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.

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