Harry Price: Dweller on the Threshold

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‘Harry fought a long, lone battle against, on the one hand, the Victorian educated scientists who derided the occult and, on the other, fanatical believers in spiritualism whose favourite mediums he exposed as frauds.’

Dennis Wheatley

Harry Price (1881 to 1948) is remembered today as perhaps the most famous ghost hunter and psychical investigator of all time. The intrepid scientist’s study of Borley Rectory in Suffolk, purported to be ‘The Most Haunted House in England’, from 1929 until his death brought him international recognition and cemented his reputation as a colossus within the field of occult research. Nonetheless, this extraordinary figure became an object of both acclaim and disdain during his lifetime. Some commentators viewed Price merely as a sensationalist who sought publicity by courting the supernatural, whilst others championed him as a genuine truth seeker – selflessly dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of the universe.

Indeed, Price’s commitment and dedication to the investigation of preternatural phenomena cannot be understated. He founded The National Laboratory for Psychical Research, compiled one of the largest libraries of the occult in the world, and was one of the first scientists to apply a rigorous and methodical approach when testing the authenticity of psychics and hauntings. Price utilised state-of-the-art technologies such as pressure sensors and infra red photography in his quest into the unpredictable and inhospitable shadow realm of spirits, poltergeists and demons. His capacity and appetite for conducting painstaking research – in often freezing and isolated locations in the dead of night – has set the bench mark exceptionally high for all psychical explorers. In Borley Rectory alone Price recorded no fewer than sixty different types of supernatural occurrence.

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Borley Rectory in Suffolk – The Most Haunted House in England.

 

Contemporary ‘ghost hunters’ frequently pay homage to Price’s considerable influence and achievements, but few are actually aware of his background in the art of conjuring and legerdemain. A lifelong member of the prestigious Magic Circle, his interest in this amazing art form began at an early age when he witnessed a performance of The Great Sequah in Shrewsbury market place. The young Price was mesmerised by the magician and this profound experience clearly catalysed an inner yearning for the mysterious.

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‘The Conjurer’ by Bosch. Magic and the Occult have always been closely linked.

 

Thus, like the great Harry Houdini (who successfully debunked numerous fraudulent psychics in the US), an understanding of the art of magic allowed Price to deduce what secret artifices or methods, if any, were being deployed by supposed soothsayers and mediums during his research. The story of the famous ‘spirit photographer’ William Hope is well documented and is an example of one of Price’s many skirmishes with Spiritualists who normally felt threatened by his research. The scientist was more than aware of how accomplished magicians can surreptitiously ‘switch’ objects, undetected by audiences, in order to achieve startling outcomes. This was precisely what Hope was doing with the photographic plates, and Price quickly concluded that his ‘spirit images’ were actually frauds. Indeed, this damning revelation set the tone for most of Price’s investigations into Spiritualists and clairvoyants. He attended hundreds of séances and was rarely convinced by the authenticity of the spectacle. Lifelong friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes – but himself an ardent Spiritualist) frequently expressed his anger at Price’s findings and urged him to be more sympathetic towards individuals of a psychical disposition.

houdini-price

Like the Great Houdini, Price’s knowledge of magic helped him ‘debunk’ fraudulent mediums.

Nonetheless, in the midst of a seemingly incessant tide of fraudulence and deceit, Price did encounter some incredible individuals who genuinely appeared to possess exceptional extra sensory talents. The most notable is perhaps Ms Stella C who, unlike the majority of clairvoyants and mediums, did not accept money for conducting séances and was not interested in forging a career in this field. Price and others observed the occurrence of genuine telekinetic phenomena in her presence, and she also incredibly predicted (with an uncanny accuracy which startled even Price) what would appear on the front page of The Daily Mail several weeks in advance.

Price was further led to speculate that it may be ‘highly probable’ that some individuals actually can communicate with the deceased. A séance in 1930 with the clairvoyant Mrs Eileen Garrett, who was not a Spiritualist, provided some of the most extraordinary results ever obtained in the field of psychical exploration. Garrett claimed to be in communion with Flight-Lieutenant H Carmichael Irwin, the captain of the doomed R101 Airship which had tragically crashed in France two days earlier. All the crew and passengers had been killed, but the psychic was accurately able to relay intricate details about the sequence of events which led to the fatal accident. Specialised technological information about the airship itself, of which Garrett could not possibly have known, were also provided. Price contacted the RAF with his findings and they concluded that 70% of Eileen Garrett’s account was exactly precise, 20% was ‘most likely’ and the remainder was rather confused.

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The medium Eileen Garrett recounted intricate details of the R101 disaster.

Such examples of Price’s work reveal that as well as earning a reputation as a sceptical man of science, he did have a sensitivity towards psychics and was prepared to reveal instances of what appeared to be genuine ‘supernatural’ phenomena. Indeed, his feud with fellow magicians the Maskelynes would reveal how he was often prepared to defend psychics who he believed were genuine. Nevil Maskelyne had long claimed that his brother Clive could duplicate all types of ‘supposed spiritual phenomena’ a medium could create in a séance. However, Price challenged this statement and alleged that he had witnessed events in séance rooms which even the most accomplished of conjurers would struggle to produce.

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Magicians can amaze audiences with seemingly ‘psychical phenomena’.

Enigmatic and complex, the life of Harry Price is arguably even more perplexing than the mediums, spirits and poltergeists he documented along the way. It is intensely intriguing when a talented and highly intelligent individual is drawn to devote his entire life to the study of a fringe subject such as the occult. They run the risk of being ostracised, condemned and ridiculed by their peers. So why did Harry Price decide to embark upon such an atypical and arduous journey which would ultimately lead him to the bowels of desolate dilapidated mansions, the icy spectral solitude of cemeteries, and the sinister sultry environs of fraudulent medium’s séance parlours? Was he merely a deluded moonstruck eccentric shying away from the harsh realities of life? Or should we celebrate him as a heroic pioneer who conducted invaluable research into an area which has been largely ignored or overlooked by many of the greatest minds over the centuries?

 

price-end

Psychical researchers can easily become objects of ridicule. Why did Price choose this path?

For an interview with Harry Price click the link: Harry Price Interview YouTube.

A radio production about Price’s life: Are You There Harry Price?

The author of the article is David Fox, a professional magician and freelance writer.

www.magician-midlands.co.uk

Harry Houdini – Spiritualism or Swindle?

Magician David Fox explores…

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‘What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes’

Harry Houdini, 1874 – 1926

It was a dark and dreary mid-winter evening several years ago in Derbyshire. I had been invited to entertain guests at a corporate function in the distinguished setting of Breadsall Priory. The evening was going very well, and my repertoire of card magic, illusion, and sleight-of-hand was clearly having a positive impact on the proceedings. An opportunity soon presented itself for me to conduct some mind-reading and psychological routines (known as ‘Mentalism’ in magical parlance).

In one such effect I invite an audience member to think of someone they know well. It could be a family member, friend or work colleague. In this instance the lady in question happened to think of someone who had recently passed on. Needless to say, when I later revealed the person’s identity, the participant thought something supernatural had taken place.

As magicians we are well aware of the possibility of creating powerful effects which will leave a profound and lasting impression upon an audience. Indeed, magic and the supernatural have long been inextricably intertwined. The priests of ancient Egypt often used the art to mesmerise and frighten their subjects. In more recent times the case of the great French magician Robert Houdin (from whom Harry Houdini took his name) is well documented. Houdin managed to scare a group of tribal insurgents in Africa by using a simple magical effect in order to quell colonial insurrection. It is for this reason that the contemporary prestidigitator must be responsible and respectful when entertaining any audience.

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On hearing the word ‘magic’ we automatically think of Harry Houdini. This sensational individual needs little introduction and, almost a century since his death, he continues to amaze and inspire both magicians and lay persons the world over. Houdini helped to raise the profile of magic considerably throughout the early twentieth century with his wonderful stage performances and death defying stunts. His boundless charisma, formidable work ethic, and strength of personality, all combined to create one of the world’s first international superstars. However, most people are unaware of Houdini’s close association with spiritualism during the latter stages of his life.

On losing his beloved mother, Houdini began to ponder the possibility of an after life throughout the 1920s. Like many vulnerable souls who find themselves in such a time of emotional turmoil, he sought solace in mediums who had become more prevalent around the industrialised American towns since the ‘Occult Renaissance’ of the late nineteenth century.

Sadly, Houdini was bitterly disappointed by the séances he attended, and quickly developed the point-of-view that spiritualists, and those that claimed to be in league with the dearly departed, were merely charlatans. Thus, he set out on a moral crusade to disclose, or ‘debunk’, the fraudulent activities of such persons. Houdini’s revelations are masterfully presented in his 1924 work entitled ‘A Magician Among The Spirits’. The great magician demonstrates much of the chicanery utilised by purported spiritualists in order to extract hard-earned cash from the unwary.

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Spiritualism grew in popularity from the mid nineteenth century onwards.

But what of Spiritualism? Can we fully accept Houdini’s warnings, or is there really some kernel of truth in the possibility of communicating with the deceased? Adherents of the multitude of contemporary Spiritualist churches which exist throughout the world would refute his accusations. Indeed, one commentator has calculated that there are currently over thirteen million followers of this faith throughout Europe and North America alone. Perhaps like many belief systems Spiritualism has attracted its share of charlatans over the years, but are there mediums amongst its ranks who possess a genuine ability to contact the dead?

The eminent philosopher Carl Jung appreciated that human beings possess a subconscious desire to believe in some form of higher force, or divine purpose, to life. The prospect of living a meaningless existence with no prospect of an afterlife is, to say the least, frightful. Many magicians often scoff at those who readily accept the existence of spirits, but in my humble opinion this is a rather arrogant stand-point to assume. Granted, given a sympathetic enough context, we can create effects which may appear to defy reality.

A variety of elements combined that wintry evening all those years ago in Derbyshire such as the gloomy weather, dim lighting, and the fact that we were on the site of a medieval abbey which is rumoured to be haunted, to create an effect of almost supernatural proportions. However,  there are indeed many things which contemporary science in all its wisdom still cannot fully explain such as: premonitions, photographs and recordings of unusual phenomenon, and telepathy.

As for Houdini, he promised to send a coded message to friends and family after he shed this mortal coil. To date, we are still waiting to hear from the master…

David Fox is a professional award winning magician who performs his unique brand of magic throughout the world.

Visit David’s new Corporate website at: www.davidfoxcorporatemagic.com

Telephone number: 07946 686 258

Dennis Wheatley – The Devil Rides Out

The mysterious world of Dennis Wheatley…

David Fox explores

Dennis W

‘Should any of my readers incline to a serious study of the subject (Occult) and thus come into contact with a man or woman of Power, I feel that is is only right to urge them, most strongly, to refrain from being drawn into any practice of the Secret Art in any way.’

Dennis Wheatley (1897 – 1977) was one of the most prolific, widely-read, and successful authors of the twentieth century. Throughout his colourful career, Wheatley penned over 50 novels, a multitude of short stories, and produced a variety of non-fiction texts. His association with the British military is well documented, and he contributed to the war effort during the 1940s. Indeed, his involvement with the War Office, and the planning of the Allied invasion of northern France, would provided the basis for much of his future fictional work.

Wheatley’s character: Gregory Sallust (the protagonist of several of his best-selling thriller novels) is now regarded as a fore-runner to Ian Flemming’s James Bond. Both authors came from a similar background and naturally shared both the dominant values and world-view of their generation. These are evidently reflected within their works of fiction. However, despite only producing several novels of an Occult orientation, Dennis Wheatley has become synonymous with the supernatural and Black Magic. Why has a man who sold over 50 million books in his lifetime gained such a mysterious reputation?

devil r o

‘In every age there have been secret societies, and the greater part of them have been brotherhoods concerned, to a greater or lesser degree, with magic.’

It could be said that Wheatley’s association with matters of a preternatural nature began during his time at prep-school in the early 1900s when he was convinced that he had seen a ghost. As he states in one of his works of non-fiction ‘The Devil and All His Works’ (Hutchinson 1971): ‘It has long been maintained by many thinkers of many nations that Homo Sapiens is endowed with a sixth sense.’ Clearly Wheatley appreciated that such matters resonate strongly within the collective consciousness of mankind, and in the 1930s he had the opportunity to draw upon this fascination to cement his reputation as a highly engaging and readable author.

‘The Devil Rides Out’ was published in 1934 and became an instant success. Wheatley’s inter-war readership were evidently mesmerised by the exotic themes of black magic, ritual, sacrifice and secret malevolent societies. Indeed, he always researched the background of every novel meticulously prior to producing a first draft. Notable occultists of this era such as Aleister Crowley, Rollo Ahmed and Montague Summers were all consulted by Wheatley on matters of the ‘Old Wisdom’.

Satanist

‘None of us can hope to lead perfect lives. But, if we follow the Right-hand Path, we shall be armoured against the temptation to do evil.’

Wheatley’s detailed descriptions of occult ceremony, practice and philosophy within his novels have lead many to speculate whether or not he was a practitioner of the ancient arts himself. Although he denied ever having been involved with a secret society during his life-time, it is patently obvious that he possessed a profound understanding, appreciation and respect for the Occult. For example, ‘Strange Conflict’ (published in 1941) describes the curious ability of adepts to wage combat upon the astral plane against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Sceptics would of course scoff at Wheatley’s suggestions, but it must be borne in mind that many of the leading Nazis were deeply influenced by the dark arts. The so-called ‘Magical Battle of Britain’ has been discussed in Dion Fortune’s fascinating work of the same name. It should also be remembered that governments old and new (from King Saul’s dealings with the Witch of Endor in the Book of Samuel, to Queen Elizabeth’s reliance on the magick of John Dee, and Margaret Thatcher’s government’s consultation with astrologers prior to the Falklands Conflict) have called upon the powers of the unseen during times of national crisis.

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‘Today the world is threatened with a new age of Darkness.’ 

A fitting testimony to the enduring appeal of Dennis Wheatley’s work is his perennially increasing cult following. His novels remain very popular, and the Hammer Horror productions of his Occult stories are much revered by Horror fanatics. Wheatley’s geo-political stance and seemingly unswerving loyalty to Queen and country may be antiquated and somewhat ridiculous to some, but there is much within his works of great value to contemporary readers and those who approach them with an open mind.

To find out more about the author David Fox, visit his website: David Fox Magician.

Spirits on Film?

Is it really possible to photograph those who have passed on?

Magician David Fox explores…

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Sir Victor Goddard’s RAF squadron circa 1919

This year we commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War One and the above photograph of an RAF squadron was taken in 1919 after the cessation of hostilities. The men and women in this image all served in the same unit during the conflict alongside Sir Victor Goddard (who took the shot). Uncannily a mysterious spectral face can be seen to the rear of the fourth gentleman from the left on the back row.

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The image of Freddy Jackson, who had died two days before, appears behind the back row.

Members of the squadron quickly identified the man to be Freddy Jackson; a mechanic, who had been tragically killed in an accident two days before the photograph was taken. Indeed, Jackson’s funeral took place on the day of this group shot and his subsequent appearance in the image raises some profound questions. Is it possible to capture evidence of an afterlife using photographic equipment? Or is this merely an example of an elaborate hoax conducted by individuals of superior technological wisdom?

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Newby Church altar 1963. The photograph was taken by Reverend Lord and experts cannot explain the mysterious shrouded figure.

Ghost hunters, psychic investigators and spiritualists have long argued that it is indeed possible to record evidence of the departed by using even the most basic of recording equipment. In recent years it is not only photographs of supposed spirit forms which have entered the public domain, but a whole variety of film clips boasting both visual and audio ‘evidence’ of a seemingly otherworldly nature. Exponents of this viewpoint argue that experts can visit notorious venues of preternatural phenomena and use their sensitivity and awareness to successfully ‘record’ the activities of the deceased. So-called ‘ghost-hunts’ at apparently haunted venues have become commonplace throughout the UK and have provided a much welcome source of revenue to hoteliers.

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The gardens to the rear of Thrumpton Hall in Nottinghamshire. Note the curious misty ‘figure’ to the centre left.

My vocation takes me to many spectacular locations throughout the British Isles and it is incredible how many venues I perform at which are said to be ‘haunted’. It always strikes me as nothing short of extraordinary how even the most level-headed and austere of hotel managers can suddenly divulge his or her own spine-chilling account of nocturnal queerness on the premises. Such people seem to be fully convinced in the existence of an afterlife and the occurrence of supernatural activity around their venues. Indeed, prior to most performances I always take a few photographs around the hotels, halls and stately homes I am fortunate enough to perform magic at. On a closer inspection, it is rather peculiar that I do often find unusual shapes, orbs and irregularities among the images. For example, the most recent being the misty ‘figure’ in the trees to the rear of Thrumpton Hall in Nottinghamshire (see photograph above). I since discovered that this venue is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a servant girl who took her own life.

For more information about the author, why not visit David’s website: David Fox Illusionist Extraordinaire

Clifton Hall: A Site of Supernatural Phenomena?

An Idyllic Country Manor…

Nestled away in the picturesque environs of Clifton Conservation Village to the south west of Nottingham city centre, the imposing Georgian architecture of Clifton Hall boasts a certain majestic charm. A striking reminder of a bygone age when the Lords of the Manor of Clifton celebrated their wealth and influence throughout Nottinghamshire and beyond. The hall has a colourful history, and in 1631 King Charles I resided there at the behest of Sir Gervase Clifton. Indeed, since the estate was sold off by the Clifton family in 1958, it has been utilised by several owners for much different purposes. Firstly as a girls’ grammar school until the 1970s, then by Nottingham Trent University, and later as private luxury accommodation. However, it was under its most recent ownership that Clifton Hall sprang to the attention of both local and national media outlets.

Haunted Hall?

Reports of Clifton Hall being a site of unusual and inexplicable phenomena would appear to date from the time when it was used as a grammar school from 1958 to 1976. There are accounts of strange eerie noises and an unsettling atmosphere in specific locations around the main building. An eye-witness account of the ghost of a young woman in the vicinity is also most revealing, and there appears to have been speculation about supernatural activity within rooms which had been sealed off. Sceptics would argue that such locations are ripe for curious tales of intrigue which are often intended to scare younger boarders and are the mere products of vivid adolescent imaginations. Nonetheless, it is the sensational experiences of the Rashid family, who moved into the hall in 2007, which have attracted much attention and speculation.

A Tormented Family…

In 2007 businessman Anwar Rashid acquired Clifton Hall for the sum of £3.6 million and moved into the property with his wife and four children. Within eight months the family would have left their new home, driven away by seemingly disturbing and unsettling forces from another dimension. An intriguing cavalcade of psychic phenomena contributed to the family’s hasty decision to quit their stately accommodation. Eerie events included: sinister spectral voices, ghostly sightings, and, perhaps most upsetting of all, the manifestation of blood stains upon one of the children’s bed sheets. Mr Rashid even went so far as to invite psychic investigators to Clifton Hall to reckon with its demonic denizens. The coordinator of this metaphysical inquiry curiously concluded that the venue was one of the most unsettling places he had ever visited, even throughout the hours of daylight. The family ceased mortgage payments in 2008 and since then it has been on the market awaiting a new buyer to negotiate with its supposedly supernatural tenants…

Illusion or Reality?

Did ghosts and supernatural phenomena really drive a family away from their new home? Is Clifton Hall truly an unholy lair of queer and unnatural events? Or perhaps there is a more logical explanation for the strange occurrences which would appear to have been experienced by a variety of individuals since its days as a grammar school? Last week I happened to be in Clifton meeting a client in order to prepare for a performance of magic at a function he is currently organising. On the way home, I decided to visit the hall and took some photographs around the area. The photograph below was taken at the main gate. Strangely a friend of mine (who is a psychic) examined my handiwork and felt a curious ‘presence’ at the central upper window in the shot. On a closer analysis of the picture, it is possible to see some unusual whispy ‘faces’ on both the central panes of the window. What do you think? Could this be evidence of some sort of weird supernatural manifestation, or is it simply the reflections of the trees in the sunlight?

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Below is a close-up shot of the window. It does look rather strange and no other window in any of the other photographs looks like this. I prefer to keep an open mind and reserve judgement.  The red and blue circles mark the possible outlines of spectral ‘faces’.

Clifton Ghosts