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”‘. 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’.
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 wool curtains hung across the corner of the room, the séance commenced. After hymns and a prayer, a light appeared close to the ceiling: ‘transparent blue and particularly bright and twinkling’. 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’. 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’.
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’.
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’.
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’. Afterwards, two sitters attending their first séance 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’.
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.
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 séances 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’.
Hunter’s 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’. 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’.
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 séance 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. 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’. 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”‘.
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’.
Here is an account of one meeting, from the Two Worlds of October 14, 1938, headed “A Great Clairvoyant”:
“One of the best displays of evidential clairvoyance and clairaudience that I have witnessed for a long time was given by Mr. Hunter Selkirk at West Stanley last week. The West Stanley Church, which is doing useful work in a busy mining area of Durham, held its largest propaganda meeting when over 500 people were present.
“Mr. Hunter Selkirk, of Craghead, is a collier, a man in the prime of life, a fine example of muscular manhood, and I particularly liked the naturalness with which he did his work.
“There was no desire to create a great impression, no attempt to pose before his audience, no theatrical display. He was a working man who talked on the platform as he would talk amongst a company of friends. He was evidently under a strong measure of spirit control, for here and there the broken English of his inspirer obtruded itself. In every case he indicated the individual for whom his description was intended. In the course 45 minutes he gave evidence to 18 different people, and his descriptions were accompanied by names and particulars which made identity sure.
“Mr. Selkirk started by saying: ‘There’s a friend here upon the platform who says she is Mrs Coxon and that she comes for Mr and Mrs Jack, who are in the audience. She also brings a friend by the name of Rutherford.’
Speaking to a lady at the side of Mrs Jack he said: ‘Your Auntie is here and your husband, too; he wants you to stop fretting, to buck up and catch the sunshine.’
There’s a young girl here who wants her mother; it is for you, madam,” indicating a lady in the audience. “She says she’s your daughter, Janie. She tells me that the person sitting next to you is her Granny; her Grandad comes with her and brings his love. They also bring a woman here who wants her husband; she says she’s Mrs. Cook. Her husband is not here hut you know him, and she wants you to convey the message to him. ‘Tell him not to bother to take flowers to my grave every week, but to put the flowers before my photograph in the home.’
“Pointing to another lady he said: ‘There’s a man here who says he is William Young, and that he passed away at Bumopfield. He brings a bad condition of the chest, which had much to do with his passing. He is brought by Jack and Robert, both of whom belong to you. They also bring with them Mrs Curry and Mr Croft. Mr Croft evidently belonged to some society or something, for when his name is mentioned he wants to shout “present.” They tell me you have visited the hospital today. You have no need to worry; the patient will recover.’
“Speaking to another lady and gentleman, he said: ‘With you there’s Mrs Miller and Jane Ann Oliver; she died at Blackhill, and you are to tell Tom that she’s been. They tell me that you are both investigators who are just starting your interest in the subject. You are both going to be successful.
“‘Then there’s Mrs Walton who passed away near where you live. She wants to speak to Tom. She was an elderly lady, over 70, and she says that she passed away in the Old Miners’ Home. There’s someone with her who says his name is Thomas, and he tells me to tell you that William has arrived safely.’
“Speaking to another lady, he said: ‘There’s a young girl for you, called Ivy, closely related to you. She’s about 18 or 19 and had long golden hair. She must have passed away some time ago, as she evidently died before permanent waves were in vogue.
“To another member of the audience, Mr Selkirk described an old lady of 89 years of age whose name was Nellie Blatchford. There was also a Mrs Barde there, who said she wanted her son. Mrs Bartle said that she wished she could stay a week and tell her son all he wanted to know, but at any rate she could assure him that ‘Spiritualism is the key to the house of perfect happiness.’ The son was advised to keep working and to dig hard and he would presently get all his difficulties and doubts explained.
“There was not a single point made by Mr. Selkirk in connection with any of the descriptions which was not clearly acknowledged as correct.
“The meeting at West Stanley created a tremendous impression on an interested audience, and the evidence produced by this fine clairvoyant left no doubts in the minds of his hearers.”
I think you will agree that this is outstanding for a man who knows nothing of what he is going to say when he mounts the platform before an audience of 500 people.
Just think of the many traps he could fall into did he attempt to foist upon these people something of his own manufacture. All these people are not Spiritualists. Many are there to see if it is really true. Some who attend, hoping it is not true, get a shock sometimes when they get evidence that they cannot deny from their dead friends.
I know of an instance where a man denied everything the medium gave him concerning his wife who had passed on. The medium gave her name and told the man that his wife was asking him to forgive her for something she had done. On being asked if he recognised the description, he replied that he did not know the woman.
Afterwards it was found that everything the medium had told him was correct, but he refused to recognise his wife because he would never forgive her for what she had done to him. It was hardly fair to the medium and certainly not very kind to his wife, who had pleaded for forgiveness from beyond the grave.
I remember a meeting, held in a large hall capable of accommodating 6oo people, where many latecomers had to be provided with forms on the stair-head landing. In one case a name was claimed by a person in the hall, but the medium said it was not for her, it was for someone of the same name on the landing to whom he wished to speak. This proved to be correct.
At a meeting held in the City Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne, in April 1944, over 2,000 people attended. This meeting was addressed by Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding and Hunter Selkirk was the demonstrator.
Many evidential messages were given by the medium, from young men of the Services who had recently passed on and who gave their names, all of which were claimed and recognised.
One outstanding example was a message from a young airman to a lady in the audience. He asked the lady to tell his wife that he had been, and to prove his identity he gave his wife’s christian name, which was the extremely uncommon name of Ethne. The lady acknowledged that this was correct. This could not be guesswork.
I have never heard of the name before, and I know that Hunter Selkirk had never seen the lady before; also, it is very unlikely that he would be able to see her clearly enough to be able to identify her again. So again it seems that the most intelligent explanation is that the young airman was not dead, but alive and active enough to come to that meeting and take advantage of what must have seemed to him a heaven-sent opportunity to let his wife know that he still loved her.
At a meeting held in our own church at Craghead, a lady, unknown to Hunter Selkirk, was given a message from her husband. She acknowledged the name given, but the husband, to make certain that she would know that it was indeed he, gave the number, containing seven figures, of a silver watch that had belonged to him and which the lady had with her in her handbag.
Four hundred people heard that message given. This lady came to the meeting to see if there was anything in Spiritualism. Like many more she found all she needed.