Who was Helen Duncan

Portrait of the medium Helen Duncan
Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In our world today we are appalled by the lack of transparency by the media, the Establishment cover ups, the persecution and the ‘non person ing’ of people who get in the way of the required narrative.

Tommy Robinson has been hounded and persecuted for telling the truth about rape gangs. His time in Belmarsh and his solitary confinement have been completely ignored by the media.

Soldier  F was similarly treated. We think these crimes by Government are new to the 21st Century.

Innocent women and their children were persecuted in the 1700s for believing in potions and spells. Just as the universities were taking medicine away from women in the home and teaching the young men in the new Institutions.

In 1944 a woman was hounded, persecuted and imprisoned under the 1735 Witchcraft Act. An Act that had been considered out of date for many years  as witchcraft was no longer seen as an imprisonable offence.

Victoria Helen McCrae MacFarlane was born in Glasgow on 25th November 1897. She married Henry Duncan in 1919 after he returned from the Great War. By this time she already knew she had very special and unusual gifts. She became known as a ‘materialisation Medium’. That is to say she not only went into trance but the spirits that visited would actually materialise in the room and speak clearly and precisely to those whom they had a message for. Her Guide was an Egyptian called Albert. He protected her and helped develop her skills.

Many Puffins may not believe in an afterlife or indeed in spirituality. There have been very few well known mediums in the last 50 years who can materialise those who have passed over. The question is….why?? This gift is not something that just our ancestors accepted. We know there are phenomena around us that cannot necessarily be explained in scientific terms. Why then are the most famous mediums from Centuries past. We dismiss these gifts as being fraudulent or naive. We often think much is the trickery of light or the default of film as it was a developing technology.

I wonder if the reality is more sinister. I wonder if really gifted mediums are discouraged to share their knowledge and their insight because of deep seated fear of persecution.

Helen MacFarlane Duncan was humiliated, denigrated and persecuted by a Government and its Institutions. Helen’s gifts began simply enough when she realised she could see beyond the veil of the living. She would speak to spirits who wanted to send a message of comfort to their loved ones. She also realised she could soothe physical pain by laying on hands.

This gift was so accurate that more and more people sought her help. She came to the attention of the London Psychic Centre in Thornton Heath who asked her to join them by holding séances  around the country. They would choose the venue and pay her a fee to use her gifts of spirit. As time went on her Guide asked Helen  to develop her extraordinary ability to ‘materialise’ spirits. Helen’s husband Henry was to be her support and earthly protector as these special gifts can create a vulnerability where her life would be in danger.

By 1925 Helen was well established as a materialisation medium. Travelling the length of the UK. The Psychic Union at the Centre was organising all her venues and inviting those from all scientific genres to sit alongside those people who had requested a special audience. Materialisation Mediums are extremely rare and have to be protected from loud noises and bright lights. Helen had submitted herself to tests and experiments to prove she was no fraud. On one occasion she was visiting the Union for a test involving swallowing a barum and then being x-rayed whilst in trance. The scientist carrying out this test was a Mr Harry Price. Helen disliked him on sight and told her husband that he would be the ‘death’ of her. Henry brushed this aside. How carelessly he disregarded her simple intuitiveness.

Mr Harry Price insisted that she was examined internally, in the nude, in front of his staff. When she became indignant he accused her of being a fraud. She submitted to the humiliation because she knew her work was going to be necessary in the future. She knew there was another terrible war on the horizon even though the country was being told otherwise.

No one knows why Mr Harry Price was so vindictive or why he wished to humiliate Helen on a regular basis. He insisted that she took all her clothes off and was tied in a black sack which in turn was strapped tightly to a chair whilst she was in trance. The tests proved her gifts beyond doubt. He seemed to be annoyed that she was a very special and rare Medium.  Her first brush with the law was due to Mr Harry Price calling her a fraud. He created a narrative (smear campaign) that his connection with the media picked up and ran with. She was arrested at a small gathering of invited spiritualists. Her home help had been bribed by Mr Harry Price to lie about her hiding props in her black sack. She was tried on the Vagrancy Act and spent four months in prison due the Judge’s verdict of a woman praying on the sorrow and anguish of those who had lost loved ones in The Great War. This affected her deeply and for some years she refused to travel outside Glasgow. However her fame spread and people would visit from all over the UK. As time went on she began working outside the protection of the Psychic Institute. Partly because she no longer wanted to be involved in non productive and humiliating tests and partly because the Psychic Union was charging large sums of money to the ‘sitters’ but only paying her a fraction of their takings.

The turning point for Helen came one evening in 1944 when a young sailor came through to his mother explaining that his ship HMS Barham had been sunk and all on her were dead. His mother recognised her son’s voice and acknowledged a number of very intimate family details but would not believe the ship had been sunk as there was no telegram or reporting in the papers. Her deceased son said she would be notified three weeks hence and it would then be reported in the papers. The mother decided to contact the Admiralty who immediately visited her asking many questions as to how she knew this information.

She relayed the conversation at the séance  a few days previously. The Admiralty refused to give her any information. Three weeks to the day of the séance  the woman received a telegram and the news broke that HMS Barham had been torpedoed and all crew lost at sea.

Helen Duncan was again arrested under suspicion of knowing someone within the Government who may be feeding her classified information. Mr Harry Price was also working with Government on a scientific level regarding missing persons.

The accusations and humiliating treatment that Helen received from the British Government was escalated. On her arrest at Plymouth, she was not allowed representation  or bail. She was  interrogated and then transferred to London and  put in solitary confinement. Her husband was told of her arrest but not allowed to visit whilst she awaited trial. Once again she was being tried for Vagrancy. Her closest friends and two eminent spiritualists from the Spiritualists National Union decided to contact a Barrister known for his success in defending Mediums and Spiritualists. On hearing that the Defendant was to be represented by a Barrister the Government decided to escalate the crime to Conspiracy. This was a non crime as there had been no conspiracy and therefore was not accepted by the Defending Counsel. So the Government Prosecution decided on Witchcraft. This not only shocked the Defending Counsel but also sent reverberations of disgust around the world. Helen was famous in many countries for her work in trance and in handling small objects sent to her by families who wanted to trace missing family members. On hearing that the State were now truly her enemy, she collapsed and was feared to be in utter nervous and mental shock. Many Governments around the world asked the UK to rethink its position as it was sending a very strong message of fear to people already under the duress another war was creating. A war that wasn’t supposed to be happening!!!

It was decided to ask that Helen prove her gifts by holding a séance for the jurors. All it seemed handpicked from members of the public known to be sympathetic to…yes you’ve guessed it…..Mr Harry Price’s scepticism of Mediumship and in particular Materialisation Mediums.  The presiding Judge declined this request as he felt it would add nothing to the trial.

Helen was the last woman convicted for Witchcraft in England. She received a two year sentence reduced to nine months on appeal which was served in Belmarsh Prison. Due to this terrible sentence and travesty of justice the Spiritualists National Union who were already working to remove the Vagrancy Act from statute now decided that Witchcraft also needed to be removed as both these Acts were being used to convict innocent people who upset the Establishment.

No one ever answered the question as to why this case was heard at The Old Bailey instead of the Plymouth Magistrate’s  Court as it was purportedly to do with Maritime Law. No one ever apologised to Helen for the disgusting treatment she received over 10 years by an Establishment Scientist who took a disliking to her. It took it’s toll. Her health deteriorated and she chose to help people on a very local one to one basis. She returned to Glasgow to live. On 30th November 1956 she received a brown envelope with Nottingham Police Constabulary in large capitals on the front.

‘Not again’ said Helen. ‘What have I done wrong this time. I cannot go through all this again’. She lay on her bed and asked Albert her guide to take her home. Two days later he told her daughter Gena that he had calmed her mother and was now taking her home as her work was needed elsewhere.

Gena was also a highly gifted medium but when asked if she would take up her mother’s work she declined. She had seen the damage a corrupt and vindictive public servant could do to ordinary citizens. She had seen the lies and smears the media were allowed to get away with. She was never going to put her children or her husband through the trauma she and her parents had to endure when all her mother wanted was to help and comfort people who came to her door.

It was noted that Ivor Novello and indeed Arthur Conan Doyle had travelled the country espousing the benefits of spiritualism and encouraging séances without hindrance or arrest. I also have noted that favouritism is shown to today to those whom the Establishment see as their own whilst ordinary truth tellers are hounded and victimised. Nothing, it seems changes. Until we change ourselves.

It seems to me there are probably still many highly gifted Mediums who keep their work very low key and whose talents are only shown to a trusted few. It could also be that our spiritual Guides and Angels choose not to put those gifted Mediums through the dangerous waters that now engulf this World of ours.

This essay has been written due to a book I have just re read after many years. It has affected me more this time round due to my awareness of Government corruption and lawlessness. I was very shocked over the treatment of Soldier F and NHRN but on revisiting this harrowing story of an innocent  woman I realise we lost our human rights longer ago than we know.

The Two Worlds of Helen Duncan by Gena Brealey with Kay Hunter
Published 1985
ISBN 978-0-9557050-3-8


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