THE MEDIUMSHIP OF MINNIE HARRISON
A fine account of Minnie Harrison's mediumship is supplied in Visits By Our Friends From The "Other Side", by Tom Harrison, Minnie's son, who kept a diary of events that took place in her circle in Middlesbrough.
Minnie, born on 17 March, 1895, was the youngest of eleven children; other than a baby sister who died in infancy, all possessed some mediumistic abilities; as early as her teen years, Minnie had developed both clairvoyance and clairaudience. Her circle, that began in 1946 and met regularly until the mid-1950s, was originally made up of six members, but increased to eight, including Minnie herself. Minnie had already been a trance medium for some years when the circle was formed; it did not intend seeking physical phenomena, but in April 1946, a communicator promised that if a trumpet was introduced, the circle would experience such phenomena. There were a number of regular next- world contributors to the circle, e.g. Sunrise, Minnie's principal guide; Mrs Agnes Abbott, one of Minnie's sisters, who before her death in 1942 had worked as a medium; Mrs Lumsden, the grandmother of Doris, Tom's first wife; and Sam Hildred, who was related to two of the sitters.
The circle always began with a prayer and some rousing songs; initially, the seances took place in total darkness, and after experiencing trumpet phenomena, this developed to the stage when the sitters were joined by full materializations. This would begin, usually, about half-way through the seance; Sunrise would announce this stage, not through the trumpet but by direct voice from the cabinet. Of the voices manifested through the trumpet, Tom notes they would 'emanate from there - sometimes loud and clear, sometimes barely audible - depending on the ability of the Spirit communicator'.(1)
Tom gives an excellent example of the quality of Minnie's mediumship when he refers to the occasion when a boy communicated: he had been attracted to the circle, 'by the bright light emanating from it'. The circle members gained the impression that he was in some confusion, but managed to glean the date when he had died and general details about the road and area in which he had lived. He also mentioned that he had a pet dog of which he was very fond, but on trying to return to his home, Tom reports, 'there seemed to be a mist which he could not get through'. Tom suggested to the boy that he accompany him when he tried to find his home and he should engage help from those whom he had met in his new life. After spending a good deal of time in enquiries, Tom managed to locate what he believed to be the boy's home. On calling at the house, the man who spoke to Tom confirmed that he and his wife had a son by the name that the communicator had given, and he had died at the age and on the date specified. The man's wife then joined the conversation and Tom was invited indoors, whereupon he saw a photograph of a boy and was then greeted by Rags, a terrier. The mother commented on how the dog was usually inhospitable to strangers, but Tom noticed that in fact the dog, 'wasn't looking directly at me, rather over my right shoulder', i.e. he could sense the presence/see his owner who had, at long last, returned home. Although the couple were Catholics, they listened eagerly to what Tom told them and they mentioned events that indicated their son was trying his best to make himself known to them. Tom concludes the account by remarking on how the mist had been lifted for the boy who 'came to thank us the following Saturday - this time in a much stronger and clearer voice'.(2)
A further example of the evidential quality of Minnie's mediumship was when Alfred Kitson, one of Spiritualism's early pioneers, materialized on 22 March, 1947. He joined the circle as there were sitters present who had been at the opening of a church with which he had been involved. During his visit at the seance, he gave information that no one who was present knew about, but was later confirmed as being correct. The circle was later contacted by George Mack, the General Secretary of the SNU, who had been a close friend of Kitson. He mentioned that Kitson had promised to supply a certain message if able to communicate, that would prove his identity. Not long afterwards, a message was communicated from Kitson during a circle; Mack was contacted and advised of the contents and he confirmed this was indeed the message they had agreed upon.(3)
Tom traces the development that occurred in the circle,(4) and reports how, by November 1946, it was able to use a subdued red light and witness the manifestation of materialized hands; in less than a month, full materializations were joining the circle. The light was used for materializations while the trumpet phenomena occurred in darkness: the luminous markings on the trumpet made it possible for sitters to be aware of its movements. On 7 December, Mrs Abbott materialized and Tom reports: 'Clearly visible to all the sitters, in the subdued red light, she stood in the centre of the Circle, leaned towards me and held my hand': she then handed Tom four carnations, one of which he has kept to this day. The seance was followed by others when materializations made themselves present: what was so impressive was, as Tom remarks, 'during all these sittings my mother was sitting in the Circle...in full view of all of us'.(5) In the case of Mrs Abbott and Mrs Lumsden, they could remain with the circle, after they materialized, for up to fifteen minutes in a lighted environment, making it possible for photographs of the events to be taken.
During a seance in February 1948, a photograph was taken with Mrs Abbott materialized and clearly visible, standing aside Minnie's husband; while Mrs Abbott remained there, the sitters could hear Minnie moving within the cabinet. Later, in December, a photograph was taken of an ectoplasmic rod emerging from Minnie, attached to the trumpet. Tom comments on how the trumpet moved about with ease and while communicators were using this to speak to the sitters, it was suspended in the air and motionless. He also comments on how, if one of the sitters had a hearing impairment, the communicators would thoughtfully move the trumpet closer to that person.(6)
At the beginning of 1947, on advice from Sunrise, a cabinet was constructed by hanging a piece of blackout curtaining across the corner of the room, with a gap of over a foot between the curtain top and the ceiling. The sitters were fortunate enough to witness extremely bright flashes of light, created by the communicators, behind the curtain, that could be seen due to the gap. With the inclusion of a cabinet on 18 January 1947, the quality of the phenomena was greatly improved. The regular visitors would, after materializing, return to the cabinet, while others, the 'newcomers', would remark on the difficulty in remaining any longer and 'gradually sink towards the floor'.(7) Those who came for the first time commented on the difficulty of coping with their ectoplasmic form that they likened to wearing heavy clothing.
In amidst the physical phenomena, the circle achieved the goal of mediumship, i.e., evidence of identity and survival. In addition to the examples already detailed, a further instance was on 14 June, 1947, when Mrs Abbott's son was married. Jim McKenzie, who conducted the service, and his wife were invited to the home circle that evening together with Mr Todd who had been the organist, and his wife. The seance began with trumpet phenomena and the sitters could hear the word 'Bruce' being spoken. Sunrise then intervened and explained that the communication was related to a boy of that name along with another called Robert, and their deaths were associated with burning. The McKenzies realized this applied to their son Bruce, and Robert his cousin. The latter had burned to death as a boy, and their son had died after being scalded before he had reached his first birthday. Mr McKenzie had blamed himself for his son's death for some nine years, and Sunrise relayed on a message from Bruce that he need not do this.
The next communicator was Mr McKenzie's father and he referred to matters that Mr McKenzie confirmed were correct, e.g. the anger that was felt towards the father for deserting the family. At a later sitting, the father materialized for his son and the two were reconciled. During the 14 June seance, Mrs Todd's mother materialized and spoke to her daughter and referred to family matters about which no one else in the room was aware.
Minnie's seances also included many apports: over the years hundreds of flowers were brought to the sitters. In the early stages, the sitters would find these in the room: in time, various apports were brought to the seances that included items that were associated with the events. In one instance, a person who had been a pioneer of the Lyceum, brought a badge with the image of Andrew Jackson Davis to the circle. During a seance held in 1947, on the Saturday closest to Armistice Day, different servicemen communicated, and one brought a button from the Royal Artillery uniform, and another, a red cloth British Legion poppy.
Following the traditional pattern of holding a special sitting for the Christmas festivities, Minnie's circle enjoyed the presence of children who returned to participate in the activities. One circle in which children were active was on 5 January, 1954, when they played with an Indian-style bell that was left in the room. After exuberant ringing and noises during the seance, the sitters were amazed, when the seance had concluded, to find there was not one, but two bells left on the floor. The apported one was larger and both are still in Tom's possession. While the original one has gradually deteriorated over the years, of the apport he remarks, it 'has retained its new-looking shine and looks no different from the day we received it over 30 years ago'.(8) This seance was recorded by Mr McKenzie, and in the recording the different tones of the bells can be heard (Tom still has the recording).
In addition to the apports, trumpet phenomena and materializations, the circle also experienced direct writing and lights. In the case of the former, paper was left on the fireplace hearth and in time, signatures began to be left by different communicators. Additionally, some of the writing relayed information by communicators about their new mode of existence. With the lights that occurred during the seances, on occasions, more than one would be present in the same period; by the close of 1947, some of these were so bright, the flash that accompanied them would light up the seance room.
Tom also supplies an account from Tony Carr, who attended one of Minnie's seances. A man who Tom describes as 'meticulous in his attention to detail', records how after carefully checking the seance room, he witnessed both trumpet phenomena and materializations. In respect of the former, he says: 'I vividly recall the Trumpet slowly rising from the floor...and beginning to move around the Circle. It moved up and down in front of each of us, going faster and faster but without touching either the floor or our feet. Then it would move up to the ceiling again, never ever touching it'.(9) In addition to all that is described above, Minnie's mediumship also allowed communicators to not only provide evidence of their identity and their survival, but give fascinating details about their new mode of existence. One communicator, who had considerable difficulty in speaking to the circle, expressed concern about whether she would be able to return to her spirit life after communicating, thereby giving clear indication that her post-mortem life was clearly one of meaningful existence and worth.(10)
As well as all the physical phenomena, the circle was used for healing work. Minnie, having suffered from cancer from the early 1940s, lost full use of her left arm due to the complications that arose from the condition; however, during the seances, the sitters witnessed the healing, and the results of this, that she received from her spirit helpers. Tom recalls the occasion when a consulting surgeon noted her amazing powers of recuperation and said: 'Someone else seems to be doing you more good than we are'.(11)
On 7 November, 1958, despite the spirit healing and several operations, Minnie died. Following her passing, Minnie Harrison left behind a remarkable legacy and demonstration of quality physical mediumship in Britain during the mid-twentieth century.
(1)Tom Harrison, Visits By Our Friends From The "Other Side" (Swanland: SNPP, 1989), p.6.
(2)Visits By Our Friends., pp.8-10.
(3)Tom Harrison, 'Magic Moments in a Home Circle', NAS Newsletter, Vol.3., No. 38, pp.6-7.
(4)A summary is provided by Tom Harrison in 'Magic Moments in a Home Circle', NAS Newsletter, Vol.2., No. 35, pp.20- 26.
(5)Visits By Our Friends., p.11.
(6)Visits By Our Friends., p.20.
(7)Visits By Our Friends., p.13.
(8)Visits By Our Friends., p.22.
(9)Cit., Visits By Our Friends., p.35.
(10)Tom Harrison, 'Life on the Other Side', suppl. to Visits By Our Friends From The "Other Side".
(11)Visits By Our Friends., p.27.
Tom Harrison's account, Visits By Our Friends From The "Other Side", is available from: Tom Harrison, Aguila Austrailiana 13; 03193 San Miguel de Salinas; Alicante; Spain for three pounds and fifty pence (UK price). Proceeds for Cancer Relief Charities.