But Edinburgh’s Spiritualists insist that their religion is nothing of the sort as they prepare to open a new church in the West End, named after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – perhaps the most famous Spiritualist.
While its church services may not feature voices from beyond, the building on Palmerston Place will have a dedicated “psychical research unit” to “research psychic phenomena and encourage people to learn about their psychic awareness.”
The church’s John Blackwood said: “Everybody thinks ‘Spiritualism is only about talking to dead people’. People often confuse us up with occultism, fortune telling, superstition – all of which we don’t believe in.
“We’re trying to get the message across that Spiritualism is a religion like any other. Our services are normal services like any other church, but we’re quite inclusive and diverse as a religion, encouraging people to understand that all religions have something to offer and what is more important is how people relate to what they perceive to be God.”
However, he does hope that the church will become a focus of work by researchers from places such as The Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh and The Scottish Society for Psychical Research.
“We’re very keen to bring people in who are experienced in those fields and can help with inquiries from the public. We get it all the time – people phoning up saying ‘My house is haunted’ or ‘I’ve seen something I’m unsure about’ so psychic researchers can go in and see if there’s any truth in these experiences or indeed if it’s a figment of their imaginations.”
“About eight out of ten cases reported to us are genuine – something that you can’t put down to the fact that someone else is causing it or can be rationally explained. That doesn’t necessarily mean to say it’s a spirit. It’s possible that your own psychic energy can cause, for example, things to move or for you to see apparitions. Such phenomena is particularly common where children are going through difficult times or indeed puberty. A big part of what we want to do is find out more about these kinds of phenomena.”
But there will be no exorcisms carried out. He said: “We don’t believe in exorcisms. We’re teaching people to understand what that phenomenon is and isn’t, and how they can deal with that in their own lives. It’s about making sense of unusual phenomena and applying common sense at the same time.”
The church, which has about 150 members in Edinburgh, was previously based in a tenement in Morrison Street. It is funded by a trust which has enabled the move into the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Centre.
Despite being best known for creating the super-rational detective Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle, left, was an enthusiastic convert to Spiritualism, writing and speaking about it in public.
Mr Blackwood said: “Arthur Conan Doyle was a pioneering Spiritualist who contributed a lot to our modern church in the UK. As an Edinburgh born and educated man we thought it appropriate to name the Centre after him and honour his contribution to our religion – his involvement with Spiritualism is not very well known.”