Farewell to a giant of psychical research

Archie Roy at Glasgow UniversityGLASGOW. Earlier today I joined a gathering in Glasgow University Chapel that included the Astronomer Royal of Scotland, Professor John Brown, and cosmologist Bernard J. Carr, professor of mathematics and astronomy at Queen Mary, University of London.

But the intricate workings of the Universe were not the reason I and over 100 people had gathered in the chapel. We were there to pay tribute and express appreciation for the life of Archie Roy, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Glasgow University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, who died, aged 88, on 27 December, 2012. He was a man who dared to allow his considerable intellect to explore not only outer space but also inner space, or consciousness, and the possibility of life after death (This picture of Archie shows the Chapel in the background.)

After a difficult childhood, including spending two of his teenage years hospitalised with tuberculosis, Archie developed a passion for space travel and exploration. In a tribute to his father, one of his three sons, Ian, revealed to the congregation that he had found declarations in Archie’s early diary entries that “astronautics is my life” and it was “the goal I have set myself”. So it was fitting that in 1986 he even had an asteroid – 5806 Archieroy – named after him.

As Scotland’s Astronomer Royal explained, Archie was a profound thinker who was “pushing at the boundaries of ideas” throughout his life.

This was particularly true of his keen interest in psychical research. He once explained in an interview how he had stumbled on psychical research accidentally.

“I lost my way in the old university library and found shelves of books on Spiritualism and psychical research. My first ignorant reaction was ‘What is this rubbish doing in a university library?’

“But curiosity made me open some of the books. I was surprised to recognise some of the authors of this ‘rubbish’, such as Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor William James, Professor Sir William Crookes, and so on. My balloon of ignorance was punctured by the needle of my scientific curiosity and I found myself called up to a new career.”

He became an indefatigable investigator of the paranormal; sitting with mediums, encountering poltergeists and analysing reports of hauntings. The Scottish media often referred to him as a “ghost-buster”, which greatly amused him and his family.

Typically, Archie never hid his interest in psychical research – quite the opposite. He happily discussed his research during regular contributions to BBC Scotland’s radio and TV programmes.  The founder president of the Scottish Society for Psychical Research, which came into being in 1987, Archie continued as honorary president until his passing. He was also president of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) – from 1993 to 1995 – a position, incidentally, also held by cosmologist Bernard Carr who, as already mentioned, was among those at the memorial service.

The SPR was formed 105 years earlier than Archie’s Scottish society by, among others, one of his heroes – Frederic H. Myers, author of the two-volume Human Personality and its Survival of Death (1903). Whilst many of his colleagues may not have shared Archie’s interest in or enthusiasm for the paranormal, his impressive academic credentials left them in no doubt that he would treat the subject with the same scientific rigour as archeo-astronomy, rocket propulsion and celestial mechanics.

For those who chose not to accept the evidence that has accumulated over more than a century, Archie Roy – writing in Archives of the Mind – was adamant: dismissing this “Cinderella science” in general terms was not acceptable. Sceptics or critics, he said, could only do so by “pointing out in detail enough flaws in the evidence to vitiate the case or by demonstrating unjustified deductions made by the investigator”.

For Colin Wilson, who wrote the Preface to Archie’s book, it was “one of the most powerful and convincing books on the paranormal that has been written since Myers”. So it must have been a particular highlight when, in 2004, Archie was awarded the SPR’s Myers Memorial Medal, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to psychical research.

Thousands of students benefitted from his teaching skills for the best part of 60 years, and for half that period he also taught psychical research as an extra-mural subject, assisted for much of that time by fellow psychical researcher Patricia Robertson.

Together, they also embarked with others on an impressive study of mediumship. Named PRISM (Psychical Research Involving Selected Mediums) it involved collaboration between Spiritualists and scientists, the results of which were published over three issues of the SPR’s Journal.

These triple blind – and sometimes quadruple blind – experiments brought impressive results. Designed to ensure that the medium was receiving neither visual nor auditory clues from sitters, and checked against control samples, their statistical analyses put the odds against chance at a million to one.

I’m not sure what the odds were when Archie went into a William Hill betting shop in 1964 and placed a £20 bet on man landing on the moon by 1977 but it paid off handsomely. He collected £1,200 in winnings when the first Apollo astronauts set foot on the lunar surface in 1969.

Speaking to the BBC, soon after his Archie’s passing, his son David said his father was “fascinated by life in general” and his interest in subjects as diverse as astronomy and the paranormal was a source of amusement to the family, adding:

“But he was equally as proud of both his achievements within academia and astronomy as well as his innovative work looking for scientific evidence of the paranormal.

“I remember as a small child him talking about the greatest area of discovery was still the human brain. He was just fascinated by knowledge and by extending knowledge and hopefully education, which ultimately, I think, was his real passion.”

Proof of this is to be found in the 20 books he authored, ranging from academic textbooks to thrillers. His six works of fiction, usually with paranormal themes, included Deadlight (1968), The Dark Host (1976) and Devil in the Darkness (1978).

Archie’s non-fiction, on the other hand, ranged from The Dynamics of Small Bodies in the Solar System: a Major Key to Solar Systems Studies (edited with Bonnie A. Stevens, 1998) and the Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Universe (ed., 1992), to three books on the paranormal that should be required reading for anyone intending to become (or claiming to be) a psychical researcher. They are: A Sense of Something Strange, Investigation Into The Paranormal (1992), Archives of the Mind (1996) and The Eager Dead (2008), which explores the evidence of the famous mediumistic cross-correspondence messages.

I had many enjoyable encounters with Archie in his home city, Glasgow, over the years as well as participating in an SPR Study Day in London at which we were both contributors. He was great company, a gifted storyteller, and his encyclopedic knowledge of psychical research and mediumship was astonishing.

This giant of inner and outer space will be sadly missed, but his research, theories and writings will continue to influence people well into the future. And, as Archie himself clearly believed, an aspect of that brilliant intellect will undoubtedly have survived his death in some form – not just as an asteroid but as a conscious entity eager to expand his knowledge of the universe even further. Always the humorist, he liked to joke: “If I don’t survive death, I’ll be very surprised”

Archibald Edminston Roy passed away on 27th December and is survived by his wife Frances and three sons, David, Archie and Ian.

Reincarnation: the joke’s on me!

Work on a time-consuming project coupled with a lot of travelling has meant that I’ve not had the time to post a blog for several weeks. Which is a pity, since there’s no shortage of paranormal news about which I’d like to comment. Hopefully, I’ll catch up with some of these stories early in 2013.

The big event for me in 2012 was publication of The Big Book of Reincarnation and the biggest surprise was to see it featured on a TV comedy programme. It turned up in an episode of BBC Three’s “Cuckoo”, a very funny six-part series, set in the Midlands and featuring an American and a British comedy star – Andy Samberg and Greg Davies, respectively.

I was out of the country when it was first screened in October and returned to find emails and text messages from friends and family who were amazed and delighted to see the main character, Cuckoo, a self-appointed “spiritual ninja”, reading my book.

 Cuckoo reading Roy's book

I was able to catch the programme on BBC iPlayer and was delighted not only to see my book featured but also to find that its very amusing exploration of reincarnation perfectly illustrated the prejudices and gullibility surrounding the subject.

BBC Three is now rescreening the series and the reincarnation episode, No. 4, titled “Grandfather’s cat”, will be shown this Friday (5 January) at 21:00, and again in the early hours (01:30) of Saturday morning. If you can’t catch it then, you’ll find it on BBC iPlayer, which I believe is restricted to UK viewers. But with Andy Samberg as the star, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t soon get seen in the USA and elsewhere in the world. I hope so.

Well, this is being written in the closing hours of 2012 (during which, of course, the world didn’t come to an end), so I wish you all a very Happy New Year and hope that 2013 is good to you.

Paralympics and people power

Beth and sonUsually, my Blog confines itself to the paranormal, which offers a very broad spectrum of subjects for comment. Today, I’m making a departure from that rule to say a few words about the London Paralympics 2012.

London did a wonderful job of hosting the Olympic Games and soon, after a short respite, its venues will welcome disabled sportsmen and women from around the world. It promises to be an inspiring event, showcasing not only the individual and team skills of those whose bodies are not “fully abled”, but also the tremendous courage and determination they display in achieving their goals and overcoming their handicaps.

The Paralympics (29 August to 9 September) will, like the Olympics, be a sell-out and will attract able-bodied and disabled spectators alike, eager to cheer on their heroes and draw inspiration from their achievements.

So it came as a surprise – even a shock – to me to learn that Locog (the London Organising Committe of the Olympic Games) has a ticketing policy, as far as spectators in wheelchairs are concerned, for which the only word that adequately describes it is “discriminatory”.

Wheelchair users can only be accompanied by one person.

Imagine a family of four, one of whom is in a wheelchair, wanting to cheer on a basketball team. Two will be seated in one area, whilst the other two (one in a wheelchair) have to be seated elsewhere. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the family spirit? And what message does that send to a wheelchair-bound child in a world that is supposed to be inclusive and non-discriminatory?

Beth Davis-Hofbauer (pictured) is a wheelchair user and mother of a four-year-old autistic son and a 19-month-old daughter who finds herself in that position. Rather than accept it, she decided to harness people power and has started a petition which has already received 34,000 signatures (including mine).

As a result, Locog is taking notice and has already relented to the extent of agreeing that people in wheelchairs can sit together with their families, but they will have to wait until the day of their chosen events to learn where they will be seated. In other words, unlike able-bodied spectators, they will not receive confirmed seats in advance.

Understandably, for most families with a disabled, wheelchair-bound member, that arrangement is not good enough. Most will have concerns, which may prove correct, that when they present themselves at a venue they will be informed, despite the promise, that there’s nowhere for them to sit together.

So, a few more signatures on the petition might produce the desired result. Beth is hoping to get 50,000 or more. 100,000 would be even better. It’s a pity that the organisers hadn’t anticipated and solved this problem well in advance.

To read Beth’s story and sign the petition, click here. And if you have a Facebook or Twitter account, why not share her request with others?

Healer stabs twin daughters and himself

Graham BishopAn English medium and healer, living in Denmark, has stabbed his four-year-old twin daughters multiple times and then stabbed himself, in a locked hospital room in Copenhagen. He then thrown himself from a window. Bishop was based in Swindon, Wiltshire, UK, before moving to Denmark in 2000.

Graham Bishop, 58, says he has provided spiritual guidance to thousands of people and claims to have been a tutor at the Arthur Findlay College in Essex. During healing sessions and seances to “clear” property of “spiritual disturbances”, he says the spirit of a German doctor, Dr Karl, controls him. According to the Copenhagen Post, Bishop – who has appeared on reality shows on Danish TV – is being held in Rigshospitalet, the same hospital where his daughters are being treated.

Police say he stabbed himself in the stomach with a kitchen knife after the attack on his daughters, on Sunday afternoon. The twin girls were in a critical condition in intensive care but are said to be improving. Bishop survived his self-inflicted wound and the fall from a window at Denmark’s largest hospital.

He and his daughters are all on respirators at Rigshospitalet. Because of his condition, Bishop was not present at a hearing on Monday when a court ordered him to be held for at least 24 days.

On his website, ironically called “Spirit of Life”, Bishop says he developed his spiritual powers in 1989 and resulted in him giving up his job in computing six years later to focus on mediumship and spiritual work. He adds:

“It has been many years now that I have been honoured with sharing a very deep personal connection with Spirit Dr Karl, and work in the state of ‘deep trance’ (from my viewpoint a totally unconscious state). This particular spiritual ability is rare and so I am one, of only a few, able to offer this unique service of providing such strong and direct access to those in the Spirit world. In simple terms, I give Spirit temporary use of my physical body.”

Dr KarlHe says that Dr Karl was born in 1848 into a family of doctors in Prussia (now part of Germany) and showed an early interest in medical matters, performing his first unofficial “operation” at the age of 12.  But he does not provide further information about his “spirit guide” that would confirm his previous existence. In a filmed “house clearing” seance for Danish TV, showing Bishop going into trance in 2003, the spirit doctor is identified as “Dr Carl Stromberg”. One wonders why Dr Karl does not have a European accent. The TV show is largely in Danish, but because Bishop’s knowledge of the language is apparently limited – as is his spirit doctor’s – his extensive contribution to the programme is conducted in English, with Danish subtitles.

One of the injured twins, Natalie, was found to have a massive aneurism on her aorta on the day after her first birthday was celebrated in June 2009. Doctors in Denmark said it was too dangerous to treat and referred her to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, which agreed to treat her.

The aneurism was removed and successfully replaced with a plastic pipe but the operation required the removal of her right kidney and after a few days her left kidney stopped working. On his website, Bishop tells what happened next:

“It was soon discovered that she had suffered brain damage, totally losing her sight and being paralysed on her left side. After no improvement with these, I asked Spirit for help, even though it was a risk to my own life (I was in a very bad state of health myself), but what father would not do that for his child?  I went into trance and Spirit Dr Karl was able to restore her sight and correct the paralysis, unfortunately he was not able to repair the kidney.

Natalie Bishop“Initially she needed continuous dialysis. From October the frequency was reduced and ever since, she has had to have dialysis every other day. Then another shock: doctors tested in preparation for a kidney transplant and they found problems which excluded her from a normal transplant.”

The only hope of saving his daughter’s life was finding a suitable “living donor”. Neither he nor his wife were compatible but a suitably matching volunteer came forward and the last news on the website was that the family was waiting for a date to take Natalie to London for final checks before a kidney transplant could be given.

Bishop also reveals that he had to stop work in September 2008, three months after his twin daughters were born, due to overwork and exhaustion. “I loved my work so much and had such a deep desire to use my abilities in helping as many people as possible, that I forgot about my own body,” he explained a few months ago. This resulted in three years of “wasted possibilities” but he was now “able to begin the slow process of building my work back up” though it would be “more difficult this time, as I do not have help of those who used to assist me so competently”.

It is too early to say whether his daughter’s health problems or his work difficulties were in any way involved in the attacks. One Danish newspaper speculated that his wife, who is in her 20s, had told him she wanted to leave him and take the children with her. Mrs Bishop alerted the police after her husband locked himself in the hospital room with his daughters. They had to kick the door down to gain access.

Before tranceIn trance
Out of respect for his family and because this tragic event will be the subject of a future court appearance I am not allowing comments to be made.