Category Archives: Paranormal

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.

Researcher David Fontana departs for next world

David FontanaI love travelling and whenever I go to a new place I always take a guidebook with me. They are invaluable. But is there one for the next world? Well, yes – and its author is probably making good use of the knowledge he crammed into its pages. Because David Fontana, a past president of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and a noted psychologist who wrote the splendid Life Beyond Death: what should we expect? has just passed on.

He died yesterday having been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer just a couple of weeks ago. I am told by friends that he was “peaceful” during his last days in this world – a result, I’m sure, of his meditation practices (he wrote several books on different meditative techniques) and also his belief that, at death, we all pass to another dimension of existence.

He was SPR president from 1995-1998, Professor of Education Psychology at the Universities of Minho and of Algarve (Portugal), and Distinguished Visiting Fellow, University of Wales, Cardiff.

David was one of the investigators who sat in the Scole circle and spoke positively in favour of the phenomena he and others experienced ­- though not all SPR shared his views. He was also a supporter of electronic voice phenomena (EVP) or instrumental transcommunication (ITC) as it now more commonly known, particularly the experiments of Anabela Cardoso, which he experienced during visits to her home in Spain.

I will be writing about Cardoso’s research and Fontana’s endorsement in the near future.

Meanwhile, I wish David “bon voyage” as he embarks on a new adventure, for which he was very well prepared, despite the suddenness of his departure.

Let me end by sharing with you this review by Sue Farrow of his book Life Beyond Death which was published in Psychic News (21 March 2009):

“WHAT might it be like to survive death? For those of us without the certainties of religious faith, this book is a positive and engaging introduction to the possibilities of the afterlife.”

So reads the publisher’s description on the back cover of former SPR president Professor David Fontana’s new book.

Fontana’s previous magnum opus on psychical research, Is There an Afterlife? (2005), considered an extensive range of evidence for the possibility of survival beyond physical death, drawing on diverse material relating to the study of physical, trance and other forms of mediumship, apparitions and associated phenomena. It also examined alternatives to the survival hypothesis – principally super- ESP – and considered issues such as telepathy and psychism.

Fontana, chairman of the Survival Research Committee of the SPR, has spent decades researching all things paranormal and is widely respected for the fairness and objectivity of his work. This latest book is no exception.

Essentially, it considers the question of what a world beyond physical death might actually be like, and draws on accounts of near-death experiences from patients and medical staff around the world to offer an insight into the world of eternity, finding a compelling cross-cultural uniformity in their descriptions.

A variety of circumstances surrounding the individual’s state of mind at the moment of physical death are also discussed in terms of their potential effects on the passing soul. Sudden death and suicide are considered in some detail, with insights drawn from a range of traditions such as Buddhism, Shamanism and Christianity.

A chapter is dedicated to the moment of passing from the physical body, and a number of fascinating accounts are included from those who have witnessed such an event. The interesting question of whether the astral body has been sighted in the physically living is also considered in some detail.

Coverage is given to the matter of so-called earthbound spirits, the work of American psychiatrist Dr Carl Wickland and his mediumistic wife Anna being used to illustrate the difficulties such souls face, and the problems they can on occasion create for the living. Poltergeists and hauntings are also considered.

Fontana then proceeds to a discussion of the various planes of existence to which the soul, newly freed of its physical constraints, may journey. Included in this chapter is the so-called “Life Review”, the process by which the soul looks at the life it has led on earth, and recognises the effects of that life on itself and others.

Reincarnation, that hot potato of Spiritualist debate, is accorded a chapter all its own. Evidence supportive of reincarnation is set out and assessed alongside the possibility that apparent memories of a past life could be accounted for by cryptomnesia – the recall of facts without any associated recall of how they were actually acquired.

The remainder of the book deals with life in the spirit world, including a discussion of the “Summerland”, a world much like our own physical plane but infinitely more beautiful and free from many of the burdens which attend earthly existence. The “formlessness” of the higher realms is considered, where the soul “realises freedom from the limitations of space and time, of here and there, of objects and things”.

A comprehensive list of references is given at the back of the book, providing a huge range of possible reading matter for those who wish to dig deeper into the issues covered by the author.

In Fontana’s own words: “Knowledge of the afterlife and how we can prepare for it is essential. Think how foolish it would be to depart for a distant country knowing nothing about it and carrying no route map or guidebook.”

As with all Fontana’s work on survival, the book is painstakingly researched and well written, though perhaps would have benefited from the services of a somewhat more meticulous proofreader. It will appeal to those with an existing knowledge of afterlife research, but will also serve as a credible and readable source for those who wish to begin an open-minded exploration of the subject.

New Sherlock Holmes mystery

UndershawHere’s a mystery that surely deserves the attention of one of the world’s greatest fictional detectives. Why do visitors to London happily pose for pictures outside 221b Baker Street, “home” of Sherlock Holmes from 1881 to 1904, while Undershaw, the Surrey home of his famous creator – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – stands empty, unloved, in a state of serious disrepair and in danger of being redeveloped?

Fortunately, there are many who would like to see it preserved as a lasting monument to Sir Arthur’s literary talent and the creation of one of fiction’s greatest characters, rather than allow it to be converted into apartments. Today is Save Undershaw Awareness Day so, if you would like to support the campaign visit the website dedicated to that goal, or even post a link on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else that helps spread the word.

For Sherlock Holmes’ fans, of course, the Baker Street address has enormous importance. It’s where the detective and his assistant, Dr John H. Watson, “lived” – though only in Sir Arthur’s imaginative world.

But Undershaw, an impressive 10-bedroom redbrick house which Sir Arthur had built to his own specifications, close to Hindhead, Surrey, and where he wrote his most famous novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, has stood empty since 2004. It was previously a hotel.

Now, a campaign to restore it to its former glory and celebrate its literary heritage is gathering momentum, and rightly so. Last year saw the 150th anniversary of Doyle’s birth, on 22 May 1859.

Sherlock HolmesAfter all, the period during which he owned Undershaw – from 1897 to 1907 – is seen as pivotal in his life. During that decade he stood for Parliament, became Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey, volunteered as an army surgeon in the Boer War, championed the cause of George Edalji who was falsely imprisoned for animal mutilation, and decided to resurrect Sherlock Holmes, whom he had tried to kill off – in a struggle with Professor Moriarty – in his previous novel.

It was also at Undershaw that his wife Louise died from tuberculosis in 1906 and where he met Jean Leckie, who became his second wife the following year. That was the year he sold Undershaw and moved to Crowborough, Sussex.

But most significant for Spiritualists, who are playing a leading role in the fight to save his Hindhead home, is the belief that it was while at Undershaw that he first began taking an active interest in spirit communication and mediumship. Later, of course, he became one of Spiritualism’s most famous champions, writing books – including the two-part The History of Spiritualism – and travelling the world to lecture on the subject.

Sir Arthur at deskLast year, I had the opportunity of looking around the house that was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s home for many years during an open day to raise awareness of Undershaw’s situation and to publicise possible future uses for the property. The building, in a sad state of disrepair, is now boarded up and is not open to visitors.

That open day was organised by Lynn Gale, who is PA to Anna Hayward of the White Eagle Lodge. Lynn is also the driving force behind the “Save Undershaw Awareness Day” campaign – which happens to be today. Actor Stephen Fry is among the supporters.

If you would like to see Undershaw saved for the nation, rather than become a private development, why not spread the word? I’ll keep you informed of any future developments.

The above blog is an edited, updated version of a story that first appeared on this website a year ago.

Dream premonition in ‘UFO X-files’

Chris RobinsonAs if UFOs weren’t mysterious enough, the latest batch of previously confidential files to be released by Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) contain two unexpected items. The first is an enquiry about a psychic, Chris Robinson (right) who dreamed of a terrorist attack on an RAF base near London. The second is a letter that claims Sir Winston Churchill, when informed of an RAF jet’s close encounter with a UFO, insisted that it should be kept from the public. What are we to make of these?

What puzzled me when I read about the terrorist premonition was why it was being released by the MoD since it had nothing to do with UFOs. It was a story I was familiar with because the psychic who had the dream – Chris Robinson – tells it in his book, Dream Detective, which was published in the UK in 1993 and is available to read, online, at his website. It was written together with Andrew Boot.

Chris tells how he knew in advance that there would be a terrorist attack at RAF Stanmore. So convinced was he that his dream was accurate that he went to the military base in 1990 and spoke to the uniformed guards at the gate, to warn them. Not surprisingly, he was detained and questioned but eventually released.

A month later, the IRA terrorist group placed a bomb at the base in a rucksack. No one was hurt in the explosion.

So, though fascinating, it’s not a new story. But that hasn’t stopped a couple of newspapers reporting on it. What’s more, having waded through the many pages that have been released to try to understand why it’s a story the MoD is releasing now, I discover that it is no more than the record of a response to a journalist’s enquiry. The so-called “UFO X-files” are often no more than a mundane exchange of correspondence between the Ministry and enquirers.

An internal MoD letter seeking more information about the Stanmore event explains: “Whilst Sec(AS)2 has no direct role in this particular query, because we are the MoD focal point for ‘UFO’ enquiries we tend to get saddled with answering questions about strange or out of the ordinary incidents.”

In fact, the MoD appears not to have been able to corroborate Chris Robinson’s account but it did confirm that there was an explosion at the RAF base in 1990. It said it was an incident that the Metropolitan Police would probably have handled.

When I spoke to him about the publicity he’d received, Robinson was equally surprised to learn that the MoD had him in its UFO files. He suspects it’s all part of a greater conspiracy to keep the truth about psychics (and probably UFOs) from the public.

Sir Winston ChurchillThe letter relating to Sir Winston Churchill certainly suggests this to be the case. It was sent to the MoD in 1999 by a Leicester scientist whose grandfather claimed to have heard Sir Winston Churchill discussing with General Eisenhower a UFO sighting during World War II, when an object followed or kept pace with an RAF bomber.

Churchill was said to have declared that the incident should not be reported for half a century for fear that it would create public hysteria. More than 50 years have elapsed, of course, but the grandson was informed that the Ministry could find no record of such a discussion or directive. It was, however, suggested that he might want to conduct further research at the Public Record Office.


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 »