The Mediumship of Hunter Selkirk
Very little has been written concerning the mediumship of Hunter Selkirk; for this reason, I would acknowledge the important contribution of Harry Emerson's book, Listen My Son, in which the writer describes some of his experiences with the medium.
Hunter was born in County Durham in 1900. When both his father, and later, his stepfather died, he bore the responsibility of being head of his family of eight, most of which were young children. Growing up as a miner in the years of the Depression, he faced extreme poverty: despite this, he occupied himself by working for, and supporting the children of Craghead, where he lived, in the periods of severe hardship that afflicted the area. Hunter's first awareness of his own mediumship occurred when he saw and spoke with his father who had died a week earlier in a mine explosion along with nearly two hundred other men and boys. As so often happened in similar cases, when Hunter told his mother of what he had experienced, she simply said that he had been dreaming. The local priest then became involved and decided that Hunter should be monitored; the young medium then became a member of the local church choir, but this only increased his awareness as he saw spirit-beings in the church and also became conscious of other mediumistic abilities that he possessed.
Although other phenomena took place, when Hunter and a friend attended a Spiritualist meeting in his twenties, the reality was, as Emerson related, that they 'went to the "spookies" for a "bit of fun"'.(1) Nonetheless, Hunter was impressed by the philosophy expounded; he was told that he would be a great medium, but he interpreted this as something that was said to everyone to encourage them to return. However, he met a Sam Barker at the meetings who suggested that he should join a home circle. This he did, and demonstrating the patience of those involved, some seven years elapsed before the first materialization joined the circle.
Hunter's mediumship developed to where an eye-witness could say, 'In a séance, I have seen the spirit form and the medium side by side'; furthermore, after Hunter left the cabinet, his facial appearance, having been altered by ectoplasm, was 'so finely moulded that recognition was instantaneous'. In the case of direct voice, the communicator 'was recognised immediately by a near relative', and the voice was 'entirely free from any trace of the medium's voice or personality'.(2)
Hunter's mediumship was not limited to his immediate locality, i.e. he demonstrated his abilities before many hundreds of people in various places: reports of these events being published, e.g. Two Worlds (14 October 1938). Emerson detailed the events of the first séance that he attended; this was in 1938 and conducted by Hunter, who had been working in the mine less than two hours earlier. After Emerson examined the séance room and the cabinet, this being constructed of two curtains hung across the corner of the room, the seance commenced. After hymns and a prayer, a light appeared close to the ceiling: 'transparent blue and particularly bright and twinkling'.(3) The light then moved down and passed through the cabinet curtain, and one of Hunter's controls spoke and greeted the ten sitters present. This was followed by another light manifesting, that Emerson described as a very large opal. The light moved around the sitters and Emerson related that he could see a woman's face: 'the eyes were blue and had depth and expression'.(4) On going to a sitter who was next to him, the visitor was recognized as a guide who had been seen on an earlier occasion. Subsequently, there was direct voice and Emerson then recorded that 'two small lights came out of the cabinet and moved across the room towards where I was sitting'. They hovered above his head and then 'from out of the air, fully six feet away from the medium', a voice spoke to Emerson and introduced herself. It was Emerson's wife; she spoke in a whisper that he said, 'I recognised immediately'. After further phenomena, Emerson left the séance room, understandably overwhelmed. He reported: 'I had seen; I had heard; I had felt; I had spoken to people who had lived upon the earth as I was doing now'. This resulted in him suddenly realizing that in the subject of the afterlife, 'The Christian religion, as I understood it, was confounded. It was incomplete. It had shrivelled to a vague, indefinite theology'.(5)
Emerson described a number of séances that he attended in which the truly amazing limits of Hunter's mediumship were manifested: in one, after some spectacular light phenomena, he detailed how, 'A small light appeared low down near the floor and...it rose to the height of an average sized man'. When the visitor approached, Emerson saw that he was a man who looked no more than thirty years of age. At this point, the visitor spoke and described what had occurred during the initial stages following death. At the point of transition, he said, 'It all seemed to happen so quickly and so naturally. I was conscious of my surroundings and I felt wonderfully refreshed'. Noteworthy is the fact that it is in such instances that the nature of the next life is revealed; this is salient as it invalidates the charge often made that physical mediumship provides little knowledge or enlightenment concerning the subject of post-mortem survival. The communicator also confirmed that he had been assisted, and he believed the physical life served as an education and preparation, adding that 'You are born to live with each other and to be of use to each other'.(6) Emerson also referred to the more humorous instances that occurred during Hunter's séances. On one occasion when the sitters were seated very close to the wall, he felt someone touch him: following this, his own chair and that of the person next to him 'were tilted forward and we heard someone behind us laughing'. He identified this as being like 'one of Bob's tricks'.(7) This was Bob Ellis, a war-time fatality, who often visited the séances and introduced some amusement into the proceedings whenever possible, e.g. he would produce music and once removed a carpet on which four of the sitters were sitting, and lifted an eleven stone man into the air; during these episodes, there was indisputable evidence that Hunter was in the cabinet.
Hunter's mediumship not only produced physical phenomena but unmistakable evidence for the survival of physical death: Emerson detailed how in one séance, with a blue light being used, Hunter's controls made themselves known, with one materializing for the benefit of the circle, and the sitters were asked to look inside the cabinet. Emerson did so, and saw a light that looked 'almost as if the moon had come down into the room'; this was followed by a visitor materializing and standing in front of him. He was unable to see the facial features and the visitor walked across the séance room to Emerson's daughter who immediately recognized him as her uncle. He then walked back to Emerson who recorded that on being able to see him clearly, 'It was indeed my brother Lincoln who died in 1923'.(8) Afterwards, two sitters attending their first seance were reunited with their mother who spoke to them, and also carried an infant in her arms. This was followed by Hunter's stepfather materializing and then, Emerson's wife. He related how, 'I saw her face as clearly as I had ever done in my life'. She was 'alive and smiling' and on being asked whether she was happy, she replied 'Yes'.(9) Following the traditional Spiritualist practice, a special séance was held at Christmas for the children who were able to return and participate in the festivities. Emerson recorded how, 'It seemed strange to be sitting in a room decorated for a children's party with not a child to be seen': but he went on to note how, 'after the door was shut and the light was put out, they did come, and made no mistake about making their presence known'. In fact, although the light was extinguished, bright moonlight entered the room and some visibility was available. Despite being for the children, the first next-world visitor was Bob Ellis. Emerson noted how the event became lively when Bob began trying to force an inflated balloon inside the clothing of the sitters, that promptly burst on each attempt. Shortly afterwards, Emerson recorded how, 'we heard the sound of little feet', and after four children ran out into the room from the cabinet, 'we lost count', although 'we could just see the small forms flitting past'. After a while, calm ensued and each child spoke and introduced him/herself while the sitters could hear Hunter's breathing from the cabinet. Noteworthy was the fact that despite their premature deaths, the children all demonstrated a noticeable degree of maturity and wisdom.(10)
In the same manner that many mediums had worked in the First World War, Hunter was able to enable victims of the Second War War to demonstrate their survival to those who mourned their passing. Many of these described how they had died and been met by friends and relatives who had passed at an earlier time. One feature that emerged from what was said was the value of having knowledge of the subject. One soldier explained that he had read books about the survival of death, including Sir Oliver Lodge's Raymond, and said his reading 'has been a great help to me. It is a great advantage to have this knowledge'.
Demonstrating the worth of being able to adapt to the new mode of existence, the soldier was not only able to communicate effectively, but bring other soldiers to the seances who communicated through Hunter's trance mediumship, direct voice and even materialization. One R.A.F. officer spoke about his passing, and described the frustrations that arise in trying to communicate: he explained that it was necessary to look for 'that tell-tale light that indicates psychic power, either in an individual, home circle, or Spiritualist meeting'. He went on to add, 'There are so many of us and so few mediums' and drolly commented on how he thought of one Prime Minister's words that, 'Never was so much owed by so many to so few', and 'We have to queue and wait, and many are disappointed'.(11)
mediumship also followed the style of a number of mediums in making it
possible for animals to materialize during the séances. In the séance
on the last day of 1941, Hunter was outside the cabinet and joined in
with the singing and talking of the circle members. He was then
levitated and, 'soon the materialised form of a dove emerged from the
cabinet and flew around the room'.(12) The materializations
made possible were unmistakable: in the same séance, several next-world
visitors joined the circle, including a boy: 'A halo of light
encompassed the full form. Every feature was perfect, hair, eyes, nose,
ears, and the little teeth, when he smiled, could be clearly seen, and
made an unforgettable picture'.(13)
A frequent occurrence during the séances was the presence of materialized lights that Emerson said, 'varied in size, shape and colour and behaved sometimes in the most extraordinary way'. On occasions, up to eight of them would appear, originating from different places in the seance room. He described how some, 'shot across the room like a comet, up to six inches in length. I have seen one of these lights weave behind and in front of alternate sitters at amazing speed'. In one instance, a Mr Bulmer, who had been president of the local Spiritualist church, and had died in 1938, appeared and carried one of the lights: 'the most beautiful blue, flecked with white'. From the glow that the light produced, the sitters recognized him while he spoke to them about the church. In addition to the phenomenon of lights, the séances also enjoyed the materialization of flowers and the room would be filled with their perfume.(14) Hunter's mediumship also included healing, and Emerson related several cases of people either seriously or even terminally ill, healed by one of Hunter's controls, aptly named 'the doctor'.(15) The fact that Hunter was independent from the voices was further demonstrated by the occasions when he suffered from a cold, and while his coughing could be heard from the cabinet, the voices continued to speak, simultaneously, and without any interruption.
In addition to the lighter moments, there was also the more serious aspect to what was facilitated through Hunter's mediumship. In one séance, lights appeared above the cabinet, and one of Hunter's controls spoke and said that he would bring Hunter out of the cabinet which he duly did. Each sitter was then summoned to the cabinet and in the light that was present, they saw 'the materialised form of a baby lying cradled in the light'. The control told the sitters that the infant was the child of John, Hunter's brother: the child had died only half an hour after being born. Multiple-materializations also occurred: Emerson mentioned how a Mrs Storey had been rescued from her burning home in the district, but had rushed back inside to save her three children. Tragically, they had all died in the inferno. In one séance, with some light present, 'the form of a woman with a child in her arms stepped out from the cabinet, then a child came out and stood at her side. In a few seconds a younger child came out and stood on the other side'. The group moved closer to the light and were recognized by the sitters as Mrs Storey and her children: 'one of the sitters exclaimed immediately, "Its Mrs Storey and her three bairns". Zuru [one of Hunter's controls] from the cabinet responded: "That is correct"'.(16)
In the light of what he experienced with Hunter Selkirk, Emerson referred to the many who manifested themselves to assure the sitters of their continuing existence, and communicated in voices, 'clear and distinct'. He went on to make the significant observation that when critics argue that by communicating with the departed, 'Spiritualists disturb the dead', the reply to be made is very simple: 'The dead started it first'.(17)
(1)Harry Emerson, Listen My Son, rep. (Craghead: Craghead Spiritualist Church, 1984), p.23.