Psychic Casebook

Archie E. Roy. The Archives of the Mind. Spiritualist National Union Publications, 1996.

A leading member of the SPR presents a range of cases from the literature of psychical research which he feels are indicative of post-mortem survival. Both Roy and Colin Wilson, who writes the forward, clearly believe they should convince the sceptic of the cogency of the evidence. Unfortunately Roy falls into the classic psychical researchers trap of parading the same list of long dead great and good who supported their caused as if this proved something. Can't they understand that one could produce lists many times longer in support of many other causes and beliefs, from Marxist-Leninism to Roman Catholicism. Perhaps a slightly more apposite comparison would be with eugenics, supported by dozens of leading intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but now a good deal more discredited than psychical research.

The cases presented come generally from good sources, the files of the SPR and its American counterpart, and the researches of Ian Stevenson. This does tend to mean that many of the cases are remote in either time or place, and would be very difficult, if not impossible to cross check. As they stand some of the better cases certainly fall into the category of being very puzzling, if the events happened exactly as related here. That's the rub, there is no way of knowing if that is the case.

Others look dodgy enough on the evidence presented such as an hypnotic regression case evoking sublimely unconvincing bodice ripping historical romance. Roy presents a long argument as to how difficult it would be for information on the secondary characters and historical scene to be known, but writers of historical romances often go to considerable trouble to get their background right. This case is almost certainly a case of cryptomnesic recall or straight plagiarism of some long forgotten historical novel.

Also greatly overrated is the case of Patience Worth, the spirit of the restoration Quaker girl said to manifest when a Mrs Pearl Curran used the Ouija board. Strangely Patience didn't write in the language of Pilgrim's Progress, but in an ahistorical mock-antique olde worlde dialect surely never spoken in life by anyone, but very fashionable among a genre of romantic novelists in the period 1880-1930. Everything about Patience belongs to the early 20th century, not the late 17th. My guess is that Patience was the real Pearl Curran, and the rather dim Pearl Curran personality was a social mask she adopted to survive in the company of her dull husband and his duller friends.

I find clear parallels with Mrs Frances Elizabeth McFall, the dull wife of a dull army surgeon in late-Victorian Warrington, and her daring new woman alter ego Sarah Grand. One shouldn't be too unkind to Pearl-Patience, and admire anyone with the chutzpah to create a line such as "He pointed to the tall tree that stood over the grave of Willie Pimm Passwater".

Of course not all the cases are as weak as this, but even in the strongest there are large elements of doubt, the cross-correspondences are so vague that they could be made to refer to anything. Is it significant that a high proportion of Stevenson's reincarnation cases involve both rather wealthier previous incarnation families, and the kinds of death (and in some cases life) which lead to gossip?

Perhaps the classic case reported here, which highlights all the problems, is the Watseka wonder: a girl named Lurancy Vennum, who appeared to be possessed by the spirit of a dead neighbour. Both Lurancy and Mary appear to have been grand hysterics, just the sort of people who today manifest as multiple personality Satanic abuse or alien abduction survivors, and one should note Sherrill Mulhern's comment to the effect that these people soak up information from their environment like blotting paper. At one point Lurancy-Mary prophesied that Mary's brother Frank would shortly fall ill. ESP or Munchhausen's syndrome by proxy? There is something of a contradiction in Roy's claims: he seems to be saying that the artist Gifford could so possess the goldsmith Thompson that he could produce good pastiches, yet getting the simplest idea across suddenly becomes a difficulty.

I'm not quite sure what Roy's final opinion is, he evokes the archives of the mind, our old friend the psychic ether or information field, yet again; but then digresses into survival. I think he is saying that we survive as gestalts in the information field, but I'm not sure. If I am not impressed by this sort of evidence, what would be really impressive? I suggest a mathematical or scientific cross correspondence, in which instead of Myers, Gurney et al; an alleged Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg et al were collaborating on a working, mathematically coherent theory of quantum gravity, and transmitting it through a group of mathematically and scientifically illiterate mediums, who would each be asked to send their portions to one or more physicists. If the results were genuine science and not psychic babble then the evidence for something paranormal would be very strong. -- Peter Rogerson

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