The Scole Experimental Group was a group of sitters in Scole, Norfolk, England, who engaged in physical Mediumship from 1994 to 1998. The group produced a wide range of phenomena and was investigated for two years by three senior members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), acting on their own behalf.
The investigators found no evidence of fraud or deception but did find evidence favouring intelligent forces, whether discarnate or originating from the human psyche, that could influence material objects and deliver visual and aural messages.
The Scole group believed it had come together specifically to work with a spirit team to pioneer a new creative energy, other than the traditional Ectoplasm, for transdimensional communication. When the case was publicized, it immediately became controversial.
The investigation by the psychical researchers set several firsts. It was
• the first study of persons acting together as a mediumistic team;
• the first to link alleged oral communications through trance mediums with photographic, visual, auditory, tactile and tangible phenomena; and
• the first to investigate a range of tangible physical phenomena not associated with Ectoplasm and that could be examined outside of the Séance room.
The Scole Experimental Group was initiated by Robin and Sandra Foy, both experienced as sitters in physical Mediumship and well known in the Spiritualist community. Robin Foy was especially interested in the Direct Voice Mediumship of LESLIE FLINT.
On April 21, 1990, Foy was participating in a physical development circle. A new spirit named Noah Zerdin spoke in a direct voice and urged the creation of an educational society for the promotion of “safe physical mediumship.” Soon afterward, Foy founded the Noah’s Ark Society, which has helped to form private circles and groups worldwide.
In August 1991 the Foys moved from Postwick to Scole. They transformed a basement room into a completely dark place for their circle to meet; it became known as “the Scole Hole.” Four members from their group in Postwick agreed to come to Scole to continue the mediumship work.
The purpose of the sittings was to try to obtain irrefutable evidence of Survival After Death and to perform experiments that would produce repeatable, successful results. The cellar was inaugurated in 1993. Sittings were in the dark. When sitting with investigators or visitors, all of the group wore luminous wrist bands so that their movements could be monitored despite the dark. Little happened, however.
The group went through changes in membership, finally arriving at six members, all of whom were new except the Foys. Two were Alan and Diana Bennett, both of whom discovered that they could become entranced in the sittings. Eventually the group decreased to the Foys and Bennetts, all of whom became mediums for the spirits.
In 1993, physical phenomena developed. Dancing lights appeared, the sitters were splashed with water and touched and there were strange noises and movements of objects. A spirit guide who announced himself as “Manu” served as Control, or gatekeeper, as the spirit preferred to be called, for other spirits.
Manu said he had had many incarnations on earth, the latest in South America. A spirit named John Paxton, from the 13th century, explained to the sitters that they would be working with new and safer energies made up of a blend of Earth, human and spirit energies.
Other members of the spirit team and their alleged pseudonymous identities included Mrs. Emily Bradshaw, a charity worker from Oxford; Edward Matthews, who died in World War I; Patrick McKenna, an Irish priest who loved Guinness ale and fat cigars; Raji, an Indian prince; and a group of scientists. Phenomena rapidly increased.
There were at least 43 different types, among them Apports, Materializations of walking forms, direct voices,Levitations, raps, luminous pillars of light and ringing bells. The most striking phenomenon of all the sittings was light activity.
For example, a single light would dart around the darkened cellar at great speed, even entering a crystal to light it from within. It would change shape, activate Ping-Pong balls, make sharp sounds when it hit the table, and irradiate and levitate crystals and Perspex bowls.
The spirits instructed the group to try photographic experiments by snapping pictures with a camera on command while the supernormal lights danced around the room. The camera also took pictures by itself. Among the photos produced were an image of St. Paul’s Cathedral during the bombing blitz of World War II and the front page of the pre-World War II Daily Mirror newspaper.
The spirit team also allegedly transmitted images onto factory-sealed film not loaded into any camera. The spirits often described phenomena accurately before they occurred. One apport that appeared in 1994 was a pristine copy of the Daily Mail newspaper dated April 1, 1944.
The newsprint was determined by subsequent independent analysis to be of war-time origin and the copy was printed on letterpress, an obsolete method. The Scole group sometimes allowed visitors—as many as 25—to attend sittings. Many witnesses testified to the phenomena that occurred. Most of the sittings took place in the Scole Hole. In 1995, 1996 and 1997, the group went to Ibiza in the Mediterranean at the invitation of psychical researcher Hans Schaer and conducted sittings there.
After losing contact with their regular communicators, the group ceased sitting in November 1998 at the instruction of new communicators, following severe interference. Investigation In 1995, the group agreed to allow investigation by three psychical researchers who were members of the SPR: Montague Keen, Arthur Ellison and David Fontana.
Between October 1995 and August 16, 1997, the investigators were present at 18 sittings, which lasted about two and one-half hours each. Other witnesses, including prominent members of the SPR, attended some of the sessions. Among them were Ralph Noyes, Archie E. Roy, Alan Gauld, Donald West, John Beloff, Bernard Carr, Hans Schaer, Robert Morris, Ivar Grattan-Guinness and Rupert Sheldrake.
The spirits imposed specific requirements, conditions and restrictions on all experiments, and declined to do some experiments, such as the BOOK TEST, which they said was “old hat” and had not swayed Scientific opinion. They declined to allow any external light at the sittings, as well as infrared equipment.
The only means of detecting movement were the luminous Velcro-adhering bands wrapped around the wrists of the sitters and on the table and occasionally on pieces of equipment, and also the varying levels of apparently supernatural lights. However, the spirit team did seem concerned about having safeguards against fraud, and a few were proposed by the investigators.
The spirit team engaged in extensive consultation with the investigators, and agreed to work with plastic security bags for film, and to switch from Polaroid to Kodachrome film.
Investigators also took their own precautionary steps to mark film tubs and their locked box before and after the sittings. Not all the experiments were successful. There were trials and errors, and a learning curve from them. The investigators and sitters followed the spirits’ instructions for protocols, sometimes reluctantly.
They made no body searches nor physical constraints on the mediums, as had been done in past investigations of mediums who worked with Ectoplasm. The sitters were allowed to sit next to one another, while the investigators all sat on the opposite side of the table, rather than interspersed with the sitters.
The spirits specified that music be played during sessions (though they often asked for it to be turned down or off, or changed to create a different mood). Most procedures for detecting fraud had to be discussed first with the spirits before they could be employed. Of particular interest—and controversy—are the results of the photographic experiments, in which the spirits allegedly impressed a variety of images on undeveloped and sealed film.
The investigators desired a four-step protocol: use of their own film; use of their own secure container to house the film during sittings; their control of the container during the sittings; and their control over the developing of the film.
These were not always consistent with the experimental nature of the film work. Sometimes the spirit team required the film to be left alone for several days—reportedly in a secured container—in order for them to accomplish their work. Some of the results were obtained in sittings in which the investigators were not present.
The wooden security box designed by a son of one of the sitters proved to be insecure. Keen devised a new one. However, the photographic phenomena did not occur in any film placed in the “Keen box,” although some from the group’s box were successful when it was both locked and hand-held throughout by an investigator.
Among the photographic results were:
• a host of drawn alchemical symbols.
• written Latin phrases, including mirror-image script.
• portions of a poem in German script. The German film was produced under “perfect protocol” ruling out fraud, according to investigators.
• fragments of handwritten amendments to an early version of the “Ruth” poem by William Wordsworth, from a rare and little-known manuscript, in what resembled Dorothy Wordsworth’s own handwriting.
• part of a poem written by FREDERIC WILLIAM HENRY MYERS, one of the founders of the SPR, and a quote from his book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death.
• a script that read “Can you see behind the Moon,” followed by the name of Louis Daguerre, the pioneer of photography. The “Daguerre script” was the last to be produced for the investigators.
The investigators also were witness to apparent direct spirit voices and to music presented from the Other Side, which were recorded on audiotape. There were numerous apports, but none that would be considered a “permanent paranormal object.”
In the spring of 1997, Keen accompanied the Scole group to California to a series of invited sittings. The last major experiment involving the investigators was on August 16, 1997. Keen had asked the spirits for spirit messages that could be taped and would enable them to distinctly hear independent spirit voices.
Besides messages, a rendition of a composition by Sergey Rachmaninoff was transmitted by the spirits, a piece which had great personal significance to Keen. This significance was not known to the other investigators or the sitters. After that sitting, the investigators were informed that the spirits wished to move on and do other experiments.
The spirits felt that sufficient evidence had been presented for the report. Following the end of the investigation, the Scole group reportedly obtained images on videotape with the use of a PSYCHOMANTEUM. Schaer had total control of a new videotape inserted into his camcorder in light conditions. He found intelligible images on it.
By 1998, plans were made to present the group’s evidence to the public in films and in a book. New experiments were planned. But on November 23, 1998, a new communicator explained that contact had been lost with the “team” and that further communications must cease.
The reason given for the halt was that the experiments had caused “space-time problems relating to an interdimensional doorway” that had been created for the experiments. The vortex of the group’s energies within the doorway had attracted experiments from the future, whose work was interfering with the Scole work and making it increasingly difficult for the spirits to communicate. specifically, a researcher from the future experimenting with a “crystalline time-probe” had intentions that were not so benevolent.
The group disbanded, but plans went ahead for publicity and publication of the book and the investigators’ report. Controversy The lack of strict protocols on all experiments brought criticism from skeptics, who pointed out that many of the illustrations produced on the filmstrips looked as though they could have been drawn with a human hand, and the majority of them came from published sources that were available, although not readily.
The investigators countered that fraud would have been extremely difficult, risking inevitable detection. The Scole Report, issued as a Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)in November 1999, observed that the sitters had no motive for fraud. They had earned a nominal amount of money giving sittings and seminars for fee but had also worked for no compensation, and had even declined an offer of financial assistance from the SPR.
Any deception would have had to have been meticulously orchestrated in pitch darkness, would have required sitting with eyes open rather than closed, and would have necessitated clearly detectable movement of the luminous wristbands. Critics of The Scole Report said the refusal to allow infrared equipment for the detection of movement was “unreasonable and suspicious” and especially criticized the investigators for agreeing to imperfect protocols.
Among other criticisms were
• the various phenomena produced—especially the lights and the film impressions—were not necessarily paranormal, but also could be done normally.
• the constant background music required by the spirits could mask movements and noises.
• the luminous armbands, attached with Velcro, were easy to remove.
• the film canisters themselves were never marked for identity, only the plastic containers in which they came.
The investigators nonetheless concluded that they had obtained evidence for genuine phenomena. They ruled out imagination and preconception and exaggeration on their parts, and asserted that few, if any, of the light phenomena could have been produced even with elaborate equipment.
The only alternative to genuine phenomena was fraud, and they had detected no direct evidence that fraud was committed, nor had they ever had any suspicion of fraud. They acknowledged that they had been unable to achieve “watertight conditions under which fraud would have been rendered impossible” in their experiments.
Although the Scole Experimental Group ceased to sit together, the work did not end altogether. Robin Foy began experimenting with receiving messages transmitted to his computer. Meanwhile, other physical development circles around the world have been created and have reported similar phenomena. Supporters have taken this as a sign that the efforts of the spirit world to build a bridge to the world of the living—an “Interdimensional Internet”—continue.
Scole in Review
In 2003, Keen and Fontana began work on a paper updating the Scole case with details of new criticisms and supporting evidence. Work was temporarily suspended when Keen died suddenly in March 2004. During a public debate on Scole in London, he suffered a heart attack at the podium and died on the scene. Fontana finished the paper, which was published in 2006.
In the ensuing years since publication of the report in 1999, no new criticisms were raised. An offer had been made to stage magicians to Demonstrate how the phenomena could be replicated, but there were no takers. James Webster, a professional magician who had attended three sittings with the Scole Group, had already stated that the phenomena he witnessed could not be duplicated by magicians.
Richard Wiseman, a professional magician and noted skeptic of Psychical Research, who had not attended any sittings but had read the report, said the report was “very impressive” and offered no suggestions as to how the phenomena could be duplicated. (Fontana observed that this did not imply Wiseman accepted the phenomena as paranormal, however.)
Meanwhile, supporting evidence surfaced. The apport that was the pristine copy of the April 1, 1944, edition of the Daily Mail was examined by the Print Industries Research Association. Their chemical analysis determined that the paper was World War II newsprint.
Fontana noted that even if someone had saved the issue of the newspaper, it would not likely be in a pristine condition nearly 60 years later. Interestingly, the front page that day carried an article on the witchcraft trial and verdict of HELEN DUNCAN. According to the spirit communicators, the paper was sent as an indication of the deceased Duncan’s interest in the Scole Group.
Another piece of evidence was delivered by paranormal researcher and author Guy Lyon Playfair, concerning the recording of Rachmaninoff. The group had been told that Rachmaninoff himself would play his Second Piano Concerto. Playfair noticed that there was an erroneous repeating of a cadenza—an error unlikely to be included in a commercial recording.
Ultimately, one is left with the “bundle of sticks” principle, Fontana said. While it is theoretically possible that one or more phenomena could have been done by trickery, the Scole Group produced so many phenomena that it is inconceivable that the whole range of them could have been hoaxed.
Fontana said that Scole’s most significant contribution may be theories of mind, especially the nature of the mind and its relationship to the material world. If the macro physical phenomena produced by Scole were products of mental energy—whether from the living or the dead—they might shed valuable light on the understanding of mental energy. Such energy may not be measurable physically, but might be understood better from a theoretical standpoint.
Assuming the communicators were really the dead, then Scole might Demonstrate what aspects of the mind survive death. Scole, said Fontana, shows the need for a philosophy of parapsychology.
- Dalzell, George E. Messages: Evidence for Life After Death. Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2002.
- Keen, Montague, Arthur Ellison, and David Fontana. “The Scole Report.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)58(1999): pp. 150–452.
- Keen, Montague, and David Fontana. “The Scole Report Five Years Later.” The Paranormal Review 37(January 2006): 19–24.
- Solomon, Grant and Joan. The Scole Experiment. London: Piatkus, 1999.