"And sometimes he's so nameless"

Romer Roams With The Romans!

Posted in Games, Paranormal, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on March 25, 2010

This week DC is on holiday, and having failed to find anywhere pleasant in Bavaria to visit at short notice decided to mooch around the Cotswolds, just enjoying his time off.  On Tuesday he called me up and asked if I fancied  day exploring the Roman remains in the Cotswolds, and so we set off sightseeing.  I think this region was Britannia Primus, the first district of Roman Britain, and it seems little known outside of historians just how important South-West Britain was in the Roman period. We started by driving the twenty or so miles down to Cirencester, Roman Corinium, and drove past the amphitheatre to park up in town as  we were  hungry.  Still I have found a picture of the site today…

Cirencester Amphitheatre

Cirencester Amphitheatre from Wikimedia Commons

Anyway we parked up in the car-park in the centre of town and wandered round to the Black Horse, a lovely little pub in the centre of town that pleased DC by selling Jennings beer, his local (when he is in his native lands)  Cumbrian brewery. I don’t drink these days, but I did enjoy the food which was excellent and fairly moderately priced. I have known about the place for years, owing to a story reported by Marc Alexander in his book Haunted Inns that I read many years ago – I seem to recall the case was of a chap who woke to see an elderly woman in his room; she went to the window and scratched something there with a diamond ring, and when he leapt out of bed she vanished. In the morning though the pane of glass apparently had a name carved in to it.  I may be getting the details wrong – it’s decades since I owned a copy of the book, but I’m pretty sure his source was the vale of the Vale of the White Horse Gazette from 1937. I used the story in a Pendragon RPG adventure many years ago when the knights spent the night in the hostelry here, as a start for an adventure – but that’s a different story!

black horse cirencester

The Black Horse, Cirencester - click for link

I asked the pretty young barmaid if she knew anything of it, but it was her first week there as a trainee, and the manager was away. Oh well! We tried years ago when James was still alive to organise a PARASOC ghost investigation there but nothing ever came of it, and as it only has three hotel bedrooms we are not sure that even GSUK could manage much, unless we take a much smaller group than usual. It’s very reasonably priced for accomodation though, and the food was excellent, and the beer apparently good.

I snapped a shot of Cirencester as we walked

I snapped a shot of Cirencester as we walked

We wandered through Cirencester, a pleasant little place, to the museum. It’s excellent, one of the best I have seen actually, with some superb exhibits — it actually seems rather out of place in such a tiny town, but it benefited from a £5 million refit a few years back, and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in Britain before the Vikings. The medieval and later centuries do not get much emphasis, but the Roman and Saxon material really interested me – some readers of my blog will know that I wrote my ‘A’ Level History project on The Problem of Romano-British Survival, and what got me in to trouble in 1987 – saying the archaeological evidence pointed to assimilation and a native population adopting Saxon culture, not being exterminated and replaced in a genocidal war – is now twenty odd years later I believe pretty much the norm.   There are some wonderful mosaics from the latisfundia and villas that ringed the region, probably to my mind the richest area of Roman Britain, and I wish I had taken photographs, but I did not stop to enquire about the rules on photographing exhibits. The only photographs I have are therefore of me and DC. This  website however is a great place to catch a glimpse of what treasures are held within: sadly I can not find  museum website…

I took a snap of DC, who entered in to the spirit of things with the dressing-up box. He may appear as a Lunar officer in a forthcoming Gloranthan RPG session of mine looking like that! Even better than dressing up, we then found a Tabula (Roman boardgame) table with the counters, and set about a game, which occupied us for an entire hour. Made a nice change from modern Eurogames, but it seems that you can’t stop us being gamers, and it was hard fought till finally DC won! (He always wins boardgames actually…) Here is DC considering his next move!

DC playing tabula

DC playing tabula: he won!

It’s quite a fun game actually, and I thought I was winning when I finally got most of my pieces in the last quarter — I was wrong as it turned out. I’ll beat him when we play Hnefatafl though, I have the Viking blood!

I thought including activities like this in the museum was a nice touch. I spoke to the lady (Curator/Assistant Curator/Musueum Assistant – i’m not sure which she was) on the desk and joked very few people must play the game? She said no, it was very popular, people get absorbed in it and it’s hard ot throw them out when five o’ clock comes round and she is trying to close the galleries!

We had coffee and cake in the museum tea room, and talked politics for a while over the days papers before going outside to look at some modern frescoes and murals, and plotted paiting David’s garden walls likewise. Then finally, and a little reluctantly we emerged back on to the rainy streets of Cirencester, David with a book on Romano-British religion, I with no money with a set of little metal Romans he bought me for use in our game sessions, and made our way back to to Cheltenham.  I apologize for boring you all with my “holiday snaps”, but thought might be worth sahring and make a nice change from chronicling the Cork Poltergeist over on my Polterwotsit blog…

Cirencester outside the Museum

Cirencester outside the Museum

Thoughts on The Society for Psychical Research

Posted in Fun forthcoming events, Paranormal by Chris Jensen Romer on January 27, 2010

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 www.spr.ac.uk – note the ac.uk 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

Insomnia, Indecent Exposure & A Bad Reception

Posted in Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on October 8, 2009

Let us start at the beginning – whatever the faults of such a strategy, there is tradition upon its side…

Once upon a time there was a boy called Christian Jensen Romer, and he almost deserved it. It was late on Wednesday night, and he was terribly excited. A book he much admired (despite reservations given Gray Barker who was heavily involved known propensity for hoaxing), The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel, had been made in to a movie. Christian was very excited; three times that day he had been reminded of the book, which in some ways is the closest thing he has ever read to his own rather bizarre ideas on ‘the paranormal’.  He was now thinking of buying the DVD, but whilst flipping through channels on TV, he found that BBC 1 was screening it at 10.45pm!

Oh joyous day! Calous, Calay! He galumphed down to his basement chortling, and posted a Facebook posting tipping people off, and settled down to watch the film. Lisa was in the house, asleep upstairs with the cats, and I watched alone. Every someone commented on my Facebook status, and I replied via my mobile, texting a comment reply.

And then it all got very weird. Suddenly a whole string of random numbers appeared on his status as a comment supposedly from him, and he pondered on what was happening. A cat on the keyboard? Stephen Atty’s suggestion was reasonable, but no cat and how did it hot the post button? That would require a mouse. It happened twice more. As far as I can make out my Facebook account is un-hacked – it’s hard to imagine any change to my details that would be funnier than the truth anyway. A long discussion develops between Parasoc Bruce and Stephen, with myself making passing comments – the film sadly bears almost no resemblance to the book, and I had by this time lost interest. I was talking to Becky about how disappointed i was by text message.Everyone agreed it must be something to do with my phone…

And it was. When Becky Smith goes quiet one knows the world has ended or the phone is not working. Furthermore this morning I was due to see Postman Ben, the man with the bleakest attitude I have ever encountered, someone who makes Marvin the Android look like an exponent of the power of positive thinking. He had asked me over for breakfast today, but when he failed to text or call to confirm I suspected something must be wrong…

The insomnia did not become apparent until 3am. Try as I could, I could not sleep. I have a few tiny revisions left to make on a manuscript I’m working on, and email to reply to, and an event I’m organising to finish arrangements for. Somehow, I could not concentrate. I was too tired to work, too awake to sleep. I watched TV till 6am – still no calls, no texts.  At 7am I decided I may as well just give up on sleep and try to work – and I then wake at half ten, confused to find I still had no calls, and no texts. What was going on? Clearly my phone reception had failed? A few ‘phone calls to Becky confirmed all calls to me where going straight to answerphone. Oh well, I was already late for my breakfast time discussion of misery with Postman Ben, so I threw some clothes on, and in that state of mild anxiety being left incommunicado usually provokes in me  hurried to catch the college bus.

I’m not sure exactly when my trousers gave up the ghost…

Now of course anyone who knows me knows that “builders bum” is a curse I inherited from my father, a very talented and clever man who for many years had a small firm of builders. I assume it’s genetic – why else would my arse so steadfastly refuse to remain properly ensconced in fabric. It is something of a joke among my friends, and a source of constant horror and shame to my girlfriends, that my trousers sometimes slip a bit, revealing not the whole of the moon but more than is generally considered fashionable if you are not an 18 year old girl prowling a nightclub like a wolf on the pull. (I like that actually – “The Assyrians came down like a wolf on the pull”). Anyhows…

SO I enjoyed my breakfast with Ben, who seemed in someways positively chirpy – misery is still his favourite word, and when I asked why he was off work he assured me it was through anal warts contracted cottaging – the truth was a chest infection, but it gives you a good idea of his general demeanour and personality. I stepped outside his house, directly opposite the uni campus, to make a call – no reception in there even if my phone was working, and I noticed a white van driver who came in giving me really funny looks. Sure I’m unshaven and scruffy – but this seemed rather direct even for that. Then I realised. My jeans had torn from almost waist to knee, and were flapping open, revealing my underwear, buttocks, and shapely legs. Now I’m not Kylie Minogue I admit – I don’t think my arse is that horrific though. Sadly the world disagrees with me.

So I panicked, ran back in, showed Ben who fell about laughing – his misery lifted as my acute embarrassment and discomfort became obvious – and in the best traditions of tabloid journalism I made my excuses and left. Now Ben’s flat is directly opposite the Park Campus, which seems to be filled with plump identikit 18 years olds with the same peroxide blonde hairdo.  I’m sure they are all lovely, and have very distinct personalities, but they are far too young and impressionable to be faced with my bare buttock – and here I was facing the Hiroshima of trouser malfunctions. Luckily I was wearing my coat…

So hurrying off my bus home, which happens to be the Uni campus bus as well, I wrapped my coat round my waist as a sort of makeshift skirt. Now I’m unshaven, unkempt and feeling rough – and after I asked some students where the bus stop was these days, I am horrified to notice there reaction. Yes I look like a stereotypical flasher! At any moment people probably assumed I was going to throw open my caot/skirt, revealing my shortcomings to the world… Luckily in a few seconds a bus arrived, and clutching desperately at my coat I jumped on, showed my ticket and sat down. Students were now joined by a young mother with children who eyed me warily, and a host of little old ladies all of whom appeared to be looking at me oddly and giggling. Still, the bus stops just a minutes walk from home – almost safe!

Except…

I had caught the number 10, which dropped me straight in the middle of town, a town it seemed populated entirely by pretty female office workers enjoying their lunch who looked at my strange shambling figure desperately clutching a coat around me with obvious suspicion. I made it down a couple of streets, and then thought “I know! I’ll call someone on my mobile, and seem to be  normal and unconcerened!” So I phoned Becky, who seemed thoroughly unimpressed as I had phoned her not long before. So I remembered Lisa was on lunch-break, and called her, but she was having a bad day, 15 minutes late for lunch and in a foul mood – I ended that call just as quickly.

I have rarely been so relieved to pass through the arch in to Normal Terrace. I bumped in to Chris as I came in, and I think she is still recovering from laughing at me after I showed her why I was holding my coat like that.

Oh well, at least my other phone works now I have transferred the sim. I have had better days though.

cj x

Orbs – a load of balls, or could they REALLY be ghosts after all?

Posted in Paranormal by Chris Jensen Romer on September 20, 2009

Ok chaps – orbs.

We all know they are a reflection caused by the flash hitting a particle and doing something technical but quite explicable, that results in little circles on your digital photos.

Dust, not ghosts.

I have been saying this since series 2 of Most Haunted,and I said to Phil, Karl and Yvette that orbs were dust.. (Series One I was holding out for a possible thoughtographic explanation – Andrew Oakley of Parasoc gave the first technical/optical explanation of orbs as dust. I had previously been confused by having taken many hundreds of digital photos in dusty locations for work, with never an orb appearing. A change in chip architecture was the missing explanatory factor here.)

My early scepticism about orbs arose from the fact they did not appear on non-digital pictures (with a few exceptions, but they may not be classic orbs), are not visible to the naked eye,an that they enter the history of ghosts in the 90′s with few if any precursors – I think BOLS (balls of light) can usually be distinguished from orbs, as BOLs are visible to the naked eye.

However my rigorously sceptical brain today made me think “Is dust an adequate explanation?” Parasoc did series of trials (I was not present) on making orbs appear in specified places, and got results which seemed to show orb/mind interaction – but they were suggestive only, and they have not yet as far as I know tried to replicate the effects. Odds are they were just random chance, and will not be repeatable.

I am also pretty much 100% certain dust is what causes orbs. The question, and it is a much bigger question the more i think about it, is does the dust origin actually rule out a ghost involvement, or a paranormal on, in the positioning of that dust? It clearly does not:  yet the dust/spirit issue is constantly presented as “one or the other” – yet both COULD be involved. We have been conned in to a false choice:  but actually dust makes perfect sense as an agent for psi events, being small and easily manipulable by psychokinesis– if such exists, and also moving dust would be within the capacity one assumes of the puniest spirit’s “energy level” :)

Dust moves on air currents, which might show a ghosts presence, and dust is a fine agent which was used historically along with smoke and incense for giving invisible spirits form in the ritual magick practice of “evocation to visible appearance.”

So why one or the other? That is just sloppy thinking. Occam’s Razor suggests dust alone, but Occam’s Razor is frequently dangerously misleading. So are we throwing out the baby with the bathwater, or should you take my argument with a pinch of dust? :)

cj x

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The Science of Ghosts: how it went!

Posted in Debunking myths, History, Paranormal, Science, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on April 8, 2009

So what can I say about the Science of Ghosts event?

Well I have been at the Edinburgh Science Festival, and I sort of wish I was there today. I was in a planning meeting last night though for our own Festival, so keep watching this space! Anyway, the opening event was The Science of Ghosts, which attracted a great deal of media attention, and I think I can say that it was an excellent day, and you should have been there! (Unless you are Becky, in which case you were there!)

Becky drove up – it’s a terribly long way, the train is bad enough and we spent the night before trying to find the venue. There were no directions on the website, and finding accommodation and the venue were major hassles – and Richard Wiseman never replied to my enquiry email – next time I shall try Caroline. Even the Science Festival staff who were first rate overall were unable to help us as we walked around Edinburgh in a fog on friday night, seeking where we were going the next day.  If I  had not been able to call Laura Nelson and get her to perform net searches we would probably never have found the venue. Next problem was parking – this is central Edinburgh, and all the parking we could find was a) extortionate and b) maximum four hours. We asked at the uni – the sat nav had taken us to the wrong uni campus, and Edinburgh as two universities as well just to add to the fun — and no one could help. We also spoke to a nursing student, who was really friendly and helpful, but had absolutely no idea where the Anatomy Lecture theatre was!

Walking round Edinburgh in the fog is quite eerie – beautiful city, but chilly and with deep mist like something from a Jack the Ripper film. At a students suggestion we ate at Monster Mash, a little restaurant that does sausage, gravy and mash in various varieties – not much change from twenty quid, which makes me think if this is how Edinburgh students live no wonder they have huge debts, but really good service and great food. Highly recommended! It’s off Teviot Place I think.

On Saturday morning up soon after daybreak to get the bus for the seven miles from the nearest affordable accommodation – a Travelodge in Dreghorn, in to Central Edinburgh.  The Travelodge was fine, with exceptionally friendly staff and superb service – and bus pretty good as well. I must say Scots do seem very friendly, even to those of us with English accents.

So we got  to the venue, and the excellent Festival staff in their orange shirts were very welcoming. I wish I had taken names to email praise to their bosses – but thanks to all of you! About 200 people attended the session — I was hoping to meet a chap off the JREF forum, and spent a whole day clutching a PSPR (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research) – The Scole Report actually – to give to him. Never found him, so gave it to laura in the end, and she can pass it on when she has finished with it!

First event was Richard Wiseman on Investigating ‘haunted’ locations: A scientific approach. This was on quantitative approaches to spontaneous case investigation, and to be honest I don’t think anyone who knows me would have found it particularly new. I have after all being banging on about Gertrude Schmeidler’s approach since the early 1990′s, and as Parasoc, the later CPRG and GSUK have all used various forms of quantitative assessment based on my various methodological designs, well nowt new here.

What is it? It’s when you use people recording impressions and marking them on a map and compare that data against existing witness sightings, in essence. :)

It is however still a minority approach in ghost investigation among parapsychologists I think (mainly because parapsychologists always strike me as woefully ignorant of the literature and the papers describing the idea were published in American parapsychological journals from the 1960s to 1983 I think, not the PSRP or JSPR - hence little known in this country.

Those interested can check out Quantitative investigation of a “haunted house”. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1966, 60, 137-149 was the paper which inspired me to try it initially, and Quantitative investigation of a “haunted house” with sensitives and a control group. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1968, 62, 399-410 and Quantitative investigation of a recurrent phenomenon. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1975, 69, 341-352. I’m sure there is a 1983 paper, but I forget it!  Gertrude Schmeidler is one of the true giants of modern parapsychology, and I hope one day to meet her if she ever lectures in Britain. Google will find my own comments on experiments with these – I may try and get the data from the GSUK experiment at Tamworth Castle last summer written up properly soon, if Becky is interested in doing that. Those interested on my musings on this approach ot investigation can find it on google easily enough, on the JREF Forum, or even on some earlier posts on this blog.

Anyway Richard Wiseman did a presentation on the research he was part of at Hampton Court Palace and Edinburgh Vaults. I’m guessing a lot of readers of my blog have already read the papers – but you can read about this and learn much more on www.richardwiseman.com Furthermore you can download three of the papers by Wiseman et al on the research which are really very interesting reading, if a bit dry and technical. Have  a look!

Criticisms? I was rather surprised at the emphasis placed on the infrasound hypothesis of Tandy’s – I spoke to both Ian Hume and Tony Lawrence last year about it and both felt it had been taken further than Vic intended, and given the debunking  work of Braithwaite published in I think the EJP last year (yes Jason Braithwaite and i agree on very few things – this is one of them though!), and the ubiquity of low frequency sound in nature, I’m extremely sceptical. I saw Ciaran’s Silent Sound experiment referenced – but I have not read the paper so I’ll reserve comment for now. I’ll just not that I think from the papers that other environmental stimuli were far more important? Um… not convinced!

Generally though Richard Wiseman’s talk was a plea for environmental theories of haunting to be taken seriously by sceptics I think. Whats that?

I’ll give an example. A few years ago Becky  raised the idea that some of the phenomena associated with the Station Hotel, Dudley may be linked to seismic activity. We know that ten days before Dudley Castle featured on the Most Haunted Live show, there was a major earthquake in the vicinity. It seems likely that the underground activity may have been responsible for, and may still be responsible for, some reports of odd phenomena in the district. This is a classic environmental theory of haunting – no ghost, but something in the place making people perceive “ghosts”.  So an environmental theory is one that postulates some natural but not easily detected force is acting in ways which cause apparent ‘hauntings’.

Such ideas are currently very fashionable in parapsychology, and this has led to research like that of Wiseman et al at Edinburgh Vaults, looking for factors which may cause apparent “hauntings” seemingly with some success.

In the 1950′s the President of the Society for Psychical Research (henceforth SPR) G.W. Lambert put forward his UNDERGROUND WATER HYPOTHESIS. He argued that in fact many “hauntings” were caused by underground water, such as streams flowing underground, and that these hidden water courses could cause all manner of odd vibrations, sounds and other phenomena which were interpreted by witnesses as ghostly. He attempted to demonstrate this with particular reference to the famous Morton Case, or Cheltenham Ghost. His theory here was that the Despard family hallucinated the “lady in black” after hearing and feeling sensations caused by periods of heavy rainfall.

It would be fascinating to objectively research this against 19th century rainfall figures for Cheltenham, if such can be found, but the only “proof” he offered was that the hauntings apparently ceased following the opening of the Dowdeswell Reservoir in 1888. In fact this argument is flawed in three ways – a) the ghost was continued to be seen well in to the late twentieth century b) maps of the water table do not suggest any underground watercourse beneath the house at least in the last few decades,and it is relatively unlikely as the house (called St. Anne’s today) stands on a slight ridge between the Chelt and another river valley (Wyman’s Brook) and c) the Reservoir, while still extant, was decommisioned in the 1990′s without any noticeable effect to the water table in the area in question. Further research with Severn Trent would of course be worthwhile.

Of course the archaeologist and occultist T.C.Lethbridge had already suggested underground water may act as a battery or necessary power source for paranormal entities – his ideas were developed through his interest in dowsing. Lambert may have been providing a rationalist answer to this apparent link. What might be interesting is to bring the resources of modern geology to bear on a dozen or so “strongly haunted” spots, hunting for underground water courses.

In the early 1970′s a rival theory developed, linking paranormal activity with fault lines. The earliest version I have seen were a series of articles in the early Fortean Times (then The News) looking at possible links between UFOs and seismic activity in Leicestershire and Staffordshire. Paul Devereaux in particular looked at “earthlights”, lights that seem to appear around areas of seismic stress. It has been suggested that quartz under pressure may produce light effects, or electrical fields which may have some effect on the human brain (see the work of Dr Serena Roney-Dougal.) The problem with this theory is that Britain has mainly tiny faults in the west of the country – yet East Anglia for instance appears very haunted, at least to a casual observer! I did some research on this in the 1990s, which was discussed on a TV show, which suggested that South Gloucestershire haunts did indeed cluster around fault likes, or junctures of fault lines. This was suggestive, but further research is desperately needed before we can draw any conclusions.

Devereaux also drew attention to the fact that most megalithic tumuli and henges seem to cluster around fault lines. I have a sneaky suspicion this may have more to do with geology though and natural reasons than Earth Mysteries – the west of England,where such things are found, is fairly hilly and I suspect that most tumuli and henges in the East where ploughing and arable farming weremore lucrative have long since been destroyed by intensive agriculture, whereas in sheep and cattle farming areas the have survived. As near surface faulting is more common in hilly and rocky areas, we might therefore expect to find a correlation between tumuli and faulting, but not a mystical or paranormal one!

So the question remains – can earthquakes, tremors and seismic activity cause apparent “haunting” phenomena? I believe the answer is yes, probably – earthquakes seem to have an effect on animals and therefore probably on humans, but I do not think we need worry about much more than vibration and shaking occurring – the electrical and earthlight ideas are interesting, but tremors felt unconsciously as Becky has suggested may well be enough. There is, however, still one piece of experimental evidence against the theory to be considered.

The major physical movement of objects has long since been noted as a feature of Poltergeist (RSPK) cases. In the 1970′s SPR veteran researcher Tony Cornell decided to test this hypothesis, in association with I believe a Cambridgeshire council. He arranged for access to a council house which was about to be demolished, placed articles in several rooms, and then had the house literally shaken to pieces by large industrial machinery/ He remained inside as long as it was safe to do so, observing, and then had cameras which filmed until the house actually collapsed. The footage was shown on Anglia TV – I’d love to see it again, as am recollecting from memory of an event many years ago.

Now what the experiment seemed to demonstrate is that vibration caused major cracks in walls etc before any objects flew as they do in poltergeist cases. The vibration would be extremely obvious to a human observer long before any apparently paranormal motion was detected!

Now I know bugger all about geology or earthquakes, but I will raise three quick replies to this problem…

1. The vibration in the experiment was as I recall provided horizontally, by a belt or chain around the structure. In a tremor, he pressure would be vertical – the actual source of movement deep underground.

2. Objects did of course move under vibration. the moved slowly, over a period of time – just as the object at the Station Hotel on the infamous Most Haunted footage did.

3. I suspect the higher up a building you might be, the more you would feel the effects. Room 214 is on the second (3rd US) floor, high above the road, and at the bottom of a major hill, built in to the slope. While I believe it is too high for traffic to cause th motion see on the footage, it does strike me as entirely possible the movement of the chair could be caused by underground activity.

Anyway this should mean you are up to speed on what is meant by an environmental theory of ghosts – and apart from a strong doubt on my part about the idea of confabulation and “paranormal experience” narratives growing with time, which I queried at the end of the day briefly – more research needed, and I think it would make a fascinating PhD if i can find funding, as probably outside the scope of Becky’s — anyway that takes us to the end of the first session, and 10am. Er, given there are seven more sessions to describe I think I shall take a break and return to this shortly with a Part Two!

cj x


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