Over the years
Looking back at the history of the society
The Noah’s Ark Society
Over the years
Apart from the factual statements, much of this document is a personal assessment of the history of the Society being based on accounts from presidents, officers, committee members and ordinary NAS members. And of course, my own experiences at the many events that I, Lew Sutton, attended. Being very familiar with séance room phenomena, plus a published writer on spiritualistic matters, I found myself appointed official reporter for the NAS seminars. I was well acquainted with most of the committee members and those who helped make the seminars a great success. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to offer to serve on the NAS Committee.
Some may disagree with my assessment, particularly regarding the later years of the NAS. Comments and from ex-members are welcome and could be added to future editions of this document. But would-be contributors bear in mind that this is a historical document and I deemed it inappropriate to delve into interpersonal problems (what committee hasn’t!) that may have contributed to or hastened what some considered to be an unnecessary premature closure of the Society. Especially as prominent members have passed-on and not able to defend their good names – well, only by paranormal means!
Officers of the Committee
|1990||Stuart Hellen||Robin Foy||Denise Lacey||Robin Foy|
|1991||Alan E Crossley||Janet Preston||Sandra Foy||Robin Foy|
|1992||Alan E Crossley||Stewart Alexander||Elisabeth Wheeler||Sandra Foy||Robin Foy|
|1993-94||Stewart Alexander||George Cranley||Elisabeth Wheeler||Sandra Foy||Robin Foy|
|1994-95||Stewart Alexander||George Cranley||Elisabeth Wheeler||Barry Hames|
|1995-96||Stewart Alexander||George Cranley||Elisabeth Wheeler||Annette Candy|
|1997-99||Alf Winchester||June Winchester||Elisabeth Wheeler||Geoff Hughes|
|1999-2004||George Cranley||Colin Fry||Elisabeth Wheeler||Geoff Hughes|
The position of Chairman was abandoned after 1994.
Honorary Vice Presidents (in Spirit): Leslie Flint and Noah Zerdin plus later on Wilfred Watts. Noah Zerdin passed on before the NAS was created and Flint in 1994.
On April 25th 1990, a spirit message via independent direct voice phenomena was received at a home circle in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, urging the sitters to form a society to promote and develop physical mediumship. As a direct result of that message The Noah’s Ark Society was formed. The communicator stated he was Noah Zerdin. The following is taken from a NAS information leaflet.
Noah, a well-known Spiritualist in his day, founded The Link of Home Circles in 1931. He also encouraged and promoted the late independent direct voice medium, Leslie Flint. Leslie was approached and agreed to become an honorary Vice President of the Society. We have had a number of messages of encouragement from Noah over the years culminating in the séance with Colin Fry at which members of the Zerdin family and the BBC were present. The result was a programme called, “What Granddad Did in the Dark’ and broadcast on Radio Four. This was the first time in the history of the BBC that spirit voices were broadcast, a long-cherished dream of Noah Zerdin. We are glad that, in addition to promoting physical mediumship, we were able to fulfil our spirit friend’s wishes.
By 1990, mainstream Spiritualism had largely ignored physical mediumship and there were dwindling numbers of spiritualists with knowledge and experience of such phenomena. There was even hostility towards physical mediumship amongst some spiritualist tutors and practicing platform mediums with claims that such phenomena belonged to the past and should be excluded from modern Spiritualism [I contend that mental and physical mediumship should be considered as complementing one another and not in competition – LS].
Within the Spiritualists’ National Union, official tutorship in physical mediumship ended with the passing of physical medium and SNU President, Gordon Higginson in January 1993.
It was against this background that a handful of Spiritualists formed the NAS to revive the phenomena and to encourage home circles – which was the backbone of early Spiritualism. The first 27 journals were hand produced on a typewriter, borrowed photocopier and initially financed by pooled contributions from the small band who formed the first committee. Within 3 years the membership had grown to over 600, plus 12 corporate bodies (churches etc.) and 144 circle memberships.
The Society’s Activities
The Society arranged extended weekend seminars, teaching days and séances throughout its existence. One particular highlight for members was a one-week seminar at the Arthur Findlay College, Essex. As well as being able to enjoy the ambience of Stansted Hall, the high ceiling in the séance room enabled the traditional levitating trumpet phenomena to be way above our heads – making any claims that it was not produced paranormally extremely difficult to justify.
The seminar and séance venues were mostly in England with three in Scotland and three in Wales. Physical medium Colin Fry accompanied by NAS President George Cranley also held meetings and seances in Australia, Japan and on the Continent. Although reported in the journals, these were not official NAS events.
The well-attended seminars with up to 100 delegates were mainly held in hotels or conference centres with facilities to accommodate lectures, workshops and séances. Due to the numbers attending, normally two séances were held in large blacked-out rooms with those not allocated to a particular séance usually able to hear the proceeds via the stereo recording system’s monitoring speakers.
One of the prime aims of the Society was to encourage members to form their own physical mediumship circles and to provide guidance on any issues arising. So apart from Q & A at events, letters and articles in the journals, guidance for home or church circles was by telephone, letter or personal attendances at circles by experienced members of the NAS – usually committee members.
In addition, publishing remarkable historical accounts of physical mediumship in the journals was a further incentive for members to form their own circles and achieve their own results.
Early on, physical medium Stewart Alexander was appointed archive officer and encouraged members to submit accounts of their experiences of sitting with physical mediums of yesteryear. He was able to collect valuable 1st hand accounts from members who had sat with physical mediums demonstrating mid-20th century. Mainly UK based but also in Australia and the USA. All these accounts were published in the journals and many had never been documented before.
Although the NAS has ceased to function, some of the recorded audio accounts are still available on a twin CD album.
Achievements and Disappointments
The Society’s achievements and disappointments need to be examined in context to its mission statement, being – A Worldwide Educational Society for the Promotion, Development, and Safe Practice of Physical Mediumship.
As regards the Promotion aspect, the Society quickly raised the profile of physical mediumship within the Spiritualistic Press and the NAS became a very successful organisation with well attended activities – as previously mentioned. The Journals played a major part in reaching across the World to members who could not attend, or only occasionally, the seminars and other events. There is no doubt that, without the NAS, there would be even fewer physical mediums than the handful that have been practicing publicly in this 21st Century.
The Development aspect of the Society’s aims covered, well, practically every activity of the Society, from the major seminar events down to personal tutorial sessions – and of course, the instructional content within the Journals. The seminars very popular events were usually held over extended weekends. They became quite convivial occasions with members attending well-presented instructional lectures making the events joyful occasions.
The vital importance of the Safe Practice of Physical Mediumship permeated through all the Society’s activities being well broadcast to members. There are now many Spiritualists and others who know how to conduct themselves in séances and to provide a safe environment for mediums. Too many physical mediums in the past have suffered health problems, including early death, through the ignorance or foolishness of actions by séance attendees.
A major success was in encouraging members to form their own home circles with well over a hundred operating within a few years of the society opening. The Journals, or Newsletters as they were generally known, did a grand job in motivating members by reporting on phenomena occurring in the NAS seances. It showed that phenomena, could still happen and was not something that just occurred in the distant past. Members submitting their home circle results no doubt also encouraged others to persist with home circles as well. A disappointment was that a number of circles appeared reluctant to submit reports on how they were getting on.
The many amazing historical accounts mentioned in lectures, and in the journals, of physical mediumship from the halcyon days of modern Spiritualism doubtlessly inspired and encouraged members to sit, for what could be quite a while, in order to achieve results in their own circles. One has to wonder though, for some, did it raise expectations unduly high as to what to expect in the séances organised by the Society?
But it was not reasonable for members to expect the quality of the best of yesteryears’ mediumship to be achieved quickly with physical mediumship having nearly died out. It may have been the impatience of some that was a contributory factor in causing membership to decrease in the latter years. Also, the amazing materialisations of yesteryear were overwhelmingly held with small groups of sitters, although one can find outstanding exceptions to that generalisation.
Allied to this problem was the fact that, in NAS seminar séances with up to a 100 attending, it was only possible for a very few to receive personal evidence of loved ones communicating. Most of the phenomena had to be geared to that which all attending could experience. Thus, the popularity of trumpets flying around was a common feature of the seances. This was a very tangible way of demonstrating the reality of physical phenomena.
In retrospect, perhaps more emphasis should have been made on drawing attention to all of these points mentioned above. But hindsight is wonderful, isn’t it?
The primary reason for the séances was to demonstrate that the phenomena was possible and to be examples of how to conduct séances in a safe manner – as they should be in members’ home circles. Too many physical mediums in the past have been seriously hurt and/or their life shortened by sitters’ stupidity or just plain ignorance. Or worse still, for a sensational newspaper ‘scoop’.
A disappointment in the early days, and to a lesser extent later on, was the difficulty in getting the message understood that the Society’s purpose was – as its mission statement clearly stated:
… for the Promotion, Development, and Safe Practice of Physical Mediumship. It was not a primary remit of the Society to provide survival evidence for members. If that happened, then it was an added bonus for members.
There were forthright demands in letters to the Psychic Press and directly to the NAS that the Society should be providing survival evidence and scientific proof of the phenomena. But again, this was not the basic remit of the Society. Reading the Journal editorials and copies of replies to such demands published in the Journals demonstrate a no-nonsense response to unjust criticism.
Critical letters or articles in the psychic press showed a lack of understanding of the Society’s primary mission – in spite of being printed on the front of every Journal from November 1992 onwards. One suspects that some members also did not fully get this message and went their own way having expected survival evidence personal to them.
Further to this point, it is often forgotten by Spiritualists in particular, that mediumship, be it mental or physical, is only a means by which to convey evidence of an afterlife. It is the ‘medium’ or to use a word now much in vogue, the ‘media’ used to convey information. The paranormal control or manipulation of physical material – such as trumpets – does not provide evidence of survival. But can be the first step in providing the conditions for survival evidence to be presented. This was precisely a fundamental goal of the NAS. To use an old metaphor – One has first to get the fire going well before one can put the heat of the fire to good use.
Importantly however, physical mediumship seriously challenges mainstream science’s model of reality and if can be unquestionable proved, is the first step towards demonstrating that the current model of reality is seriously incomplete. This in turn lays the path to a scientific possibility of an aspect of our consciousness surviving physical death.
THE FINAL YEAR
The final year was a difficult one for the committee. In order for the Society to continue, it was almost inevitable that major changes would have been needed to the way the NAS operated. There was decreasing membership and falling response to the tutorship offered by Colin Fry and his team of tutors. Plus, keeping up the high standard of the NAS Journals’ content was becoming problematic.
In spite of repeated pleas, fewer articles or circle reports were submitted by members. The supply of reputable and relevant historical accounts to fill the pages was running low. The NAS Journal was becoming increasingly unsustainable in its professional presentation.
Alf Winchester, long-term member who helped run the NAS right from the early days and a former NAS president, put his thoughts succinctly upon writing to me: “As you know, at the founding of the Society few Spiritualists knew what it was [physical mediumship]. We were successful in correcting this but less so in producing new physical mediums. At seminars it became more difficult, without repeating lectures, to find new subjects related to the phenomena … The Society started with great euphoria and like all great empires, it faded away.”
A widely Distributed Membership
A significant factor in the NAS failing was no doubt due to the wide distribution of members across, not just the UK, but worldwide. With many events, most AGMs, and committee meetings being held in central England, the number of members living within reasonable travelling distance to help run the NAS was limited. A member living in Scotland soon found being on committee was not very practical.
Likewise, the members initial enthusiasm for attending tutorship sessions probably waned when the reality of the time and travel costs hit home after a while. There was also a factor very common to organisations in general – a proportion of members being happy to experience the benefits such as seminars and seances, pay their subscription, and that is all.
Member’s Reaction to Closure
Contributions and letters written to the Journal’s editor indicate members’ deep regret of the NAS ending (the Journals continued for a few months after the closure AGM). The highly critical views expressed in contributions by Hume and Nicholls in the final journal (pages 28 & 46) read as words written in anger rather than in contemplative reflection. In my opinion, they give a biased impression of the membership and reason for the Society’s premature collapse. Their negative experiences of members behaviour were at variance with most of my own experiences. With their critiques being published in the final issue, members were deprived of the chance to respond to such views.
Admittedly, many members appeared to be only interested in witnessing phenomena and, understandably, wanting their own personal evidence, but there were also many with a far more altruistic attitude who played their part in helping towards fulfilling the Society’s Mission Statement.
Comments regretting a tendency at NAS séances for triviality and missed opportunities for survival evidence need to be put into context – see Achievements and Disappointments, Paragraph 8. My experience was that the smaller séances held separately from the seminars were more rewarding affairs producing significantly more survival evidence and philosophical communication – and little of the complained about exuberance, such as cheering, on seeing levitating trumpets. But rather, sounds of appreciation through witnessing the various forms of phenomena. Mr Steve Hume’s and Dr. David Nicolls’ reactions are quite understandable in the light of the considerable number of scholarly analytical contributions they submitted to the journals on historical events. They must have felt that their efforts had been, to some extent, in vain.
Reluctantly, I have to add a final factor in the complex issues surrounding what many viewed as the premature closure of the NAS. Without adding this factor, I could be accused by some members, who played significant roles in the earlier days of the NAS, of not painting a balanced picture of the Society’s history.
According to some members who had served on committee or gave support in other ways, the late George Cranley (President 1999 to closure) must bear some of the responsibility for the Society’s premature closure. Although very knowledgeable on physical mediumship and an excellent orator who was very popular with members, it has been inferred that George was not a good ‘team player’, which it has been suggested caused the loss of a degree of administrative and organisational support from members who joined in the early years of the NAS. End Note 5 also should be considered on this issue.
As I was never on committee I cannot say if his style of committee chairmanship played a significant part in the decline and closure of the Society. The claims made in End Note 9 may give a clue to how he ran the NAS. Unfortunately, George has passed on so cannot defend himself in his role as president. There is no doubt at all that his editorship of the Journals played the major role in making the Journal a great success and a highly useful reference source for researchers and Spiritualists alike. In the light of Alf Winchester’s quoted observation at the beginning of this chapter, I doubt if George’s style of management significantly affected the final outcome.
I hope this section and the previous Achievements and Disappointments section demonstrate that the closure of the Society cannot be equated to any one single cause. In spite of the strong opinions that have been expressed by some ex-members, too much time has passed to come to any definitive conclusions.
THE N.A.S. LEGACY
Although the NAS ended in 2004, thankfully, the society was the inspiration for other organisations to start up specialising in physical mediumship. I think one can safely claim that the NAS was a primary motivation for all of the following.
Stewart Alexander’s very successful extended weekend reunion seminars were established by the time the NAS folded and continued until 2018. They attracted participants and speakers from across the world and continued until Stewart Alexander’s semi-retirement as a physical medium in 2018. The events were organised by Alf and June Winchester, who both served on the NAS committee.
Dennis, Ross, and Roz Pearman together with help from others formed the Zerdin Fellowship very shortly after the NAS finished in 2004. They organised meetings and seances until 2012. Their magazine kept Spiritualists, or anyone interested, informed of the physical mediumship scene, which helped to keep ex NAS members in touch with one another. The organisation ceased in an operational sense in October 2012 but Dennis and Roz Pearman are planning to put all their magazines and other information on the web in the near future.
Robin and Sandra Foy are ex-committee members who branched out on their own, initially to concentrate on The Scole Experiment. Robin was NAS Chairman in the early days and the title ceased after he stepped down. For some time, they have been Spain based and their organisation is now called the Spiritual Science Foundation. They have many members across the world and run a web-based magazine.
Jenny’s Sanctuary near Banbury is run by Ron Gilkes who was on the NAS committee in the latter days. The last few AGMs were held at his sanctuary. He has hosted many seances in his sanctuary for the NAS, the Zerdin Fellowship, and has organised séances directly with mediums in more recent times. The sanctuary continues as a teaching centre for all aspects of Spiritualism and its seances and other activities are advertised on its website.
The Arthur Findlay College courses on Physical Mediumship ended with the passing of their principle, Gordon Higginson in January1993. However, the College has reinstalled a séance room and is hoping to encourage physical mediums to demonstrate there with thermal imaging monitoring equipment to help prove the authenticity of the phenomena. The College co-operates on joint projects with members of the Society for Psychical Research with scientific based research into mediumship.
There are also other centres run by ex-members or inspired by the work of the NAS in the UK and, no doubt, further afield as well.
The Greatest Legacy
So, the legacy of the Noah’s Ark Society lives on with these organisations. However, the greatest NAS legacy must surely be the Journals themselves. For here in the complete set of journals is a potted history of physical mediumship together with practically everything one needs to know in order to develop, or encourage others to develop, the gift of physical mediumship safely. But the knowledge within these journals is just the starting point. Each circle wishing to attempt producing physical phenomena needs to adapt their procedures to suit the uniqueness of the particular form of mediumship that unfolds in their midst.
With modern life seeming ever speeding up, leaving little time for the usually slow process of developing physical mediumship to a demonstratable standard, future generations may get little chance to witness the quality of phenomena that existed during the last two centuries. So hopefully, with the Journals now in digital format, they will be available to inspire, encourage, and I hope, play their part in helping keep interest in physical mediumship alive. And maybe a Noah’s Ark ‘Mark Two’ will spring up and be able to learn from the foundations laid by the Noah’s Ark Society.
Finally, I must reiterate the conclusions mentioned previously, that the creation of apparitions or the manipulation of physical items through séance room mediumship on its own does not prove that our consciousness, or aspect of our consciousness, survives bodily death. However, it can be the most effective mechanism for conveying survival evidence to us via this form of mediumship.
Even when there is no direct survival evidence, there are times when the phenomenon is so exceptional that the most plausible explanation being that the intelligence controlling the phenomena is not of this world. Especially when the intelligence exhibits knowledge of items or conditions far beyond the walls of the séance room that are relative to the sitters. Or able to achieve technical feats beyond our understanding. Both of these situations I have observed in my own home circle where I have complete control of the séance room conditions.
What physical mediumship can do, if demonstratable under fraud proof conditions, is to give absolute proof that mainstream science’s generally accepted model of reality is far from complete. From the scientist’s perspective, this can open up the door to the possibility of an aspect of ourselves surviving bodily death.
. A former president, Alf Winchester, confirmed that the NAS was run on an informal basis with no formal written agreements, even for the physical mediums giving their services to the NAS.
. NAS president George Cranley was chair of Two Worlds Publishing and Tony Ortzen editor of the Two Worlds magazine at the time of the NAS closing. Ortzen has confirmed by email that Journal copyright was not transferred to Two Worlds Publishing or to himself personally. NAS secretary Elizabeth Wheeler (later became wife of NAS president George Cranley) has also confirmed that there was no committee discussion on copyright transfer. For official information on ‘orphan works’ see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/copyright-orphan-works
. Such legal action would almost certainly fail as my extensive investigations have revealed fading memories resulting in conflicting versions of events and no documentation to support the claim. Former NAS secretary Mrs Elisabeth Cranley (nee Wheeler) said George was meticulous in dealing with committee matters and considered it highly unlikely that he would have made a mistake in the closure procedures.
. I never served on the NAS committee so did not witness first-hand the difficulties and the amount of work needed to keep the Society running smoothly. I was unable to volunteer to serve on the NAS committee as that would have meant resigning from two committees, due to the rules of the Spiritualists’ National Union.
. It is almost inevitable that ideas and aspirations of founding and early members of any society have to be modified in the light of the practicalities of running and sustaining any such society. There were strong hints of this within the first few years. For some prominent members, the compromises or change in committee ethos were too much resulting in them playing a less organisational role, or indeed, left the Society.
. Stewart Alexander’s Compilation Album No.1 is available from: stewartalexandermedium.com.
. The NAS contained an eclectic mix of members from those new to the subject to those who had made a lifetime study of physical mediumship. Membership included those who were:
- Spiritualists or impartial investigators; members and leading members of the Society for Psychic Research; members from academia with expertise appropriate for assessing the psychology of mediumship; Magic Circle members with expertise in illusion; numerous circle members, friends and family members of famous and not so famous physical mediums who had been practising in the five decades prior to the NAS commencing.
- There were a some of us, including George Cranley (president 1999-2004), who had attended a great many of the one-week residential courses at the Arthur Findlay College on physical mediumship in the 1970’s and 80’s.
- All these various groups represented a significant proportion of the members I encountered at seminars and seances.
. The often cheering at seeing phenomena such as trumpets flying around was, to some extent, perhaps encouraged by spirit communicators who historically have claimed the sound of human voices helped build-up energy during seances. Much singing has long been a feature of seances to ostensibly provide energy for the physical phenomena. As implied in the Achievements and Disappointments section, phenomenon has to be developed first before it can be used reliably for communicating survival evidence.
. Regarding the use of the term ‘premature closure’, it has been claimed that George Cranley, who chaired the final AGM, refused to accept nominations from members at the meeting to allow an interim committee to be set up to get the NAS restarted with a fresh elected committee. It was also alleged that prior to the final AGM, Cranley forbid a committee member from handing out copies of the written Constitution to members at the meeting. I cannot comment on whether the closure complied with the written constitution. Decisions voted on at previous AGMs may well have modified the Constitution as attached to this document.
 If the NAS was to have reconvened it would have needed to have been run on a less ambitious scale, or at least until membership and enthusiasm was rebuilt.