Witchcraft, State-Secrets and the Spiritualist

A talk by Tania Ewing about Helen Duncan

What do witchcraft, state-secrecy and a spiritualist have in common? None you may think, but back in the 1940s these three seemingly unconnected words were very much on people’s minds.

In late November 1941 the British battleship HMS Barham was attacked and sunk by a U-boat off the coast of Egypt. In March of 1944 Mrs. Helen Duncan, a well-known Scottish spiritualist and medium, went on trial in London’s Old Bailey for conspiracy to violate the 1735 Witchcraft Act. These two seemingly unconnected events came together in a time of war, secrecy and fear.

On the afternoon of November 25, 1941 HMS Barham and two other battleships of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet cruised off the Egyptian coast providing cover for convoys. Unbeknown to them a U-boat was in the area. The U-boat fired three torpedoes which exploded against HMS Barham and within four minutes the Barham had exploded and sunk with the loss of 861 lives.

helen-duncanDue to the fear of being fired upon itself, the U-boat was forced to submerge without knowing if it had a kill or not so the sinking of the Barham was unknown to the Germans at that time.

When the British realized the Germans remained unaware of Barham’s destruction, they decided to use the opportunity to mislead the Germans. No one was informed of the sinking and the British went to great lengths to protect the secret.

But the British had not reckoned on the desire of those now on the other side to let family members know what had happened to the Barham and that they themselves had passed to Spirit.

Forty-four years earlier, Helen Duncan was born and would come to play a big part in the history of the Barham. Helen first communicated with Spirit when she was a young child, but her mother told her not to let others know of her gift due to fear of persecution.

Helen grew up, putting aside her gift and later married a disabled World War I veteran who was poorly skilled and unable to provide for his family. Helen was to have twelve children, but only six survived to adulthood. She was plagued by constant ill health, but to make ends meet, worked in a bleach factory by day, and encouraged by her husband, held séances at night.

Helen became very popular for her séances. She was a physical medium who was able to produce Spirit via ectoplasm. There were, however, skeptics who called her a fraud, claiming she regurgitated cheesecloth to simulate the ectoplasm and in the early 1930s she was put on trial in Scotland and fined for falsely claiming to communicate with dead spirits.

Despite her court appearance, Helen remained a popular spiritualist and much sought-after medium during World War II. She organized frequent séances for people seeking to communicate with deceased relatives. During one séance held shortly after HMS Barham’s sinking in late 1941, the spirit of a sailor from the Barham appeared to an astonished audience with the announcement “My ship is sunk.” Due to the secrecy surrounding the sinking of the Barham, it came as a shock to the sailor’s mother who was present at the séance.

The admiralty were contacted to see if the sinking the Barham was true. Military intelligence was not too happy that this “top secret” information had leaked out into the public so soon after the event. The admiralty feared that Helen and her séances would unravel their secret. It was not until 1942 that the sinking of the Barham was made public.While Helen was not arrested for the information regarding the Barham and possible subversive conduct, the authorities watched her more closely as she continued with her séances throughout the country.

In 1944, Helen was conducting a séance in Portsmouth, England when a plainclothes police officer disrupted the circle and blew his whistle to start a raid. The officer made a grab for the ectoplasm believing it to be a sheet, but Spirit had other ideas and the ectoplasm vanished before he could touch it. Others in the audience turned on the lights and ushered in more police officers. Undercover naval and police officers had infiltrated the meeting, and Helen and three other shocked participants were arrested and charged with vagrancy before the Portsmouth magistrates.

Under the law at that particular time, had she been found guilty of this offence Helen would probably only have had to pay a small fine and would have been released. But oddly she was refused bail and sent to London and spent four days in Holloway prison. The Vagrancy charge against Helen was later amended to one of Conspiracy, which during wartime, carried the death sentence. However, by the time the case came to court at the Old Bailey, Helen’s charge was for violating the 1735 Witchcraft Act, a law that had not been in use for over a hundred years.

Helen’s trial at London’s Old Bailey court began on March 23, 1944 and lasted a week. The prosecutors introduced evidence that Helen revealed the loss of Barham in 1941 while it remained an Admiralty secret. For her defense the jury heard from nineteen witnesses who testified that Helen had truly summoned the spirits of their dead relatives and friends. The defense team also proposed that Helen hold a séance in the courtroom, but the prosecution refused.

Despite her surprisingly strong defense, a jury found Helen and her associates guilty of a conspiracy to violate the Witchcraft Act and a judge sentenced her to nine months in London’s Holloway women’s prison. Helen was denied any appeal – some say that this was because of the upcoming D-Day invasion and the government was worried that she would let the cat out of the bag.

After the trial, many people, including Winston Churchill wanted to know why the 1735 Witchcraft Act was used in a British Court in 1944. Churchill visited Helen in prison and made promises to make amends. It is even said that Helen gave Churchill a reading. In 1951, Churchill kept his word and the Witchcraft Act was repealed. The Act was replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act, but more importantly Spiritualism was recorded as an officially recognized religion by an Act of Parliament.

As part of her sentence Helen had agreed to no more séances, but she couldn’t stop. In 1956, the Nottingham police raided a séance Helen was giving. When they were admitted to the home, they went for the medium’s cabinet where Helen was sitting in trance. They took flash photographs and took hold of Helen causing the ectoplasm to return so quickly to her body that she received two second degree burns on her stomach. She was so ill that she was immediately rushed back to her home in Scotland and later into hospital. Five weeks after the Police raid, Helen died.

Helen Duncan became known as the last witch convicted under the 1735 Witchcraft Act and still today, the Spiritualists National Union in the UK is working to clear her of that title.

The Winter Solstice

by Joan Smith York

Here in Reno, the solstice will occur at around 9 pm on Dec 21. The Winter Solstice is an astronomical event that has been celebrated by humans for thousands of years. For our pre-industrial ancestors, the winter was a time when they feared running out of the food and warmth they needed to survive. The darkening of the light that began with the fall equinox could make things seem pretty bleak, if not for the promise of the sun’s return. Ancient peoples knew of these natural cycles. Even before they had instruments to track the sun, a few days after the solstice, they could notice a slight elevation of the sun’s path. That is why celebrations were often timed for around December 25. By the Neolithic period, humans around the earth were building monuments to track the sun’s progress and predict when the solstices would occur, such as Stonehenge. Another example is in Newgrange, Ireland, where a large circular mound with a stone passageway and interior chambers was built around 3000 BC to 2500 BC and aligned so that the sunrise on the solstice floods the chamber with light.

Many different ancient cultures imbued the solstice with spiritual meaning. One common theme was to associate the death and rebirth of the sun with the death and rebirth of a deity. These included Osiris in Ancient Egypt, Dionysos in ancient Greece and many others. In many cultures, rituals celebrations developed. In ancient Rome, Saturnalia, then the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” were celebrated in pre-Christian times. Ancient Druids, the spiritual leaders of the Celtic world, led their people in the celebration of Alban Arthuan, later known as Yule. It was known as the time of the serpent, a time of transformation. The Sun God journeys through the underworld to learn the secrets of death and life and bring out souls to be reincarnated. Winter Solstice celebration traditions also developed in native cultures in north and south America, including Pueblo, Hopi and Incan tribes, as well as in Iranian Zoroastrian, and Jewish traditions. Many ancient cultures had a similar spiritual meaning for the winter solstice, and humanity always cared about the rebirth of light.

Of course, Christmas is one of the major celebrations these days, but it was not always that way. In the fourth century, Christian leaders chose December 25 to celebrate the birth of Yeshua of Nazareth, also known as Jesus Christ because this was already the date recognized throughout the Roman Empire as the birthday of various pagan gods. It took centuries before the tradition was accepted. Many Christmas symbols came from the ancient Celts, including the yule log, holly, mistletoe, and the Christmas tree.

So what does this ancient, cross-cultural spiritual tradition mean for us? It is easy to lose touch with these traditions in our world of electric lights, global markets, 24-hour shopping, not to mention our seasonal focus on getting and spending. With our advanced science and certain knowledge that the sun will return and of exactly when the solstice will occur each year, it is easy to be oblivious to the movement of the sun. However, we do so at our own loss. The solstice is a powerful reminder of natural cycles and that in order to begin anew, the old must end. The return of the light can connect us to our inner journey to enlightenment.

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin solstritium, from sol, sun, and stritium, a stoppage. It is a time of great stillness and quiet, a natural time to stop and listen, to rest and reflect. There is an opportunity here to embrace the darkness as a spiritually transformative space. Remember, the dark night of the soul often comes before spiritual growth. Only in facing our shadow, our wounds, our fears, can we can overcome them. Once we consciously close the door to the past, then we can experience a spiritual rebirth and renew our connection to life. As Albert Camus wrote, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” We each have the opportunity now to find similar insights.

Personally, I plan to take advantage of this sacred time to consciously release the past year and set my intentions for the next one. I find rituals to be extremely helpful, as they speak to the unconsciousness mind and the spirit within us. I found a great ritual online called “Winter Solstice—a Bridge to New Beginnings,” by Syma Kharalon, and I made handouts for those who want them. The ritual has five steps, which you can adapt to your beliefs and needs.

The first step is to “process the past” by giving thanks for the good experiences and also recalling the bad ones. The idea is that making our fears conscious is cathartic and allows us to heal and move forward. The next step is to “release the darkness,” which involves finding the lesson in our difficulties and forgiving all involved, including ourselves. The third step is “clear the space,” which involves smudging and bathing to release old energy. The fourth step “Let there be light,” and involves aligning with spirit and our higher self. The final step is “Prepare a new path,” where we write down our inspired intentions as affirmations.

I encourage each of you to use these practices, or to find your own way to use the special energy of the winter solstice to assist your spiritual development.

Differences Between Spiritualism and Science

A talk by a Society member, 2016

Differences between Spiritualism and Science.

Spiritualism is recognized as a religion in the USA, United Kingdom and other countries. As can be seen in the Declaration of Principles, Spiritualism is a belief system and has elements of belief and faith.

Science is evidence based, empirical. “Show me” and “prove it” is the prevailing approach. Although scientists do have their beliefs and dogmas, they can be modified and revised over time based on data and evidence. Scientists exclude what is outside their focus, and to save time and money, have practical focus on what can be measured and published.

This essay is based partially on a book by Dr. Bruce Lipton entitled the Biology of Belief. Lipton was a Cell Biologist who taught medical students, and held typical scientific beliefs. He was a materialist who was not interested in energy or spirit. Like many scientists, he believed that the Material physical body is real, mind or spirit is not real.

Bruce Lipton underwent a change in belief after reading a popular explanation of quantum physics in a book by Heinz Pagels “the Cosmic Code,” which explained the implications of quantum physics for biology. Lipton realized that according to the physicists, energy and matter were interrelated (Einstein e= mc^2). Physical body/matter is a form of energy.

At the time Lipton read this book he mentions two prevailing dogmas in Cell Biology: 1. Genes control and determine everything. Diseases are caused by your genetic makeup as opposed to other factors, such as environment. 2. Nuclei (where DNA is located) run/control the cell. Analogous to brain in the body.

Lipton mentions two of his experiments.  First, 3 groups of stem cells (can develop into any type of tissue) placed in different environments (petri dishes with different concentrations of chemicals).  Result, developed into 3 types of cells: 1 muscle, 1 fat, 1 bone tissues.  Hence the genes of the cell were not governing development of the cell rigidly.  Response included the interactions of cell with its environment determined the development/destiny of the cell.

Another experiment: removed nuclei and cells survived for 3 mos, could respond to info from cell membrane.  Did not need genes.  The signals/Information from cell membrane sufficient and the cell’s components and enzymes were sufficient to help cell survive.

Based on these results, Lipton questioned the two dogmas (genes determine everything rigidly, and that nuclei control the cell).  He concluded that the signals from the environment, as perceived by the cell, orchestrated the cell’s response, which included gene expression from the DNA.  He also concluded that the signals/perception received by the cell determined the cell’s response to changing conditions.

He has taken these conclusions and extended them to become a spokesman for New Age beliefs and theories.  Each of us has 8 trillion cells.  We receive signals from our environment.  Instead of cell membranes, we filter our perceptions/signals through our worldview or belief system.  Based on our perceptions, filtered through our beliefs, we respond to the circumstances of our lives.  More traditional scientists would have limited their speculations and waited for additional research findings to corroborate their results.  However, that can take many years.  Dr. Lipton was excited about his discoveries, and wanted to promote them and his speculations.  He is now a popular speaker at meetings and internet seminars.

The physical body is both physical and energetic.  Perhaps you have seen pictures of a patient hooked up with an electroencephalograph, or EEG, having wires on head to measure the electrical activity of brain conducted thru skin, read activity of brain.  Now there’s a new instrument called the magnetoencephalograph.  Probe reads brain activity from a magnetic field point of view  and probe does not touch head at all.  This widely accepted new technology shows that our thoughts, emotions, and attention generates energy fields outside the head.

Perhaps you have heard of Eben Alexander’s near death experience.  A neurosurgeon who was hospitalized with meningitis had a NDE, made a full recovery, and provided details of the afterlife in his book Proof of Heaven.  Dr. Alexander’s account is controversial.  Bruce Lipton cites 2 NDE’s (Eben Alexander and Anita Moorjani) to support the idea that we are more than our physical bodies.  The Mind is not in the brain.  Brain is like radio that plays a program.  Destroy brain and just alter download of mind.  Consciousness aspect is like a broadcast, brain is radio receiver.

Yet I agree that our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions can affect our physical body.  When I lived in Denver I had a position as an assistant manager in a retail store.  I felt stressed by my responsibilities and considered stepping down to become a retail clerk instead.  However, the managerial job paid a lot more.  I procrastinated, resisted making the change and developed a painfully stiff neck.  I meditated on my condition and decided that I should go ahead with the change.  When I changed my mind and committed to leaving the managerial position my neck discomfort disappeared within 2 hours.  Did I heal my neck? Or did I just remove the stress and conflict that caused the problem?  When the stress and conflict were removed, I returned to wholeness or health.

We practice spiritual healing here at SSR.  The members are acting as mediums or conduits for spirit to conduct healing.  We believe that spirit exists, that energy fields exist, and that unseen influences can help us.  In scientific circles, these beliefs are known as magical thinking.  In the field of healing, science has discounted all effects of thought, attitude, and emotion as “the placebo effect.”  For example, if a doctor gives you a pill that he tells you will alleviate your symptoms or cure your illness, you take the pill and recover, and you later find out that the pill had no medication in it (usually just sugar), the effect of the sugar pill or placebo is used as an example of the power of the mind.  I agree with Lipton that although Science has not been willing to investigate the power of the mind in healing, it should.

The opposite of the placebo effect is the no-sebo effect.  A patient who is told by their doctor that they have 6 months to live, may be plunged into a downward spiral by that authoritative diagnosis.  We tend to believe that our doctors know more than we do and when they make a pronouncement, we should follow it.  However, I’ve watched many testimonials on the internet of patients who did not accept the doctor’s pronouncements, and who instead investigated alternative healing methods, recovered their health, and proved their doctor to be wrong.

Some of these testimonials were in a movie on youtube which featured Dr. Lipton.  The movie is called TheLivingMatrixmovie.com.  It discusses and illustrates ideas of New Age or Energy healing.  The main idea is that we are more than our physical bodies, and that we consist of energy fields beyond the physical body.  Our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions affect our energy fields and thus affect the health of the physical body.

Impact of trauma/conditioning on succeeding generations.  Do my life experiences just affect me?  In a 2013 study, parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations . (Brian G DiasKerry J Ressler  Nature Neuroscience)   Memories pass between generations via epigenetics.  Trained mice with negative response to signal (cherry blossom scent chemical and electric shock applied to feet).  Negative programming: mice smelled cherry anticipated shock fight or flight.  Then mated males with unshocked unprogrammed female.  Offspring had no connection, but their sense of smell for cherry smell genes augmented and activated in offspring by cherry smell.  Sensitized to cherry smell, had a negative fear response even though they never had shock experience.  Even went to the next generation.  2 generations traumatized by cherry shock scenario at 1st generation.  Initial trauma had behavioral impact on next generation, and minute changes in specific genes were noted in the sperm cells of the 1st and 2nd generation of mice.

Life experiences of individual not just contained in 1st generation life.  Offspring respond to world influenced by past generations. Negative experiences passed on. Readout or expression of genetic code changed; the actual DNA code was not changed.

This study, which not only showed measurable behavioral change, but also structural change affecting DNA expression, has spurred further research into the impact of trauma on subsequent generations.

While scientists are investigating this area, we can speculate on the implications of this study.  If you let your imagination run wild, it can be entertaining.  For example, my father, a German immigrant, had experienced trauma growing up.  Has that somehow affected me?  Was his childhood trauma the cause of my dreams of being chased by a giant wienerschnitzel?

However, I believe Lipton is right in promoting the New Age belief that your thoughts/beliefs/attitudes affect your physical health and wellbeing.  As I have mentioned here before, I could demonstrate a negative example of this by reading you names of present and past politicians.  Some of us would get irritated or angry when thinking about these individuals.  And it’s an election year, and it’s in our face all summer!

Mindfulness is the key.  Can I step back from my internal dialog, my ongoing self talk, to notice: What are my thoughts, attitudes, and emotions at this moment?  If I increase my habit of mindfulness, then I can notice when I am entertaining negative thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.  I have noticed that when I entertain resentment towards my boss or my work situation, it churns up my emotions and I become stressed and irritable.  This is the impact of thoughts and emotions upon my stress hormones, which gear me up for fight or flight.

The habit of mindfulness, of noticing what I am entertaining with my attention, gives me the opportunity for choice.  I do not have to go from irritation to anger.  I can take a deep breath, switch the channel, and hum or sing a happier tune!

What we pay attention to we amplify and that colors our lives.

[Pagels quote: Science is not the enemy of humanity but one of the deepest expressions of the human desire to realize that vision of infinite knowledge. Science shows us that the visible world is neither matter nor spirit; the visible world is the invisible organization of energy.

CONCLUSION: Lipton: Rather than being controlled by your genes, your biology (gene expression)  controlled by mind.  Change your mind and change biology and genetics.]


Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations  Brian G DiasKerry J Ressler  Nature Neuroscience 17, 89–96, (2014) doi:10.1038/nn.3594


TheLivingMatrixmovie.com movie (free on youtube)

Lipton, Bruce.  The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the power of consciousness, matter, and miracles.

Pagels, Heinz R.  The Cosmic Code: Quantum physics as the language of nature.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A talk by Tania Ewing

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for his Sherlock Holmes books; however, by the time of his transition, he was also known as a dedicated and renowned Spiritualist. He was born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland to a very strict Roman Catholic family and educated in Jesuit schools; both in the England and in Austria.

doyleDuring his time in school, Doyle started to doubt Catholicism. Later, as a man of science, he did not believe the pope was infallible nor did he believe in Immaculate Conception. He also took issue with the view that everyone outside the Catholic Church is damned. These views drove him to become an agnostic.

In medical school, Doyle met Professor Joseph Bell who was later to be the model for Sherlock Holmes. Bell taught his students deductive reasoning through observing material evidence, and Doyle became convinced that observation and deductive reasoning could solve every mystery of life. At the same time, he was still curious about religion but refused to accept any religion that required blind faith, insisting, “I must have definite demonstration, for if it were to be a matter of faith then I might as well go back to the faith of my fathers. Never will I accept anything, which cannot be proved to me. The evils of religion have all come from accepting things which cannot be proved.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle investigated several religions but rejected each one because they were unable to justify their faith by demonstration of proof. His interest in Spiritualism began when he attended a lecture in 1881. He read books by prominent proponents of Spiritualism of the day and was intrigued enough to test their hypotheses by participating in séances and table turning or table tipping as it is now known.

Doyle became convinced after meeting an experienced medium who told him not to read a book by Leigh Hunt—a book that only Doyle himself knew he was considering reading. He later reported, “This incident …, after many months of inquiry, showed me it was absolutely certain that intelligence could exist apart from the body…. Let me conclude by exhorting any other searcher never to despair of receiving personal testimony but to persevere through any number of failures until at last conviction comes to him, as, it will.” With this, Doyle had finally received the demonstration of proof he had sought.

In 1887, Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes in the novel Study in Scarlett which is a story set against the background of Mormonism. He also introduced his acceptance of spiritualism and proof of life after death in the book. Later, he wrote two letters to the Light, which is a British Spiritualist magazine, in which he discussed his conversion to Spiritualism. In 1893, he joined the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Among the Society’s members were philosopher William James, scientist William Crooke and future Prime Minister Arthur Balfour.

In 1894, the SPR sent Doyle, Dr. Sydney Scott and Frank Podmore to investigate a possible haunting. Colonel Elmore and his family were hearing strange sounds like chains being dragged across a floor and moaning that sounded like a “soul in torment.” The dog wouldn’t enter parts of the house and many of the staff had left afraid of the noises. After spending several nights investigating, the three were unable to come up with a conclusion even though, on one night, they were disturbed by a “fearsome uproar,” as Doyle described it; no damage or cause for the noise could be discovered. Following the discovery of a child’s body buried in the garden and resulting cessation of the disturbances, Doyle became convinced that he had witnessed psychic phenomena caused by the spirit of the dead child.

Though not openly advocating Spiritualism, Doyle continued to support the Light magazine. He continued to study psychic phenomena and his writing reflected his growing interest. Some biographers believe that Doyle’s book, The Stark Munro Letters, are autobiographical with the character Stark Munro saying, “I have mastered the principles of several religions. They have all shocked me by the violence which I should have to do to my reason to accept the dogmas of any one of them…. I see so clearly that faith is not a virtue, but a vice. It is a goat which has been herded with the sheep”

In 1916, Doyle’s brother-in-law and close friend, Malcolm Leckie, died. In her grief, Doyle’s wife, Lady Jean Doyle, turned to her spirit guide Pheneas by way of automatic writing; her success with automatic writing would last throughout her life. A short time after the death of Leckie, gifted medium Lily Lauder-Symonds conducted a séance for the family and delivered a message from Leckie. He and Doyle had shared a private joke about a guinea that he had given to Doyle as his first “fee” when he became a doctor. Doyle wore the guinea on his watch chain. The message that Doyle was given by Lauder-Symonds concerned the guinea, an item that most people including the medium knew nothing about.

Now actively advocating Spiritualism, Doyle wrote to the Light to say that, due to the war, he more closely examined his beliefs and values. He said that “it was really something tremendous, a breaking down of the walls between two worlds, a direct undeniable message from beyond, a call of hope and of guidance to the human race at the time of its deepest affliction.” With renewed belief, Doyle and Lady Doyle began touring Britain, giving a series of lectures on Spiritualism as a way to help those grieving the loss of loved ones killed in the war.

In 1918, Doyle’s oldest son, Kingsley, wounded during the Battle of the Somme, died of pneumonia. Not long after, Doyle’s brother Innes also succumbed to pneumonia. The next year, Doyle attended a séance given by a Welsh medium. At the séance, Kingsley appeared and Doyle recognized his voice. Kingsley provided details to Doyle that were unknown to the medium.

With the publication of The New Revelation in 1918 and The Vital Message in 1919, Doyle related his personal belief in Spiritualism. At this time, he also wrote many letters to newspapers declaring that he believed Spiritualism to be more closely aligned with what Christ taught; that the Fox sisters in New York in 1848 proved that “no faith is necessary to come to a realization that spiritualism is true.”

Doyle’s mother died in 1920. During a séance not long after her death, she came through with other family members. Of those experiences, Doyle said, “I saw them as plainly as I ever saw them in life.”

In 1925, Doyle was nominated honorary president of the International Spiritualist Congress that was held in Paris. That year, he also opened a “Psychic Bookshop and Library” which was “within a stone’s throw of Westminster Abbey.” And, towards the end of that year, he supplemented it with a museum of psychic artifacts and memorabilia in the basement. Unfortunately, no one knows what happened to the contents of the museum after WWII.

In The History of Spiritualism, published in 1926, Doyle wrote that “Spiritualism is founded on proven facts so that a science of religion may be built up.”

In 1927, he published Pheneas speaks: Direct spirit communications in the family circle. The book was about Lady Doyle’s experiences with automatic writing and her Spirit guide.

Doyle believed traditional churches felt threatened by spiritualism and that “Roman Catholics and the Evangelical sects, alike, found themselves for once united in their opposition”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle transitioned in 1930 in England. A few days before his transition, Doyle wrote: “The reader will judge that I have had many adventures. The greatest and most glorious of all awaits me now.”


Troy Taylor’s American Hauntings, “The Haunted Museum, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” prairieghosts.com/doyle.html

The First Spiritual Temple, “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – (1859-1930),” fst.org/doyle.htm

The Chronicles of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Conan Doyle and Spiritualism,” siracd.com/life_spirit.shtml

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Spiritualism and “New Religions,” by Michael W. Homer, dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V23N04_99.pdf

From Hannibal to Coca-Cola: The Story of Christmas

by Steve Crow

For most of the Western world the origin of Christmas is found in the biblical Book of Luke. Chapter 2:1-11 tells us the Christmas story; the birth of Jesus in a manger, accompanied by angels, shepherds and wise men from afar. For today’s Christian the origin of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Bible. Nothing more, nothing less: “Jesus is the reason for the Season!” However, most of what we witness on December 25th each year has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. In fact, many of the customs and traditions of Christmas actually pre-date Christ.

Probably the most significant tradition began in the year 217 BC. This was during the 2nd Punic War. Hannibal, along with his famous elephants, had managed to cross the Alps from Spain and was on a sightseeing tour of Italy with his entire army. As Hannibal approached Rome, an Army under Gaius Flaminius was sent out to meet him. He was Rome’s last hope! I won’t bore you with the details, but at the Battle of Lake Trasimene, which is considered the largest, most successful ambush in military history, Flaminius was badly beaten.

Hannibal was on the outskirts of Rome, and the people were in panic. So what did the politicians do? They threw a huge party! It was called the Feast of Saturnalia in honor of the god Saturn. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Fortunately for Rome the Carthaginian politicians hated Hannibal more than they hated Romans and refused to send him reinforcements, money, or supplies. So Rome survived and so did the Feast of Saturnalia.

Eventually Saturnalia became the most popular of all Roman feasts. Originally a one day event celebrated on December 17th, it grew into a weeklong extravaganza ending on the 23rd. Efforts by the Emperor Augustus to reduce it to three days, and later Caligula, to reduce it to 5 days ended in uproar and massive revolts. During Saturnalia priest carried evergreen wreaths; there was a Feast of Juvenalia which was thrown in honor of children and involved the giving of gifts; the traditional toga was abandoned for colorful informal dinner attire and everyone from master to slave wore the pileus, which was the “freedman’s hat”, and master’s served their slaves a banquet. Saturnalia became a time for reversal of social order, within careful boundaries of course, that avoided actually subverting the social structure.

The traditional Latin Saturnalia greeting was “Io, Saturnalia!” which translates in English to “Ho, praise to Saturn!” and survives today in Santa Claus’ “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Eventually the cult of Mithras arose throughout the Roman Empire. The god Mithra had his origins in the Persian Empire about 4,000 years ago. The faith of Mithraism spread eastward through India to China and westward throughout the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire habitually adopted religions from the lands they conquered. Eventually the cult of Mithras spread from Scotland to the Sahara and from Spain to the Black Sea.

According to Persian mythology Mithra was born of a virgin who was given the title “Mother of God”, he remained celibate throughout his life and valued self-control, renunciation and resistance to sensuality. Starting about the year 1 BC the Cult of Mithras became extremely popular within the Roman Legions. The faith spread throughout the Roman military, and for the next three hundred years, Mithraism was the faith of the Roman Emperors. According to the traditions of the religion, Mithra’s birthday was December 25th and it was celebrated with a feast, coming on the heels of Saturnalia.

But the Roman Cult of Mithras had a fatal flaw. It was only open to men. The men of Rome became initiated into the rites of Mithras, while their wives, being barred from membership became Christians. And since mothers have a habit of raising children to believe as they do Christians grew in number, and the Cult of Mithras dwindled into extinction. However, Saturnalia and the Feast of Mithra were too popular and ingrained in Roman culture to be done away with, and so Jesus was given Mithra’s birthday. This was a small thing since the church placed little emphasis on the birth of Jesus. In the early church it was Easter that was the main religious celebration.

From the late Roman Empire, through the Middle Ages and until the early Nineteenth Century, Christmas was an underground holiday. It was a riotous time of debauchery; sort of a blending of Halloween and Oktoberfest. It wasn’t until Charles Dickens published his series of Christmas Novels that the holiday became the widely popular more dignified celebration we know today.

But what about all the other fun stuff associated with Christmas? Where did these things come form? The Christmas tree for instance had its origin in both Roman Saturnalia and Scandinavian celebration of the winter solstice. The Romans decked the halls with garlands of laurel and placed candles on live trees as part of Saturnalia; while the Scandinavians hung apples from evergreen trees to remind them that Spring and Summer would come again.

The exchanging of gifts also began during Roman Saturnalia. These gifts were called “Stenae” which translates “lucky fruits”.

Mistletoe comes to us from the Druids. It was considered a divine plant symbolizing love and peace. During the winter solstice maidens would stand under a wreath of mistletoe. A boy would come along, pick a berry and give her a kiss. No more berries – no more kisses!

By the early Middle Ages the Scandinavians had developed their own winter solstice traditions. These tended to merge with Celtic traditions and practices and became Yuletide in the British Isles.

So where does Santa Claus come in? He’s my favorite! St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, a small city in what is present day Turkey. He died in the year 340 A.D. According to tradition he was a generous man, who was particularly devoted to children. St. Nicholas eventually became the patron Saint of Russia, and in Orthodox iconography he is identified by a red cape and flowing white beard. The feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated on Dec. 6th and was marked by gift giving and charity. After the Reformation the popularity of St. Nicholas dwindled, except in Holland. The Dutch Sint Nikolaas eventually transformed into Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace and Sinterklaas would reward good children by leaving treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought these traditions to America in the 17th century and the anglicanized Santa Claus emerged.

In 1809 author Washinton Irving, famous for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” wrote a satire of Dutch culture in America titled “Knickerbocker History”. Several times he refers to the white-bearded, flying horse riding St. Nicholas by the name Santa Claus.

In 1822 Clement C. Moore, a professor at Union Seminary, after reading “Knickerbocker History” wrote the poem “The Night Before Christmas” based on the character Santa Claus. Moore invented eight flying reindeer instead of flying horses and Santa sliding down the chimney.

From 1862 through 1886 Bavarian illustrator Thomas Nast drew a series of over 2,000 cartoons for “Harper’s Weekly” based on Moore’s poem. Before Nast, St. Nicholas had been portrayed as everything from a stern looking bishop to a gnome-like figure in a black frock. Nast also gave Santa a home at the North Pole, a workshop full of elves, and a list of good and bad children of the world. All that was missing was Santa’s red suit.

That was provided for us in 1931 by Coca Cola. Swedish commercial artist Haddon Sundblom was commissioned to produce a Coca Cola drinking Santa Claus. Sundblom modeled Santa on his friend Lou Prentice because of his cheerful, chubby face. The Coca Cola Corporation insisted that Santa’s fur trimmed outfit be bright Coca Cola red. And so the modern Santa Claus was born—a blend of Christian saint, pagan god, and commercial icon.

So why has this celebration endured for millennia? Why has it transcended a diversity of contradictory religions through a multitude of cultures? What is it that lies at the heart of Christmas? I believe that it is the collective joy of being human. The dark dead days of winter are coming to an end. The days are getting longer and Spring is just around the corner. In spite of everything we see there is hope for brighter, sunnier days ahead. No matter how many Scrooges, Grinches, and other naysayers we encounter along the way the sun will always return and we can once more bask in its warmth.

It doesn’t matter what we call it, or how we celebrate it; as long as mankind joins hands together, and through our collective joy chases away the gloom found in the human heart, there will be Christmas. So in the words of Auntie Mame: “Haul out the holly; put up the tree before my spirits fall again. Fill up the stocking, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again. For we need a little Christmas right this very minute, candles in the window, carols at the spinet. Yes, we need a little Christmas now!”

Skepticism: The New Religion

by Roy Stemman, paranormalreview.com (defunct), Oct 3, 2010
originally published in the Winter 2011 ATransC NewsJournal

Those of us who have received evidence that convinces us we will continue to exist, in some form, beyond death know that it can be a life-changing discovery. And most of us feel that this world–humanity as a whole–would be a better place if more people had knowledge of the evidence for survival after death and the opportunity to explore the evidence and the implications for themselves.

arthur_findlaySo it is hardly surprising that so many comments on my blog, Paranormal Review [No longer in use.] in recent weeks have expressed dismay over the decision by the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU) [whose headquarters is at the Arthur Findlay College, Stansted, Essex, pictured above] to shut down Psychic News, a newspaper dedicated to promoting that evidence globally for almost eighty years.

Thanks to a Spiritualist charity, Psychic News has been reborn and is now published as a monthly magazine, sold on newsstands in the UK and globally on subscription, and its readership is increasing. See: psychicnews.org.uk/

Though its readership has been declining in recent years, it has been responsible for introducing many people to the scientific evidence for an afterlife as well as Spiritualism’s philosophy. Its demise has left a gaping void and it is tremendously frustrating that those responsible for the decision are not answering questions about the real reasons for closing it, or their failure to come up with a rescue plan.

Contrast this lack of communication from Spiritualism’s largest UK organization with the activities of the skeptics–people who are on a mission to dismiss all evidence for paranormal phenomena and belief in an afterlife.

They are growing in numbers. Indeed, it seems to me at times as if skepticism has become a new religion. Their meetings take place at top venues around the world and their speakers’ skeptical assertions are lapped up with zealous enthusiasm by the delegates.

They even have their own Messiah–James Randi–a bearded prophet of rationalism whose appearance on stage at these events is usually greeted with a reception akin to worship. In the October news and updates email from the James Randi Educational Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, “social critic and magician” Randi says:

“For those of you who have supported the JREF since our inception in 1996, and even for those folks who are new to our coterie, there are a plenitude of reasons to be delighted.

“For instance, the JREF plans in the short term to enter the realm of digital publishing with skeptical titles poised for release on the iPad and iPhone, Kindle, and other digital schemes. We are increasing our video content on randi.org.

“We have also launched a new grants for educators program and our regional workshops are a reality with St Louis, Chicago and Louisville already on record as the first of many such planned skeptical assemblages. We also recently awarded four new academic scholarships.”

The JREF is not alone. Another non-profit organization, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), publishers of Skeptical Inquirer announced two days ago that it wants to recruit a full-time communications director to handle press relations and publicity. Experience in public relations and/or journalism is required, of course, and applicants must be “familiar with the organization’s mission and demonstrate a commitment to humanism and skepticism.” Salary will be based on experience.

The CSI is an associate of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) which was established in 1991 and has expanded rapidly since then, moving into a new 20,000 sq foot headquarters in Amherst, New York (pictured), in 1995, to which it added a 15,600 sq ft research wing five years ago. With its mission “to oppose and supplant the mythological narratives of the past and the dogmas of the present” it has had considerable success in placing skeptics on national TV and radio programs.

“Literally hundreds of guests have been placed on thousands of programs,” says its website. “This includes all of the major networks – CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, PBS – and virtually all of the cable companies – CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, C SPAN – as well as National Public Radio, AP Radio, etc.” The CFI maintains a Council for Media Integrity and “a rapid-response network to try to monitor programming and fight for balance in the media.”

So, what’s the difference between the SNU and the skeptical organizations–apart from the blindingly obvious fact that they champion very different philosophies? It’s clearly all about communication: telling the world what you are doing and even appointing professional people to do so on your behalf.

Whilst the skeptics are busy coming up with titles that can be read on iPads and Kindles, the SNU has killed off Spiritualism’s only independent, weekly newspaper and fired its staff.

For the record, I know that the SNU and its churches, ministers, mediums and healers do a tremendous amount of good in presenting evidence for spirit communication and promoting spirit-inspired philosophy. But it needs to be shouting that information from the rooftops. It has to explore ways of publicizing its activities (and those of similar organizations) through every avenue available.

The SNU website assures us that it “promotes knowledge of the religion, philosophy and science of Spiritualism” and that it “unites Spiritualists throughout the world and supports 340 Spiritualist societies and churches.” It also holds over 1,500 meetings a week across the UK–far more, I’m sure, than the rapidly-expanding skeptics groups in the US and Europe.

That’s all well and good, but in the battle for minds it seems to me that the skeptics have the upper hand right now. Their skepticism is even influencing the treatment of spiritual and paranormal stories by the supposedly objective media, due to a concerted campaign on their part. As a result, many newspaper and magazine articles I read now refer to Spiritualism in the past tense–as a religion that thrived in the 19th and 20th centuries, but is now virtually dead and buried.

We know that’s not true. But closing down Spiritualism’s unique weekly record will simply reinforce that view around the globe. It’s time for the SNU and all Spiritualist organizations to speak up!

[Editor: The skeptical organizations also have a substantial influence on how universities are funded and how the government grants your money for research. See Why Has There Not Been More Study of the Paranormal? at atransc.org/research.htm.