Tag Archives: Tom Ruffles

The SPR & ASSAP: time to merge?


IntroductionASSAP FB logo

The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) was founded in 1981 as the result of dissatisfaction felt by a few members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR).  This is ancient history and it is not the present intention to rehearse the issues which created that rupture.  Suffice it to say that the two organisations have existed in parallel for over thirty years, attracting different, though frequently overlapping, memberships but generally standing aloof from one other.  Now that aloofness is dissolving, with each promoting the other’s activities on social media, and there is more interaction than has been the case in the past.  With this improvement in relations, the time has come to ask: why not merge to form a single body?spr_logolowres

The first response might be to wonder why they should merge when they have such strong individual identities and do well on their own.  The answer is that they have strengths which are complementary, rather than antagonistic, so that both sets of members would gain from unification.  Another question is that if some members were dissatisfied with the SPR in 1981, could the same happen in the future, leading to yet more friction and possibly a fresh split?  The answer to that is that the current SPR is a long way from its 1981 incarnation, and fully aware of how traumatic such a rupture is in the life of an organisation.

The following sections attempt to answer some more of the questions that will naturally occur in a discussion of the merits of bringing ASSAP and the SPR together.  It is to be hoped that these will generate debate, which may produce further questions.

What are be the benefits of a merger?

The obvious one is a bigger combined membership, with economies of scale and greater resources.  A larger size should increase its punch and authority, both within the field and among the wider public.

The SPR has dedicated premises and a paid full-time administrator which would improve the ad-hoc administration experienced by ASSAP members.  The volunteers who run the latter do a tremendous job, but a dedicated office function has to be more efficient.  ASSAP members would have access to the range of benefits already enjoyed by SPR members.  These include four numbers of both the magazine Paranormal Review and the peer-reviewed Journal (and occasional Proceedings); free access to London lectures, reduced rates to bi-annual study days and the annual conference; a permanent library, archives of international significance, and free access to an online library of publications back to 1882.  ASSAP officers could be brought into the SPR Council structure by means of co-optation.

In terms of research, ASSAP has an energetic and enthusiastic membership, and this injection of energy would be welcome in the SPR.  ASSAP’s spontaneous case network would reinforce the existing SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee and its emphasis on training would be useful in stimulating interest in investigation among SPR members.  A larger combined membership, and therefore increased income, would enable an expansion of the amount given to fund research activities.

Education, a core function for both the SPR and ASSAP, would be improved as well.  Integrating the libraries and archives would provide an enhanced resource (the new SPR premises, bigger than the previous rented accommodation, providing the required space for ASSAP’s books), and ASSAP’s records would find a permanent home.  A single set of periodicals, with a larger circulation than either achieves singly, would attract a wider range of writers.

There would also be benefits in geographical reach: the SPR is often seen as London-centric, whereas ASSAP is successful regionally.  With a combined membership around the country there would be motivation for regional activities, enabling members outside London to participate in their localities.  This is an opportunity to decentralise some of the SPR’s functions, with more grassroots involvement.

What about differences in scope?

The subject-matter of the two organisations is not identical, that of ASSAP covering a wider area than that of the SPR.  ASSAP members might legitimately complain that a merger is likely to squeeze out particular interests, such as ufology, earth mysteries and folklore.  This is not necessarily an impediment, even though such topics in general fall outside the scope of the SPR.   In these days of easy electronic communication it is straightforward for sub-groups to pursue their interests.  The new SPR website will make it possible for members to keep in contact with each other easily, so that even though say ufology is not a significant element of psychical research, those with such an interest can still interact, while enjoying the benefits of their SPR membership.

Membership fees

A stumbling block is that ASSAP’s fees have always been significantly less than the SPR’s.  The standard membership rates are noticeably different, with ASSAP’s being a quarter of that charged by the SPR.  This reflects the different set-ups of the organisations, ASSAP’s lower volunteer-based costs compared to the SPR’s permanent paid staff and building expenses.  ASSAP members would hopefully consider the broader range of benefits enough to justify an increase, but perhaps there could be a transitional arrangement, with incremental rises over several years for existing ASSAP members to bring the two sets into line.  The SPR membership rates are very reasonable, and ASSAP members would hopefully see that the increase was justified.  It is most unlikely that there could be any reduction in the SPR rates to bring them closer to ASSAP’s.

Events

On the other hand, ASSAP members would undoubtedly baulk at the costs of the SPR conference and study days (as do some SPR members).  With ASSAP’s expertise in mounting economically priced study days (notably the extremely popular ‘Seriously…’ series), there is no reason why these could not continue, augmented by the presence of SPR members who had never attended an ASSAP event before.  The status of some of these, such as conferences on vampires and witchcraft, would be problematic under the SPR banner but these could be run in collaboration with other organisations, such as the London Fortean Society; the SPR has participated in joint events with the Scientific and Medical Network so there is precedent for such an approach.

A concern which has to be acknowledged is that the desire to organise events might diminish, with those who had previously volunteered for ASSAP not wanting to make the effort on the grounds that conferences of all kinds should be arranged at the centre.  It is doubtful that the SPR office would be willing to shoulder the extra administrative load.

What about the name?

The name could be a sticking point for ASSAP members.  There is no easy way that the names SPR and ASSAP could be combined, and there would be overwhelming resistance within the SPR to altering an internationally-recognised name that has been in existence since 1882.  The most likely outcome is that the SPR would retain its name, but with ‘incorporating The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena’ on its literature – something that might not appeal to ASSAP members whose first loyalty is to that organisation.  This could be a major obstacle, but one that might be overcome if ASSAP members were convinced that the advantages outweighed the loss.

Mechanisms for reaching an agreement

This article has set out some of the pros and cons of a merger.  Bringing the two together would not be quick as there are a number of steps before that could happen.  In addition to a general debate among both sets of members there would have to be an initial discussion by the officers within the two organisations; a formal process of consultation with members; meetings between the two sets of officers to resolve any contentious issues; then there would have to be a vote, with a criterion for a yes vote agreed in advance.

Conclusion

This long after the event, most of those interested in our subject are not bothered about why ASSAP came into being.  What they want to see is a thriving organisation or organisations that can deliver the means necessary for them to pursue that interest.  Many join both with no sense of conflict, and a number of those who established ASSAP continued to take part in the SPR’s activities, clearly seeing no contradiction in belonging to both.  There is no doctrinal reason why the respective memberships should not combine and work together, and the practical difficulties could surely be overcome with goodwill on both sides.  In delivering their services the two organisations are capable of existing independently, but their combination would strengthen the voice for psychical research.  If that is our aim, then the case for coming together to our mutual benefit, and that of the field, is a strong one.

This article is being published jointly on the authors’ blogs, and publicised on social media, in the hope that it will generate a constructive exchange of views.  The authors are both members of the two organisations, but are not writing in any official capacity.  They welcome feedback of all types, which should be sent to tom.ruffles[at]yahoo.co.uk, in order to gauge levels of support for and opposition to the proposal.  This has to be a bottom-up process, with all opinions aired.

Tom Ruffles and C J Romer

10 October 2015

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Cheshire Poltergeist in Picture Pose?


Poltergeists are like buses — You wait ages for them, then they all turn up at once; or so it would seem. Well of course I have not been waiting ages — this blog is only a couple of weeks old, and already we have looked at Cork (last week) and York (earlier today). I am slightly annoyed with the paranormal-powers-that-be that they have no provided another case, published just two hours ago in a Cheshire newspaper.  Any of my readers in the Stockport area?

OK, I will try and give this one the love and attention it deserves, but a chap can only comment on so many cases in once day! It seems ironic I signed off my last piece on the York poltergeist just an hour or two ago saying people ask “where are the poltergeists today?” and stating that the answer was no one was looking — well I think this proves my point. I shall certainly send a message to the SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee drawing attention to this blog, and then they can proceed as they see fit with each of these cases. Becky and I would love to follow them up — but I simply do not have the money to do so (Indeed I  simply do not have any money at all, as readers of my personal blog will appreciate!).

Ghostbusters called in to pub after party pic terror

March 31, 2010

A landlady has called in a team of ghostbusters after things went bump in the night at her pub.

The ghostly happenings came to a head when Janice Wright held her 45th birthday party at the Stock Dove in Romiley.

An unidentified figure appeared in photos taken at the bash, held on Saturday, March 20.

Now she has called in paranormal researchers Club Zero Ghost Group to investigate.

Mrs Wright said: “I could not believe it when I saw the pictures – it is really freaky. We seem to have a resident ghost. We have heard whistling, screaming and crying and been tapped on the shoulder. My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

So immediately this one is different: the emphasis is very clearly on a traditional “ghost” interpretation, and the landlady has chosen to call in a local group (never heard of Club Zero Ghost Group but nice website,  but will have to get in touch with them, I’m friends with a bewildering number of paranormal groups!), but in this case the ghost appears to have been photographed. Best take this  bit at a time…

An unidentified figure appeared in photos taken at the bash, held on Saturday, March 20.

Sadly the photo is not reproduced anywhere in the article, which is a puzzling oversight. One wonders if the mystery guest might just be a gatecrasher? I’d be curious to see it, but obviously with photos with extra people in them like this the usual explanation is that someone else was present, and simply not identifiable by the photographer afterwards. I must say I have seen photos of me in which I am unrecognisable to me! I will make some enquiries, but I am really unsure what to say about this until I have actually seen the images.  However Mrs Wright is unnerved by the photo – but could that be because of the other phenomena?

We seem to have a resident ghost. We have heard whistling, screaming and crying and been tapped on the shoulder. My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

There is an awful lot of phenomena packed in to that short sentence. What is interesting is the differences to what we saw reported at York and Cork.  “Whistling, screaming, crying”… The whistling sets an icy tingle down my spine, not least because the motif is used in William Hope Hodgson’s supernatural fiction,  but because whistling has been a feature of a number of cases. Screaming and crying? One wonders when this will resolve in to voices — and if a voice does emerge, I really want to know more. I am not going to speculate further here on this simply because I am making predictions about what would happen and the nature of the voice if that did occur — I’m hoping for something more like the Rougham Poltergeist in Suffolk in the 1980’s than the questionable voices of Enfield.

Janice Wright (c) Stockport News 2010

Janice Wright (c) Stockport News 2010

I’m Always Touched by Your Presence, Dear…

Now Becky is about to do a major study (well she has started) for her Ph.D on apparitional experiences, funded by the SPR and supervised by Dr Ian Hume at Coventry University. Before she began Becky and I conducted a piece of research we call the Accidental Census of Hallucinations, which we hope to publish an article based upon in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.  Drawing on the work of the SPR in the 1880’s and 1890’s and Dr Donald West’s fascinating studies later, the details are not important here but we closely analysed (using a methodology called Grounded Theory) sixty accounts of unusual experiences. (I’m sure we will write much more on this topic in the future, so I’m passing quickly over it here.)

In that sample 21.3% reported a tactile hallucination, that is a  feeling of being touched, as Ian did. 53.8% of those who did reported other phenomena: in 46.2% it was the sole experience reported.  In 69.2% of those who claimed tactile hallucinations it only happened once: the remainder had multiple experiences of this sort.  In only one case  it is  an ongoing experience, that happens semi-regularly. There was nothing unusual about the gender or age of the people having the experience compared with other anomalous experiences (such as say seeing apparitions) – two thirds of those reporting the experience were female. 32% of the reports mention specifically being touched on the shoulder.

So what does this tell us? Actually, not much, apart from the fact one can have the distinct impression of being touched with out any other “ghostly” experiences. I therefore make the following suggestion: the sense of being touched may be a relatively common physiological or neurological phenomenon – a somatosensory hallucination. In fact it may be about as common as hearing someone call your name, but there not being anyone there. Now the account is not clear how many times this has happened, or to whom, but if it has only happened once or twice then it may just be a coincidence of a trivial but not uncommon experience, and maybe then suggestion.

The problem with my hypothesis is that in about half the cases Becky and I found the experience of being touched was linked to other phenomena. While my idea is that these cases are recalled precisely BECAUSE of the other phenomena, I am not convinced that can necessarily account for such a high correlation. I have tried a little experiment on Facebook, and asked

If you read this can you answer yes or NO (and I do want negative replies) as a comment, please! I’m trying to do a really quick rough and ready straw poll. The question is “have you in the last month had the feeling of being touched by an invisible person?” Don’t worry it does not mean you are mad or ill – I’m just …curious about this fairly common experience…

I received over a day 37 responses: 12 positive.  I think this strongly supports my hypothesis the experience is extremely common, but under normal circumstances simply ignored and forgotten?

The Usual…

Moving on we get to the really interesting (to me) bit —

“My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

Bedrooms again, furniture moving again (these poltergeists should get in to the Removals business: might need someone to drive the truck though!) Are we seeing a pattern yet folks? Now of course it could just be that everyone from York to Stockport to Cork reports similar experiences because actually they are all drawing on the same films, TV, or popular culture motifs. Yet somehow, I find this unlikely — the experiences seem (to me anyway) rather trivial compared with the ones you see on the TV.

The Stock Dove

The Stock Dove - cliick for the pub website

Wayne from the Bury St Edmund’s research group messaged me earlier and said he was wondering when we would see another Enfield poltergeist but you know what? I suspect that any of these cases could be as big, if the SPR got hold of them and sent Guy Lyon Playfair and Mary Rose Barrington  or Tom Ruffles or whoever over.  Enfield just got a blaze of press attention (did the story break in the August “silly season” when news is slow  by any chance?), and has had much discussion, writing and books on it. Most of these little cases I am chronicling here strike me as having very bit as much interest — but I doubt in 20 years time people will be referencing them…

There is another curious parallel with the Cork case – the timings —

Janice reopened the pub with her business partner last August after it had been closed for 11 months.

Now thinking back to Cork, the family moved in last August, after the house had been empty for a while. I can not see any reason to think this is more than coincidence, but I think we should watch out just in case any patterns emerge, and we can find hypotheses we can test.  As I said in the Cork case, one would expect people to mistake ordinary noises and house settling, pipes etc,  for something weird in the first weeks after moving in. Here as in Cork the family had settled in for maybe eight months.

Janice Wright seems to take a very level headed view of the phenomena —

She said: “I think we must have disturbed the ghost. I have been told stories by some of the customers about how a girl came for a stay here when it was a coach house and was murdered, and it is thought she is moving things in my son’s room as that is where it happened. I can’t wait for Club Zero to come in to see what they can find out.”

So once again a dead guy – or in this case a dead gal – is to blame? Was the Stock Dove ever a coaching inn? I have no idea, but if I saw the building I could probably make a good guess. No for the story to make sense the murder must have been discovered, and most murders leave written records, so perhaps some local historian will be able to confirm the truth of this one.  It sounds like folklore to me, or people inventing explanations, but I wonder — I have been wrong on this before, most notably on the Old Bell, Dursley Case. I will keep an open mind for now.

The rest of the article simply deals with the impending visit of Club Zero –

Club Zero Ghost Group was founded in Stockport by Chris Andrews in 2003. It will visit the pub in April. Carole Webster, 56, the club’s events manager, said: “We are looking forward to going in to do an investigation. We will take along our equipment including EMS, an infrared system and a video camera. We will then put together a report and a DVD. There will also be a medium present.” For more information see clubzero.co.uk .

I assume EMF meter is intended by EMS, but I could be wrong – this look like a journalistic typo, and I wonder if a DVD is standard for ghost groups now. Seems sensible to keep a record fo the investigation anyway. Well I will do some digging and see what I find out, but for now I’ll call it a day.

cj x

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