Sex and psi

Archie E Roy. The Eager Dead: a Study in Haunting. Book Guild Publishing, 2008.

As far back as the Spring of 1972, in my article 'The Mythology of UFO events and interpretations' (now on Magonia’s new website, see below) I noted W. H. Salter’s claim that the famous or infamous SPR cross-correspondences referred to 'the other side' working towards the creation of a new race of superchildren by means of “spiritual eugenics

This book tells the story behind that, and it transpires that because of the secrecy Salter, even though he was the husband of one of the automatists and son-in-law of another, got it rather wrong. This book, based on the Balfour family archives tells a perhaps more accurate version of the story. The spiritual eugenics were not meant to produce a whole brood of superkids, but just one; in effect the new Messiah who would become a great leader and save the world. This new Messiah was not to be just any child, but the son of yet another of the automatists, Mrs Winifred Coombe-Tennant. Her husband, being a good many years older than her, was evidently not up to the task of being such an exalted creature’s earthly father, so a stand-in was needed That was to be Winifred’s lover Gerald Balfour, younger brother of the Edwardian Tory Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour.

The cynical might think that this was all a cover up for a fairly grubby little adultery, one which Roy concedes caused much distress to Balfour’s wife. But no, we are assured that something much more elevated was going on. At one level the child’s spiritual father was the deceased Edmund Gurney, with whom Winifred had fallen in love, and at another level, the affair was one by proxy, in which Gerald Balfour stood in for his brother Arthur, and Winifred for Arthur’s long dead lover Mary Lyttleton, a sort of double necrophilia-by-proxy.

Out of this union comes the supreme scion of the Anglo-Saxon race, the great leader, cosmic helmsman, superlative genius, single handed saviour of the human race and all round jolly good chap Augustus Henry Coombe-Tennant. Uh? who? Eh, well the scheme didn’t exactly go to plan, Augustus may well have been an all-round jolly good chap, but he didn’t save the world, usher in the New World Order (oh yes, that was part of the plan as well) or anything of the sort. He ended his life as a Dominican monk, much loved by his brethren and flock, but hardly on the world stage. He just didn’t have the fire in his belly to become great leader and etc.

In other words he was as normal and sane as anyone with a mother like his could be, and didn’t inherit her fairly obvious narcissistic personality disorder, as evidenced by the fact that she totally broke with Balfour when he was insufficiently gushing with his obituary of her son Christopher, who was killed in the Great War

Magonia devotees will of course be reminded of that other lost leader and world saviour, the child of Cynthia Appleton, and his spiritual father the Venusian hologram; to say nothing of Joanna Southcott and her spirit child Shiloh. Today of course women are much more liberated and do not have to aspire to messianic status through their sons, they can get there themselves (did you say Mrs Thatcher

The portrait of the SPR shown here, even by such a sympathetic (and credulous) commentator as Roy, is not a pleasant one. It shown to be a small, closed, incestuous clique centred on the Balfour family, behaving much more like a religious cult than the scientific society in pretended to be. The ideology they were developing was one in which the end justified the means. For example the scripts claimed that the death of Winifred’s small daughter was part of the plan; that she was one of the failed batch as it were

The association with eugenics reminds us that it is not just psychical research for which one can summon up a list of the long dead great and good as supporters, as does Roy here. But then you could draw up such a list for any creed or cause you cared to, it would say nothing about the actual merits of the creed or cause

Much of this book is very revealing of the attitudes which fuel the contemporary SPR’s mutation into a sort of Victoriana/Edwardiana appreciation society. Roy is clearly out of sympathy with much of the modern world, and longs for the upstairs-downstairs life of the Edwardian country house. He has all the snobbery one associates with this decaying, fusty institution, with the assumption that upper class ladies and gentlemen couldn’t possibly lie, and that the lower orders were just too stupid or ignorant to pull off a hoax

Roy believes in the cross-correspondences, and argues that “any intelligent and well read person” who studies them must do also. However, given that many of the interpretations relate to the private affairs of people long dead, it is hard to see how any contemporary researcher can evaluate them one way or another. They rely on allusions from the Latin and Greek classics, and one of the automatists was a lecturer in classics. They refer to members of the SPR, another automatist was married to the brother in law of F.W.H. Myers and having an affair with the brother of Mrs Sidgwick, and were being 'evaluated' by a closed family circle of the Balfours and their intimate friends, such as Mr Piddington

Only by attempts at duplication are we likely to be able to assess how much was being read into a mass of ambiguous 'messages'. It would, for example be interesting to see what 'messages' people could read into random selections of quotations from Shakespeare or cryptic crossword clues generated by computer. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson. Originally published online December 2008


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