The Society for Psychical Research at Horsley Towers

The Society for Psychical Research’s 41st International Annual Conference

Of course Horsley Towers is haunted. Dating from 1558, but rebuilt in a neo-Gothic style in the nineteenth century, the building has connections with Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, mathematician and only daughter of Romantic poet Lord Byron, Sir T.O.M. Sopwith, the man responsible for developing the famous Sopwith Camel, and a ghost. In 1972, the country house was used as the location for the BBC drama The Stone Tape. The film crew had difficulties getting their equipment to work and even when it did still had electrical problems – and then there was the sense of a mysterious presence, at least according to De Vere Venue’s ‘History of Horsley Towers’.

Mysterious presences were certainly on the agenda for the 41st International Annual Conference of the Society for Psychical Research, held, not in Horsely Towers exactly, but a modern ‘management centre’ featuring a futuristic tunnel that would not be out of place on the set of Dr Who. As usual, an international cast had journeyed far and wide to be here to present the latest research in the field of psychical research. Many had trudged along winding lanes from the distant train station to arrive in what had once been a haven of gentility and, if the rumours concerning Byron’s daughter are to be believed, opium experimentation, but which was now a modern conference centre offering, among other things, survival weekends with Bear Grylls. To everyone’s great advantage, the venue provided on-site accommodation, dining and conference facilities – there would be no reason to see the outside world from 5 o’clock Friday to 5 o’clock Sunday.

Conference Chair, Prof. Adrian Parker, welcomed us and introduced us to the programme for our own ‘survival’ weekend. The conference was broadly divided into several themes: spontaneous psychic experiences; altered states (not just for Ada); near-death and light experiences; apparitional experiences; mediumship; healing and fasting; psychokinesis; unconscious processes; and several special presentations, including the ‘Psi Open-Data’ project and the announcement of the winner of the Paranormal Review’s photography competition. After-dinner speeches were supplied by Prof. Adrian Parker and Dr Annekatrin Puhle, and Dr Peter Fenwick.

Inscribed on the beams in the Great Hall of Horsley Towers are the family mottos, one of which reads Labor Ipse Voluptus (‘Labour Itself is Pleasure’): it could have been the motto for the conference. Enjoyable as always, the range of subjects covered by the speakers was breath-taking, taking us from trance mediumship in Tibetan Buddhism with Martha Maxine Meilleur (Harvard Divinity School) to demonic possession with Dr Ciaran O’Keefe (Buckinghamshire New University).

The Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes at the University of Northampton was here in full strength, with Prof. Chris Roe’s freshly minted PhDs, Dr Callum Cooper, Dr David Saunders and Rachel Evenden all presenting fascinating papers on their recent research. Dr Cooper published an article on his work with flotation tanks in the last number of this magazine (see PR85).

The Koestler Parapsychology Unit (KPU) was also represented with Edinburgh’s new professor Caroline Watt chairing the session on unconscious processes and her PhD student Ana Flores scheduled to present on her work on mind-matter interaction. Although unfortunately not able to attend, Prof. Watt came to the rescue by reading out her paper.

From the Netherlands, the Managing Director of Het Johann Borgman Fonds, Wim Kramer, and colleague Selma Hofstra talked about Jan Valckenier Suringar and Gerald Croiset’s British cases, respectively.

Keeping us up to date with ongoing research, Dr Sean Richards talked about his ‘Greetings Project’ on instrumental trans-communication (see PR85) and Ross Friday presented his further progress on the question of whether people can paranormally detect when they are being watched or listened to.

Dr David Vernon, the Journal’s new editor, presented on his work on precall. From Spain’s Paranormal Psychology Institute, Dr Marcelo Eremian looked at recurrent and shared apparitional experiences (see PR83). From Norway, Jon Mannsåker reviewed the research on paranormal healing. From France’s LAPDC, a privately funded parapsychology laboratory in Poitiers, Dr Eric Dullin questioned whether telekinesis or aerodynamic/ thermal effects caused the movement of a small device, a ‘spinning mobile’ – he brought one along to show us. From Germany, Marcus Mast reviewed the evidence for anomalous fasting, concluding that there is none. From Sweden, Dr Annekatrin Puhle talked about thoughtforms and her research on people’s transformatory experiences with light.

Dr Kate Adams, Head of Research at the Research and Innovation Centre, Bishop Grosseteste University, talked about children’s reported paranormal experiences. Prof. Parker remarked, ‘I’m quite surprised you can do that.’

Presenting a paper on the linguistic analysis of trance communication, Adalexis Rios-Orlandi reported that before she had known about the conference she had had a lucid dream with precognitive aspects in which she saw herself in an old house talking in English. Puzzled at the time, it all made sense to her now.

Originally published as Leo Ruickbie, ‘Journey to the Centre of the SPR: A Review of the SPR’s 41st International Annual Conference’, Paranormal Review, 86 (Spring 2018).