A special three-part documentary series aired during the last couple of days on Channel 4 in the UK featuring Tony Robinson (of Blackadder and Time Team fame) and science journalist Becky McCall investigating a number of paranormal phenomena. The shows include:
- “Tony Robinson and the Blitz Witch“, which aired December 29, 2008, and investigated Helen Duncan, who was the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act.
- “Tony Robinson and the Ghosts of Glastonbury“, which aired December 30, 2008, and investigated Frederic Bligh Bond‘s supposed use of automatic writing while excavating Glastonbury Abbey. (I love how that one turned into a mini Time Team episode at the end with Tony calling in Geo Phys. Glad to see, by the way, that Time Team is returning on January 4. Whoohoo.)
Wikipedia’s Frederick Bligh Bond page led me to their Mina Crandon page, which in turn led me to the PBS companion site for the American Experience episode about Houdini and an extract (up to and including page 10) of Harry Houdini‘s booklet ““Margery” the Medium Exposed“. (The 40-page booklet has been digitized by and is available as both an HTML download and in facsimile form on disk from Lybrary.com. You can obtain a number of Houdini’s other books and booklets, all of which are interesting for their look at the history of the worlds of magic and spiritualism, if for no other reason.)
- “Tony Robinson and the Medieval Reincarnation“, which aired December 31, 2008, and investigated Arthur Guirdham and the Bath housewives who, in the 60s, claimed to be possessed by the spirits of the Cathars, a medieval French religious sect.
The shows were less general paranormal investigation and more spiritualism/mediumship investigation. But they were interesting and just happened to come along at a time when I am renewing a personal interest in Spiritualism and mediumship in general.
I would classify myself as an skeptical believer about most things psychic and paranormal in that I believe that most psychic abilities and paranormal phenomena are possible, but I’m also very skeptical about things that I have not witnessed and investigated myself. The fact that psychic abilities and paranormal events can be faked does not mean that they can’t really occur, but the sheer ease with which such things can be faked and the number of con men and fakers that crop up whenever there’s a scent of easy money in the air makes it imperative that people explore such things with a critical mind.
It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching TV shows with questionable content or pasts. Most Haunted, for example, is one of my favourite shows. Not because I believe what they are experiencing are real paranormal events but because the situations make me continually explore what I believe is possible within my own mind, and because they help to sharpen your critical thinking skills while you are picking apart the flaws in the science of what they are doing. The fact that they’ve been involved in fakery scandals in the past is irrelevant to my enjoyment.