Archive for March, 2014


The Exorcist

   Posted by: David    in Uncategorized

The Exorcist

It is hard for me to imagine that anyone with even a passing interest in Ouija has not seen or heard of The Exorcist but in case you don’t already know The Exorcist was a major Hollywood production of an already best-selling and widely popular book by the same name. In 1974, The Exorcist was nominated for ten Academy Awards® and it won two, one for best adapted screenplay and one of sound editing.


The film was released in 1973and it was adapted for the screen by the original novelist William Peter Blatty. Staring in the film were such notable actors as Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, and of course the young woman who would rise to fame as a result of her role in the film as the possessed young girl, Linda Blair.

William Peter Blatty maintained that his story was based on true events and like most Hollywood horror films, the studio did not hesitate to cash in on this “based on a true story” hoopla. A modern day equivalent might be The Blair Witch Project. Though The Blair Witch Project was never actually claimed to be “real,” the eerie documentary like quality if the film led some to conclude that it was real and so the cultural phenomena in the aftermath of both films was strikingly similar.

The facts of the “true” story that inspired The Exorcist would not be fully discussed until the 2007 release of The Real Story Behind The Exorcist by investigative reporter Mark Opsasnick. It is fair to say that the story that ended up on screen was more than a little embellished. I would not conclude however, as Mark implies, that the boy at the center of the story was the victim only of “emotional problems.” The priests working with him at the time would have ruled such a diagnosis out before committing the resources of the church to what was a lengthy and costly exorcism.

Having acknowledged at least the possibility of intelligent independent spirit activity in the boy’s life I would not conclude that there was a correlation between that occult activity and the Ouija board or its use. However many at the time of the film’s release in the mid-1970s did make that conclusion and the resulting stigma on the spirit board represents a major turning point in the history of the board.

Prior to 1973 you will not find many accounts of so-called demonic possession associated with the board. After 1973, the paranoia began and it has grown ever since.

Early in the film, the young girl Regan MacNeil portrayed by Linda Blair develops a relationship with an entity via the board. Ironically she refers to this entity as “Captain Howdy” which is the font style used on the traditional Parker Brothers/Fuld board. While the film never explicitly stated it, the conclusion that some drew was that the entity gained access into Regan’s life via innocent experimentation with the board. It is from this erroneous association that the board has gained its reputation as a gateway to hell or demonic possession. This stigma, which I believe began in fiction, has remained associated with the board and its use to this day.

The Exorcist made a deep and lasting impact on my life. It did not scare me away from the Ouija Board and it did not scare me away from the occult but it did contribute to an imbalance in my life that eventually culminated in what Christian fundamentalists call a “born again” experience. What they generally mean by that is an epiphany that results in a dramatic life change.

The Bible indicates that the first miracle that Jesus performed was the changing of water to wine. To me this is significant because it indicates the type of ministry that Jesus has – changing the constitutional nature of one thing into something else. In more occult terms we might call this a kind of alchemy and many alchemist would argue that it is the transformation of the person that is the goal of alchemy not necessarily the transformation of metals into gold.

I have been fascinated with all things occult from an early age. I first heard of the Exorcist while watching The Tonight Show with Jonny Carson. Jonny mentioned in his monologue that he had seen the film and that it had terrified him. At that point I knew I wanted to see it. My parents opposed the idea and they also opposed my second option which was to read the book.

I obtained a copy of the book and read it by flashlight under the covers of my bed. At the ripe old age of thirteen it was a book I literally could not put down. It was a well written and thoroughly entertaining story.

I continued to pester my parents about the movie and it wasn’t long before they allowed me to see it. To say that I was terrified would be an understatement. I literally trembled with fear and I was convinced that there were spirit beings out there intent on invading my body and taking control of it against my will. That is the premise of the film and yes that is a little creepy.

Did Regan “invite” the entity into her life because she innocently used an Ouija board? It’s been a while since I have seen the film and that may be an implication but it never occurred to me when I saw the film and read the book in 1973. Many have made that connection or drawn that inference from the story but my impression was that the entity attacked her at random much like a cancer or a natural disaster and that is what terrified me and that is infinitely more terrifying that attributing the “possession” of Regan to some identifiable “safe” cause.

As a teenager watching the film it seemed to me that Regan was innocent and that the assault on her body was purely a random act of evil. Every Warren investigated “haunt” that became a feature film had an element of random-act-of-evil to it. The families did nothing to invite the alleged evil into their lives except that they innocently moved into a “haunted” house.

If it could happen to a teenage girl roughly my age at the time, it could happen to me. I believed this premise and so began my descent into a psychological trauma that would set the stage or at the very least contribute to a period of anguish that would eventually lead me to the fundamentalist Christian church and eventually seminary.

To be fair there was a great deal more going on in my life than the terror resulting from an incredibly well made film. I was a teenager with all the confusion that comes along with being a teenager. I was also traumatized by the very real terrors of Auschwitz and the horrors of the Second World War. I had a history teacher that insisted on showing us films of Auschwitz taken shortly after the allies liberated the camp.

In my teenage mind those images were devastating.

I believed that an all-powerful loving god could never have allowed such an atrocity to occur. Since there was no doubt in my mind that it did occur, I lost my faith in god.
Now, The Exorcist taught me that I could be dominated by evil entities at their whim and there is nothing I can do to stop it. Auschwitz taught me that there is no god I can call upon for help in time of need.

How do you suppose I felt?
I came very close to suicide.

Now I am sure you are thinking, “David there had to more going on in your life that a scary movie and a history of the world you had a hard time coping with,” and you would be right but the bottom line is The Exorcist is a part of my personal history and for me, that film was life changing so I have more than a casual relationship to it.

I didn’t really believe in god anymore but I had been raised to believe that if a person commits suicide that person will go to hell. I no longer believe that but that belief may have actually saved my life.

I had a plan and a date. I prayed to a god I wasn’t sure existed and I said, “If you are real then you have one week to reveal yourself to me. If you do that I promise I will live the rest of my days in your service. If you do not than there is no god, there is no hell, and any place is better than this world so I will choose to leave it.”

That night I had a dream.

In the dream I was in a room. It was an old room in an almost post-apocalyptic setting. Windows were broken, furniture was old and worn, looking out of my forth or fifth story window the streets below looked battle worn and no life was evident.

Through the key hole I saw a light. When I knelt down to look through that hole I saw a garden unlike any of the most beautiful gardens I had ever seen in the glory of spring. In short it was the most beautiful and peaceful place I had ever seen and I immediately concluded it was the afterlife.

I took the dream to be a confirmation of my suicidal intentions but, always a person of my word I had a few days left so I decided to give god the chance I promised. Later that week my Taekwondo instructor invited me to a bible study. At that study I realized that the paradise I had seen in my dream was not an afterlife but a state of mind, that state if mind has been mine ever since that night.

If you have not seen The Exorcist I suggest that you refrain especially if you intend to cultivate your gifts and skills as a medium or in any capacity work with the spirit board. The film was made for the purpose of creating fear in your heart and life. Why would you intentionally expose yourself to anything that was intentionally designed to hurt you?

Much love,


Leonora Piper

   Posted by: David    in Uncategorized

Leonora Piper


At the turn of the 19th century and early into the 20th century Lenora was considered by many of the leading researchers of the time, including William James, to be the finest medium of her day.

It is possible that it was Leonora that Dr. James was thinking of when he said, “If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you mustn’t seek to show that no crows are; it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white.” In other words, I don’t need to prove that every medium is legitimate, only that one medium is and that one medium was Leonora Piper.

By today’s standards Ms. Piper would certainly be remarkable but a casual research into the careers of our generation’s two leading mediums: Anne Gehman and Allison DuBois will show that both of these contemporary mediums have been subjected to scrutiny far more controlled than Ms. Piper and with far more success.

The age of the medium is far from past and today’s medium, especially those certified by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, are reaching a higher standard of excellence than ever before. But this article isn’t about today’s medium, it is about arguably the finest medium of the Victorian age – Leonora Piper.

From Wikipedia accessed Monday, March 24, 2014

“Leonora Piper (née Symonds; 27 June 1857 – 3 June 1950)…was the subject of intense interest and investigation by American and British psychic research associations during the early 20th century, most notably William James and the Society for Psychical Research.

“Piper grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire where, according to her parents, she first displayed psychic abilities as a child. At the age of 22 she married shopkeeper William Piper of Boston and settled in the city’s Beacon Hill area.

“After the birth of her first child, Alta, she sought relief from recurring pain caused by a childhood accident. Upon visiting an elderly blind man who claimed he could contact spirits that could aid in healing, she said she heard voices that resulted in her ability to deliver a message by automatic writing to a local judge who claimed the words came from his recently deceased son.”

The most convincing “proof” of Ms. Piper’s mediumship came from what is now known as the “Cross-Correspondences.”

Researchers conducted a study of three mediums in 1906 including Alice Holland then operating in the UK, Margaret Verrall, and Leonora Piper. Operating in vastly different geographical regions and isolated from each other they each brought through messages from Frederic W. H. Myers himself a paranormal researcher prior to his death and well known to those conducting the research on the three mediums. Each medium brought through the same or complimentary information from Myers at times in a language known to Myers but unknown to the three mediums.


“On September 19, 1903, Alice MacDonald Fleming, the sister of author Rudyard Kipling, began receiving automatic writing messages purportedly coming from Frederic W. H. Myers, a Cambridge University classics scholar as well as a pioneering psychical researcher, who had died in 1901. Fleming, the wife of a British army officer, was living in India at the time. Because members of her family disapproved of her “dabbling in the occult,” she used the pseudonym, “Mrs. Holland.” The initial messages were short and apparently an attempt by Myers to convince her of his identity. He told her that much of what he would write through her is not meant for her, that she was to be the reporter. She was asked by Myers to send the messages to the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in London, an organization which Myers had helped organize in 1882.

In a subsequent message, Myers told Fleming not to worry about being made a fool or dupe. “It’s a form of restless vanity to fear that your hand is imposing upon yourself, as it were,” Myers communicated to her. To the SPR (through Fleming), he communicated: “…if it were possible for the soul to die back into earth life again I should die from sheer yearning to reach you – to tell you that all that we imagined is not half wonderful enough for the truth…If I could only reach you – if I could only tell you – I long for power and all that comes to me is an infinite yearning – an infinite pain. Does any of this reach you – reaching anyone – or am I only wailing as the wind wails – wordless and unheeded?”

On January 5, 1904, Myers wrote that he was in a “bound to earth condition,” but it was largely of a voluntary choice. “I am, as it were, actuated by the missionary spirit; and the great longing to speak to the souls in prison – still in the prison of flesh – leads me to ‘absent me from felicity awhile.’”

On another occasion, Myers wrote that “to believe that the mere act of death enables a spirit to understand the whole mystery of death is as absurd as to imagine that the act of birth enables an infant to understand the whole mystery of life.” He added that he was still groping…surmising…conjecturing.

Fleming also received messages from Edmund Gurney and Roden Noel, both unknown to her. A message from Noel said to ask “A.W.” what the date May 26, 1894 meant to him, and if he could not remember, to ask Nora. Not knowing what to make of the message, Fleming sent the message to the SPR in London, where it was recognized that Noel was referring to Noel’s good friends, Dr. A. W. Verrall and Dr. Eleanor (Nora) Sidgwick. The date was the day of Noel’s death.

On January 17, 1904, Fleming recorded another message purportedly coming from Myers for the SPR. He gave the biblical reference I Cor. xvi, 12. He told the SPR that he tried to get the entire wording through in Greek but could not get Fleming’s hand to form Greek characters, and so he gave only the reference. On the very same day, thousands of miles away in England, Mrs. Margaret Verrall, an automatic writing medium who was a member of the SPR, also received the same biblical reference from Myers by means of automatic writing. This biblical passage, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong,” was the wording inscribed in Greek over the gateway of Selwyn College, Cambridge, under which Myers frequently passed.

This was apparently the first of what came to be known as the “cross-correspondences” – similar messages through different mediums around the world or fragmentary messages sent through different mediums which in themselves had no meaning until the SPR linked them up and made a complete message out of them. Fleming (“Mrs. Holland”) in India, Leonora Piper in the United States, Verrall and Winifred Coombe-Tenant (“Mrs. Willett”), both in England, were the four principal mediums used by Myers in delivering these cross-correspondences. As Myers was a classical scholar, a number of the messages had to do with the classics.

While complex and very difficult to read, these cross-correspondences are often looked upon as the best evidence of survival of individual consciousness after death. “The intention was obvious – namely to show that one mind was acting on all these mediums,” physicist and psychical researcher Sir Oliver Lodge explained, “each separate portion of the message being so obscure that there could be no telepathy or any other means of communication between them.”

Obviously all I have done in this brief essay is introduce you to Ms. Piper. I would encourage you to study her life on your own. Yes you will find skeptical arguments but the evidence in her favor is overwhelming to any who will examine it with a mind not clouded by ideological bigotry.

Much love,

Book Review: Ghost Hunters William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life after Death by Deborah Blum

I read this book in the summer of 2007 primarily from the condo or the beach in Ocean City Maryland. Almost anything I do in Ocean City takes on an immediate connotation of pleasure since the beach is my favorite place in the world to be but if I had read this book in any season or any place, I would have loved it. It deals directly with the primary theme of this blog – the research and study of the paranormal in the Victorian age.

ghost hunters

In the opening chapter author Deborah Blum relates the story of Nellie Titus. In the story a neighborhood girl goes missing. Search parties can find no trace but Nellie, by dreams and intuition is able to identify the exact location where the girl’s body was later found under water.

William James investigates the case and is quoted by Blum as saying, “My own view of the Titus case…is that it is a decidedly solid documentation in favor of the admission of a supernormal faculty of seership.”

The book really champions the career of William James which is another reason I loved the book. William James is a personal hero of mine. He was the leading psychologist of his day, founder of the American Psychological Association, and Harvard professor. He put his reputation on the line as so many “ghost hunters” are sadly forced to do then and now.

Unlike many “popular” as opposed to scholarly histories Deborah does a fine job of documenting her source material in the back of the book in a section titled “Notes and Sources.” Some popular histories provide no information on source material at all. Deborah on the other hand carefully explains in narrative form exactly where she found the material she uses for the book.

Another exciting subject that Deborah deals extensively with is the concept called “death sense.” Death sense is arguable the most common and well documented of all “ghost” phenomena. Death sense experiences range from the “sense” that a loved one has crossed over to the appearance of the person including sight, touch, voice, etc. Ask around and you will find people you know who have a death sense story to share. Most people will say that the deceased appeared to them at the moment of or shortly after their passing.

In her acknowledgements at the end of her book, Ms. Blum admits to being “a science writer, still grounded in reality.” But she says that, as a result of her research, she is “less smug than I was when I started, less positive of my rightness.” The work of William James and the brilliant ghost hunters of the nineteenth century caused her to “reevaluate my assumptions.” She said, “There were days when I could feel the hinges of my brain, almost literally, creaking apart to make room for new ideas.”

That is really what I am trying to accomplish with this blog – encouraging people to make room for new ideas. I may be right that our spirits live on after death or I may be wrong but either way I think it is healthy to keep an open mind and resist dogmatism in any form.

Much love,


The Journey to Lily Dale

   Posted by: David    in Uncategorized

The Journey to Lily Dale

I had wanted to go to Lily Dale for a few years but when?
My vacation time was limited, my family takes an annual summer vacation in Ocean City Maryland and I really never want to miss that week entirely.
In addition, Lily Dale has a season and that season is summer.
The town is open year round but many of the town’s mediums reside in “The Dale” only in the summer so if you are planning a trip to Lily Dale the summer is the time to go.

One year in March my mother’s health was not good.
The family wasn’t sure they’d be able to make Ocean City in July.

I scheduled the week off but instead of planning for Ocean City, I made reservations at The Leolyn – an inn built like most of the town in the mid 1800’s and much the same as it was when it was built.


I had no idea where the Leolyn was situated in respect to Lily Dale.
I really had no idea where Lily Dale was except that it was in the western part of New York State. But I wanted to go, so I made the reservation and believed that the particulars would work themselves out.


It was a step outside of my comfort zone to say the least.


I was going to a place I had never been, a place famous for its mediums, the Mecca of Modern Spiritualism, a religion I was curious about but about which I had been told, “If you do that you’ll go to hell.”

I don’t travel much.
I really don’t like to travel.
I’m a cancer male and I love being at home.
But I was motivated from a drive deep within.
Lily Dale had made my bucket list, I had the opportunity and I wanted to take it and yes I was traveling alone. At the time, I had no friends who shared my interest in Spiritualism.

The drive to Lily Dale takes roughly six to eight hours from Baltimore.
On the day I left I worked all day.
I love my job but it is demanding and I was tired when I left.
My plan was to drive half way, stay over at some as yet undefined place midway, and have the better part of Saturday in Lily Dale – that was the plan.

Did you know that hotels don’t generally like drop-ins?

I’ve only dropped in on a hotel three times without a reservation: this was the first time, a trip to Cincinnati was the second, and a motorcycle excursion along Skyline Drive in October was the third. While the Skyline drive trip was by far the worst for landing a bed to sleep in, I was turned away from at least ten hotels in as many towns before I finally found a place to stay.

Lesson learned: plan ahead and make a reservation if at all possible.

That night in the hotel, the spirits or “Spirit,” as Spiritualists like to call it, were already beginning to speak to me.

When you do something like travel to Lily Dale or attend a circle or visit a medium, a signal goes out to the spirit world. Your friends and loved ones, and your guides on the other side get the message and they prepare to meet you.

That night I was very clearly visited and I was miles from Lily Dale.

The spirits that came to greet and prepare me that first night were like the greeting party sent to the train station to see me safely into town. What awaited me in The Dale, I could never have imagined, nor could I have ever imagined the impact that brief visit would have upon my life.

More later loved ones,