Thursday, 14 February 2013

Is there a one true religion?

In searching for the truth regarding such large questions as "is there life after death" we see there are many religions in the world which claim to offer answers to this question.

Certainly all religions may offer things which are both beneficial as well as harmful to people and societies, but is there a one true religion? How can we know which religion is true?

If by trying to find the one true religion our search involves investigating peoples sincerity, then we shall get no where, for every religious person out there will swear to you they have the truth and may sincerely believe it. How people feel about something does not constitute evidence. Someone may "feel" they have found the one true religion, but another person from a different religion may equally claim the same thing, with equal amounts of certainty.

When all is said and done, all religion really has to offer as evidence are its holy scriptures of choice. Books which were written thousands of years ago. Yet one must ask- if religious scriptures like the Bible did not exist, how would those religious people discover the truth about life, death and everything?

Compare this with spiritualism, which offers a large quantity of evidence in many different forms- Near Death Experiences, EVP, Apparitions, Physical Mediumship, Mental Mediumship, Hauntings, Video and Photographic evidence and so on. Say what you will about the quality of the evidence, but there is at least, a large quantity of evidence to be investigated. Evidence that is not simply from one period in history but from which phenomenon can be found far back in human history up to the modern day, in all corners of the world.

What this tells us is that in pursuit of truth regarding spiritual matters, one has the choice between blind faith that religion has to offer and examining a very large base of modern and historical evidence to be found in Spiritualism.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Sir William Crookes and the ghost of Katie King

Sir William Crookes (1832-1919) was a prominant scientist, physicist and chemist. He was renouned for the skill, execution and preciseness of his experiments.
Crookes felt that he had a duty as a scientist to investigate the phenomena related to the wider question of whether or not there is any part of us which survives physical death.
The phenomena he researched in regard to this question largely focussed on claims of materialization mediumship (or "physical mediumship") - individuals who claimed to act as an agent through which spirits from the other side could draw on a substance from the mediums own body known as ectoplasm to mould into their form and manifest themselves in our physical reality.
Crookes was determined to conduct an impartial investigation into these claims and imposed the condition on mediums that they must do their sittings at his own house, with his own selection fo friends present and under strictly controlled conditions which he sets.

Crookes was able to study the famous mediums of his day including Kate Fox, Florence Cook and Daniel Dunglas Home and came the conclusion through his research that these mediums were at the very least producing phenomena which cannot be explained via ordinary means.

Medium Florence Cook was said to be fully materializing the spirit of a woman named Katie King in seances which began around the year 1871. Florence was only about 15 years old when the pheneomena began.

Katie King was said to look very similar to the medium Florance Cook, which aroused skepticism that Florance and Katie King were simply the same person, with Florence mascurading around as a ghost.

When William Crookes attended one of Cook's seances, he claimed to have heard moaning from within the spirit cabinet which lead him to wonder whether Florance and Katie may well be seperate individuals. This event made Crookes determined to conduct a thorough investigation of Florence Cooks mediumship. In his investigation of Florence Cook, William Crookes asked the medium to stay at his home and perform seances. This way Crookes would be fully in control of the investigation and hope to rule out fraud.
In support of Katie King and Florence Cook being two seperate individuals, Crookes as well as other witnesses noted several physical differences between the two. Katie was larger built. Different colour hair. Unpierced ears. Florence at one stage was found to have a blister on her neck, whilst Katie did not. 

William Crookes had this to say about the idea of Katie King and Florence Cook being the same person:

"I have the most absolute certainty that Miss Cook and Katie are two separate individuals so far as their bodies are concerned.  Several little marks on Miss Cook’s face are absent on Katie’s.  Miss Cook’s hair is so dark a brown as to almost to appear black; a look at Katie’s, which is now before me, and which she allowed me to cut from her luxuriant tresses, having first traced it up to the scalp and satisfied myself that that it actually grew there, is a rich golden auburn.”

In addition to this, William Crookes also said:

“[For approximately six months] Miss Cook has been a frequent visitor at my house, remaining sometimes a week at a time.  She brings nothing with her but a little hand bag, not locked; during the day she is constantly in the presence of Mrs. Crookes, myself, or some other member of the family, and, not sleeping by herself, there is absolutely no opportunity for any preparation even of a less elaborate character than would be required for enacting Katie King.” 

Could it be possible that it was in fact an accomplice masquerading as Katie King? A likely candidate perhaps being Florence Cook's sister.  

In the course of these experiments, William Crookes claimed to have actually witnessed Florence Cook and the alleged spirit of Katie King at the same time, however his accounts of these incidents appear to lack detail and to the highly skeptical it could still be argued that Crookes simply saw an accomplice who had her face covered by a hood, whilst Florence Cook was acting the part of Katie King.

Could it have been an accomplice? According to William Crookes:

“I prepare and arrange my library myself as the dark cabinet, and usually, after Miss Cook has been dining and conversing with us, and scarcely out of our sight for a minute, she walks direct into the cabinet, and I, at here request, lock its second door, and keep possession of the key all through the séance; the gas is then turned out, and Miss Cook is left in the darkness.  On entering the cabinet, Miss Cook lies down upon the floor, with her head on the pillow, and is soon entranced."

It seems difficult to imagine how an accomplice could have entered into this arrangement without such things as trap doors, which would not have been present in Crookes' home, under the controlled conditions.  

It is said that William Crookes took numerous photographs of these materializations but it seems the vast majority of these photographs are no longer available.

9 December, 1873 - A man named William Volckman attended one of Florence Cook's seances. Volckman was a skeptic and believed that Katie King and Florence Cook were one and the same person. In order to prove this theory, during the seance he waited for Katie King to materialize and then made a grab for the alleged spirit. A struggle then took place, Volckman was then held back by other sitters and the alleged spirit of Katie King escaped back into the spirit cabinet. Once things had calmed down about 5 minuets later, the curtain of the spirit cabinet was pulled back- and Florence was still there securely bound- the seals unbroken. An examination of Florence also found no trace of the white clothes that Katie King wore.

This "exposure" did cast much doubt on the mediumship of Florence Cook, however some would also question Volckman's motives and there are theories that he may have been hired on a deliberate agenda to try and discredit her mediumship.

The fact is Florence Cook was brought to William Crookes' home and examined under strict conditions by a man of science and the materializations occurred under various levels of lighting and photographic and physical evidence was captured on numerous occasions. William Crookes felt completely certain that Katie King and Florence Cook were NOT the same individual- having examined them and also seen them both together on some occasions. His strict conditions also appear to rule out the idea of an accomplice acting as Katie King. It must be said however that William Crooke's notes on the subject lack detail and do to some extent require an element of faith in his word. His testimony is certainly valuable due to his scientific credibility.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Interesting video: The science of eternity

I recently came across a very interesting video which contains a number of interviews with people who had experiences with physical mediumship and also talking about the scientific aspects of how life after death is possible.

Although the video is now obviously a little dated, there's no doubt that there is a great wealth of information and survival evidence packed into roughly an hours worth of viewing material.

I was particularly interested to see in parts 3 and 4 of this video another rare interview with Tom Harrison- the son of materialization medium Minnie Harrison. There is also a fascinating story of two parents who were reunited with their deceased son during a materialization seance.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Ectoplasm: captured on film?

Albert Von Schrenck-Notzing (1862-1929) was a German physician who did a great deal of research into the paranormal, particularly physical mediumship. His book, "Phenomena of materialization" was published in 1920 (which can be viewed by clicking the link).

Albert Von Schrenck-Notzing is said to have found in the course of his investigations that ectoplasm is composed of white or colorless blood cells called leucocytes, which are extracted from the body of the physical medium during materialization.

Von Schrenck investigated a number of mediums including Eva Carreire, Willi & Rudi Shneider and Stanislawa P.

The following photographs taken of polish medium Stanislawa P by Albert Von Schrenck-Notzing show the medium demonstrating the emission of ectoplasm- even through netting which was placed over her head to prevent trickery in the form of regurgitating materials through her mouth.

Above: Photograph taken 25 January 1913
Above: Photograph taken 23 June 1913
Ectoplasm caught on film for the first time
Sitting with a polish medium named Stanislawa P, Schrenck-Notzing was able to capture the emission and resorption of ectoplasm on cinematograph for the very first time. In his tests with Stanislawa P, Schrenck-Notzing also covered her head with a layer of netting which he claimed would eliminate the possibility of the medium regurgitating substances through her mouth. The medium was still able to produce ectoplasm even with the netting over her head.

This film is apparently today archived at the University of Freiburg at the institute of Parapsychology.

25th June, 1913: Ectoplasm captured on film
Rare Frame captures: from the film showing ectoplasm emitting from medium Stanislawa P

Friday, 19 August 2011

The physical mediumship of Helen Duncan

Development as a medium

One of the most famous physical (materialization) mediums in recent history was a lady named Helen Duncan (1897-1956). Helen Duncan was born and lived in Scotland and was alleged to have possessed paranormal abilities beginning in her early childhood. Helen married at the age of 20 and had six children. Employed as a factory worker, Helen had to work hard to support her family,  because her husband, Henry Duncan, had been injured during his involvement in World War 1 and was rendered unable to work. Despite caring for 6 children and working to support her family, in her spare time Helen continued to develop herself as a clairvoyant and around the year 1926, Helen developed abilities as a physical medium, able to summon spirits whilst in a trance state and emit ectoplasm, a substance which allows spirits to materialize themselves in a physical form.

World War 2 and the HMS Barham sinking

As would be expected, Helen found her claimed abilities as a medium in greatest demand during the time of World War 2 when many people were loving loved ones as a result of the war and there was a great deal of uncertainty and despair. During this period, Helen Duncan moved to live in Portsmouth which was essentially the home of the Royal Navy and not the best place to be at this time due to it being a major target for enemy attacks.

It was during this time, in 1941 when during a seance, Helen Duncan was able to fully materialize the spirit of a sailor who wore his naval cap which on it was written the name of his ship- HMS Barham. He announced that he had recently been killed as a result of his ship, HMS Barham being taken down by the enemy in the Mediterranean. This information had not at the time been made public by the government who had completely denied it and kept it a secret that HMS Barham was taken down when a German U-Boat U331 had torpedoed the ship. Apparently the government had only informed some individuals on a confidential basis that they had lost loved ones but kept secret from the public at large that 861 British seamen had been lost, in order to protect public moral and mislead the enemy.
Once news had spread, this incident lead to the authorities taking greater notice of Helen Duncan's activities.

1944 Arrest and trial

In January 1944, police raided one of Helen Duncan's seances in her then hometown of Portsmouth just as a spirit manifestation was taking place. It was rumoured that the reason for this raid was due to a paranoia on behalf of authorities that Duncan might reveal further details of classified information such as that of the imminent D-Day landings. In other words, she was viewed as a potential threat to national security.

Duncan, along with three members of her audience were arrested and taken to court. This court case was extensively covered by the media. The Times newspaper at the time reported that during this raid, Helen Duncan was caught red handed in the act of faking the spirit phenomena. It was alleged that the "spirit" which was apparently manifesting at the time was actually Helen Duncan herself, concealed in white cloth and that she was also found in possession of a HMS Barham hat-band which would have been used to fabricate the phenomena.

Left: Helen Duncan allegedly materializing the spirit form of her spirit guide "Peggy". Skeptics such as Harry Price believed that this "spirit" was simply being made from a combination of white cloth materials and a rubber dolls face attached to it both propped up by a clothes hanger. 
However, supporters claim that spirit materialization is a complex process and that spirits are not always able to mould the ectoplasm into a realistic and lifelike form.

Helen was brought on trial at the Old Bailey in London and would become the last person to be prosecuted under the Witchcraft Act 1735 for profiting from "fraudulent spiritual activity". This act had not been used to prosecute anybody for more than a century.

Supporters of Helen Duncan allege that she was effectively harassed by the police, made the subject of a number of false allegations and that there were powerful people out to get her in what amounted to a conspiracy emerging partly from wartime paranoia.

During the trial, Helen Duncan's defense suggested that she give a demonstration of her abilities in the witness box. In other words, Helen would conduct a seance in the courtroom. This proposal was rejected and Duncan was found "guilty" under the Witchcraft Act and sentenced to 9 months in prison. Duncan was released from prison on 22 September 1944.

The death of Helen Duncan

In November of 1956, police once again raided one of Helen Duncan's seances in Nottingham. Police allegedly grabbed hold of Helen Duncan, searched her and searched the seance room for "props" such as fake beards, masks and costumes that might be used as part of a hoax. They could find none on this occasion.

Shortly after this raid, Helen became very ill. Some say this was down to shock but spiritualists argue that Helen became ill as a result of being interrupted whilst in a state of trance- a time which a medium is said to be in a highly-sensitive and vulnerable condition. Apparently a Doctor confirmed that Helen did have two second degree burns on her stomach area, which spiritualists claim may of been the result of the ectoplasm re-entering her body too quickly. 

As Helen became more ill, she returned to her home in Scotland and some five weeks after the police raid incident, Helen Duncan was dead. Doctors listed the cause of death as related to her diabetes and heart failure.

Helen Duncan's mediumship verdict: real or fake?

Harry Price investigation. Helen Duncan's mediumship was put to the test by psychic investigator Harry Price. He claimed that the "ectoplasm" Mrs. Duncan was producing was nothing more than cheesecloth which she was somehow regurgitating from her stomach, a theory he developed having had the medium physically examined in every area other than her stomach. Price then purchased yards of cheesecloth and asked an assistant to pose with the cheesecloth in a similar fashion to which Helen Duncan would produce ectoplasm, and found that the ectoplasm and cheesecloth looked very similar.

In one photograph Harry Price took of Mrs. Duncan, there appears to be a hand materializing from the ectoplasm and moving, which Price says is nothing more than cheesecloth, with a rubber glove attached via a safety pin. On this picture, Price notes "the puffed cheeks" of the medium- implying that Helen Duncan is making a rubber glove move by blowing into it. This does not seem to make sense, because surely if you attach a rubber glove to the end of some cheesecloth and blow into the top of the cheesecloth, the material would be such that it would have no effect on the glove.

Although the regurgitation theory is indeed possible, I was unable to find any evidence that Harry Price was able to duplicate the effects Mrs. Duncan produced via regurgitating- either himself or with an assistant. The closest he got was to take six feet long strip of cheesecloth, roll it up and show that it would fit into the mouth of an assistant. However, this cheesecloth was never swallowed and regurgitated- and it is a wonder how anyone could carry out that process without choking, gagging and feeling extremely sick, yet no mention of choking noises or sickness was made and if yards of cheesecloth were coming up through Helen Duncans throat, how could she at the same time "fake" the voice of her spirit guide who was talking during this process? How might cloth even look having been in someones stomach? Surely its colour, appearance and feel would be completely different? So whilst the regurgitated cheesecloth theory is possible, it is also unfounded and does not seem a practical or demonstratable explanation.

This theory also ignores the fact that the ectoplasm can be seen to be being produced not only from the mouth but from other parts of her body such as ears. It is of course not physically possible to store yards of cheesecloth inside your ears!! The only other explanation could be that in addition to regurgitating the materials from her stomach, Helen then quickly took the cheesecloth and "poked it into her ears"- an explanation that seems unlikely since Helen Duncan was securely bound to the chair during the time which she produced the ectoplasm.

The photographs to which I refer from this investigation can be found on the Harry Price website: Harry Price and Helen Duncan.

Medium Maurice Barbanell who had the following to say about the Harry Price investigation:

"Harry Price, a researcher who thrived on publicity, propounded the extraordinary
theory that, instead of being a genuine materialisation medium, Helen Duncan
swallowed yards of cheesecloth which she later regurgitated. To show how
nonsensical this theory was, Mrs Duncan gladly submitted herself to X-ray
examination. Price’s “explanation” was that she had a secondary stomach, like a cow.
The X-ray examination proved that both her stomach and her oesophagus were
Counsel for the defence at the Old Bailey tried to introduce the X-ray photographs as
evidence, but these too were legally inadmissible.
More than once at Helen Duncan’s séances, I was invited to handle some of the
ectoplasm immediately after it had been produced. It was always bone-dry, and had a
curious stiff “feel”, proving that it could not have been regurgitated.
I conducted an experiment that was conclusive in its result. At my suggestion, Helen
Duncan, and every sitter at one séance, swallowed tablets of methylene blue. These
had the effect of dying into a bluish colour the contents of all our stomachs. Yet when
the materialisations appeared, they were their usual white colour."
- Maurice Barbanell - Read full article here

Helen Duncan was also investigated by the London Spiritual Alliance in 1931 who would also denounce her as a fraud. Apparently Helen attended a great many sittings with the LSA and produced large quantities of ectoplasm from which human figures of adults and children would manifest and many specimen samples of the ectoplasm were taken for scientific analysis, but the London Spiritual Alliance came to the conclusion that these were an elaborate hoax around the same time that claims of fraud were made by Harry Price.

It would appear that much of the focus is often on Helen Duncan's trial under the Witchcraft act and the events surrounding this rather than her actual supposed abilities as a medium. It can no doubt be argued that Helen Duncan suffered unfair treatment at the hands of the law, however just how genuine she was as a medium continues to be debated.

Further reading

Relavant video- Alan Crossley talks about his experiences of materialization seances with Helen Duncan:

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The spirit photography of William H. Mumler

Do ghosts exist? Where's the proof? Well surely it would provide a solid case for the existence of ghosts if we were able to use cameras to photograph them? Many such claims have been made since the dawn of photography itself.

Primitive technology and equipment to take photographs began to emerge in the early 1800's and developed quickly throughout the decades ahead. 

Right from the early days of photography came the claim that ghosts could be captured using cameras, which began with a man named William H. Mumler (1832-1884).

William Mumler lived in Boston and originally worked as a jewel engraver. He practiced amateur photography in his spare time and one day in the early 1860's, he took a self-portrait photograph. When this photograph was developed, he was suprised to see that he was not alone in his photograph- as he saw behind him a ghostly figure who he recognised to be his cousin, who had died 12 years prior to this photograph being taken. This is widely credited as being the first spirit photograph.

As news spread of this story, people would then begin to ask Mumler to take their photograph in the hope that they too could capture images of deceased loved ones. As time went on, demand grew and Mumler was said to have reluctantly made the transition into making spirit photography a full time career. He then moved to New York and it was said that numerous photography experts examined Mumler and could find no evidence of fraud.

Skeptics would argue that despite the people investigating Mumler being learned and educated individuals, most people back then simply did not know what they were looking for when it came to identifying fraud, due to the fact these were still the early days of photography and they would have known little about what went on in the dark room.

However, William Mumler certainly did allow a great number of skeptics as well as photographic experts (who surely would of been aware of the tricks used to create fake ghostly images) to examine the process from start to finish and to inspect his equipment and people were unable to find evidence of fraud.

A professional photographer at the time named Mr. Jeremiah Gurney had this to say about William Mumler's photography:

"I have been a photographer for twenty-eight years; I have witnessed Mumler's process, and although I went prepared to scrutinize everything, I could find nothing which savoured of fraud or trickery. The only thing out of the usual routine being the fact that the operator kept his hand on the camera."

Despite this and many other supporters, there were ongoing accusations against Mumler including the accusation that Mumler would break into peoples homes in order to obtain photographs of deceased relatives which he could then use to create fake spirit photography. It was also stated that some of the "spirits" appearing in Mumlers photographs were recognised as living persons. These accusations eventually amounted to Mumler being taken to court charged with fraud in 1869.

One of Mumler's critics and a person who would testify against him in this court case was a man named Phineas Taylor Barnum. Barnum (pictured left) had gained a reputation in his day as being the "prince of humbugs" as he held a great deal of contempt for what he considered to be fraudulant mediums. In much the same way as some skeptics of paranormal claims have done today, Barnum offered a financial reward of $500 to any medium who could demonstrate proof of their ability to communicate with the dead.

Barnum felt that William Mumler was making profits by taking advantage of people at a time when they were unable to think clearly due to the grief they were experiencing after the loss of a loved one.

During the court case, Barnum hired a man named Abraham Bogardus, a professional photographer to create a picture which would appear to show Barnum photographed with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, in order to demonstrate how easy it is to create fake spirit photography.

There were those in the court case who came out in support of Mumler, including a journalist by the name of Moses A. Dow who he produced a spirit photograph for.

Eventually the court decided that there was not enough evidence to prosecute Mumler of fraud. However, the accusations and court case had already done enough damage to Mumler's reputation to ruin his career. William Mumler died in poverty in 1884. It is said that Mumler destroyed all of his negatives shortly before his death, allowing for his photography to forever remain shrouded in mystery.

A selection of photograph's taken by William H. Mumler

Above: Perhaps one of the most famous photograph's taken by Mumler, this photograph shows Mary Todd Lincoln sitting with the spirit of her deceased husband Abraham Lincoln standing behind her. According to reports, William Mumler was not aware of Mary Lincolns identity before the photo was taken, as she had given a false identity by the name "Mrs. Tundall" and she turned up with her face almost completely covered wearing a black hooded robe and asked that she only reveal her face at the exact moment the photo was taken. As the photo developed, it revealed Abraham Lincoln himself to be the spirit "extra".

Above: There is a truly remarkable story behind this picture of Moses A. Dow. Read his testimony by clicking here. According to his own testimony, he had managed to make contact through spiritualist mediums with a deceased young girl who he once employed to work for him. She informed him that should he visit a spirit photographer, that she would make an appearance and also gave details as to what position she would take, what she would wear ect. William Mumler took the photograph, as far as I am aware with no prior knowledge of this and Dow even assumed a false identity. Needless to say the image produced a spirit "extra" of the exact description and likeness of the girl who Dow had been in contact with.