Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Material witnesses

Here's another post you may consider the height of lunacy. Still, our ordinary life (especially in the political realm) these days is the height of lunacy, and that doesn't stop it being the stuff of media. At least this post will not further mention Buraq Obama, Hillary Clinton, or climate change.

Embedded below is a video titled Visitors from the Other Side. Much of it concerns a spiritualist named Tom Harrison recalling the life and séances of his mother, Minnie Harrison. Mrs. Harrison seems to have been exceptionally gifted in her unusual calling. Over time she developed the abilities of mental mediumship, direct voice mediumship, and -- wait for it -- physical mediumship.

That last includes moving objects by mind power, summoning objects (known as apports) that appear mysteriously, and the hugely controversial practice of creating simulacra of spirits from "the Other Side" (after death) using a semi-material substance called ectoplasm -- produced or transferred by the medium herself.

Of all psychical phenomena, the appearance of spirits (often parts of them, such as heads or hands) is met with the greatest skepticism. Even today's psychical researchers (who call themselves parapsychologists to sound more academically respectable) tend to be embarrassed by the subject and avoid it. But physical mediumship was practiced fairly widely, roughly in the last half of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th. Minnie Harrison was late to the game, after its vogue was past. But some forms of physical mediumship continue to arise occasionally, such as during the Scole sessions.

Understandably the production of semi-physical forms of spirits built of ectoplasm is much derided. During the heyday of séances plenty of fake materializations were revealed. Photographs are not convincing. Many are rather ugly pictures of a medium extruding through her mouth a stream of something resembling cotton or curdled milk. Still, we don't know what ectoplasm, if it exists, actually looks like. So even if we're dubious, we shouldn't be too dogmatic.

The reason I think this video worth watching is that it is eyewitnesses speaking, not recounting hearsay; and Tom Harrison certainly had many occasions to observe the phenomena produced by his mother. This can be considered a historical documentation of something that supposedly occurred in psychic circles in earlier times and has now apparently vanished -- perhaps because no one attempts it. The video is dated 1995, and describes sessions from 1946 to 1954.

I also like the fact that the interviews, by a woman named Pat Hamblin, do not seem to have been made for a TV production. No director working today would have followed such a simple, straightforward format: the now-unacceptable long sessions of "talking heads." Missing were quick cutting, actors "re-creating" scenes, or cheesy background music. It all comes across as natural. Hamblin apologizes for obtrusive sounds in the public places where Harrison lectures, although I didn't find them bothersome.

Incidentally, some Yanks (and Brits, for that matter) may think the accents of the speakers suggest a lack of sophistication. No. The country is remarkable for the persistence of micro-accents; what you hear is the dialect of Middlesborough, Yorkshire. I was once with a woman in Yorkshire (she was a native of the county) who fell into conversation with a bloke. The woman remarked, "You don't sound like you're from around here." "Aye, you're right," he said. "I'm from Middlesborough." That was about 40 miles to the north.

Here is the video. You can click the icon at the lower right of the frame to enlarge the picture to full screen.


Stogie said...

Have you heard of Helen Duncan? She was a British psychic who revealed the sinking of two British warships before it was announced by the government (one ship was the famous HMS Hood). She was tried and convicted for witchcraft and put in jail as a security risk to the war effort. She also had some impressive physical manifestations.

Rick Darby said...

Yes, Helen Duncan figured in the strangest apport I've ever heard of, produced in the Scole sessions. Here is a brief description:

The apport concerned was a pristine copy of the Daily Mail dated April 1st 1944, the front page of which carried the account of medium Helen Duncan's 18month gaol sentence handed down at the Old Bailey under the Witchcraft Act. The Scole Group received it after being told by one of their communicators that Mrs Duncan would bring them something as evidence of her interest in their work. A natural objection advanced by one of our colleagues to the authenticity of the apport was that the pristine condition of the newspaper indicated it was no more than a modern facsimile reproduction of the original. Accordingly MK [Monty Keen] took the paper to the Print Industries Research Association, a world authority on paper and printing, who informed him in due course that their detailed examination of the typeface demonstrated that it had been printed by letterpress, a long-since obsolete technique.

Furthermore, their chemical analysis of the paper on which the apport was printed revealed it to be Second World War newsprint, long since unavailable. In his further investigations MK ascertained that the apported version differed from the copy of the Daily Mail for April 1st 1944 kept in the British Library only in that it was an earlier edition of that day's print run.

Rick Darby said...

For some reason the URL that I cited for the above didn't appear in the comment. It is http://www.thescoleexperiment.com/artcl_01.htm