Helen Duncan

Helen Duncan

          SCOTTISH MATERIALISATION medium of Dundee, around whose phenomena lively controversy ensued in Light, 1931, following her sittings for the London Psychic Laboratory, the research department of the London Spiritual Alliance. These sittings promised, at first, very interesting results. "Ectoplasm" was seen in quantities, specimens were obtained for analysis, figures of adults and children appeared under voluminous drapery, movements of objects beyond the reach of the medium were observed and as a means of control the medium was placed nude into a sleeved sack with stiff buckram fingerless gauntlets sewn to the sleeves of her suit. The sack was sewn in at the back and fastened with tapes and cords to the chair. At the end of the sitting the medium was often found outside the bag, the seals, tapes and stitchings remaining intact.

The first report of the London Psychic Laboratory was published in Light, May 16, 1931. It advanced no definite conclusion but disclosed a favourable impression. Meantime, Mrs. Duncan also gave sittings at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. In the July 14, 1931, Morning Post, a long article was published on her exposure there and Harry Price branded her in a statement "as one of the cleverest frauds in the history of Spiritualism." A portion of her teleplasm was found to be composed of woodpulp and white of egg. Photographs taken during the sťance disclosed India rubber gloves and rough portraits wrapped in cheesecloth. An X-ray examination revealed that Mrs. Duncan was possessed of a remarkable faculty of regurgitation and she merely swallowed the necessary paraphernalia before the sťance.

Two days after this article the second report of the London Psychic Laboratory appeared in Light, July 17. It also branded Mrs. Duncan as clear-cut fraud and quoted a confession of her husband. In subsequent issues of Light many spiritualists stood up for the medium. Dr. Montague Rust who was responsible for introducing Mrs. Duncan to London, deplored the precipitate conclusions and despite the adverse report maintained that Mrs. Duncan was the most remarkable physical medium in Europe. Indeed, many other weighty testimonies came forth on her behalf. Will Goldston, the famous magician, confessed to have witnessed astounding results which no system of trickery can achieve. (Psychic News, May 28, 1932).

However, another exposure followed on January 5, 1932, in Edinburgh. Peggy, the materialised child control, was seized by Miss Maule and found to be identical with the medium.

"I see no escape from the conclusion," wrote J. B. M'Indoe, President of the Spiritualists National Union in Light, Feb. 10, "that Mrs. Duncan was detected in a crude and clumsy fraud - a pitiable travesty of the phenomena she has so frequently displayed. I have no doubt that the fraud was deliberate, conscious and premeditated."

Yet in the Edinburgh Sheriff Court, where the exposers carried the case, he said that he had considerably modified his view owing to the evidence of the Crown witnesses. E. Oaten and Montague Rust were the chief witnesses for the defence, the latter describing amazing experiences of the partial dematerialisation of Mrs. Duncan's body. The court found Mrs. Duncan guilty of fraud and sentenced her to a fine of £10 - or a month's imprisonment.

The records of the sťances at the National Laboratory for Psychical Research, with impressions of the phenomena by several professors, were published by Harry Price in book form under the title: Regurgitation and the Duncan Mediumship, 1931.

Source (with minor modifications): An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).



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