JH Brennan’s, Whisperers: The Secret History of the Spirit World explores the powerful undercurrents flowing just beneath the surface of the history we’re taught in school. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, spirits, or faeries, is immaterial (pun intended). The fact that various phenomena have been occurring throughout pre-history right up until today is undeniable. Brennan doesn’t set out to prove the existence of ghosts as disembodied, earth-bound entities but rather he examines the effect they may have played on history.
It’s a fascinating book with lots of little surprises. I read the last two sections first and went back to the older histories later. While I love a good ghost story (and Brennan does share two personal experiences), it was some of the research into the phenomena that caught my attention.
There have been many theories put forth to explain all manner of ghostly happenings, but none seem to fully explain everything. Indeed, although we tend to lump everything under the vast heading of the paranormal (or PSI), different phenomena may be different things entirely.
Brennan cites two studies which are fascinating. I’m going to outline the first one here and then take on the second in a follow-on piece.
In 1966, Kenneth Batcheldor (a UK psychologist) published findings in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research concerning the levitation of tables. Recall from the Victorian era, the spiritualism craze which involved spirit contact and various physical manifestations including rappings, materializations, levitation, etc.
In 1964, Batcheldor conducted a series of 200 séances with a small group of sitters. In 120 of the sessions, no phenomena were observed but in 80 of them (40%), physical phenomena was seen. While table movement early in the trials could possibly be dismissed by involuntary muscle movement, by the 11th session, Batcheldor watched as a table rose and floated in the air. At this point he couldn’t rule out fraudulent means so he worked with an engineer to tighten his experimental controls. Once the controls were in place, the phenomena stopped- but over time, the phenomena returned. This was a pattern Batcheldor saw over and over again. Introduced slowly, the sitters appeared to acclimate to the controls and the happenings would start anew. Astonishingly enough, Batcheldor observed not only table movement and levitation, but a whole range of spirit phenomena reported by Victorian spiritualists and witnesses. Amongst the phenomena observed were rapping sounds, breezes, lights, the feeling of being touched, movement of objects including the pulling back of chairs, apports, and holding the table to the floor so it couldn’t be lifted.
The experiments seem to indicate people have the ability, through unconscious means, to produce a variety of physical phenomena. While it doesn’t definitively rule out spirit action, it does point toward interesting avenues for further research. Batcheldor theorized that early movement of the table due to muscle contractions conditioned sitters to expect phenomena and opened them up to actually producing it. This is something later PSI researchers discovered when examining other kinds of phenomena in a lab setting. Belief makes a difference, and in Batcheldor’s case, seeing the phenomena may have led to its manifestation. So here we learn nothing really about spirits, but it does indicate how little we (or science) know about the mind.
The book on Amazon:http://www.amazon.com/Whisperers-Secret-History-Spirit-World-ebook/dp/B00EOARZGY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395336244&sr=1-1&keywords=whisperers+the+secret+history+of+the+spirit+world