ASSAP: Paranormal Research
ASSAP: Paranormal Education
Privacy and cookie information ASSAP mailing list

This glossary is provided as an aid to reading articles on this website and refers to cases from our own publications. ASSAP has no official views on any of the subjects defined below, and one of our main aims is to represent a neutral position while examining the evidence objectively. To remain neutral we really should add ‘reportedly’ or ‘allegedly’ to many of the definitions given below, but have resisted doing this so as not to try the patience of the reader. Please read the definitions with the same objectivity! Some back issues of ASSAP News and Anomaly are available (in the Members Area), but not all. The glossary was compiled by Val Hope.

© Valerie Hope 2006

See Alien big cats

A person who has been abducted and subsequently returned by extraterrestrials.

Absent healing
See Healing

Approved ASSAP investigator (AAI)
ASSAP operates a network of Approved ASSAP Investigators (AAIs) on a National Register of Approved Investigators, which is replacing the old AI network.  AAIs undertake training and complete an investigation write-up to demonstrate their learning.  AAIs may then be approved by ASSAP to undertake ASSAP's own cases, rather than be generically certified.  The best way to start the process of becoming an AAI is to attend an ASSAP Training Weekend.  The AAI network produces its own newsletter and holds occasional meetings. AAIs replaces AIs (Accredited Investigators).

See ASSAP Approved investigator (formerly AI) on National Register of Approved Investigators.

Alien big cats
These are creatures such as the Surrey Puma or the Beast of Bodmin, sought by many yet never captured, despite the best efforts of the erstwhile MAFF, ADAS, teams of Masai trackers and so on. ‘Alien’ does not refer to an extraterrestrial origin, but indicates that the beast is not from these parts. The best evidence is blurred video footage or photos, regarded by most experts in such matters as showing domestic cats. Suspect droppings have also been tested, but DNA has been difficult to come by. The ABCs are rarely traced to a reported loss of a pet or zoo specimen, but laws on registering exotic animals and releases into the wild, introduced in 1976 and 1981 respectively, are believed to have produced a rash of illegal releases into the countryside. For more on ABCs, see ASSAP News 10, 57, 81 & 93.

Altered states of consciousness
This umbrella term encompasses a range of states not experienced by a person who is fully conscious. Some of these states may be brought on intentionally as a result of practice, possibly after interest is aroused by an original spontaneous experience (e.g. OOBEs), others may be imposed on you (with your will, e.g. through hypnotism, or against your will, e.g. after a traffic accident has induced an NDE). See ASSAP News 88 for a discussion of altered states and meditation.

Ancient tracks
Our ancestors didn’t have maps, so they had to mark the way from place to place using something physical in the landscape. Tracks would lead from settlement to settlement, and were used by itinerant traders and others. Some ancient tracks, as studied by Alfred Watkins, have been interpreted as ley lines and endowed with an unnamed power or energy by some. Way markers on ancient tracks would include stones, cairns, crosses, particular trees or bushes, and other features in the landscape.

Animal magnetism
A precursor of hypnosis and various healing techniques. In the late 18th century, when medical knowledge was less advanced than today, Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian doctor, devised a system of ‘fluids’ with healing powers and used the concept of ‘animal magnetism’ as a way of influencing a person’s health and re-establishing harmony in the body. He popularized this system in Paris, teaching his pupils to induce a ‘magnetic sleep’.

An anomaly is a broad term for something unusual, i.e. a deviation from what is normally expected to happen. ASSAP included ‘anomalous’ in its title in preference to ‘paranormal’ (or, heaven forfend, ‘supernatural’) because the aim was to take a neutral stance. We will not come to a decision until we have gathered and examined the evidence in a scientific manner. And even then it might be inconclusive.

See Hauntings & Poltergeists

An out-of-place object that appears from out of nowhere, most often during a séance with a medium. Some mediums have been caught fraudulently producing objects such as flowers from hiding places. A wonderful array of funny little objects shown to an ASSAP audience in the 1980s demonstrated that apports are most often worthless trinkets - so don’t expect the Crown Jewels to materialise at your next sitting.

Arthurian legend
A mixed bag of legends from western Europe, brought together by various authors (Geoffrey of Monmouth, William of Malmesbury, Chrétien de Troyes, Gottfried von Strassburg, etc.) over the centuries and dressed up as history, telling of the life of King Arthur and his court at Camelot. Various sites in present-day England and Wales have been identified with the legends, including Cadbury Castle, Glastonbury, Tintagel etc., while some of the stories have links with France and Ireland. It is believed by researchers such as Geoffrey Ashe that there was a king of the Britons called Arthur in the late 400s who fought against Saxon incursions, but the original king bears little resemblance to the romanticized Arthur of popular legend.

American Society for Psychical Research

Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena

Astral projection
See Out-of-body experience

Some psychics claim to be able to see auras, the body’s electromagnetic field which produces a colourful display forming a full-body ‘halo’. It can be used by healers for diagnosing illness, and it is the aura that Kirlian photography (qv) is said to depict. Although it is the same word, it has nothing to do with the fancy light displays and pretty zigzags seen by migraine sufferers before an attack.

Automatic drawing/painting/writing/music
The production of works of art or pieces of writing without the direct (conscious) involvement of the practitioner. A well-known practitioner of automatism is Matthew Manning, now a healer, but during his teens a prodigious producer of automatic art following a poltergeist experience (see his own story, published as The Link).

Ball lightning
Little understood, this luminous ball may float in mid air or move rapidly along solid objects. It is described as typically the size of a grapefruit but sometimes as small as a pea, and it may change colour as it floats along. Ball lightning has also been known to bounce. It is a rare electrical phenomenon associated in nature with thunderstorms, but can also be reproduced in the laboratory using Tesla oscillators.

A Celtic / Bronze Age grave consisting of large stones creating a chamber where bodies or cremated remains were placed, the whole being turfed over. Some are quite small (1 metre high), while others have contained ship burials.

Beacons were lit on hilltops as a form of warning in the days before telegraphy and the mobile phone. There was a network of suitable hilltops the length and breadth of England that allowed warnings to be signalled to communities at speed. Nowadays similar beacons are lit to mark national events, such as royal jubilees.

Beating the Bounds
In the days before the Ordnance Survey published maps it was important for people to know where one parish ended and the land of the next parish began. Each year during Rogationtide the parish would set off to walk the boundaries, with accompanying traditions such as turning young boys upside down and bouncing them (gently) on a boundary marker to ensure they remembered the route. Once this was a church activity, but in latter years it fell to town councils before dropping off the social calendar in most places early last century. Some parishes and councils have revived the custom, while others never really stopped.

Bonfire Night
5 November is when the UK traditionally lights bonfires and sets off fireworks, commemorating the foiling of Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot. Robert Catesby, the actual chief plotter, and his co-conspirators aimed to blow up Parliament, and recent research has revealed that the amount of explosive they were setting would have devastated a vast area. Some parts of southern England still have huge parades, with groups working all year on their costumes and themes (Lewes in Sussex is one example). Traditionally, a variety of effigies have been burned - not just Fawkes, but also political figures of the day. This often led to rioting in the past, leading town councils to ban processions. Even today the choice of effigy can stir up passionate feelings.

British UFO Research Association

See Visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A pile of stones marking something or other, possibly a landmark, a route or a boundary.

This is a method of divination by reading cards such as the Tarot (qv).

Centre for Crop Circle Studies

See Close encounter

Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence

A relatively recent term for a form of mediumship that involves passing on guidance in the form of messages from discarnate spiritual beings of various sorts. The channeller is used as the medium or vessel for the communication.

See Palmistry

A method of inducing ESP based on the massage of the feet and the forehead by two assistants. It is aimed at creating the feeling that the experiencer is growing beyond the physical bounds of the body. It was devised by Jacqueline Parkhurst in Australia in an attempt to induce lucid dreams. Instructions for using the method are given in ASSAP News 6.

The famous ‘goatsucker’ of the island of Puerto Rico is now being reported more widely from the Hispanic nations, with reports coming from Nicaragua and other countries of Central America. This beast attacks largely at night, largely unseen, and leaves livestock drained of blood. A website based in Argentina describes it as resembling part bat, part kangaroo and part ‘gray’ alien.

The ability to hear sounds, voices etc. which other people cannot hear, without the direct use of the normal auditory system. This skill can be used by mediums to hear and pass on messages from the Beyond during a séance or platform demonstration.

This is the ability to sense that which people cannot sense with the normal range of five senses.

The ability to see that which other people cannot see, without the direct use of normal sight. Sometimes this takes the form of seeing an image of a person who has passed on, and so the skill can be used by mediums during a séance or platform demonstration to help them describe the deceased person giving the message. As a form of mediumship, it can be experienced in one or other of two forms – subjective clairvoyance (where the medium sees the image in his/her mind’s eye) or objective clairvoyance (where the medium sees the spirit as if he/she were a living person standing in the room. A particular form is known as ‘Travelling Clairvoyance’ (OOBEs).

Close encounter
Ufologists classify the amount of contact between a witness and an extraterrestrial/UFO according to five increasing levels of interaction. The following is adapted from the website:
CE1 - A UFO seen at close range, but with no interaction with the environment
CE2 - A UFO seen at close range, and physical traces or interaction with animals or objects are noted.
CE3 - A UFO seen at close range, and occupants are noted.
CE4 - Alien abduction
CE5 - Establishes communication between human and alien.
The last two classes were added after the death of Allen J Hynek, who devised the original system in his 1972 The UFO Experience: A Scientific Study. The concept of a close encounter of the third kind became widely known in 1977 with the release of the eponymous Spielberg film.

A person who has been contacted by an extraterrestrial.

Crisis apparition
A person close to death, whether through illness or accident, projects an image of himself to an acquaintance, later found to have occurred very close to the time of passing. It is a moot point whether or not this is the same as a ‘ghost’ - some witnesses have interacted with the apparition, others report the person appearing just as an image.

Crop circles
A phenomenon which in its most recent incarnation goes back to the 1980s, when a number of formations in ripe cereal crops began to be found in the United Kingdom. The media frenzy that followed resulted in claims and counterclaims by hoaxers and their opponents and finally died away when it became the widely accepted version of the truth that the craze had been triggered by the antics of ‘Doug and Dave’. Cerealogy remains a serious area of study for a determined band of supporters, who carry out scientific experiments on the crops and soil. There are reports of people being taken ill inside crop formations, lights being seen in the sky preceding the creation of a new circle, and so on. Early articles on crop circles appeared in ASSAP News 38, 45, 47 & 49. ASSAP’s former crop circle specialist, Darren Francis, wrote a full account of research in ASSAP News 74 & 80.

Cross correspondences
An experiment often quoted as highly evidential of the survival of the intellect following death. On the face of it, several deceased researchers (the SPR’s F W H Myers, Edmund Gurney and Henry Sidgwick) and a team of psychics used their knowledge of the Classics and mediumistic skills respectively to transmit and receive fragmented messages from the Beyond, which were eventually linked together in a meaningful way. Although much quoted in the literature on survival and the paranormal in general, the enormous amount of material generated (more than 2000 scripts over about 30 years) has never been fully analysed and probably won’t be until a sufficient number of Classical scholars can be brought together for this purpose. At face value, this looks like evidence not only of intelligence surviving death but also of the ability to organize an experiment from the Beyond.

In hypnotic regression, a person being regressed may unconsciously use memories of things he has experienced or read and dress these up as genuine memories of a past life. It may even be that in his waking life he is no longer aware of having read a particular book or known a particular fact. Diligent research is always needed before any past life story can be claimed as authentic, but it will always be difficult to prove that a person has or hasn’t come across a given fact.

See cryptozoology

The study of ‘out-of-place’ animals and animals not known to or recognized by science ('cryptids'). Famous crypto creatures include the Loch Ness monster - supported by many, derided by others. An out-of-place animal might include wild wallabies in the UK, which for a while occurred in Derbyshire, although they are now believed to have died out. See ASSAP News 4 for references to a wave of alien animal observations in Great Britain in late 1981, including a mystery beast that mutilated animals in Rossendale, and ASSAP News 10 for a photo of a ‘yeti hand’ from Nepal. ASSAP News 14 has a report on a giant octopus, while ASSAP News 16 carried a report of mystery beasts caught in Scotland, and ASSAP News 17 published a letter from author Michael Goss. See also ASSAP News 75, 81 & 93 and the entry on ‘Alien big cats’.

Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

One man’s religion is another man’s cult. What defines cults for outsiders is a sense of secrecy and concerns regarding what lies behind the members’ actions. Some accuse cult leaders of brainwashing adherents and stopping them from leaving. Some cults attract the directionless and claim to give them a focus in life, but their critics point out the harm of tearing the young or confused away from the support of their families. There have been cases where members have been forced to pay in vast amounts of money and swear allegiance to the cult and its leader. Some mystical cults have ended in mass suicides and tragedies, such as at Waco, Texas, where the authorities mishandled a flammable situation.

Many people believe in such things as the evil eye or the ability to wish ill-luck on someone else. Such superstitious beliefs formed part of the background to the witch hunts in the UK and other European countries several centuries ago, resulting in the persecution of women who had knowledge of the use of herbs, but also many other people whose ‘otherness’ drew unwanted attention to them. Even now accounts appear in the newspapers in connection with police investigations into cases involving the fear of being cursed by voodoo practitioners.

This is the uncanny feeling that you recognize a place or situation although you know you haven’t actually been there before.

Largely pushed into the hinterland of the Christian mind in the western world, there is still a strong tradition of the Fallen Angel, a personification of evil. Christianity has a history of being forced on populations by their conquerors, with Christian beliefs grafted onto and slowly displacing indigenous beliefs. The iconography of the Christian devil is largely based on a horned god from pre-Christian days and has been used as a way of frightening believers into obedience. The devil is associated with many legends in the UK, where he has moved the foundation stones of churches off his own sites, has tempted people to enter into pacts, and has left marks on the landscape, chiefly when fleeing from the scene of yet another failed attempt to tempt people into losing their souls. Many sites in the landscape bear his name, with Devil’s Punchbowls in Britain, the USA (California and Oregon), New Zealand and no doubt many other countries.

Direct-voice mediumship
This is the ability of an entranced medium to provide the facility for a deceased communicator to speak in something resembling his own voice. The phenomenon is normally aided by the use of a séance trumpet, which levitates and which amplifies the sound of the voice, directing it towards a particular sitter.

There are many ways to try to see what the future holds, some of which require the curious to disembowel a hare, others just to read the palms of the inquirer, cast runes (qv) or consult the ancient I-Ching. Disembowelling is less popular than it was in Boadicea’s day and is also most definitely against the law, certainly in the European Union. Where these methods tend to fall down is the reliability of their interpretation. Tarot may be a tool, but many tarot readers reportedly use psychic abilities to help them interpret the cards. Runes have a long, but broken, history, and sometimes it seems as if there are as many systems as practitioners.

This is what remains of a type of Neolithic tomb once the earth covering it has been worn away. The term is derived from Breton and means ‘hole of stone’ or ‘stone table’, depending on which definition you believe. It describes a tomb comprising one large flat stone (capstone) laid on top of several uprights.

This rare phenomenon is a ‘ghostly’ double of a living person, seen by the person himself. The Norwegian vardøger is similar but equally rare. German author, scientist and statesman Goethe famously reported meeting his Doppelgänger, who passed him on horseback, wearing the clothes he would wear eight years later when his real self finally carried out that action. Research on the internet shows that this seems to be a particular weakness of literary figures and a popular literary motif.

According to the British Society of Dowsers, dowsing is to search, with the help of simple instruments, for things that are hidden from view or from knowledge. ASSAP has had success using bent rods made from wire coat hangers suspended in old biro casings. Practitioners, known as dowsers, traditionally use pendulums or forked twigs in their search. Water dowsing was used with great success by the British Army during campaigns in North Africa to find fresh supplies of water, while today’s dowser might be involved in locating lost objects by map dowsing, attempting to find mineral deposits, or trying to trace the flow of electricity as part of an ASSAP experiment at the Fortean Times UnConvention. Despite the number of practitioners, there is still no scientific explanation. Some feel that the rod, hazel twig or pendulum magnifies the signals that the dowser is picking up from the element that he is searching for. After training it to respond to clearly phrased questions, e.g. by circling or twitching one way or another to indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’, a dowser can hone his skills to track down whatever he is looking for. See ASSAP News 78, 84 & 90 for more on dowsing.

An earthwork comprising a ditch, possibly with a rampart alongside. They were often used to mark boundaries and were occasionally believed to have been constructed supernaturally, e.g. by the devil.

A phenomenon, or more accurately group of phenomena, brought to prominence by Paul Devereux et al. These lights in the sky are believed to be produced by the earth in some way, and major projects around standing stones in the UK (e.g. the Dragon Project, see ASSAP News 14) and at the Hessdalen site in Norway have looked into what produces such displays.

Earth mysteries
A catch-all term encompassing the study of legends and ancient sites, such as standing stones, ley lines, ancient burial sites. Research by teams working on ASSAP’s Project Albion series has revealed many connections between place names, ancient events, modern occurrences and so on, e.g. Alan Cleaver’s research into the history of Bledlow in Buckinghamshire (ASSAP News 9).

A term coined by Dr Charles Richet to denote the substance allegedly produced by a physical medium during a trance to enable the manifestation of spirit. Sometimes this would form a materialized body, at other times it would create a rod or similar structure for manipulating objects such as flowers, musical instruments etc. In most photos from the heyday of Spiritualism (i.e. the Victorian period) it looks like muslin, and this is what many of the religion’s detractors claimed it to be. It can also look like mist, a solid white mass or vortices. Mediums have been accused of being able to swallow and regurgitate masses of the stuff at will and have been subjected to all sorts of intrusive physical examinations to ensure orifices were clear. See ASSAP News 85.

In physics electromagnetism is one of four forces (the others being gravity and the weak and strong forces in atoms). It is commonly experienced in such phenomena as light, radio and magnetism. It is thought by some researchers to be responsible for various apparently paranormal phenomena. It is known from laboratory experiments that low frequency electromagnetic waves can directly induce hallucinations in humans. There is no credible evidence, as yet, that such a process actually occurs in the real world, but it is being sought.

Electronic voice phenomenon
A tool for survival research with varying success rates. Voices are recorded either from white noise or silence, often at haunted locations. The voices are not usually heard at the time of recording. The apparent voices are often hard to make out and interpretations of messages varies. One problem in EVP is formant noise, where various ordinary sources of sound containing harmonics can appear to be voices, particularly if heavily processed with audio editing software. The two most famous early researchers were Konstantin Raudive and Friedrich Jürgenson, while researcher David Ellis examined some of the best recordings and came to largely negative conclusions as to their ability to provide evidence of survival. See also here.

Energy lines
See Ley lines

See Extrasensory perception

Extraterrestrial, i.e. a being or object not originating from the Earth.

The extraterrestrial hypothesis, i.e. the hypothesis that at least some sightings of UFOs are of extraterrestrial origin.

A characteristic looked for in, for example, something a medium tells you. If it is a fact that is more or less widely known, it does not provide evidence of Survival. If it is something that you can only verify after checking various sources, its rating as evidence is boosted. But sceptics can always quote ‘super-ESP’ at you.

See Electronic voice phenomenon

In many branches of the Christian church, this is a ritual aimed at expelling a possessing entity from a person or place. It should be noted that what the layperson commonly considers to be possession is differentiated by the Church into the progressively more serious overshadowing, obsession and possession. Even then, exorcisms are rarely performed. Many denominations appoint a ‘diocesan exorcist’ to whom cases are referred, and he will generally bring a great deal of psychological expertise to bear before deciding what action should be taken. Some priests will carry out a simple ‘blessing’ if consulted on a particularly troublesome haunting case. This perhaps reflects a fading belief in the ability of an entity to possess a person and an acknowledgement that confirming a troubled person’s belief in possession might exacerbate an already tense situation. Most cases only come to the public’s attention when they have gone badly wrong. See also ‘Spirit rescue’.

Extrasensory perception
A wide range of phenomena are covered by this term, from the ability to read another’s mind to predicting the future. Many of the phenomena of mental mediumship can be classified under ESP, as they could in theory be replicated by practitioners who do not belong to any form of Spiritualism or other religion.

See Falls from the sky

Falls from the sky
A great many things have been reported as falling from the sky, whether blocks of ice (see ASSAP News 10), fish, frogs or sand. These are often due to abnormal weather conditions that sweep up the objects and later drop them miles away. The UK often witnesses the depositing of Saharan sand, but falls of frogs still excite media interest. However, many objects said to have fallen from the sky haven’t actually been seen falling, including the frogs reported in Shirley, Croydon, in ASSAP News 67.

Feng shui
An ancient Chinese Taoist tradition for siting objects in buildings, very fashionable in the west nowadays largely for sorting out where to place fish tanks and other important features designed to ensure good fortune and harmonious living for the occupants.

A short period of intensive reporting of UFO activity from a geographically restricted area (see ASSAP News 15).

See ‘Friend of a friend’ story

Formant noise
Noise, from any source, that contains harmonic frequency combinations typical of speech. It can, particularly when it varies in overall amplitude in a similar way to speech, sound like words or phrases. It needs to be minimised when making EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recordings. See here.

Fortean phenomena
This is a general bag of weird phenomena, not necessarily involving anything paranormal but most definitely anomalous. Some have been explained, but not to the satisfaction of everyone. The best source for Fortean reports is to be found in the UK monthly magazine, Fortean Times. The field of study is named after Charles Fort (1874-1932), an American writer who collected tales of weird happenings. See also ASSAP News 79 & 90.

Fraudulent Mediums Act
This Act was introduced in 1951 to repeal the 1735 Witchcraft Act and provide a new basis for prosecuting fraudulent mediums who intend to profit from their deceit. Fines or imprisonment follow conviction. The Act is still in force. The last person to be prosecuted under the Witchcraft Act was the wartime medium Helen Duncan, whose knowledge of the fate of missing servicemen raised suspicions.

‘Friend of a friend’ story
Not all legends are truly ancient - it doesn’t take much to start a legend or a rumour, and the FOAF is often at the bottom of modern tales of weirdness, many of which are now spread by email.

This technique for inducing ESP deprives the experiencer of normal sensory input by placing e.g. halved white ping-pong balls over his eyes and playing white noise into his ears to induce mild sensory deprivation and possibly a state between full wakefulness and sleep. Often used for tests of telepathic ability.

See Hauntings & Poltergeists

See Speaking in Tongues

Green man
Ok, so most church carvings are of saints and civic worthies, but have a look round some of the older churches and see what else they’ve got to offer the anomalist. Some have green men, devilish creatures, peculiar gargoyles, and lots of these will relate to local legend. Green men, once referred to just as ‘foliate heads’, are particularly interesting and have been variously described as representations of the ‘spirit of the woods’, a vegetation god associated with May Day festivities, and a god of death and rebirth forming part of a Roman mystery cult. ASSAP News 26 and 28 report a ‘green man’ ghost seen in Buckinghamshire near the ‘home’ of the Hughenden dragon and a modern maze. A church has many of the elements of a time capsule, capturing the past in a solid form for us to re-read and interpret. However, depictions of green men are not restricted to church buildings, and a number appear on commercial buildings, e.g. in Croydon. Yes, Croydon.

Guy Fawkes
See Bonfire Night

For centuries a quiet festival in the UK, it is now being overtaken by the commercialised American version with ‘trick or treat’. This was another traditional time for bonfires, the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, but the increasingly sober authorities tried to make this festival disappear from the popular calendar by instituting similar festivities for Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night on 5 November. Nowadays we get several weeks of loud explosions either side of both events. Shops are full of ghost masks and toys, and supermarkets push megapumpkins for all they’re worth. Whatever happened to bonfire toffee and bobbing for apples? Penny for the Guy, anyone?

A state in which one hears, sees, smells or feels something that is not there. The experiencer may believe that it is a true perception, but it occurs without external stimulation of the relevant sensory organ. Hallucinations are popularly associated with illness, use of drugs, alcohol, etc. However, they can happen to anyone without in the right conditions eg. in hypnagogia.

Hauntings & poltergeists
Ghosts, hauntings and poltergeists are mixed up, both in people’s minds and in terms of symptoms. Theories abound, from discarnate entities to ' stone recordings' being played back. Because they’re difficult to split up to everyone’s satisfaction, we’re dealing with them all together in this section. Many popular ideas of ghosts come from tradition and the media rather than real life cases. There is, for instance, a general idea that a ghost is a spirit which haunts a location. However, the evidence from actual cases tends to turn this picture on its head.

Based on the evidence from cases, a haunting is a series of unexplained events at a particular location. These events may include: ghosts, odd sounds (footsteps, bangs, scratching, moans, screams, music, whispering), odd sights (flashes of light, shadows, floating lights, things seen in the 'corner' of the eye), odd smells (often unpleasant, sometimes sweet), odd feelings (headaches, static build-up, cold areas, touches by unseen things), object movement (doors, taps and light switches found open/on, objects lost and sometimes recovered, objects falling).

A ghosts, or apparition, is a human (or sometimes animal) figure seen when the witness has reason to believe they are not physically present. Ghosts are actually seen only in a minority of hauntings. Ghosts are not seen causing the phenomena typical of hauntings. Thus, it is entirely possible that ghosts are just another symptom of hauntings, rather than their cause.

Poltergeists are similar to hauntings except that there is an emphasis of object movement and apparitions are very rare.

For more on what we know about ghosts see here.

See ASSAP News 81 for the Ghosts and Poltergeists debate, and also ASSAP News 87 for a discussion of haunted sites by John Spencer. See also here.

These days there is much more to healing than a visit to the doctor. Knowledge or abilities that once ensured you ended up on the scaffold or faggot are now the way to success as a practitioner of alternative medicine. Herbalism and folk medicine have a lot to offer, but limited funding means that there is little research into success rates or safety, and claims have largely to be taken at face value. Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine now have huge followings away from their traditional bases, while essential oils are available to all and unavoidable in most toiletries. Evangelical Christian movements offer the laying-on of hands to heal members of the congregation, while the Spiritualist movement carries out various forms of psychic or spiritual healing, sometimes involving touch, other times just passes of the hand or even absent healing, where the patient might be totally unaware that he is being worked on. One of the UK’s most prominent healers is Matthew Manning. Psychic surgery is occasionally practised in the UK, but more cases are known in areas where medical services are poorer, such as the Philippines and Brazil, where surgeons reportedly use primitive implements to remove tumours. Unfortunately, tissue samples for analysis are difficult to come by and this fuels the belief that there is a certain amount of hoodwinking going on. See ASSAP News 92 for an account of psychic surgery in Brazil and ASSAP News 19 for a personal view by healer Alf Fix.

Hypnagogic/ Hypnopompic images
The mind can produce images as it is falling asleep (hypnagogic) or waking up (hypnopompic). These hallucinations can be vivid, frightening and dream-like and may occur during sleep paralysis, contributing to ‘night terrors’. Hypnagogic imagery can be particularly vivid with sleep-onset REM periods. See also here.

This is a state that should only be induced in another willing person by a trained practitioner aware of the potential medical dangers and capable of dealing with them. A progressive state of deep relaxation is produced by a variety of techniques, after which the subject can be taken through a range of experiments and experiences. Hypnosis has been used with some success in helping people stop smoking, lose weight etc. In the paranormal field, hypnosis can be used in a variety of ESP experiments, while hypnotic regression has been used to take people back into the past to examine such things as alleged past lives or abductions by UFOs. ASSAP’s Cerdic the Saxon was turned into a slide show featuring not only the utterances but also the wealth of automatic drawing produced by the hypnotic subject. These experiments formed part of ASSAP’s early ‘Merlin Matrix’ series of research areas, and a report on the hypnosis module is given in ASSAP News 17. The mind is a largely untapped and unfathomable resource, and hypnosis has been shown to be capable of producing flights of fantasy and invention. Its use in retrieving lost memories is therefore hazardous at the very least. Hypnosis was also covered in ASSAP News 71 & 78. See also here.

Identified Flying Object

See Hauntings & Poltergeists

In Spiritualism, an alternative term for ‘medium’ (qv).

Many investigators lug around amazing amounts of kit. Setting up for a vigil involves huge lengths of cable and technical checks to make sure everything is working to pick up sounds, record temperature fluctuations and video intruders, ghostly or otherwise. Little boxes with flashing lights will always thrill a passing journalist, but sometimes so much effort is put into instrumentation that the investigator forgets he is involved in observing. Many investigators don’t even understand what the boxes are supposed to be measuring or what the expected background levels are. ASSAP has published several articles on the benefits and drawbacks of instruments - see Anomaly 18 and 32 in particular. And see MADS below for an insight into how instrumentation can actually help. See also here.

Kirlian photography
This process was discovered in 1939 by Semyon Kirlian in the USSR and used to photograph the aura or ‘bioenergetic emissions’ of parts of the body. Or even plants, as in the much-published photograph demonstrating that a leaf continues to emit a pattern of leaf-shaped light even though part of the leaf has been cut away. In 1979 the technique was popularized in the West as a diagnostic tool by parapsychologist and author Thelma Moss (The Body Electric). However, the interpretation of the ‘corona-discharge image’ has been the subject of a good deal of controversy, which does not stop it attracting long queues at psychic events the length and breadth of the country.

Perhaps the best-known labyrinth in England is the track leading up the mound at Glastonbury, used for a now forgotten ritual purpose. The traditional design differs from modern mazes in that it doesn’t have dead ends and false trails. Most mazes have walls of greenery and were built as entertainments in the 18th century. A popular one for losing tourists in is at London’s Hampton Court. The most famous labyrinth was that in Classical Crete, with the legendary Minotaur at the centre. Other labyrinths were set in mosaic in the floors of Gothic cathedrals and represented a symbolic pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They were used for meditation. ASSAP News 5 mentions a mine system in Rockshaw, Surrey, that included Cretan maze patterns. The mine was in use from the medieval period to the 17th century. ASSAP News 39 shows a maze at Troy Town in the Isles of Scilly.

Lake monsters
UK readers will be familiar with the Loch Ness monster from the eponymous lake in Scotland, sightings of which go back many decades. As with other lake monsters, a whole industry has grown up around Nessie, who attracts tourists, scientists, media teams and cranks alike, some wanting to see her, others wanting to prove she does not exist. As with ABCs, photographic evidence is sadly ambiguous. Other famous lake monsters occur in North America and central Africa, among other places.

Legends help to place a site in the history of the country and help give people a sense of history. Often the origins have been lost or have become so confused that it is impossible to get to the bottom of them. Several stories may exist to explain why a standing stone is in a certain place or how the devil came to leave a hoof print behind. Sometimes a particular village or natural structure may have a legend that has been passed down in oral history and is now repeated over and over in the many booklets found in touristy places, where authors pinch each others’ material and pass on popular versions without going back to the source of the tale. In ASSAP News 9 Alan Cleaver discusses what his research into the bloody history of Bledlow revealed, as part of ASSAP’s Project Albion.

Although these days often seen as a conjuror’s trick, levitation was one of the many physical demonstrations of a medium’s ability that became popular among the Victorians in their craze for all things mystical. A famous levitator was Daniel Dunglas Home, whose success was reported by prominent scientist Sir William Crookes, while medium Mrs Guppy was said to have floated three miles across London.

Ley lines
Ley lines are claimed by some to mark the path along which energy flows (‘energy lines’), while others believe they are just alignments of significant points that marked tracks across otherwise uncharted territory. Ley lines have been blamed for much, and their ‘black stream’ cousins have been accused of bringing calamity to households that are built on them. The word ‘ley’ itself refers to the line and so, although these have become known as ‘ley lines’, they should more properly be called just ‘leys’.

See Hauntings & Poltergeists

Lucid dreams
A dream state where the experiencer is aware that he is dreaming. After learning to exercise a certain amount of discipline, the dreamer can guide his dream for certain ends, e.g. in psychical experiments to identify a preselected target in a locked container or room.

The Magnetic Anomaly Detection System forms the basis of a research project devised by Dr Jason Braithwaite and supported with funding from ASSAP. See also here.

Mass hysteria
This describes a condition in which a group of people experience the same state of violent mental agitation. It is often put forward as an explanation of reports of the same anomalous phenomena produced by a group of people. A strange, extreme example could be the ‘Convulsionnaires’ of 18th century France. François Pâris, a popular young deacon who died in 1727, was buried in the cemetery of Saint-Médard. People he had helped would visit his tomb and soon there were claims of miraculous cures and reports of convulsions. People would speak in unknown foreign tongues, become resistant to blows, demonstrate mind reading, give discourses beyond their level of education, etc. Their inability to feel pain during this ecstasy led to their submitting themselves to all the tortures of Christ’s Passion, down to crucifixion. According to some writers, this was part of a wider, macabre Christian movement involving mortification of the flesh. It has also been suggested that mass hysteria might be behind reports of groups of people witnessing the same apparition, but cases are so rare that little investigation has proved possible.

The manifestation of a hitherto disembodied spirit during a séance, using the ectoplasm produced by (or from) the medium to form a part of a body, or in some cases the whole body. This is similar to transfiguration (qv).

Often interchangeable with ‘psychic’, the term implies that the medium acts as an intermediary between worlds, a conduit for messages from the Beyond, a channel for healing powers and so on.

Men in Black
A group of men dressed in dark suits, reportedly visiting UFO witnesses in an attempt to stop them telling others of what they have seen. The iconography is very 1950s, from the suits down to the cars (black Cadillacs and limousines).

Mental mediumship
A form of mediumship practised by mediums of various sorts, without physical effects such as producing apports, transfiguration etc. The medium passes on messages heard clairaudiently, describes spirits seen clairvoyantly, etc.

Merlin Matrix
This is a research programme from the early days of ASSAP, devised by then Research Officer Maurice Townsend. The intention was that teams, local groups or even individuals would study and investigate particular modules. The two most successful modules proved to be the hypnosis group, run by Dr Hugh Pincott, and Project Albion (qv), which soon took on a life of its own after initially being guided by Alan Cleaver. Other modules gradually fell by the wayside.

See Animal Magnetism

Metal bending
This phenomenon is most commonly associated with Uri Geller, the young Israeli who hit the television screens in the UK in the early 1970s with his feats. Using nothing more than gentle stroking, he was seen to bend cutlery, keys and so on. Experiments were conducted during TV programmes or in the pages of newspapers, where members of the public were encouraged to concentrate at the same time on starting up old watches and clocks. Subsequently several other metal benders were tested scientifically. Metal bending was one of the tests in ASSAP’s Paranormal Olympics at the Fortean Times UnConvention in 2003, with just one of the spoons provided by us being successfully bent. Lack of funding has always hampered research, and ASSAP News 7 included a plea for donations to further a stalled project at London’s Birkbeck College to develop a detector. In ASSAP News 41 the then research officer describes how her daughter seemed to bend a spoon by accident after a whole week’s fruitless experimentation.

Michael Bentine Memorial Shield
This shield has been awarded since 1997 to honour the memory of Michael Bentine, our president from 1989 until his passing in 1996. Investigation reports that demonstrate thorough research are examined each year and the winner announced at the AGM. Michael regarded ASSAP’s role as promoting new standards in the observation of the effects of the paranormal. In order to maintain our high standards, we do not award it unless we find evidence of exceptional research, whatever the field and outcome of the case. See ASSAP News 33, 62 & 63. See also here.

See Men in black

Mind over matter
See Psychokinesis

A glass case used in PK experiments, containing various objects for the experimentee to attempt to manipulate. ASSAP News 6 shows a picture of a minilab used by a circle in Leicester, while ASSAP News 97 devotes a whole article to minilabs.

An experience where an object is misinterpreted by your senses. It is thought to be one of the commonest natural explanations for apparent paranormal phenomena. See here.

Morris dancing
Morris dancing and its variants (clog dancing, sword dancing) were almost lost after the First World War decimated the population of young working men from areas where they were traditionally practised, but gradually the middle classes rediscovered their roots and revived many customs. A lot of the dances now performed have their roots in Cotswold traditions, but other more distinctive traditions include the Bacup Coconutters and the sword dancers of Northumberland. The term ‘morris’ is believed by some to derive from the introduction of Moorish (i.e. North African) dancers to the English court some time in the 15th century. For a while this type of dancing became popular, and the name stuck even after we reverted to our own style.

Mumming is a dramatic performance requiring disguise and recitation of verse to accompany highly distinctive traditional characters, with the several variants doing the rounds. They are still occasionally revived by folklore groups. Characters typically include a Turkish soldier, a Christian knight or St George, possibly a dragon, and a doctor to revive the combatants at the end of the short but fatal skirmish.

Naive subject
A person volunteering to take part in an experiment without any (detailed) knowledge of what is going to happen. ASSAP prefers most of its investigators to be ‘naive’ on an investigative vigil - we interpret this as meaning that they should have no prior knowledge of the events reported on the site where the vigil is taking place. Prior knowledge not only colours any reports of sightings, but also discourages the participants from keeping an open mind and looking for other, previously unreported sightings.

Near-death experience
A much-studied phenomenon in which a person close to death as a result of an accident or medical crisis producing loss of consciousness and possibly heart stoppage has the impression of being out of the body and, after resuscitation, reports conversations he cannot have heard, observations from viewpoints outside his body or, more rarely, journeys along tunnels towards a bright light or a ‘being of light’, where his life is reviewed but found not to have been completed. He is then returned to this world, where he typically finds he has a new, more positive attitude to life and death. Less well publicized are those cases where the patient meets a world of less beneficent creatures. Many medical doctors have reported and studied such cases, some believing them to be literally true while others consider them to be an artefact of the injury to the brain caused by lack of oxygen during heart stoppage.

Near sleep experiences
A collective term for experiences, especially involving hallucinations, caused by the experiencer being on the boundary of sleep and wakefulness. The important NSEs for paranormal research are hypnagogia, sleep paralysis and microsleep. NDEs and OOBEs may also be included in this classification as recent scientific research shows they may all be closely related. NSEs are an important source of paranormal reports. See here.

See Near-death experience

Night terrors
These are reckoned to be caused by incomplete arousal from slow-wave sleep. Images that flit through the brain can be interpreted as terrifying events and objects, which may have given rise to the phenomenon of bedroom visitors such as incubi and succubi, or the ‘Old Hag’ figure, and also the feeling that someone is sitting on the end of the bed. This can be linked to the condition of sleep paralysis, in which the incompletely awake experiencer is aware of his surroundings, while other sensations from the dream world still impinge on them, and he is unable to move his body until the condition wears off and full consciousness returns. See also here.

Night-vision equipment
These can be useful tools for night-time investigations and are traditionally used in the military and for wildlife observation. They come in the form of binoculars and monoculars that can be used in low light conditions, but they can be ruined instantaneously by bright light. Eyes can take a while to adjust to the dark, but these devices give a black-and-white image that can help rule out fraud. See ASSAP News 63 for an article by Phil Walton.

Based on a system that assigns numbers to the letters of your name, address or other significant words, or uses numbers such as your date of birth, numerology provides readings that attempt to say something about the subject. Systems and interpretations vary, and there is often disagreement over what parts of the name to include (full names, initials or names of habitual usage?). ASSAP published a study penned by Gary Rowe in Anomaly 13. Gary found his life and his numerology scores to be dominated by the magical No. 7. See also here.

Old Hag
The Old Hag often crops up as one of the expressions of Night Terrors (qv), that feeling that something heavy is sitting on you while you’re lying in bed, paralysing you. The Old Hag as an archetype represents the Crone, the third stage in the life of a woman after Maiden and Mother, the third aspect of the Triple Goddess of ancient belief. As she is the closest to death, she has become more feared than the others, although she is also closest to the renewal that follows death. Although age makes her wise, she has been turned into the wicked witch of fairytale in patriarchal societies and could do with an image makeover to restore the positive side of her symbolism. See also here.

See Out-of-body experience

See Out-of-place object

See Photographic anomalies

Back in 1993 ASSAP helped fund Andy Collins’s Orgone 93 project, which aimed to ‘test the relationship between orgone energy, crop circles, earth lights, ritual landscapes and the human mind’. Orgone was ‘discovered’ by Austrian Wilhelm Reich in 1939, and Andy’s cross-disciplinary research used orgone as a working model to investigate all manner of phenomena reported in Wiltshire, including photographic anomalies and unusual electrostatic phenomena at Alton Barnes. The results of the project were published as The Circlemakers and the limited edition Alien Energy. See ASSAP News 49 & 54.

Ouija board
This is a device dating from Victorian times that enlivened society no end. It took its name from the French and German words for ‘yes’. The new crazes surrounding Spiritualism led to a mushrooming of informal sitter groups and manufacturers of various styles of ‘talking boards’. Together with an upturned glass or pointer (see Planchette) to identify the required letter, number or word (i.e. ‘yes’ and ‘no’), the board was used by groups gathered around a table. The communicator was asked to spell out a message. The sitters would gently rest their fingers on top of the glass, which would then glide across the board from letter to letter, sometimes producing gobbledygook and sometimes meaningful messages. The jury is still out on the usefulness of such devices and the origin of the messages. Certainly, as far as ASSAP is concerned, they have no place in an initial investigation of a case. Whatever the source of the message (spirit, subconscious or fraud), it can only serve to muddy the waters in a case whose facts have yet to be established.

Out-of-body experience
These are very similar to the near-death experience, but they can occur spontaneously or be induced by training. The intentional variety is sometimes referred to as ‘astral projection’, which implies involvement of an ‘astral body’. ‘Travelling clairvoyance’ probably also boils down to the same thing. After waking, the experiencer may report observations from viewpoints outside his body or conversations from places where he was not physically present. A good, willing practitioner could be a wonderful subject for ASSAP’s remote viewing (qv) experiments.

Also known as chiromancy, this is a form of divination based on reading the lines on the palm of the hand, much in evidence at the British seaside.

This term is used to describe something that is outside the range of human experience, inexplicable by current scientific method. It should be used with care, since some interlocutors will insist on understanding you to mean ‘supernatural’.

Although this literally means ‘beyond psychology’, it is used in the sense of the study of the paranormal and is a slightly broader term than ‘psychical research’. Some authors define it as the study of communications or interactions between organisms and their environment which cannot be explained by current scientific method.

Phantom hitchhiker
See Urban myths

Photographic anomalies
In the early days of photography it was relatively easy to hoodwink the naive with blurry pictures of spirit extras and materializations at séances. In the meantime cameras and people’s familiarity with them have come a long way. Aliens and UFOs have appeared in photos but tend not to look believable. With the advent of digital photography we again have the opportunity to create or take strange imagery. Cheats can produce apparitions on photos and there’s no negative available to be examined by experts. With digital cameras there’s another problem, and a new generation of photographers will grow up without an understanding of what the technology can and cannot do. There are many people who believe orbs are a meaningful manifestation of some sort, while just as many others believe them to be an artefact of digital technology, with the flash reflecting off particles in the atmosphere. For a time in the 1990s ASSAP received photos showing black lines. They came from a woman who linked them to future mishaps, e.g. a tree that was felled soon afterwards, a family member who became sick (ASSAP News 39, 43). ASSAP News 59, 60 and 61 covered the Wem ‘ghost’ photo. ASSAP News 73, 76, 89 covered photographic anomalies, orbs, digital cameras etc. ASSAP News 96 reported strange images caught on CCTV. See also here.

Physical mediumship
Some mediums produce physical effects, and these can include the appearance of objects from elsewhere (apports, an ability to appear in two places at once (bilocation), the production of a white substance (ectoplasm), the ability to raise the body without visible support (levitation), the production of a spirit body (materialization), the ability to move objects without touching them (psychokinesis). See the separate entries for the various types of physical mediumship.

See Psychokinesis

This is the pointer used with an ouija board (qv). It is triangular in shape and runs on wheels or casters for smooth movement. Some devices have a hole in which a writing instrument can be inserted for the production of automatic writing.

See Hauntings & poltergeists. See here.

A phenomenon reported by members of religions which believe that evil spirits can take over the body of a person and attempt to dominate the person in various ways. There are several degrees of possession, according to traditional Christian belief, reflecting the seriousness of the case. In this modern age priests are more reluctant than they once were to declare a person to be possessed and will carefully examine the sufferer before coming to any decision on his status. Exorcism (qv) is nowadays rarely carried out by the mainstream churches, but newspapers still publish horror stories of exorcisms that went wrong and harmed the sufferer. These are most often carried out by smaller, independent churches, sometimes with an admixture of animist beliefs.

See Prediction

The ability to predict the future comes in many forms. Some use physical aids to produce a reading, e.g. in the case of divination (I-Ching, runes (qv), tarot (qv)). Precognition often comes in the form of dreams and feelings of foreboding such as premonitions. ASSAP has for many years run a register of predictions. In ASSAP News 16 author Jenny Randles wrote about her possible premonition of the Brighton bomb.

See Prediction

Project Albion
This ASSAP project is aimed at producing a Domesday Book of the paranormal, recording the weird history, legends, ghosts and so on of the entire country. Championed by Alan Cleaver, it was one of the original modules of the Merlin Matrix (qv), but it took on a life of its own and is still going strong. Starting with ‘Strange Wycombe’, a number of books were subsequently published on Oxford, Pocklington and other towns, sometimes with local authority grants. In 2002 Jim Clark produced ‘Strange Mitcham’. As more people gained access to the internet, Alan Cleaver and Lesley Park put their research on Thame on the web, as did Val Hope for ‘Strange Croydon’. See also here.

For some reason, the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet has come to represent the anomalous in general. It is neutral term that, maybe to some, sounds as if it is related to ‘psychic’ (qv) but is free from the associations implicit in that word.

This is the theory that a score significantly below probability in a run of tests, for example using Zener cards, is caused by the use of psi abilities, in the same way as a high score might be. Sometimes the experimentee might be found to be hitting on the previous or next card in the sequence. Very low scores are just as unusual as very high scores - that’s what we tell people taking part in our bank of experiments at the Fortean Times UnConvention!

Psychic as an adjective is possibly best defined in conjunction with the noun it qualifies - see below for some examples. A psychic is a person demonstrating or claiming psychic abilities. It most often refers to some form of mediumship, whether mental or physical, developed or spontaneous.

Psychic art
This ability is popular with platform demonstrations and the small ads. columns - the medium, who may or may not have artistic training or skills, produces a portrait under the influence of the communicator. Sometimes the subject is the communicator him or herself, sometimes a spirit guide. Some psychic artists work in tandem with a mental medium to aid the recognition of the communicator, and this produces a fascinating platform demonstration, with the portrait being built up on stage as the clairvoyant teases out the message. See ASSAP News 58 for an example of psychic art. See also here.

Psychic detectives
Many mediums have claimed over the years to have provided information to police forces to assist in manhunts or the location of murder victims, but few police forces admit to having received such help. Some psychic detectives seem to have genuinely worked with the police, while others have been exposed as making fraudulent claims of involvement in cases. In some cases, too, help offered leads nowhere or produces false leads that waste police time. One of the most famous proponents was Dutchman Gérard Croiset.

Psychic pets
Many pet owners believe that their cats or dogs are psychic, and experiments have been run to test dogs’ ability to tell when their owners are returning home. The jury is still out, with claims and counterclaims about the number of times that the dog visited the window or door to watch for the approaching car. A prominent name in this field is Rupert Sheldrake.

Psychic questing
This area came to the fore in the 1980s, championed in the UK by Andy Collins and colleagues. A psychic on the team, in this case known to outsiders only as ‘Bernard’, would report strange dreams to Andy, and a sequence of events and research would propel them on a mystical quest to discover lost objects and carry out rituals at various hotspots in the country. Andy published accounts of many of the quests (e.g. The Black Alchemist) and held the highly successful Psychic Questing Conferences in London.

Psychic surgery
See Healing

The ability to move an object without physically touching it. This was tested by ASSAP at the Fortean Times UnConvention using a jeweller’s scales in an enclosed case. A member of the public would sit in front of the scales and concentrate on raising or lowering one of the pans. In 1998 two successful attempts were recorded (see ASSAP News 68). One of the most famous practitioners of PK was Nina Kulagina, investigated by the late Manfred Cassirer. See also ASSAP News 79.

This is the ability to discover information about a person, whether living or dead, by ‘reading’ an object. Mental mediums sometimes hold an object that belonged to a deceased person in order to strengthen the link with that person, while experimental sittings can also be arranged to try to encourage a communication from a specific person without identifying who the sitter hopes might communicate.

This is the power to create and control fires with the mind, but also appears as one of the common phenomena in poltergeist cases.

This is a divination technique which has a lot in common with dowsing (qv). While dowsing is often used to identify minerals, radiesthesia concentrates on finding missing persons, diagnosing health conditions, etc.

Such noises may accompany a haunting, but are also one of the phenomena traditionally associated with the early Spiritualistic experiments of the mid-1800s. Using different numbers of raps for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ was a common way of getting a communicator to respond to the questions put by the medium during séances.

Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis
An alternative term for ‘poltergeist’. See Hauntings & Poltergeists.

This is a Japanese method of hands-on healing aimed at balancing the body’s energy. It is gentle and non-invasive. Several variants exist.

Reincarnation is the belief that a human soul is reborn in another body an indeterminate time after its death. It is accepted as fact by members of some religions, e.g. in Hindu tradition, where a number of western authors have carried out investigations into cases where a child has recognized places or members of a ‘previous’ family. In Tibetan Buddhism priests travel far and wide to identify the child in which the soul of a past lama has reincarnated. Eastern tradition has influenced other belief systems in the west, and a surprising number of people now believe in reincarnation, to which support is lent by hypnotic regression into past lives. However, some claims appear outlandish and others just extraordinary. Authors on reincarnation include David Christie-Murray and Ian Stevenson.

Remote viewing
RV is the ability, generally after considerable training and practice, to see a remote object that has been selected as a target by a third party. During the Cold War the USA and the USSR spent large amounts of money training potential remote viewers to spy on each other’s military facilities. Some successes were reported by the US projects, but these are generally regarded as inadequate returns for the amount of effort put in. ASSAP’s Clive Seymour wrote an entire chapter on remote viewing for ASSAP’s Paranormal Investigators Handbook (sadly out of print) and ASSAP ran regular RV experiments for several years (see ASSAP News 17, 58, 62, 64, 66, 78).

This term is often used in an attempt to find a neutral word to describe the person at the centre of a case. ‘Witness’ would imply that the reported event actually took place, which is impossible for the investigator to confirm before an investigation has been carried out. See here for more info on witnesses.

This is a type of clairvoyance in which the reportee becomes aware of an event in the past through psychic means. This is, naturally, much more difficult to prove than precognition.

Recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis. See Hauntings & Poltergeists.

The Viking/Germanic/Nordic alphabet (or ‘futhark’, named after the first six characters) lent itself particularly well to making inscriptions with a sharp implement but is now largely used for divinatory purposes. Odin sacrificed an eye to win the knowledge of the runes as he hung from Yggdrasil, the world tree, but we can get it more easily from books. As much of the knowledge of the meaning of the runes has been lost, different researchers have different interpretations and methods of divination.

See Remote viewing

Sea monsters
These creatures choose to live out at sea rather than in the confines of a lake, no matter how deep. Morgawr (‘Sea-Giant’ in the Cornish tongue) lives off Cornwall and is inextricably linked to famed monster man Tony ‘Doc’ Shiels, who took its photo back in 1976 after calling it from the depths with the help of his wife and daughters.

Scepticism versus Skepticism
Although these are technically just the UK and North American spellings of the same word, for students of the anomalous they have come to represent two approaches to the study of their subject. The form with ‘c’ is used for the neutral approach preferred by ASSAP, which is neither for nor against a particular interpretation until the evidence has been gathered and weighed up according to scientific method. The ‘k’ form, on the other hand, is used to denote the approach preferred by CSICOP and other groups, whose members seem to start from the premise that the anomalies we look into do not exist in the first place but are the product of self-delusion or fraudulent activity. Some skeptics come over as just as ardent in their beliefs as the representatives of the other extreme, the uncritical believers.

Soon after it became public knowledge that the Fox sisters (in mid-19th century USA) had devised techniques to actively communicate with the entity in their house, small groups of sitters would come together to try to emulate their results. These small-scale, private meetings soon became known as séances, the French word for sitting. The word ‘sitting’ itself is also used for a private face-to-face reading from a medium.

This is more or less a synonym for ‘psychic’. A sensitive is sensitive to things the average person does not pick up with the normal range of senses.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

See Spontaneous human combustion

These are natural objects that look like something else, such as oddly shaped vegetables, trees, minerals, images in the sky or on buildings. Probably the best known simulacra are the ones that look like something held in awe by a particular group, such as a stain on a church window that looks like the Virgin Mary, or the pattern in the seeds inside an aubergine that forms a phrase in Arabic from the Koran. See also here.

The word ‘sitter’ is used to describe a person having a sitting or a face-to-face reading with a medium.

Sitter group
This is a small group of people (‘sitters’) coming together in an attempt to develop psychic abilities. Table tilting (qv) has long been a popular activity for such groups. It has been found that it is best to have a stable membership committed to regular meetings. It is essential not to judge phenomena as they occur: attributing the activity to a particular person or trying to find out where the noise is coming from tends to bring the activity to an end. It is also unhelpful to try to pinpoint the psychic, as members find it easier to believe that the person with the psychic ability is another member of the group. While many groups start off working in the dark, some find that a limited amount of light can gradually be tolerated without affecting the phenomena. See also here.

The Survival Joint Research Committee Trust

Basically, this is a UFO vigil. One or more people pick a time and place to observe the night sky and look out for events of one sort or another. ASSAP News has regularly published astronomical details to assist investigators in distinguishing a normal occurrence from an unidentified object or light in the sky. See ASSAP News 63 & 64.

See Street-Lamp Interference.

The Street-Lamp Interference Data Exchange, launched by Hilary Evans in ASSAP News 39.

See Street-lamp interference

Spiritualists’ National Union

Speaking in tongues
Glossolalia and xenoglossy are two closely related areas, with the significant difference that glossolalia means that someone is speaking in a nonsense language and xenoglossy a genuine foreign language. What makes this a subject for paranormalists is the claim that the practitioner does not know the language. A language may be spoken by a medium in a trance state, or by a worshipper in an evangelical church whose emotions have been whipped up into a state of ecstasy. Some unknown languages have been claimed to be angel tongues or the language of distant planets. Of course, such claims cannot be proven. An excellent study of speaking in tongues is Voices from the Gods by David Christie-Murray.

This device was invented in 1982 by engineer George Meek and electronics expert and medium William O’Neill. Instruction on how to construct it apparently came during a sitting at which a former radio ham promised assistance in building a telephone for contacting the Beyond. While there was reported success in enabling sustained conversation between this world and the next, this has not been replicated and little is nowadays heard of the device. It has been suggested that the reason it seemed to work was the fact that it was invented and used by a powerful psychic.

Spirit extra
A spirit extra is a figure that appears on a photograph although it wasn’t physically (visibly) present at the time the photo was taken. Often looking out of place due to inappropriate clothing, proportions and perspective, the clearest ‘extras’ clearly don’t belong. One famous photo that has been the subject of lectures at ASSAP meetings by investigator Maurice Grosse shows a smiling interloper who has seated herself with a group of holiday makers in the Tyrol, Austria. See Photographic anomalies for more.

Spirit guide
In Spiritualism, a spirit guide is an advanced soul who has passed to the Other Side (aka the Beyond, Summerland, etc.) and helps a person still in this world. A non-psychic person may not be aware that he or she is being watched over or guided, but a medium may be able to sense the guide psychically. One aspect of spirit guides that attracts sceptical comment is the number of Native Americans and Eastern scholars that take on these roles to the exclusion of many other cultures. Some psychic artists produce pictures of these guides for sitters, and some spirit guides, such as Silver Birch, have become just as famous as their mediums and prolific authors of philosophical works.

Spirit rescue
If one accepts that a spirit departing this world when its physical body dies can be trapped here (e.g. through not accepting that it has died or an unwillingness to move on before completing unfinished business), one can probably accept the need for a spirit rescue. How a person comes to the decision that a given spirit has become trapped might vary. Perhaps haunting phenomena will have been reported. Rescuers are generally mediums with experience in these matters, who use their abilities to contact the trapped spirit and encourage it to leave the world behind and move into the light (i.e. the next world), where it will receive help for the problems that have kept it trapped. As with exorcisms (qv), a failure to shift the phenomena might exacerbate them. This would also be the case if a team of spirit rescuers came into an already complex case and imposed its own beliefs on the reportees.

Spiritual healing
See Healing

Although this is not widely known, Spiritualism has been a recognized religion in the UK for quite some time. A list of seven principles that allow for a reasonably wide interpretation is intended to link believers and act as a sort of credo. In the form of ‘spiritism’ it is widely practised in Brazil, France and other countries (inspired by Frenchman Allan Kardec, whose tomb is one of the most decorated in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Ironic, really, since the teachings concentrate on the spirit rather than mortal remains). One of the basic tenets is that the deceased can communicate from the Other Side of Life, and so there is a valuable tradition of putting mediumistic utterances to the test.

Spontaneous human combustion
Often all that is left is a leg and a pile of ashes to show that a human being was slowly consumed by what seems to have been an internal fire with minimal effect on the surrounding furniture. A famous literary case is in Bleak House by Charles Dickens, while there have also been many cases in real life. Theories put forward include the chemistry of the particular body concerned, the ‘wick effect’, etc. In a case reported from Lambeth, London, in 1967 a blue flame was seen emanating from the victim’s stomach by the fire brigade officer called to the scene. Combustible material just inches from the flame was untouched, but a hole had been burnt through the wooden planking beneath the abdomen. See ASSAP News 48 & 49 for more on SHC.

Society for Psychical Research - established well over 100 years ago.

Standing stones
These megaliths are stones set upright by humans, thousands of years ago, for purposes not fully understood, sometimes singly (menhirs) and sometimes in patterns (generally circles). Major areas in Europe for such stones include the UK, Ireland, France (Brittany in particular) and Spain. See ASSAP News 17 for a report of an anomaly recorded at a megalith in Dorset, where the electrical systems of two cars failed simultaneously when one was towing the other.

Stone circle
Of course there are more stone circles than Stonehenge, but it must be the most famous in the world. England also has Avebury and Castlerigg (just one of 50 in Cumbria), as well as many lesser known circles. Other countries with stone circles tend to have a Celtic heritage and include France (Brittany), Ireland, Scotland, and also Italy.

Stone tape theory
This is the theory that some element of stone walls is capable of recording the scenes that take place around it, imprinted on it either through high emotion or mere repetition. A later event, e.g. the presence of a person with the appropriate psychic make-up, then triggers a playback of the recording. This results in a haunting. See also here.

Street-lamp interference
This is the spontaneous switching on and/or off of streetlights when the practitioner, or SLIder, passes by. A major study by Hilary Evans, published by ASSAP, revealed that the effect could be replicated more or less at will by some SLIders. Tests sometimes reveal dodgy electrical connections, but often there is no obvious reason for the lights to act that way. See also here.

See Hauntings & Poltergeists

An as yet unproved ability that is sometimes proposed as a way of explaining away evidence produced by mediums. Relying on the concept of a ‘cosmic database’ that contains all knowledge ever known to anyone who has ever lived, it constitutes a form of ESP for which no clear evidence exists and does away with the need to contact the dead in order to obtain information. A practitioner of super-ESP would, for example, be able to see inside a sealed envelope to read a message written by someone who has since passed over - no contact with that person via a medium would be needed. However, one unexplained phenomenon cannot in good faith be posited to explain a second.

These are ancient and traditional beliefs that certain actions bring about certain effects, often beneficial but just as often unwanted and unfavourable. Examples include the belief that breaking a mirror causes seven years’ bad luck. Some footballers have rituals they go through before a match, involving the order in which they put on their boots, while actors will never mention the title ‘Macbeth’, referring to it as ‘The Scottish Play’. As an experiment, why not try walking under a ladder.

Survival is an article of faith for some, a concept proved by the evidence for others and wholly dismissed by yet others. However, attempts to prove that some aspect of the human soul survives bodily death have provided much material for study and, for some, the stuff of ghost stories. Evidence that some intelligent part of a human survives has been gathered either spontaneously in the form of crisis apparitions (at death) or research projects (see Cross correspondences). Very few religions actively encourage people to try to gather evidence of survival, a major exception being Spiritualism.

This is a meaningful coincidence, seeming to impart some sort of message. Or it would if you could just work out what it meant.

Table tilting
This is one of the activities fruitfully practised by sitter groups (qv). It involves a number of people sitting round a small but stable table. They lay their hands on its top, touching fingers with their neighbours so that cheating by hand can be ruled out, and encourage the table to tilt. A light-hearted approach usually helps, whereas a serious, inquisitorial attitude can kill it stone dead. ASSAP ran a fun table-tilting exercise at an early UnConvention, but proper experimentation requires long weeks (or even months) of practice and dedication. And it will all be worth it when your table starts jumping around the sitting room without your hands touching it. Just make sure you’re insured for breakages. See also here.

Tarot cards
The Tarot is a method of divination (qv) using a pack of 78 cards with a set of standard illustrations (although there are lots of variants produced by artists coming from different mystical systems) and a number of different spreads. The system has been in use for centuries, developing from a card game played in Italy in the 15th century. The cards are interpreted in the light of their position in the spread and how they relate to the other cards in the spread. See Anomaly 17 for an article on a tarot exercise conducted by Mel Warren and June Cameron.

See Psychokinesis

An ability often equated with reading another person’s mind. It is sometimes reported as occurring spontaneously, especially between twins, and sometimes as occurring deliberately (see ‘Ganzfeld’, ‘Zener cards’). Fraudulent examples would be some of those demonstrations by stage magicians who try to replicate the abilities of mental mediums (although others claim to be reading nothing more than body language).

The main practitioner of thoughtography was the man usually described in the literature as a Chicago bellhop, Ted Serios, whose ability was investigated by Jule Eisenbud. A film would be placed into a camera, then Serios would hold it against his forehead and attempt to imprint on the film an image of the target suggested to him. After extensive testing, with any number of controls, no trickery was detected. It has been suggested that PK was used to affect the emulsion of the film. With film due to become a thing of the past, time for finding a successor to Serios’s crown is running out.

The most famous timeslip case must be that at Versailles, where two English women (prominent Oxford academics) were strolling through the grounds in 1901 and witnessed a scene from over 100 years before, involving the subsequently beheaded Marie Antoinette. ASSAP covered timeslips in an article by Terry Cox in Anomaly 16.

Trance mediumship
This is a form of mediumship in which the medium enters into a trance of varying depths and is taken over by the spirit guide who proceeds to pass on messages from communicators to the people attending the séance or demonstration, or is taken over by the communicating spirits themselves.

In a transfiguration, ectoplasm apparently changes the appearance of the medium’s face (or other significant body parts) to aid identification of the communicator. This normally refers to a physical phenomenon, observable by anyone, but there are also references to ‘clairvoyant transfiguration’, in which only a clairvoyant person can see the subject’s face change.

Unidentified flying object - see Ufology

A huge subject for study has built up since the first sightings of what were coined ‘flying saucers’ by a journalist back in 1947 following a strange sighting by pilot Kenneth Arnold. The term ‘UFO’ really refers to any aerial object that the witness is unable to identify at the time, but it is often used with the meaning of ‘flying saucer’ or ‘extraterrestrial spacecraft’. This is the source of much confusion. It is beyond doubt that people see UFOs in the first sense of the word, but just because something is unidentified it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is extraterrestrial.
Theoreticians have uncovered similarities between these claimed extraterrestrial vessels, things such as foo fighters and stories of flying machines dating back many centuries. A whole vocabulary has developed to describe things that are seen in the skies or recalled on the hypnotist’s couch. And so we have the various categories of close encounter; contactees; ET or extraterrestrials (grays or Nordic types have been popular in recent years); ‘flaps’ in which large numbers of UFOs are reported from a limited geographical area; implants which are inserted by aliens into the contactee’s brain; lights in the sky which may or may not be caused by aliens; the sinister men in black, who visit you after you’ve seen a UFO, in person if they’re not too busy, or by phone even; missing time, i.e. the time between your vehicle coming to a standstill and your arrival home, often discovered by the hypnotist; and the contentious issue of physical evidence, largely conspicuous by its absence. See ASSAP News 82. See also here.

See Unconscious Muscular Action

Unconscious Muscular Action
UMA has been put forward as the mechanism behind such things as the twitching of a pendulum, the movement of a planchette across an ouija board and the production of automatic writing. Dowsing (qv) may well involve an element of this, with the sensitive dowser picking up signals from whatever object he is dowsing for and having these transmitted and magnified by UMA.

Unidentified Submarine Object
As the term suggests, this is an object that is seen in the water and cannot be identified. As soon as it is beached a better attempt can be made to put a name to it, but not all USOs will beach themselves.

Urban myth
Urban myths are often passed on as ‘friend of a friend’ stories (themselves referred to as FOAFs). Dig back through your sources and you will find that there’s no actual evidence, or that the original story was subtly different. It’s been passed down and repeated over a pint or two so many times that the facts have been mangled. A good example is the phantom hitch-hiker (e.g. Blue Bell Hill, in an article by Dave Thomas in ASSAP News 50), which often comes with a fixed set of facts, often involving the death in a traffic accident of a young girl on her way home. Subsequently the girl’s very solid-looking apparition hitches a lift from the site of her death to her home, often vanishing from the back seat of the car, or even the back of a motorbike, before the destination is reached. It is only when the driver contacts the police or calls at the address he was given that he realizes he gave a lift to a ghost. On investigation the truth behind these hoary old tales often proves much more complex and intangible. See also here .

See Unidentified Submarine Object

One or more vigils often form part of the investigative process. They are often, but not exclusively, held at night, partly due to restrictions on access to premises during the working day and partly due to the type of phenomena being investigated. Some phenomena involving light can be difficult to see in daylight. A vigil forms part of the training of ASSAP accredited investigators. Small teams of investigators are positioned at various sites around the building, preferably within eye contact of other team members. Each vigil is split into ‘watches’, with teams coming off duty and swapping position with other teams at regular intervals. Team members write up notes during the watch, and after the vigil a debriefing session is held in order to cross-check timings and other details of any events. See ASSAP News 54 and 56 for more. See also here.

Visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary
An ASSAP book published in 1983 looked at the evidence for BVMs in great detail, so get hold of Kevin McClure’s The Evidence for Visions of the Virgin Mary if you can. It has been translated into many languages over the years. Most of the famous BVM cases involve simple, often uneducated, country folk, often young girls or children who report seeing a lady appear to them. Descriptions of the apparition vary, but once local people get hold of the story it is usually decided that the apparition was the Virgin Mary herself. The site of the BVM becomes venerated, people turn up in their hundreds to witness the same event, but sightings seem generally to be restricted to the first witness(es). Sometimes there are prophecies, sometimes miracles. Famous cases include Bernadette Soubirous’s experiences at Lourdes (France), the Fatima (Portugal) sightings by three children, Knock (Ireland) and the more recent case at Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia, now Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the apparitions began in 1981. Often the Church is more sceptical than the public. See ASSAP News 15 for a photo that was claimed to show the Virgin Mary on a tree in Poland, and ASSAP News 55 for Medjugorje.

This religion developed from the animistic religions that enslaved West Africans took with them to the New World and to which a sprinkling of Christianity was added. It is still widely practised in, among other countries, Haiti, where it was only recently recognized as a religion by the government. Various spellings are current, and associated beliefs in the Americas include Candomble, Lucumi and Macumba. The religious practices have little connection with the flesh-eating zombies and curses prevalent in horror movies. An excellent permanent exhibition at the Horniman Museum in south-east London shows altars from various traditions and explains the place of ritual and ritual objects in the beliefs.

Witchcraft is also known as Wicca, an ancient tradition of religious belief and magic in the western world. Up to relatively recent times people were persecuted in western Europe, including Great Britain, for their beliefs and practices. Old women who knew the secrets of healing herbs and people with traditional, non-Christian (i.e. pagan) beliefs were the object of great suspicion, particularly at times when the Church was feeling weakened by reform movements that threatened to fracture it. This led to vindictive witch hunts, which led in turn to imprisonments, accusations and counter-accusations, trumped-up charges of bewitching crops, people and animals, trials, hangings and burnings. The most famous case in England was perhaps that of the Lancashire witches, centred on the villages around Pendle Hill, but other countries had bloodier and smokier periods than England. Practitioners of Wicca still attract a certain amount of suspicion, with Christian fundamentalists even staging protests outside public halls holding events of the Mind, Body and Spirit type.

See Speaking in Tongues

Something that appears paranormal but which has natural causes - see here

Witchcraft Act
See Fraudulent Mediums Act

Zener cards
Used widely in ESP experiments and devised by JB Rhine and his associate, Karl Zener, the pack of cards shows five different symbols (star, circle, square, cross and wavy lines) and lends itself readily to statistical analysis. They have been used in a computerised version to good effect on ASSAP’s stands at the Fortean Times UnConvention and on its website. The usual idea is to ‘guess’ which symbol is going to come up next in the random sequence. See also here.