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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2012

3 - Ghost-hunting in the Society for Psychical Research

Summary

The Society for Psychical Research

Following the rapid spread of modern spiritualism in Britain in the 1850s and 1860s, rationalist groups and circles of friends with an investigative bent and ambitions to the ‘scientific method’ had sprung up, chiefly interested in investigating the veracity of the marvellous phenomena emanating from the spiritualist séances. In Britain social clubs and learned groups such as the Ghost Society (founded in Cambridge, 1851–c.1860s), the Phasmatological Society (founded in Oxford, 1879–1885), and the Ghost Club (founded in London, 1882–1936) examined – in varying degrees of formality and application – accounts of ghost-seeing, haunting and spiritualistic phenomena: yet these private groups were strongly elitist and conversational in character, did not operate on a dedicated or widespread basis, and lacked the organisational will to approach the whole area of the supernatural and the ‘occult’ with an open mind in partnership with the spiritualists, the scientific community, and the wider public. The activities of the Psychological Society of Great Britain (PSGB), which was established by Edward William ‘Serjeant’ Cox in 1875, represented a major shift in this situation. The PSGB met about twice a month to discuss the scientific investigation of psychology (by which was meant abnormal psychology and what would be called ‘psychical research’), and its founding membership included important and respectable figures such as Richard Francis Burton, William Crookes, W. Stainton Moses and Frederic W.H. Myers.