Editor Sue Farrow examines a controversial new document from the Arthur Findlay College.
For the first time in its 50-year history the Arthur Findlay College (AFC) has issued a formal protocol governing demonstrations of physical mediumship (PM).
The eight-point document (reproduced opposite) becomes operational on 1st January and applies to PM demonstrations at both AFC and the Arthur Findlay Centre in Stafford.
In years gone by, PM was very much in evidence at AFC, with a dedicated séance room in the basement. Prior to this, luminaries of Spiritualism such as Gordon Higginson were among those who demonstrated their PM at the college. To the best of my knowledge, the only physical medium currently demonstrating levitation phenomena and independent direct voice at AFC is 31-year-old Scott Milligan (pictured below).
If you’re not familiar with PM, it’s worth my briefly explaining what it’s all about, and why it matters.
PM is a unique form of mediumship, entirely different from the much better known type of mediumship that offers messages from spirit communicators relayed through a medium who is fully conscious (albeit perhaps in a somewhat altered state) and is essentially acting as a telephone line for those who have moved on from this life to communicate with loved ones still on earth.
The gift of PM is possessed by very few people (estimated at significantly fewer than one in a million), and in its most developed form is spectacular, involving the visible and audible manifestation of living, breathing ‘dead’ people. In other words, PM at its highest level can enable you to see, touch and speak with a loved one you thought was lost to you forever.
Its development can be long and arduous, requiring enormous dedication. Many seeking to develop it have sat for years before even ‘minor’ phenomena, such as the levitation of objects, have occurred. Many more sit for a lifetime in hope of development and nothing whatsoever occurs.
Traditionally, and with no confirmed exceptions in the Western world, this rare form of mediumship has undergone much of its development in the dark. The reason for this is that ectoplasm – a substance exuded from the physical medium’s body, is extremely sensitive to light. Many are the physical mediums who have sustained injuries because the sudden and unexpected introduction of light has caused the ectoplasm to return violently to the medium’s body, resulting in burns and bleeding. Recently Scott Milligan himself suffered a burn after an illuminated rope was thrown close to his body when ectoplasm was present in the room.
Yet the new AFC protocol states:
“In principle there should be no seances held in total darkness. Subdued lighting including coloured lights or Natural light is preferable at all times.”
Almost everyone would agree that it would be “preferable” to conduct séances in some degree of light, Scott and other physical mediums included. Who would not want to see a spirit person ‘in the flesh’, so to speak? But would they really wish to do this if it meant the physical medium in question could well suffer injury?
The protocol continues: “If there is to be consideration given to ‘Dark Seances’ then the following is required:
(a) they must be filmed with infrared cameras. It would be invaluable if the AFC invested in a video system that uses multiple cameras that could be linked not only to a recording device but also to a monitor outside the seance room.
(b) night vision viewers are made available to watch events live during the seance and so have independent witnesses acting on behalf of those present. With these conditions in use there would be no need to secure a medium to the chair with cable ties.
Following a recent meeting called by AFC Principal and Spiritualists’ National Union President David Bruton, at which Scott, accompanied by the greatly respected evidential medium and course organiser Eileen Davies, was presented with the new protocol, he has taken the radical step of withdrawing from all bookings at the College.
I asked him why he had felt the need to walk away from a place he greatly loves.
“It was not an easy decision to pull back from all my demonstrations, tutorials and lectures at the AFC,” he told me. “I have given a number of test séances, along with countless public séances, also raising funds with the auctioning of my séance trumpets to play a small part in fulfilling the wish of Arthur Findlay to have a permanent memorial, which now stands in the grounds of the college.
AT THE ARTHUR FINDLAY COLLEGE
AND ARTHUR FINDLAY CENTRE
|The purpose of this policy is to protect the reputation of both the Arthur Findlay College and Arthur Findlay Centre, and tutors working at these establishments. Most importantly it is also to safeguard the wellbeing of any mediums working with physical mediumship within both College and Centre. In compiling this important protocol, we received guidance from the Spirit World as we recognise that no two mediums abilities function in the same way.
||In principle there should be no seances held in total darkness. Subdued lighting including coloured lights or Natural light is preferable at all times. If there is to be consideration given to ‘Dark Seances’ then the following is required:-
||they must be filmed with infrared cameras. It would be invaluable if the AFC invested in a video system that uses multiple cameras that could be linked not only to a recording device but also to a monitor outside the seance room.
||night vision viewers are made available to watch events live during the seance and so have independent witnesses acting on behalf of those present. With these conditions in use there would be no need to secure a medium to the chair with cable ties.
||Cabinets are of course permitted to be used, but should be searched by independent sitters prior to seance commencing. Trumpets and planchettes may also be used if requested by the spirit operatives. Sometimes percussion instruments may be utilised in the seance and small lightweight balls; all requests for equipment by the spirit operatives should be considered if sensible and appropriate.
||All physical mediums should be assessed under test conditions before being allowed to work at AFC and a register of approved Physical mediums is kept just as for all college tutors.
||Rooms where physical seances are to be held should be prepared correctly.
It is essential that the room has a good clean if ectoplasm is being produced.
All clutter to be removed and as much metal as possible as this depletes the energies being used. It is known that soft furnishing used to disintegrate over time in rooms used for physical seances, thus showing that everything in the room affects the conditions.
||Sound is always important in a physical seance. Silence does not provide the right energy for physical mediumship. It is important to have vocal responses from the sitters about what they are experiencing or what they are not experiencing, so that these can be compared. We must remember that physical mediumship is witnessed by all present through the physical senses, therefore all should be perceiving the same thing at the same time.Music can be a great help in building the energy, but should not be so loud that it is distressing to the sitters and is not required to be played throughout the seance.
||No sitters may bring into the room any type of telephone, camera or recording device.
||Entry and exit to and from the room should be monitored at all times as someone entering or leaving without permission can have detrimental effects on the medium.
||Finally, it must be remembered that a physical seance is not an entertainment or a fun show, but provides the opportunity for the intelligent minds of those in the spirit world to provide evidence of their survival in some quite amazing ways.
||The medium or chairperson at a seance must give a pre-seance briefing to the sitters with details of what can and can’t be done during the seance, tailored to the individual medium who is working during the seance.
“But I cannot and should not go against the guidance of those I care for in the world unseen, and that is what has led me to this outcome.
“At the meeting I was met by David Bruton, Judith Seaman, Julia Almond, Simone Key and Tanya Smith, the general manager. Eileen and I were then handed the new protocol. David Bruton stressed that it was not a reflection on my mediumship but a way forward for the College.
“When the new protocol had been read, I said I could fulfil over 85 per cent of it but knew from past investigations that I could not fulfil the filming or night vision goggle requirements, due to the vibration that is emitted in infrared.
“Tanya said she had been researching black passive infrared, which is used in the military but has never before been used in a séance, though it does not emit any known light. It was suggested that once the camera was purchased I could take it into the safety of my home circle for testing.
“As any medium seeking to develop their ability knows, it is the other world that unfolds our mediumship. I asked what safeguards were to be put in place to protect me if the camera damaged my mediumship or my health when used in a séance. No answer was given.
“During this meeting Eileen shared some of her many experiences whilst sitting with me, when loved ones have spoken in foreign languages unknown to me, including French, German, Italian, Dutch and Spanish, testimony which Tanya supported, saying that she remembered having to translate one. Eileen said that surely this was proof in itself, but still they want the camera in the room.
“David Bruton was emphatic that the college must bring physical mediumship back into the light and that there was no better way of doing it than with a camera. I offered at that moment to do a test séance in the library, as Judith Seaman had never sat in one of my demonstrations, but my offer was declined.
“When I sat for the spirit world, guidance was given that it would be unwise at this moment of my unfoldment to interfere by bringing modern technology into the sanctuary of my home circle.
“This is why the decision was made, under the guidance of the spirit world, for us to return to the darkness of the séance so that they can develop my mediumship, allowing my body time to get used to this form of phenomena.I tried to express this in the meeting but it fell on deaf ears.
“I have sat for a large number of AFC tutors and accomplished mediums. Surely with all their years of knowledge and experience of listening to the spirit world they would know if a physical medium is genuine or not? After all, each tutor at the AFC has to be assessed, accredited and be able to demonstrate their mediumistic faculty.
“If the SNU is the flagship of our movement, sadly I feel it is sailing in the wrong direction. If we are not careful we will lose the heartbeat of our movement and our truth. Let’s give back the power to the spirit and learn the art of sitting to meet their needs.”
I asked David Bruton what had prompted the drawing up of this controversial new protocol.
“The discussion around physical mediumship at the College has been ongoing at committee level over the last three years,” he told me. “We are currently moving towards working with the scientific and academic community and establishing a laboratory at the Hall, part-funded by the Society for Psychical Research and Northampton University.
“If as Spiritualists we are serious about the scientific aspect of our movement, we need to put in place controls and safeguards which will meet the scrutiny of both internal stakeholders and the wider sceptical world. Personally I see this as building on the legacy left by Arthur Findlay when he gave his home to the Spiritualists’ National Union for the study of Psychic Sciences. As Principal of the College I believe strongly that we should take a lead on this for the future benefit of the movement as a whole.”
And what about AFC’s apparent one-size-fits-all approach to physical mediumship? Surely every medium, physical or otherwise, works in his or her unique way?
“We fully accept that every medium works in a different way and are sensitive enough to the demands of the spirit world to wish only to invest in equipment which is going to be fit and suitable for purpose. With this in mind we sought to work closely with Scott to ensure we selected equipment which both met the requirements of the protocol and had been fully tested by Scott in his home circle with advice sought from his spirit team. Scott’s decision to withdraw completely as a guest tutor at the College is to my mind a lost opportunity which could act only to further the cause of physical mediumship.
“Others have worked over the last couple of years which I understand included a visit from David Thompson, Gordon Garforth and Jean Skinner. Minister Steven Upton has also been working towards the use of physical mediumship within healing for several years and Sharon Harvey is starting to experiment with this aspect of her mediumship at the College.”
Intriguingly, the protocol states that “night vision viewers” are required to be made available “to watch events live during the séance and so have independent witnesses acting on behalf of those present.” I asked David who would be responsible for providing this equipment and who would select the people to use it in each séance?
“The College will purchase this equipment,” he told me. “Although it simply won’t be possible to provide it for everybody I envisage that a similar practice will be adopted as is already used by the course tutor to select the independent witnesses [at the séances].”
Since Scott Milligan has decided not to work at the College any more, what will happen regarding the courses for which he has already been advertised as a guest tutor? Will students be given the option of a refund if they no longer wish to attend a course in which he was due to take part?
David told me: “Scott was invited as a guest tutor to carry out experimental physical séances. The courses in which he was to be involved carried a supplement of £10.00 per student to cover his fee. This will of course be refunded without question; the remainder of the course will continue as planned.”
Knowing that AFC has sought spirit guidance on the future of physical mediumship at the College, I asked David Bruton through whom that spirit guidance had been given. In this case the identity of the medium for that information is particularly relevant since, as we know, a medium is a human instrument and his or her mind (and therefore, personal opinions) can never be 100 per cent absent from the communication, even when in deep trance.
He was not willing to disclose the identity of the medium involved, but told me: “. . . five working mediums contributed to the protocol, collectively drawing upon the support from their spirit teams.” He followed this with a lengthy quote from pioneer Emma Hardinge Britten which space limitations will unfortunately not allow me to reproduce here.
So what are we to make of the AFC’s new initiative? Since Scott Milligan is the only physical medium of any note to sit regularly at the College, is this new protocol really aimed at him, despite protestations to the contrary? A fair few of the hundreds who have sat with him believe that to be the case. The College’s own internet ‘Meeting Point’ is jam-packed with supportive messages and testimonials expressing gratitude for the benefits Scott’s physical mediumship has brought them. The list includes several AFC tutors.
The passing of the great materialisation medium Alec Harris in 1974 seems to have marked a watershed in physical mediumship. Since then, there has been no reported instance of full materialisation in light, a mystery over which many of us have puzzled, including our physical mediums.
There’s no doubt that we all long to see PM brought back into the light, but there is much agonising and debate about how this might be safely achieved. If it ever does happen, it certainly won’t be through a small handful of people (well-intentioned though they might be) instructing every demonstrating physical medium to switch on the camera and goggles and to hell with the risks!