May 13, 2007

Tenuous but interesting

United Kingdom: We've mentioned Ian Fleming's occult connections before, but an author has uncovered links between him and the prosecution of Spiritualist medium Helen Duncan in 1944. Duncan was convicted under the 1735 Witchcraft Act after the spirit of a deceased sailor allegedly appeared at a seance, much to the surprise of his mother who thought he was alive. According to the legend, the authorities were keeping the sinking of a particular ship secret, and considered Duncan a threat to security.

After examining all the documents, Hartley believes there is evidence to suggest that Duncan's conviction by an Old Bailey jury in March 1944 was unsafe. In a new book, Helen Duncan: The Mystery Show Trial, he suggests that among those responsible for the conspiracy to convict Duncan was Fleming, a key figure in the naval intelligence services, and John Maude, the prosecuting counsel at the trial. 'I am convinced naval intelligence were working with MI5, and when I began looking at that connection Ian Fleming's name kept cropping up as being involved with people either involved in the case or on the sidelines,' said Hartley.

From the description given by the Observer, the author seems to believe that the authorities were scared because the psychics had real powers, which casts doubt on his research. Hopefully it's fully cited. The article also brings up another little factoid of interest to the Prattle, blowing away one part of the Helen Duncan hagiography:

Despite popular belief, Helen Duncan was not the last person to be prosecuted in Britain for witchcraft. In September 1944, after the D-Day invasion, Jane York, 72, from Forest Gate, east London, was charged with seven counts of pretending to conjure up spirits of the dead. She was bound over for the sum of £5 to be of good behaviour for three years.

Though I feel obliged to point out that the infamous Witchcraft Act used in these cases did not ban witchcraft—in fact it stated that there was no such thing. The crime was to claim to have such powers, which did not exist and were therefore fraudulent.

007's creator 'was in plot to frame witch'The Observer, 13th May 2007.

2 comments

I may be thinking of the wrong scam artist, but I think I ran across an article in the past couple of months about Helen Duncan's daughter or grand-daughter attempting to exhonerate Duncan. I'm assuming they were laughed out of court or local council offices for being silly twats, as I didn't hear any more of it.

I'm not sure it's fair to call Helen Duncan a scam artist, as what she was doing was just an expression of sincerely held religious beliefs, rather than a deliberate attempt to rip people off. The law at the time clearly discriminated against people with one (very large) set of imaginary friends, while allowing other equally deluded types to practice their faiths without fear.

Because of this, the Witchcraft Act was repealed in the early 1950s and replaced with with the Fraudulent Mediums Act. This allowed for the religious practice, while still criminalising those who pretended to have psychic powers etc as a means of extracting cash from the gullible.

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This page contains a single entry by Feòrag published on May 13, 2007 9:55 AM.

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