It's Witchcraft

Manfred Cassirer, Medium on Trial, The Story of Helen Duncan and the Witchcraft Act. P. N. Publications, 1996.
In this somewhat confusingly arranged book, which plunges into its subject without as it were setting fhe scene fully, Manfred Cassirer tries a piece of heroic historical revisionism, the rehabilitation of Helen Duncan, a medium generally regarded as pretty much the epitome of fraudulent mediums, and telling the story of her brushes with the law. Alas, the photographs reproduced in this book suggest that his task is going to be about as fruitful as that of those wishing to argue that Hitler and Stalin were kindly, much maligned, old coves.

They shriek fake, and Cassirer has to concede as much, indeed I think one would be hard pressed to find any five year old children who would not think that the materialised Peggy is a crudely put together doll, indeed its face looks like it once belonged to a Mr Punch who had seen better days. With this as the only evidence that we can examine for ourselves Cassirer's arguments which boil down to the fact that people who were not obviously unbalanced, and had had a reasonable education had testified to her genuineness just don't cut any ice.

Indeed he himself related an episode which may give a clue as to what is really going on in these cases. A group of people in a psychologist's role playing game came to believe that the people playing a certain role, say their mother, had taken on the mannerisms and features of their mother. This suggests how inadequate naive realist views of perception are, and points to the very strong role that memory, imagination and the brain's pattern building abilities can play in our building up models and narratives of the world. Normally these models are indeed a close replica of the world out there, but there are conditions when they are not, and this can lead to situations in which someone looking at the medium or even a crude doll may indeed see a very clear mental image of Aunt Bertha or whatever. – Peter Rogerson. Magonia 61, November 1997.

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