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Andrew Hadley resigns… or does he?

Andrew HadleyJust what is going on within the upper echelons of the Spiritualists’ National Union? A year ago, I broke the shock news that Duncan Gascoyne, chairman of the Arthur Findlay College (Stansted Hall), had resigned, without explanation, after 12 years in that post. For most of that time he was also the SNU president.

Many people concluded that he had issues with Andrew Hadley, an ordinary director (right), who immediately stepped into the chairman’s role. Now comes news, in an exclusive story in Psychic News, that Hadley has not only resigned as chairman, 12 months into the job, but also as an SNU director. David Bruton, SNU president, has taken over at Stansted Hall. The curt announcement on the SNU’s website makes no reference to Hadley’s contribution to the Union or to the college.

Although no reasons have been given for this dramatic development, the Psychic News report offers some insights that, I suspect, may not be far from the truth. As usual, the SNU’s tight-lipped policy has lead to speculation and dismay among its membership as well as other Spiritualists. The headline on the story, written by Sue Farrow, PN editor, says it all: “Andrew Hadley’s meteoric rise ends with shock departure”.

Duncan GascoyneSue quotes extensively from my Blog interview with Duncan Gascoyne (left), in 2011, in which he discussed the issues he had with the way in which decisions made by the National Executive Committee (NEC) were not being relayed to him properly as chairman, though he refused to point the finger at one particular individual. I noted at the time that Hadley, who had ambitious plans for transforming Stansted into an upmarket venue, had responsibility for “NEC liaison” and was presumably the missing link. Now, he’s totally missing!

PN front coverThe story appears in full not only in the 21st April edition of Psychic News (which is available on subscription or at many churches) but also – for free – on its website. The comments that have already been posted reflect the depth of feeling of many ordinary members about the way in which the Union is being run.

It will be interesting to see if the reasons for Hadley’s departure are discussed at this year’s annual general meeting, which is taking place in Blackpool in July. Did he resign or was he pushed? I’d like to think that the NEC has learned from its past mistakes and will choose to be upfront with its membership about the reasons for Hadley’s rapid rise within the Union and sudden demise. But I won’t be surprised if this fiasco is swept under the carpet.

Nobel Prize winning scientist on psi

Brian JosephsonWhy, despite what many regard as an abundance of evidence, does Science – and most scientists – refuse to acknowledge the existence of psychic phenomena (psi)?

The simple answer seems to be that, so far, no one has produced a theory that encompasses the complex phenomena that are usually bundled under the “psi” label. Without a satisfactory unifying theory and faced with paranormal claims that appear to throw existing scientific principles out of the window, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that psi does not have more supporters within the scientific community.

Today’s Society for Psychical Research Study Day in London invited a handful of the exceptions – some of the best scientific brains within the Society – to give us their take on this challenge and to discuss models and theories that could eventually change the perceptions of the sceptics.

The impressive line-up included Prof Brian Josephson, Nobel Prize winning physicist and director of the Mind-Matter Unification Project (pictured); Prof Bernard Carr, professor of mathematics and astronomy at Queen Mary University of London; Prof John Poynton, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Natal, South Africa; David Rousseau, who is currently doing research at the University of Wales into new mind-body models in the light of near-death experiences (NDEs); and Dr Paul Marshall, an independent scholar and author.

The Study Day’s title, “Making sense of psi”, neatly summed up the challenge that each faced.

It is impossible to do justice to their arguments in a Blog of this nature, but it was clear that Science’s understanding of space and time will need to be refined further, possibly to embrace the mind (or consciousness), if it is to accommodate macro and micro psi phenomena in the grand scheme of things.

During his review of the different models that have been proposed, Prof Carr posed a question which, essentially, underlined the potential importance of psychic research, asking: “Is psi a glimpse of the holistic fabric of the Universe?” Some scientists, including Dean Radin in the United States, believe that to be the case.

Prof Carr’s own view was that “we need a grand unified theory of matter and mind” and, despite their different approaches, the other speakers largely concurred.

Prof Josephson went further, arguing that “physics has things back to front” and that, in his view, an “agent” is required in any theory that explains where mind fits into physics.

“What I am proposing is that before the Big Bang something was done to create the Universe,” Prof Josephson said, adding that even theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking had indicated the same proposition. “It’s similar to ‘intelligent design’,” he continued, “but my position goes beyond that.”

UPDATE: Since posting the above, last night, I have received the following communication from Prof Josephson, regarding his theory on agents and ID. He writes: “To clarify my position, the manner in which it goes beyond ID as currently practised is that I don’t want just to say ‘X had to be caused by intelligence’ and stop there, but to include an understanding of that intelligence: one that will try to establish the mechanisms of its functioning and emergence in the same way that we study the way the minds of human beings develop over time.  At present, physicists and cognitive scientists more or less go their separate ways, but I believe the two disciplines can be fruitfully integrated so that we will then get the true story of the relationships between mind and the natural world.

No doubt more detailed accounts of all the contributions to this fascinating Study Day will appear – in the fullness of time and the availability of space! – in one or more of the SPR’s publications. [Check out the SPR website.]

From the sublime to the absurd

Rodin thinkerPhysical phenomena produced at seances are regarded by many as the pinnacle of mediumship. To be able to produce the spirit form of someone who has died, capable of being seen and recognised, and to walk and talk to the assembled witnesses, is the goal of many who sit regularly in home circles. They hold out the hope of emulating the achievements of famous mediums of the past who are credited with these extraordinary powers and in providing incontrovertible evidence for an afterlife.


Some, like David Thompson (about whom I have written several times on this Blog), are happy to take their mediumistic abilities on the road while they are – to put it kindly – still a work in progress. Because they are not developed to the extent most knowledgeable Spiritualists would expect, their seances are judged by some sitters to be no more than performances that can be explained without needing to involve the use of paranormal powers.


As I explained in my last Blog, and have said before, sitters attending the same David Thompson seance often emerge with widely differing points of view about its genuineness. In the end, it usually comes down to belief – or their need to believe – rather than any real, tangible evidence that is provided.


So, I’m going to examine what’s going on at the British-born medium’s physical seances from a totally different angle. To do so, I must start with the premise that David is, as he claims, a totally genuine medium who risks his life every time he conducts his seances. Let us for the time being forget about the burden of proof that we usually regard as so important – and which is usually sadly lacking at his seances – and focus on what has to occur in the spirit world to make these performances happen.


First, of course, his spirit team – William Charles Cadwell, Timothy and May seem to be the main collaborators – have to be satisfied that their medium is protected from harm and that the conditions are harmonious.


That requires cooperation from their earthly associates: the medium, his seance organiser and the hosts of the event. Between them, they make sure the room in which the proceedings take place is pitch black. They ensure everyone is searched before entering the room, so that no objects that could emit light are smuggled into the room.

When all that is done, the medium’s hands are secured with plastic ties to the arms of a chair and other ties are put through the buttonholes of the cardigan he usually wears. He is also gagged with a thin piece of material. Once suitably trussed up, the lights are put out and the expectant sitters wait for evidence that spirit entities are present.


Before long, William, Timothy and May not only speak but apparently wander around the room demonstrating their physical existence while the medium is apparently tied up.


Now, to do this must take an enormous about of teamwork behind the scenes in the spirit world. Large amounts of ectoplasm have to be produced, mostly from the medium’s body, in order to enable the spirits to walk around the room, touch some of the sitters, place a hand on the head on a few individuals, dance or stamp their feet and even play a harmonica. Impressive! Except, of course, that we don’t get to see these marvellous manifestations because they only “appear” in the dark.



But, for the sake of argument, I’m giving David Thompson the benefit of the doubt and accepting that everything he produces is 100 per cent genuine. If so, that still raises serious questions about the spirit team who accompany him around the world to give these sought-after performances. For example:


1. Why go to all the trouble of producing ectoplasm to allow spirits to materialise if we cannot see them? Thompson will argue that although they cannot be seen, they can be felt – or to be more precise, they can touch the sitters. As far as I am aware, sitters are not invited to conduct full body searches on the materialisations. But, if they cannot manifest in even a red light, why doesn’t he just confine himself to trance mediumship and allow the communicators to speak through him?


2. Why go to the trouble of producing ectoplasm just to cloak mostly famous dead people, when the majority of those attending Thompson’s seances are hoping to hear from their own loved ones?


3. Why is it that Louis Armstrong, famous trumpeter and singer, can entertain the sitters vocally and on a harmonica for several minutes, but most sitters fail to receive any evidence of a personal nature from their family and friends?


4. Why is it that the spirits of famous Spiritualists and mediums, including Gordon Higginson, Maurice Barbanell and even Emma Hardinge Britten, apparently assist Thompson’s spirit team by making fairly regular appearances, but offer nothing in the way of evidence that they are who they claim to be? And yet, when they were promoting Spiritualism on the earth plane, they all appreciated the importance of using mediumship to comfort the bereaved with incontrovertible evidence.


Maurice Barbanell, for example, often took newly-bereaved individuals to seances with gifted mediums, including direct voice medium Estelle Roberts. He never identified them. They weren’t asked to produce photo ID, as you are before a Thompson seance, nor were they searched and asked to remove jewellery, but they often received dramatic evidence. I cannot believe Barbanell would participate as a communicator at a Thompson seance, in the way that is claimed. He would have stood aside and asked that someone in need of after-life proof would be given the opportunity to receive it from a loved one.


And David Fontana, a former president of the Society for Psychical Research, who apparently recognised me at the Thompson seance I attended, knew better than most the importance of communicating information that is beyond the knowledge of the medium, as anyone who has read his Is There An Afterlife: a comprehensive overview of the evidence will know. Yet he expressed surprise at seeing me at the seance – didn’t the spirit team tell the spirit participants who was attending? – and slapped me on the shoulder, telling me he had been helping me with the book I was writing.


I don’t believe for one moment that Fontana, if he really had gone to all the trouble to materialise – a feat that takes considerable effort, apparently – would squander the opportunity. He would have used it to provide me or anyone else present with evidence that would need checking and verifying by others.


5. Why does Thompsons spirit team choreograph each seance in the same, predictable way – just as the famous Davenport Brothers did with their vaudeville act in the early days of Spiritualism? They end with a large bang as Thompson and the chair in which he sits are apparently lifted into the centre of the circle. And when the lights go up, his cardigan is shown to be back-to-front although he is still tied to his chair. Surely, if Thompson’s spirit team are capable of such feats of levitation and dematerialisation, they could be a little more imaginative and try some new tricks?


Better still, why don’t they advise Thompson to stop touring with what is little more than a repetitive variety show and return to his home circle in order to develop his mediumship to the point where such absurdities are thrown out and sitters can actually see the spirits they are talking to and real evidence is provided?


Wouldn’t it be great if the majority of communicators who materialised were the loved ones on the sitters, not celebrities – like Quentin Crisp – whose involvement appears to depend solely on the fact that on earth their voices were easily recognisable? And a bonus for Thompson, if his mediumship developed to that point, would be that there would be no need for him to be trussed up like a turkey, because sitters would judge him on what they could see and hear, rather than on trusting that he is not wandering around the darkened seance room.


Mediumship is all about evidence and in my view any reasonable person reviewing the conditions under which David Thompson’s seances are held, and the results that are produced, must conclude that evidence is the one element that is in short supply. However much one accepts the reality of a spirit world and the abilities of mediums to communicate with it, one should always apply logic to what is experienced.


For some reason, when the lights are turned out at physical seances, logic – for many sitters – seems to disappear, too. The golden rule should be: if it doesn’t make sense, reject it. I would urge people attending his seances in future to adopt the pose of Auguste  Rodin’s famous statue, “The Thinker”, and let the light of logic penetrate the darkness that shrouds Thompson’s performances, and see them for what they are.

Still in the dark over Thompson seances

In the dark with David ThompsonLast year, in a report on a David Thompson physical seance, I offered two points of view about his mediumship: negative and positive. That discussion provoked numerous comments, for and against, which can still be viewed on this website. It is clear that people attending seances held under similar situations – total darkness – can come away with opposing opinions about the genuineness of what they experienced.

I’d like to think that with the passage of time Thompson’s mediumship could improve to the point where he can produce impressive evidence of spirit communication on a regular basis and maybe even exhibit convincing phenomena in red light.

Currently, what he is offering is little more than a variety show in which well-known dead celebrities do much of the talking, along with his own spirit helpers. Seldom do sitters get to hear from their loved ones and when they do the content of their messages is not evidential.

That’s a personal view, of course, based on my own experience. Readers of Psychic World (PW), the monthly Spiritualist newspaper, may well take a different view, following publication in its March 2012 edition of three glowing and lengthy accounts of two Thompson seances, held at the Arthur Findlay College (Stansted Hall) in January this year.

Stansted Hall seances
The seances were part of a week-long event, “Where Science and Spiritualism Meet”, organised by the Friends of Stansted Hall (FOSH) to encourage the study and development of physical phenomena. That’s an objective that has my whole-hearted support.

The first account came from Graham Hewitt, assistant general secretary of the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU), its trust property co-ordinator and also a FOSH trustee, told PW readers that the event was an opportunity “to bring scientists, psychologists and psychiatrists together with medical practitioners and mediums to exchange modern scientific theory with mediumship practice”.

Hewitt added that the conditions under which the seance on 20th January was held enabled the sitters “to set aside any suggestion of fraud during the seances”.

Mediums Gordon Higginson (former SNU president and a regular communicator at Thompson seances) and John Sloan (whose direct voice seances helped convince Arthur Findlay of survival of death) were among those who spoke at the first seance.

Linda Smith, president of Norwich Spiritualist Church, was the next contributor to report on her experiences, at the second Thompson seance, revealing that Higginson communicated again, speaking with Ken Smith, a FOSH trustee, and David Breakell, “his old friend”. Breakell and others who knew Higginson confirmed it was his voice, she wrote.

Pioneer Spiritualist Emma Hardinge Britten and trumpeter Louis Armstrong were among the other communicators.

David Breakell, the third PW contributor, confirmed that the highlight of the evening was “when Gordon Higginson came through and spoke to me”. He adds:

“I have numerous recordings of him. I am familiar with his speaking voice and will swear on a stack of bibles that it was his voice that we heard in the Library of Stansted Hall, the seance room, on Thursday evening, 26th January, 2012.” That’s a really impressive testimony, but I’m afraid it doesn’t carry weight, as I’ll explain a little later. First, I’ll deal with the very different reactions of some of the sitters at Thompson’s seances held in the United States in February.

Los Angeles seances
A few weeks after the Stansted event, Thompson and his partner and organiser Christine Morgan flew to Los Angeles where they held three physical seances. These were hosted at the home of a research medium whose abilities have been recognised and certified by Dr Julie Beischel at the Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human Potential. The institute is conducting on-going research into mediumship and evidence for the survival of consciousness after death.

Having heard that Thompson could produce remarkable physical evidence of an after-life, she decided to investigate for herself and extended an invitation to the British-born medium, who is now based in Australia, to demonstrate his powers in the U.S. [He has, incidentally, done so in the past]. She invited friends, a number of whom are also mediums, to attend the seances.

Among those attending was Dr Jan W. Vandersande, author of Life After Death: Some of the Best Evidence. He has written a very full and glowing account of his experiences at these seances on Dave Howard’s “Spirit Communion” Blog. He concludes: “There is no doubt in my mind he produced the materialisations and the other physical phenomena while tied in the chair in the cabinet.”

It’s a very positive report, though it has resulted in a number of comments challenging his conclusions, including one which asks, “Where is the critical thinking?”. More importantly, it does not reflect the views of everyone who attended those seances; some remain open-minded while others have concluded that they did not experience anything paranormal. Some of their comments have been shared with me.

There are claims from one witness, for example, that a green light was seen at times which suggested to the observer that night-vision goggles were being used by the medium to find his way around the darkened seance room when he was supposed to be secured to a chair with plastic ties. Concern was also expressed that the seances appeared to be “rehearsed, predictable and to duplicate each other”.  Here are some of the other comments made after the seances:

“He [Tim, a child who is part of Thompson’s spirit team] didn’t really bring any news to anyone, so I guessed that the ‘thrill’ of him was how fast he moved the trumpet…. Nothing convinced me there were ectoplasm forms in the room.”

“We were very disappointed with the David Thompson seance and feel like he is taking advantage of people. We have been associated with the Spiritualist Church for many years and spend our summers in Lily Dale, NY. We have seen the ‘real deal’ with Richard Schoeller, who does trance and transfiguration where we all saw the ectoplasm form and faces appear…. David is not for real. A few others afterward indicated they felt the same.”

“If it had been real, it would have been well worth it.”

Not everyone was disappointed. One guest emailed: “Thank you for putting on such a wonderful event. Please let me know when David and Chistine will be back in town.”

Is testimony reliable?
Let us compare the negative views expressed by some sitters after the Los Angeles seances with those of Psychic World‘s three contributors, quoted earlier. Two of the UK sitters are Spiritualists of long-standing but their testimonies rely heavily on the apparent precautions taken – which they believe make fraud impossible – not on the evidence provided. The third testimony, in which David Breakell asserted that it was definitely Gordon Higginson’s voice that was heard, would not be accepted in a court of law. Here’s why:

Breakell confirms that the seance was held in total darkness – apart from a short period when a red light was used to show “ectoplasm” extending from Thompson’s mouth to his knees. In such circumstances, sitters must rely on their hearing from the information they receive. Unfortunately, Breakell is deaf, though he overcomes that disability with a hearing aid. But, having been banned from using the device at a physical séance two years earlier at Stansted – with an unnamed medium – he volunteered to leave the hearing aid outside the seance room.

In that way, he could be sure he complied with the strict security conditions imposed by the seance organisers, designed to prevent the unauthorised use of cameras or voice recorders, as well as other devices that might emit light.

In other words, the third glowing account of the seance was written by a witness who could neither see nor hear anything that was taking place. Breakell explains: “Consequently, because of my deafness and the total darkness, I heard and saw very little of what actually took place in the seance room. But I did hear the voice of Gordon Higginson ­– loud and clear.”

How is that possible? Breakell’s testimony is based on his own apparent clairaudience and has nothing to do with Thompson’s mediumship. One wonders why he needed to participate in the Thompson seance when he can receive his own spirit messages, apparently loud and clear.

Most readers will have concluded, by now, that assessments of physical mediumship and the opinions expressed by those attending such seances are often poles apart.

It is foolhardy, indeed impossible, for those not attending to reach a conclusion about the genuineness of a physical medium, working under such conditions, entirely on published reports – and even experiencing such a seance may still leave us, literally, in the dark.

But I don’t believe we need to be left in a state of indecision or confusion on this important subject. There is another way of making that assessment and I’ll share it with you in my next Blog.

Bert Weedon consulted spirit doctor

Bert WeedonThe death of brilliant guitarist Bert Weedon, who influenced many of today’s musical icons – including Beatles Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, as well as Eric Clapton and Brian May – was announced today. He died at his Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, home at the age of 91. Much will be written about his musical skills and charitable endeavours. But I suspect few of the obituaries will touch on his interest in spiritual healing and the help he received from George Chapman, a trance medium through whom the spirit of William Lang, a noted ophthalmic surgeon, conducted spirit operations.

I collaborated with Chapman on a book about this astonishing two-world healing partnership, Surgeon From Another World, which contains the testimonies of many grateful patients, including doctors and other medical specialists who consulted Chapman and Lang.

Although Bert Weedon is not one of the patients whose experiences are quoted in that book, I was able to discuss them with him when he and his lovely wife Maggie attended a dinner in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1998 to celebrate 50 years of the Chapman-Lang partnership. The dinner was hosted by the Spiritual Truth Foundation, of which I was chairman at that time (George and I are pictured below).

Weedon told me that he and his wife had enjoyed a long friendship with Chapman and had consulted the long-dead surgeon who operated through him on a number of occasions.

George Chapman and Roy StemmanDuring his long musical career, Bert Weedon accompanied many stars, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Judy Garland, as well as enjoying success as a solo performer and making hit records such as Apache. He was awarded an OBE in the 2001 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to music, and he was also a leading figure in the showbusiness charity, the Grand Order of Water Rats.

George Chapman was consulted by many celebrities, including actors Laurence Harvey and Stanley Holloway, author Roald Dahl and his actress wife Patricia Neal, and romantic novelist Barbara Cartland. He died, at the age of 85, in 2006.

His son, Michael, also a healer, tells me he recalls Weedon playing guitar at one of his father’s celebrations, in the barn at Pant Glas, Wales, where he lived and saw patients. On another occasion the Weedons’ visit coincided with Patrick Juvet, the singer-songwriter who had a string of hits in France, as well as an English disco song, “I Love America”, who was also staying with Chapman. “So as you can imagine, it was a memorable weekend,” Michael adds. Juvet wrote about his consultations with spirit surgeon William Lang in his autobiography, Les Bleus Au Coeur (The Blue Heart) which was published in 2005.