Dingwall, E(ric) J(ohn) (1890–1986)
Anthropologist, author, and one of the most experienced
psychical investigators of modern times. Born in Ceylon (now
Sri Lanka), he was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge
University, England (M.A., 1912), and the University of London
(D.Sc., Ph.D.). He joined the staff of the Cambridge University
Library. The son of a Scot living in Ceylon in 1890, he
was reticent about his personal affairs, and did not publicize his
exact birth date. He appears to have had some private wealth
in his earlier years, since he was able to travel and follow his intellectual
interests.
As a young man, Dingwall became interested in psychical
phenomena and in 1921 was named the director of the department
of Psychical Phenomena for the American Society for
Psychical Research. The following year he became the research
officer for the Society for Psychical Research, London,
where he served for five years. While there he wrote his first
books on psychical research, including (edited with Harry
Price) Revelations of a Spirit Medium (1922) and How to Go to a
Medium (1927).
Through the 1920s and 1930s Dingwall traveled widely
through Europe and to the United States to investigate mediums,
among whom were such famous ones as ‘‘Eva C.,’’ Rudi
and Willi Schneider, Stephan Ossowiecki, and ‘‘Margery’’
(Mina Crandon). He also researched social and religious conditions
relating to abnormal mental phenomena in Spain in
1935, and in the West Indies in 1936. These provided additional
material for his articles and one additional book, Ghosts and
Spirits in the Ancient World (1930).
Besides his work as a psychical investigator, Dingwall continued
his academic interest in anthropology, making himself
knowledgeable on some of the more bizarre aspects of the
human personality. His publications in these areas include
Studies in the Sexual Life of Ancient and Medieval Peoples (1925),
The Girdle of Chastity (1931), Artificial Cranial Deformation (1931),
and, with H. H. Ploss and other colleagues, Woman An Historical,
Gynecological and Anthropological Compendium (1935).
During World War II he worked at the Ministry of Information
and British Foreign Office (1941–45), and resumed his
writing after the war. Dingwall’s numerous titles include Racial
Pride and Prejudice (1946); Some Human Oddities (1947); Very Peculiar
People (1950); with K. M. Goldney and T. H. Hall, The
Haunting of Borley Rectory (1956); with J. Langdon-Davies, The
Unknown Is It Nearer; The American Woman (1956); and, with
T. H. Hall, Four Modern Ghosts (1958).
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Dingwall, E(ric) J(ohn)
417
During the 1960s Dingwall coedited the four-volume set Abnormal
Hypnotic Phenomena (1967–68). He died at St. Leonardson-Sea,
East Sussex, England, on August 7, 1986. As one of
Britain’s oldest psychical researchers, he was widely respected
for his careful reports and judgment in the field of the paranormal
during some sixty years’ investigation of some of the most
famous and controversial mediums of the twentieth century. Although
tending to skepticism, he did not hesitate to affirm the
possibility of the genuineness of psychical phenomena and was
scathing about the limitations of fellow researchers. As a body,
he claimed, ‘‘they are hardly distinguished by the accuracy of
their observations, the correctness of their records or the scrupulous
care required in the conduct of their experiments.’’
He also cautioned against prima facie belief in fraud, even
though claimed phenomena might seem suspect. In his article
‘‘The Hypothesis of Fraud,’’ published in the Proceedings of the
Society for Psychical Research (SPR), he comments on the controversial
phenomena of the famous medium ‘‘Eva C.’’ that ‘‘it
may be thought that the case against the phenomena is so
strong that the subject may be at once dismissed. Such a standpoint
would in my opinion be entirely mistaken and would
show clearly that its supporter had not the smallest appreciation
of the difficulties. . . .’’ For example, he became such an
expert on conjuring that he was qualified to be a member of
The Magic Circle, of which he became vice-president and
founded their committee for investigating the occult.
At other times, he testified to observing such controversial
phenomena as the production of ectoplasm by mediums. However,
according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he was always reluctant
to make public admission of the genuineness of phenomena
that he had endorsed in private.
In a tribute by parapsychologist Guy Lyon Playfair (Journal
of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 54, no. 807), Dingwall
is quoted as stating (in a letter to Playfair in 1976), ‘‘We
know practically nothing about the ‘real’ nature of the material
world in which we live. We knew less 500 years ago. 500 years
hence we may know a little more, but the more we peer into our
surroundings the most indefinite becomes the boundary. The
investigation of the relationship between matter and what you
call spirit is only just beginning. Hardly any progress at all has
been made since Myers laid down the guide rules in 1903. Indeed,
things seem to be more mysterious now than they were
then. So I think that the best position is not to hurry. The scrap
heap of science is high with discarded theories derived from insufficient
experimentation.’’
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Dingwall, Eric J. Ghosts and Spirits of the Ancient World. London
Kegan, Paul, 1930.