Author Archives: Roy Stemman

Bottled ghosts in auction sale

It never ceases to amaze me how gullible some people are. Here’s the proof: two ghosts are being auctioned online in New Zealand and a bidding war has broken out.

So far, 150 bids have been placed on eBay-style auction site TradeMe, with the current top bidder prepared to pay NZ$1,840 (about £850) … and there’s still 20 hours left before the sale ends.

The seller, who says he has been troubled by two spirits, claims to be deadly serious. One is believed to be a man named Les Graham who lived in the house in the 1920s “and likes to spook people”. The other is a young girl who manifested during a ouija board session and apparently decided to stay. She is the troublesome one, who likes to move things and turn appliances on and off.

Now, this auction could just be a bit of fun on the part of the seller, designed to raise some funds as well as a laugh.
But I do wonder about the mentality of the people who want to buy them.

Let me answer some inevitable questions:

How is the seller going to transfer the ghosts to their new owner?

That’s the easy bit. They’re bottled! Apparently, the seller paid an exorcist to come and rid his property of the annoying ghosts and his technique was to pop them into small vials of holy water – which apparently turned blue once they were safely inside.

Where did the holy water come from?

We’re not told, although the seller says he’s not religious and thinks holy water is crap.

Why use holy water?

Because it dulls the spirits’ energy and “sort of puts them to sleep”. I would have thought drowning was a more likely fate.

Who carried out the exorcism?

We’re not given a name but the seller says it was “an exorsist [sic] from a Spiritualist church”. I’ve yet to meet a
Spiritualist who believes a spirit can be contained within a bottle.

Did the bottling exorcism work?

There is said to have been no paranormal activity since they were pickled in holy water on 15 July 2009.

If they are safely bottled, why does he now want to sell them?

“I just want to get rid of them as they scare me,” he explains. His dog doesn’t like them, either.

If the buyer wants to revive them and release them, how can this be done?

Just pour the holy water into a dish, allow it to evaporate and, hey presto, you’ll have your very own ghost to annoy you.

Supposing you only want to release one of the ghosts, how will you know which is which?

Easy! The bottles are conveniently labelled.

Is the seller guaranteeing the ghosts will stay with their new owners?

No. He concedes there’s a risk that they might decide to return to their former home if released.

What does the seller intend to do with the proceeds?

He says he just wants to cover the unspecified costs of the exorcist, then he’s going to donate the rest to the
SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

I’ve got a better idea. Why doesn’t he send it to the SPCG (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ghosts) which I am
just about to establish? All donations welcome.

And if you think I am making all this up (apart from the last paragraph), take a look at TradeMe’s “Two Captured Ghosts” auction page – but for heaven’s sake don’t encourage them by making a bid, even if you do believe that all the best spirits come in bottles.

In life and death: proving you still exist

When I first heard the story of Rom Houben, a Belgian man who had spent 23 years in a coma before doctors realised that he was conscious, it struck me that their efforts to prove he could communicate were very similar to those of researchers studying afterlife communications.

What the medical specialists appeared to be overlooking, when they announced to the world this remarkable breakthrough, was that Rom’s communications were being facilitated by his speech therapist. This can be clearly seen in one of the television interviews he gave in November last year. And that opens the door to her possible influence, which needed to be eliminated.

Houben, 46, was deemed to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) until neurologist Steven Laureys of the University of Liege re-evaluated his case. Scans showed that his brain was still functioning almost completely normally despite the fact that other tests, which look for eye, verbal and motor responses, were negative.

Having decided that Houben was conscious and trapped in his body they began to explore ways in which he could “talk” to them. The method that seemed to work was fixing a pointer to his index finger and allowing a speech therapist to “pick up” his responses to questions and direct the finger to the appropriate keys.

In this way, Houben appeared to become a very proficient communicator and was even reported to be writing a book. “I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me – it was my second birth,” he “wrote”.

“All that time I just literally dreamed of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I felt.”

This story caused a sensation around the world. But it left a few questions unanswered.  How important was the “medium” (therapist) to this process? Was she the only one through whom he could communicate?

Sceptics were quick to criticise the methodology. In a video report of this remarkable case, for example, Houben appeared to be typing with his eyes closed. Although Dr Laureys initially claimed to have performed controlled experiments and was convinced Houben was communicating, he later expressed some doubts and planned new tests. But by then the “news” had spread around the world.

To their credit, the neurological team allowed Houben’s communications to be tested on 4 February, with the Belgian Sceptics group SKEPP present as advisors. These tests – which included showing him objects while the therapist was out of the room then asking him the name them, with her help, when she returned – showed that Houben was not producing the writing, as this statement, issued by SKEPP on 18 February, reveals:

“His answers to our simple test questions were intelligible and sometimes elaborate, but when the facilitator did not know the questions, his answers were all completely wrong. Most of the time he typed with his eyes closed, but as soon as the keyboard was shielded from the facilitator’s view the typing produced gibberish and halted. There clearly was no communication with the patient, only with the facilitator. We wonder what world-shaking news there would have been to communicate if it hadn’t been for the spectacular answers the facilitator produced.”

Dr Laureys now accepts that the facilitated communications were false. And professor of bioethics at University of Pennsylvania, US, commented: “It’s like using a ouija board. It was too good to be true and we shouldn’t have believed it.”

But there’s still hope that Dr Laureys and his colleagues will find a way to communicate with Rom Houben and others like him. Research just published using brain scans has apparently demonstrated that PVS victims, who show no outward signs of awareness, can comprehend what people are saying and also answer simple questions.

Dr Adrian Owen, of the Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, who is co-author with Dr Laureys of a study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says the findings have enormous philosophical and ethical implications. Research was carried out on a 29-year-old man who had suffered brain damage in 2003 and slipped from a coma into PVS two years later.

The patient was asked to visualise himself playing tennis, if the answer to a question put to him was “Yes”, and moving around his house if the answer was “No”.  Different parts of the brain are activated by “spatial” and “motion” thoughts.

The patient was then asked six simple biographical questions including what was the name of his father and whether he had any sisters. In each case, his thoughts were picked up by the hi-tech functional magnetic resonance scanner (fMRI) scans within five minutes. In each case he is reported to have been 100 per cent accurate.

Dr Owen comments: “We were astonished when we saw the results of the patient’s scan and that he was able to correctly answer the questions that were asked by simply changing his thoughts.

“Not only did these scans tell us that the patient was not in a vegetative state but, more importantly, for the first time in five years it provided the patient with a way of communicating his thoughts to the outside world.”

These experiments have a familiar ring to them for Spiritualists and parapsychologists, for these attempts to establish the existence of consciousness in living patients are strikingly similar to those seeking evidence of consciousness surviving death.  The hospital tests are similar to automatic writing or asking for answers with one rap for Yes and two for No.

It is difficult to imagine the frustration of being trapped in one’s body and unable to communicate with anyone. For Rom Houben, there was the added anguish of having his hand controlled by someone – with the best of intentions – who thought she was receiving his instructions, but instead was conveying thoughts that were not his.

His mother, however, is not so sceptical. According to SKEPP, “she still believes in facilitated communication, because ‘sometimes it had produced answers that only her son could have known’. She is convinced that Dr Laureys will ultimately find a method to communicate with her son. His team is experimenting with other methods. Let’s hope her wish comes true.”

Eileen Roberts passes on

Eileen Roberts
Eileen Roberts

One of Britain’s best-loved and most influential mediums, Eileen Roberts, died peacefully at her home in Essex, just a few days before her 93rd birthday on Sunday, 10 May.

A gifted medium, she dedicated much of her life to teaching mediumship as well as working to improve standards.

Eileen was president and education officer of read more »

Two Scottish giants

Prof Archie Roy
Prof Archie Roy

If I could acquire just one paranormal ability it would be bilocation – the ability to be in two places at the same time. Then I would be able to fulfill an existing commitment here in Birmingham as well as travelling up to Scotland for a very special occasion.

Tonight, the Scottish Society for Psychical Research (SSPR) is celebrating its 21st anniversary at the Hilton Grosvenor Hotel in Glasgow – an event which is being held in honour of its founding president, Prof Archie Roy. read more »

Ghostbuster Hans Holzer dies

Parapsychologist Hans Holzer
Parapsychologist Hans Holzer

Without doubt the largest single volume on my bookshelves is Ghosts: true encounters with the world beyond by the prolific and extraordinary Hans Holzer, who passed on at the age of 89 at his Manhattan home on 26 April, after a long illness.

Ghosts – all 760 pages of it – is hardly bedtime reading. Turning its pages for half an hour is surely equivalent to an energetic workout with dumbells at the gym. Fortunately, a slightly lighter paperback version of this classic has recently been published. read more »