Thursday, December 27, 2018

More Enfield Audio Digitized

Earlier this year, I wrote about funding a project with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to digitize Maurice Grosse's collection of audio cassettes from the Enfield Poltergeist case. Guy Playfair's tapes have now been digitized as well. I'd like to thank the SPR again, especially Melvyn Willin, who did most of the work.

There are around 100 cassettes in Playfair's collection, beginning in September of 1977. The tapes recorded in the Hodgsons' house apparently end in October of 1978, but there are some tapes of radio and television programs about the Enfield case from later years as well. He also recorded a couple of radio programs on Enfield from the first half of September of 1977, including the one that persuaded him to get involved in the case. Playfair's collection has some duplicates of the tapes in Grosse's, and some of Playfair's duplicates are better copies of tapes that have poor audio quality in Grosse's collection. So, the duplicates have proved useful. And much of the material in Playfair's collection isn't found in Grosse's. That includes, to cite a few examples, a recording of the incident in which the poltergeist ripped a fireplace out of a wall it was cemented into, Playfair's conversation with Milbourne Christopher about his visit to the Hodgsons' house as he drove Christopher back to his hotel, and Playfair's visit with Janet Hodgson when she was being examined by Peter Fenwick's team at the Maudsley Hospital.

Alan Murdie wrote Playfair's obituary in the July 2018 edition of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 82, no. 3). The closing line of the obituary is applicable to Playfair's work on the Enfield case: "Guy’s life was about finding proof and for many of us his findings succeeded in removing many doubts." (192)

I thought of what Hernani Guimarães Andrade, who had taught me all I knew about psychical research, had often said to me while I was working with his research group in Brazil. 'When spontaneous cases come up, we drop everything and go after them. They will not wait for us.' He had made it sound like a moral obligation.

I stopped searching the pages of the classified advertisements for a cheap flight to Portugal, and went indoors. Here was a colleague [Maurice Grosse] who clearly needed help, and I reckoned my holiday could wait a few days….

I rang Maurice Grosse and asked if he needed some help. He did, he said.

And so, on Monday 12 September 1977, I postponed (as I thought) my holiday plans, and went along to the 'house of strange happenings.'…

Of one thing I was quite certain: for nearly four months, the [Hodgson] family had undergone a series of experiences totally inexplicable in terms of presently known science. Incredible things had happened, and Maurice Grosse and I knew they had happened, some right in front of our eyes. But what did it all mean?

The sad part of it was that so few people seemed to be interested in finding out, and how fortunate it was that Grosse had seized upon the case with such enthusiasm, and kept going despite all obstacles. Had he not done so, I hated to think what state the [Hodgsons] might be in by now….

We arrived at Bounds Green underground station just in time for my last train into central London. It was nearly empty until it reached Piccadilly Circus, when it suddenly filled up with lively theatregoers clutching programmes, and talking excitedly about the show they had just seen. I envied them, in a way, though I too was on my way home from the show I had been going to two or three times a week for nearly six months. 'Show' is a suitable word, for it was clear that the poltergeist, whoever or whatever it was, needed an audience, and I had to admit that it had a sense of timing and a control of its audience that any professional actor would envy.

And yet, I thought, as I listened to the happy voices around me, by the time the final curtain comes down at Enfield, if it ever does, then I will have had a lot more to think about than if I had spent a night out in the West End….

I felt I had reached the limit of what I could do, by getting the facts of the Enfield case on record. From now on, it was up to the real experts.

We said goodbye and headed for our respective homes. The Enfield case might have ended, but the search for the explanation of it had barely begun. I hope that this book will encourage others to join in this search.

(Guy Playfair, This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 30, 175, 195-96, 269)


  1. This if off topic, but I was wondering how you would explain RC priests performing exorcisms. Are they valid, or are they deceptive? I struggle with this issue knowing that much of RCC is wrong, but understand that demons are/appear to be exorcised from people. How would you explain it, or are there some good resources that you could point me to that I could read?

    1. I'm not sure if RCs are any more successful at exorcisms than religions like Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism.

      Ultimately I would think it comes down to God. God can make demons leave if he chooses. Similar to how God can answer the prayers of unbelievers for other purposes.

    2. Scot,

      I wouldn't assume that only Christians can perform an exorcism or something similar (e.g., Luke 11:19-20 and the "finger of God" allusion to Exodus 8:19, which involves competing miracles). And though I just cited the Bible, I wouldn't assume that scripture addresses every such issue or that we need a Biblical passage to justify our conclusions.

      Since exorcisms are a type of miracle, you can consult the material on non-Christian miracles in our archives, such as here. For a Christian view of paranormal issues more broadly, see here.

      We need to be careful to not be too narrow in considering the explanatory options. There are a lot of potential explanations for the entity that's involved in a case of alleged possession. The demonic hypothesis isn't the only option. The entity behind a supposed possession could be the mind of the possessed individual (in a normal or paranormal manner) or an independent spirit other than a demon. In the Enfield case, Playfair brought in a lot of mediums to try to get rid of the poltergeist. They all failed to get rid of it, but they often had some degree of success (the activities would go away temporarily, the nature of the activities would change, etc.). Complete failure and complete success aren't the only options on the table. Exorcists, mediums, and such who don't even profess to be Christian sometimes have some degree of success at carrying out an exorcism or something like it.

    3. We shouldn't assume that every paranormal spirit encountered is a highly intelligent and highly powerful demon or even a demon at all. If a dead human is involved, for instance, then his characteristics need to be distinguished from the characteristics of a demon. And we need to be careful that we're not bringing in false assumptions that we've picked up from movies, fictional literature, or non-fiction books that address these subjects in a simplistic way, for example. It's common, for instance, for people to think more highly of dead humans than they ought to. Deceased humans can be reasoned with, much like living humans can be. They're going to be ignorant of some things, capable of being misled, and so on. They could have a mental impairment, much as living humans do. For these and other reasons, deceased humans are more capable of being influenced by an exorcist than many people seem to think, even though a deceased human is in some ways superior to an exorcist. Much the same could be said of demons.

      We shouldn't assume that every spirit knows a lot about what it's doing. A possession could involve a spirit who doesn't have much experience with the activities in question, doesn't have the ability to keep those activities going for long, or encounters other obstacles that prevent it from continuing (whether because of an exorcism or for some other reason).

      We also need to be cautious about what's being attributed to exorcisms. How often do we actually know that an exorcism is what caused a spirit to leave, if we even know that it left? Given how much is involved in exorcisms (outwardly expressing opposition to the spirit, bringing in other people to be involved in the case, speaking about certain subjects in the presence of the spirit, etc.), it could be one or more of those subcategories associated with exorcism that's bringing about the change, not the exorcism itself or the exorcism as a whole.

      Just as humans have physical coping or defense mechanisms, they can have mental or spiritual ones as well. People, or some people, may have an innate or acquired ability to expel a spirit or diminish the spirit's influence under some circumstances.

      As I said above, I wouldn't assume that the Bible addresses every issue involved here. But as far as the Biblical evidence is concerned, a good passage to study is Mark 9. It addresses some of the relevant concepts: that spirits of the dead sometimes appear on earth (verse 4), that not everybody involved in exorcising an evil spirit needs to have perfect faith (verse 24), that even significantly mature believers sometimes don't know how to go about exorcising an evil spirit (verse 28), that there are different kinds of evil spirits (verse 29), that different evil spirits are expelled in different ways (verse 29), etc.

    4. Jason, Thank you for such an in-depth response. Some aspects of your answer challenges some long held presuppositions about ghosts and demons, again. You challenged them in a blog post I read of yours earlier this year, but forgot about them. I will spend some time thinking about your answers some more. Looking forward to more of your posts. Hope next year is blessed a for you.

    5. Thanks, Scot! I appreciate the encouragement, and I hope you have a good new year as well.