a strange thesis is intimated by his title – ‘An Exercise in Transdimensional Zoology: Speculating on the Origin of the Chakras’, which includes his thoughts on the ability to time travel and move between dimensions. You see a lot of this sort of thing on the internet. One question I would like to ask Mr Caddy (apart from exactly what variety of scientist he is, which he does not specify) is why, if our ancestors’ attainment of an upright posture is related to the crown chakra being closer to the sky, and thus more specialised for “ethereal communications”, did they bother to come down from the trees, which are closer still?
Chris Payne presents complicated mathematics to try to determine whether, if thylacines have survived in small numbers, when their population might have become large enough for us to rediscover them, or conversely when it might be safe to assume that the species is extinct. Apparently, if one hasn’t turned up by the mid-2030s, we can be pretty sure it never will. Gary Lachman, also a name well known to readers of FT, contributes a frankly bizarre piece which consists of the footnotes from a book which were excised at the insistence of the publisher. Waste not want not, he has gathered them up and published them as a standalone article.   They read like ... well, like a bunch of footnotes, or ideas for articles, undercooked nuggets. I’m sure that Lachman will make something interesting of them in due course, but the reader of an article expects some structure to it. The effect reminded me of Schopenhauer’s Essays and Aphorisms, and that is not necessarily a compliment.
Mark Pilkington, yet another FT regular, contributes an article on crop circles which continues his attempts to place the phenomenon within its cultural context. Pilkington presents a possible scenario: genuine anomalies inspire artists (ie Doug Bower and Dave Chorley) to create their own interpretations, which then grow into the phenomenon we know today (ie ostension in action), before showing how the situation is not that straightforward. His example is a shape first illustrated in Robert Plot’s 1686 The Natural History of Staffordshire (FT264, July 2010, contains an article by Paijmans on precursors of the modern phenomenon, again showing the value of online sources, which also refers to Plot.) Plot included a shape, a circle with a square inside it, which then turned up in the science fiction film Phase IV in 1973, predating Doug and Dave’s initial interest in circles by several years. While Pilkington concedes that it is unlikely they were aware of Plot’s book, he wonders if they (or their successors) may have seen the film, which then fed into their work, though as he points out, it begs the question why Doug and Dave did not borrow more from the film. I have to say that the square-in-a-circle reminds me of the end of a radiator key, which while unknown to Professor Plot, would presumably have been familiar to at least some of the makers of Phase IV, so perhaps the shape was borrowed, consciously or not, by a member of the production team fretting about whether his or her system needed bleeding.
Richard Wiseman provides a rather touching account of a magic trick he was shown by his grandfather at the age of 8, which sparked his interest in the subject, and the psychology of deception more widely. He describes an experiment in which he and his associates mounted a Victorian-style séance to investigate possible methods used by fraudulent mediums. By controlling the phenomena, in total darkness, they could compare what participants thought had happened to what really happened. I participated in one of these at a Fortean UnConvention, and it was remarkable how many people were fooled. At one point a stooge kept shouting that the table (marked by luminous dots) was rising, and while I could tell it wasn’t, knowing how it all worked, many of those present really thought it was levitating. Not only do many participants at these events misperceive what has happened, largely based on prior attitudes to the paranormal, but some also report other “spooky effects” such as a mysterious presence, shivers, or sense of energy flowing through them. Coleridge would be nodding his head sagely.
Following a page on psychologist Joseph Jastrow, who surely deserves far more space, Wiseman concludes by recounting his search for a film that was described in an article by Alfred Binet in 1894. He had collaborated with Georges Demenÿ (not Demeny, as Wiseman has it) in producing a rapid succession of photographs (chronophotographs) of magician Raynaly doing a very brief card trick. Three brief sequences were located in Paris, and by making digital copies, Wiseman was able to recreate one of these performances, just a few seconds long. The cover blurb says that Wiseman “recounts his discovery” which oversells it because it suggests the films were lost until Wiseman’s sleuthing unearthed them, but archivist Laurent Mannoni for one knew where they were.
The final article by Tim Cridland (also known as Zamora the Torture King) purports to show us the “real” James Randi, a much more complex man than his strident criticisms of the paranormal might suggest. In press before Randi’s announcement that he is gay, nevertheless Cridland’s article does a good job in excavating Randall Zwinge’s various activities, and shows how his accounts of them have varied over the years as he reinvents his persona and rewrites his history and motivations, showing him to be a master of spin in the process.
Cridland’s account of Randi’s early life is particularly valuable in peering behind the image, highlighting how he was able to tour in a psychic act, or write an astrology column, yet later, rather than be embarrassed when charged with hypocrisy, recast such jobs as a kind of social experiment. Randi’s relationship with Geller is covered, though there is no mention of cereal boxes, nor Randi’s departure from CSICOP. Cridland feels that examining Randi’s career is reasonable, given the way that Randi has himself subjected others to similar scrutiny. But more, it is reasonable because, Cridland argues, Randi promotes a “socio/spiritual viewpoint” and is willing to distort the truth for “the cause”, a cause that puts personal gain above the truth.   As far as I am aware, Randi’s response is still awaited.
While Electricity of the Mind is generally entertaining, one minor criticism is the reprinting of articles which have already appeared in other places. Chris Payne’s article was first published in Mathematics Today (where it surely belongs, at least in this form; it should have been rewritten for a more general audience before Simmons accepted it).  Mike Jay’s article, with the footnotes that are omitted here, is not only included on his website, but previously appeared in the Times Literary Supplement in 2006, though this outing does not mention either earlier incarnation. Aeolus Kephas’s piece is freely available on his website, dated 2008. While it is good that such generally high-quality material reaches a wider readership than might otherwise see it, one wonders if there is a scarcity of good original articles to fill the pages of The Anomalist. It would surprise me if there were.

Electricity of the Mind. Anomalist Books, March 2010. ISBN: 978-1933665399