To North London on Saturday for a pleasant pub lunch with Veronica Keen, widow of the late Montague Keen. I met Monty a few times when we were involved in a SPR project together some years back, although didn't know him well. He was the senior of the three authors of the SPR's Scole Report (Proceedings 58, 1999) and an effective debunker of sceptics. I especially appreciated his robust response to James Randi's comments on a Channel 4 TV show five years ago - incidentally Veronica is pictured, to rebut Randi's rudeness about her looks.
Many people remember Monty's dramatic passing, at the end of a public debate about telepathy between Rupert Sheldrake and evolutionary scientist Lewis Wolpert. Since then, Veronica says, he has continued to be a very active presence in her life, writing through her hand and communicating at séances. I heard the tape of an address he made to be played back later at his memorial service. The voice sounded very clear and forthright, and I assumed it was the medium speaking in trance, but she said, no, it was direct voice: the medium's mouth had been securely taped as well has having his arms bound to the chair. From what I remember of Monty it sounded like him, and Veronica has no doubt - the slightly pedantic circumlocution of his speech was absolutely typical of him, she says.
She adds that he has also materialised, although she has not seen it herself. At one séance he 'shadowed' her body, superimposing an image of himself over her, and conversed with the sitters; she was in trance and was not aware of it.
Veronica is not at all fazed by any of this, and takes it for granted that he should keep in touch. But there is more: he is apparently very keen for her to start a new foundation to carry out spiritual, medical and environmental research. He is very determined about this, according to Veronica, and to help make it happen has joined forces with John Mack, the Harvard expert on alien abduction. (Mack was a friend of the couple, and had come to work with Veronica on communications from Monty some months later when he himself died, killed in a traffic accident near her house.) She says he is pouring out information, and although she finds it exhilarating it is clearly taking over her life.
I have never been to a séance, and almost all of what I know about the paranormal is from reading books and journals. I'm not a researcher, and seldom have close contact with it. So although I can readily empathise with Veronica, I find what she tells me curiously hard to accommodate. It might all be happening on another planet. How much harder it must be to accept for people who know nothing about the subject at all. I suspect many will prefer to think that it's all in the mind of a grieving widow. Physical mediumship is by its nature extremely controversial.
Then again, the apparent ease with which Monty seems able to communicate would be consistent with two things. One is his close involvement with mediumship and commitment to the truth of post-mortem survival during his life. If appearances are to be believed, Frederic Myers and other leading lights of the early SPR laboured for years to provide evidence through the cross-correspondences.
Apparently it also helps if there is a strong emotional bond between the deceased and the surviving spouse. There's a good example of this in a memoir by David Kennedy, a Scottish priest who describes frequent contacts by his wife following her early death from heart-disease - he recounts incidents where at her urging mediums would ring him up out of the blue, for instance to wake him up when he had dozed off before a church service he was supposed to give. The couple had become convinced about survival by reading parapsychology journals, and there was also a strong romantic attachment between them. Both conditions are present here: besides being a knowledgeable and passionate advocate of survival, Monty had a powerful bond with Veronica, in what was still quite a new relationship.
Veronica posts Monty's weekly letter on her website. She says that in the future he is keen to materialise in a way that provides scientific validation. This will require a good deal of luck and skill, if it is not simply to end in yet more fruitless controversy. Just as challenging will be getting the foundation going, and sticking to its highly ambitious agenda, although she is confident, having made progress and getting good professional help. I wish her the best of luck.