Memorable Moments and Meanings at Scole
by Montague Keen
I have hesitated to respond to an invitation to note some of my more memorable experiences during the 26 sittings I was privileged to have with the Scole Group.
Not that there weren’t any. Far from it!
But I had long schooled myself to observe the Society for Psychical Research’s tradition of detached observation, devoid of emotion or involvement, knowing full well that subjective experience is widely regarded as valueless.
No matter how powerful the impression or profound its influence, spectacular the occurrence or dramatic its impact on the audience, the sceptical outside world will write it off as the product of a mind over-eager for proof, gullible to wonders, and too close to the subject to be trusted as an objective investigator.
You may think that attitude irrational. So it is.
Not merely that. It’s the bread and butter explanation of every statutory TV sceptic or sneering reviewer.
But it explains, or helps to, why the Scole Report, which eventually emerged from the lengthy study my colleagues and I made of the Scole Group, wanted from the outside to have evidence which would convince not just us but the millions who could not themselves experienced a sitting, and who would know little beyond their prejudices about mediumship and still less about physical phenomena.
That’s why our report concentrated on the essentially prosaic business of reciting the evidence and then crawling over it to see where anyone might detect a theoretical hole.
To conform to the convention of clinical detachment, we may have given the impression of being mere desiccated calculating machines, as Nye Bevan once observed of a dear colleague.
But no, we were perfectly well aware of the fact that, in some unknown way, we were ourselves part of the phenomena we were examining: our ‘energies’, whatever that means, were in some degree and in some unknown manner helping to facilitate some of the remarkable things we experienced.
Had we been wholly negative and resolutely sceptical, I doubt whether the rewards would or could have been so spectacular, or important.
But we were not. And this wasn’t because we were credulous believers, ready to swallow anything. All three of us were familiar with the vast wealth of literature documenting earlier evidence of mediumistic communication, but we were only too well aware of the remorseless criticisms which had been directed, sometimes by members of our own illustrious society, at claims of physical phenomena associated with mediumship.
Hence our sometimes over-zealous efforts to provide a belt-and-braces protocol to forestall those who will argue that any conceivable defect in the security procedure must necessarily disqualify all other acceptable evidence related to the same phenomenon, or the conditions in which it was produced.
None of this means we remained unaffected by essentially unprovable experiences. In some cases they were profoundly moving.
At one sitting I both felt and saw, even to the fingernails, a normal size male hand gently grasping mine. There was a sensation of infinite compassion and love in that quite extended moment. At the same time another part of me was working out whether there was any possibility that a hand so positioned could possibly belong to any of the human beings who constituted the Group, however great their physical contortions.
But there was not; and the experience was made the more memorable when I was told to which distinguished but long since departed entity the hand belonged. But there was no verifiable evidence of this, nor could there have been.
More startling, however, was an event, which took place in what was, alas, to prove our last sitting with the Group.
It took place in August 1997, and it came a few weeks after our highly successful couple of sittings in the Ibiza villa of our worthy and generous colleague, collaborator and friend, Dr Hans Schaer.
There the two simultaneous experiments had been the production of images on blank Polaroid film plates in complete darkness, and the recording of spirit voices on an equally blank tape which I had placed in a cheap recorder from which the microphone had been removed: an experiment which certainly produced unnatural recordings, but which was qualitatively poor.
During the chit-chat which accompanied one of these sessions, I was asked how I was getting on with the Wordsworth puzzle. This referred to the lengthy investigation of two strips of film on which were reproduced what were later found to be some amendments in script to one of Wordsworth’s early poems. Some mystery attached to the circumstances in which these amendments had been written. I confidently said that I thought I had now pretty well wrapped up the investigation (as readers of Chapter 7 and Appendix M of our Report will find).
Mutual exchanges of thanks followed.
Hence it was gratifying, but not altogether surprising, to be told a few weeks later that those on the other side had a present for me.
David Fontana sardonically complained that I was always getting presents, and that I had been given a half crown coin, as an apport, in payment of a discarnate debt incurred from the new world by Emily Bradshaw after an experiment had gone awry. But this was to be less tangible, and more moving. ‘He’ll know why,’ said ‘Edwin’.
Professor Fontana was holding the Panasonic tape recorder containing his carefully marked blank tape. Professor Ellison had duly checked to ensure that there was no microphone in it. We knew the aim was to try to record something paranormal on this tape, but without reproducing any of our own or the spirit voices. We were told it was to be music; then (in tones of delight) that the composer himself was to transmit it.
After a few minutes, clearly heard through much white noise, as though coming from an infinite distance, were sounds which I soon recognised as one of the first pieces of classical music I knew and loved as a boy. It had always had a uniquely strong association with an emotionally stressful period of my youth. The taped record of what was heard at that sitting (as distinct from the tape which David was holding) is eloquent testimony to my startled reaction and profound emotion.
How could ‘they’ possibly have known?
Marvellous enough to produce what is popularly if erroneously called Electronic Voice Phenomena
(EVP) on tape; but to have produced a substantial chunk of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, orchestra and all, from the discarnate mind (whence else?) clearly meant that ‘they’ must somehow have divined my buried memories.
I was also considerably shaken by a minor episode, which does not figure in our report, and which seemed to come, as did so many messages, almost as after-thoughts or throw-away lines, apropos nothing in particular.
Addressing Professor Fontana, Emily said, to my astonished ears, ‘Oh, there’s a blackbird here who wants to be remembered to you, David.’
To which the no less phlegmatic response was ‘Oh yes, I well remember that bird.’ David subsequently described to me how he had befriended and fed a blackbird which had built a nest at the bottom of his garden and had later become almost a family pet.
Why should I have been so astonished?
I had come across several accounts of pets, mainly cats, seen in their familiar fireside seats, weeks after their death; and I had been more amused than startled by the occasion during one of the Group’s Los Angeles sittings when we all experienced the characteristic tail-brushing of a non-existent cat as it walked round the room.
Perhaps the western mind is too deeply impregnated with the belief that only humans have souls.
Looking back on those memorable two years I find that what chiefly resides in my memory is not so much the brilliance of the light phenomena, and the clear intelligence which animated each light form - striking though that was: it was the clarity and confidence with which conversations took place with the communicators, and the struggled efforts of the direct voices to transmit their thoughts.
After all, the physical phenomena. extraordinary though it was by any standards, and impossible to fit into the limited framework of any materialistic belief system, could be accounted simply a device to demonstrate not only the survival of consciousness beyond death, but the ability of those on the other side to influence existing and create fresh physical objects.
More than that: to look into our minds and dredge forgotten memories.
What has been substantially ignored in our Report, in our desire to concentrate on the evidence and its defeat of the theory of deception, is the content of those discussions.
Perhaps that was the most humbling of my experiences: the not entirely comfortable thought that ‘they’ knew what was going on independently of each sitting. Hence the taps or knocks while we chatted away upstairs, indicating that ‘they’ were ready and didn’t want to be kept waiting.
Likewise the confession of amusement at apparently overhearing a conversation we had been having when driving to Scole for another sitting.
Ah, to recapture that unique experience . . .