Thoughts on The Society for Psychical Research

The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) are probably known to many readers of this blog: I first joined back in 1992, was a member for a couple of years, and after a fifteen year hiatus have recently once again become an Associate member.  Some of you may still be storing SPR Journals and Proceedings for me – if so thanks! Perhaps some readers would consider joining up?

Founded in 1882 the SPR are  still Britain’s (if not the world’s) leading parapsychological organisation, and hold regular monthly meetings in London as well as occasional Study Days which are always worth the effort. The London based nature of most events makes me an irregular attendee – London is about as accessible to the Moon for me with no car and no money, and Becky is based in Derby so it’s not much easier for her — but the excellent Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (JSPR),  and a popular magazine The Paranormal Review arrive  in the post four times a year and are never devoid of interest. (There are also irregular occasional Proceedings (PSPR).  In fact these form much of the basis for my reading in what is going on in contemporary parapsychology, along with the excellent Journal of European Parapsychology (not an SPR publication). On top of these benefits, SPR members also receive a generous download provision from another independent project, LEXSCIEN, the online parapsychology library –– where one can search through, read or print as needed 150 years worth of peer reviewed psychical research and parapsychological literature. Unfortunately I had already joined LEXSCIEN before rejoining the SPR, but it really is a huge plus to SPR membership for anyone interested in the subject – you can take a look at Abstracts and a few bits and pieces for free anyway.

SPR logo

The SPR logo: the symbol is psi, the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet.

Of course the greatest benefit is the other members: I have been privileged to have the opportunity to meet so many people, from the late John Beloff, Manfred Cassirer,  Maurice Grosse and Andrew Mackenzie through to the  many wonderful people I have learned a great deal from and whose work I knew, such as Tony Cornell, Tom Ruffles, Alan Gauld, Mary Rose Barrington, Archie Roy, David Luke, Tricia Robertson, Terry White, Guy Lyon Playfair, John Randall and Eleanor O’ Keeffe and many many more interesting people through the SPR’s events.  And we should not forget the offices and library in London where members can find a wealth or research materials and assistance!

Ghosthunters & The SPR

Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in “spontaneous cases”: that is non-experimental psychical research. (Mrs Sidgwick seems to have originated that distinction and the phrase “spontaneous cases” in the Report on the Census of Hallucinations in PSPR, vol 10, 1894 I noted yesterday!)  So now we have ghost groups, often deeply committed and sometimes very efficiently run, all over the country.  These “local groups” like Cheltenham’s PARASOC however always maintain a distance from the SPR, I suspect more through ignorance of what the Society has to offer than by design. Some people are just in to the subject for “legend tripping” – they enjoy a spooky night in a haunted house, but want little more from their hobby. Many are put off I suspect by the dry prose of psychical research literature, especially some of the papers which feature quantitative methodologies and page after page of statistics, or just by the fact that articles are very technical.   Yet the Paranormal Review rarely features such papers, and even if one is not willing to fire up SPSS (a stats computer program) to check the stats for oneself, the peer reviewed nature of the JSPR means one can always learn something from an article and have faith that the numbers mean what the author states!

So why don’t ghosthunters from local groups join the SPR? You don’t have to be a brilliant academic with a brain like the Mekon – you can be a normal person, and don’t have to speak like you swallowed a thesaurus.

The Mekon

You don't have to look like the Mekon to join the SPR: evil geniuses are still welcome, but normal folks join too!

The SPR is far less stuffy than many similar academic groups, warm and accepting. From the earliest days the membership ranged from the brilliant and famous (and many were) through the mighty and powerful (Balfour was Secretary of the SPR while Prime Minister, and on some old Proceedings the address for correspondence is given as 10 Downing Street, London!) through the scandalous and eccentric (George Sand) to the humble – chambermaids, undermaids and grocer’s assistants appear in the lists of members. Nothing has changed (except you can’t send mail to number 10 any more!).

10 Downing Street

Who ya gonna call?: Not no. 10 -- Sadly since former SPR Secretary Balfour's Prime Ministerial career ended in 1905 this is no longer a useful address if you see a ghost!

Now the SPR is not, and never has been cheap, compared with joining your local ghost group. What it does do however is you bring you in to the mainstream and give you access to what has gone before in psychical research, and give you a chance to contribute insights and research to the wider parapsychological community.  Long term readers of this blog may recall my piece on “types of ghosthunters” where each category I jokingly discussed ended “and never publish their results.” Of course many groups do publish newsletters, or decent websites where they chronicle their findings, but if you don’t publish in a mainstream publication, and I suspect some of the cases people have studied would make great Paranormal Review articles at least, how can you say you are doing scientific work? Scientists publish their results, and share with each other. While the peer reviewed JSPR may prove daunting to many with a non-academic background to write for, that is the aim. (they were kind enough to publish something of mine, and I’m not brilliant!).  Even if you don’t want to write up articles , you can file your reports with the SPR library, and providing they are readable I am sure the SPR will be willing to store them for future researchers.

On top of all this the SPR has a number of members with a huge amount of experience in investigating spontaneous cases, and a Spontaneous Cases Committee who can usually help you, and put you in touch with a local member who will provide valuable knowledge and experience in your investigation if you so desire. How else will you be able to say as Venkman did “Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947?”, if you don’t know the literature?

symmetrical book stacking, from Ghostbusters

If this is what you want to do in life, you need to join the SPR and know the parapsychological literature!

The SPR has been doing this research for 150 years, so why do so many groups stand apart? They do NOT affiliate with local groups, by long term principle, but they will still give you as a member all kinds of valuable ideas and information you can bring to bear on your own research efforts, and provide a forum to discuss and meet with genuine experts in the field. The new SPR updated website has for the first time  an online payment form – current annual membership prices are (January 2010) £60/ £40 unwaged/ £30 student, but honestly, you would pay more for a lot of psychical research related books and events out there.

I’m sure many of us have signed up to a local group only to later find they have a secret mission – in the case of the old Cheltenham group (CPRG) taking over the world, but in the case of many groups simply finding the Holy Grail or defeating the evil minions of some dire satanic cult, like the Inland Revenue – anyway another reason people hesistate to join psychic research groups is in case they are thought to be committing to belief in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis, without even a steady paycheck to compensate. This is not an issue with the SPR owing to a very important rule -the SPR as a body has no corporate opinions on the phenomena it studies, all members owning their own beliefs. So even if you are completely sceptical of all alleged paranormal phenomena, you will find SPR members who share your beliefs.  There are actually a few important guidelines for SPR members – you can’t use membership in the Society to promote yourself or product (blast there goes my psychic phone line – “Madame CJ speaks the future, only £20 a minute!”), ad so forth. You can read them here.

Anyway what occasioned these brief thoughts is that the SPR website at – note the domain, I was always impressed they got that! – has just undergone a major overhaul, with a lot of new material. There is a guest essay, a form to report your experiences, links to some members research (hopefully as soon as Becky has her ethics approval through she can get listed) and a listing of recent books on parapsychology and related topics, as well as extensive revisions throughout. So stop reading this, go have a look!

Hope to see you at an event one day, and if you join do comment.

cj x


About Chris Jensen Romer

I am a profoundly dull, tedious and irritable individual. I have no friends apart from two equally ill mannered cats, and a lunatic kitten. I am a ghosthunter by profession, and professional cat herder. I write stuff and do TV things and play games. It's better than being real I find.
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12 Responses to Thoughts on The Society for Psychical Research

  1. Tom Ruffles says:

    That was a very interesting piece, Chris. One thing you didn’t mention was the SPR’s extensive archives which are held at Cambridge University Library. SPR members can use them free, and they are an amazing resource for serious researchers. The online library is brilliant, covering a huge range of material at the click of a mouse, and worth the price of subscription alone! Then you’ve mentioned the monthly lectures and two study days a year. These are usually recorded on audio so members can get to hear them even if they can’t make it to London (non-members can buy them). The conference is the highlight of the year, and always draws together a fascinating range of papers, as well as providing an excellent opportunity to network with like-minded people in friendly surroundings. All in all, I would say that actually the subscriptions are pretty modest for what you get! And now with online payments it is so easy to join (and no, before anyone asks, I’m not on commission!).

  2. Tom Ruffles says:

    Chris, you’ve removed the section which lists the most recent comments. It’s very useful because you can see at a glance who has commented and about which post. Now you have to scroll down and check each post. Is it possible to reinstate this function?

  3. Chris Jensen Romer says:

    Hi Tom, yes I have taken to varying the “Theme” each month this years, partly because new backgrounds are probably more interesting than most of what I write, partly because I constantly try to find something clear and readable (except for Christmas when I let the blog go red, or for many British male readers, a shade of grey or brown…) This month it is actually grey – I thought it Ben Gray’s theme suited February somehow. Anyway thanks for the reminder, and yes i have fixed it now.

  4. Tom Ruffles says:

    Thanks Chris, much easier to see new comments.

  5. Chris Jensen Romer says:

    Not been any for a few days. Even the chap who said eh was going to comment and probably join the SPR to me on Facebook did not comment in the end!

  6. Jason says:

    Well I’ll comment then. It was Ray Stantz, not Pete Venkman. (In real life it’s Aykroyd who is the paranutcase, of the 3 main actors.) Sorry to go so “1 year ago” on you. 🙂

  7. hemulen77 says:

    Hello Chris,

    I went to Thetford Priory recently. The first time I heard about the place was while watching an old Ghost Hunters episode about time slips. The way you and your friends explained your experience really struck a chord with me. I must have seen it back in the late 90’s, and have viewed it many times since then. Anyway, your incredible story has stayed with me all this time, so thanks for that!

    I was wondering if you were still involved in the study of the paranormal, and have you had anything else happen to you that is in the realms of the unknown? Also, do you have any links to interesting articles or stories about time slip experiences? It’d be a BLAST to hear from you!


  8. Pingback: A Parapsychologist’s Review: The Enfield Haunting, Sky One Drama – Part One | Polterwotsit: Spooks, Poltergeists, and the People Who Study Them

  9. I joined them last year, didn’t get anywhere with repeated email attempts to get login details and only got a couple of magazines and journals – all way out of date so any conferences they mentioned had already passed. I’m not sure what’s happened, but I doubt I’ll be redoing my subscription as they don’t seem to be bothered sorting things out via email or even replying to me. Has there been an issue with the general secretary or something as I know other groups haven’t been getting their periodicals / journals either :/.

    • Chris Jensen Romer says:

      No idea what has happened there but I certainly have problems getting the ASSAP magazines out in time. Maybe Tom Ruffles can advise you on this?

      • Tom Ruffles says:

        Godofgreeenhope, I’m sorry you have had problems. Issues of the Journal and Paranormal Review are sometimes behind schedule, but all members get four of each every year (plus the chunky Soal Proceedings recently as a bonus). Events are listed on the website ( and on Facebook as well as in the publications/flyers.

        I don’t know why you had a problem with login details, but if you email me at, letting me know which contact information you used previously, I’ll see if I can help sort it out.

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