The Magazine of the Society for Psychical Research, 5 (2022)
For most of its history, the Society for Psychical Research has published acounts of people’s personal experiences, known among members as ‘spontaneous cases’. Usually, these were further investigated, often thoroughly, and over the years this has grown into a considerable record, probably unparalleled, of the ‘paranormal’ in everyday life. This was a major theme of my contribution to the SPR’s Study Day to commemorate the Society’s 140th anniversary this year. Called ‘Phantasms of the Victorians’, I looked at the role played by apparitional experiences in the early Society for Psychical Research. The Society essentially began with a handful of ghost stories and a desire to find out more about them: one of its first committees was a Committe on Haunted Houses. Although the Committee on Haunted Houses was shortlived – few people wanted to invite such a group into their homes, much less tell the world about any alleged hauntings – this investigatory zeal for the spontaneous inspired the great pioneering works of that era: Phantasms of the Living published in two volumes in 1886, which in turn led to the survey-based ‘Report on the Census of Hallucinations’ published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research in 1894.
At some point, the documentary work started to decline and eventually all but stopped. Investigations into Spiritualism and the Cross- Correspondences took up more of the active members’ time (and space in the SPR’s publications) and against the rising tide of laboratory-based parapsychology, the spontaneous cases lost their shine. As the funding for the SPR’s Research Officer dried up – the late Prof. Donald West was the last to hold this title – no other sources of funding became available and the SPR itself chose not to free up resources to keep it going.
People did not stop having these experiences and other people did not stop recording them, but the SPR as a whole seemed less interested. Except, that is, for a small band of dedicated (and unfunded) investigators, the Spontaneous Cases Committee (SCC). Yet even here, a reluctance (or lack of opportunity) to publish as a committee has left their work largely unrecognised.
Over the years of my editorship, in addition to publishing spontaneous cases that have come my way, I have badgered successive chairmen and other members of the SCC to provide articles for the magazine and re-connect with that early spirit of data gathering, which I might sum up as ‘no investigation without publication’. Therefore, I am delighted to begin this issue with Dr Graham Kidd’s account of the current work of the SCC. The SCC has had a tumultuous history of late, adjusting to the heavy burden of GDPR and with some significant changes to its line-up, but it has weathered its several storms to emerge stronger than ever and with a definite desire to bring cases investigated to our attention through the pages of the Magazine.
The rest of this issue follows in this investigatory vein. Mike Nichols joins us to describe his pioneering approach to using random number generators in the investigation of hauntings. Karma Wilde tells us about her development of a ‘haunted museum’ and some of her experiences in relation to her creepy collection. Local historian, Chris Aspin has gathered several intriguing cases from his area, covering poltergeists, past lives and premonitions. No issue would be complete, of course, without Brandon Hodge’s ever-engaging contribution to the history of spirit communication devices.
Dr Leo Ruickbie