Eric Dingwall

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Eric John Dingwall (1890-1986) was a British anthropologist and psychical researcher.


Born in British Ceylon he moved to England where he was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge (M.A., 1912), and the University of London (D.Sc., Ph.D.).[1] He wrote popular books on sexology.[2] He became interested in paranormal phenomena in 1921 and served from 1922 to 1927 as a research officer for the Society for Psychical Research (SPR).[3]

Dingwall was described as an eccentric by those who had known him.[4] From 1947 he worked as an assistant keeper in the British Museum, cataloguing private case material of erotica.[5] He co-edited the four-volume set Abnormal Hypnotic Phenomena (1967–68).

He was a member of The Magic Circle.

Psychical research[edit]

In the 1920s and 1930s Dingwall traveled widely in Europe and the United States to investigate mediums. He has been described as a "sceptical enquirer".[6]

Dingwall had supported Trevor Hall's criticism of the spiritualist William Crookes and the medium Florence Cook.[7] He also co-wrote the skeptical book Four Modern Ghosts (1958) with Hall.

He investigated the mediumship of Eusapia Palladino and came to the conclusion she was "vital, vulgar, amorous and a cheat."[8] Dingwall also investigated the medium Mina Crandon and was skeptical regarding her claims of physical mediumship.[9]

In his later years Dingwall became a critic of psychical research. In an essay in 1985 he summed up his extensive experience in parapsychological research and came to the conclusion:

Since I gave up nearly all active work in psychical research, I have often been asked why, after more than sixty years' work in the field, I have finally lost most of my interest in it. There are two answers to the question. First, I have come to the conclusion that the present immense interest in occultism and in the grosser forms of superstition is due, to a certain extent at least, to the persistent and far-reaching propaganda put out by the parapsychologists. In this they have, I think, a very grave responsibility. With the gradual decline in the West of belief in Christianity has come not, as one might have hoped, a leaning toward the rational way of looking at the world but a decided tendency to adopt the magical way. Thus Christianity, unbelievable as it may be to the rational mind, has been supported by the occult superstitions of darker ages. One reason, therefore, for my ceasing work is that I do not wish to be associated with persons who actively support such superstitions as are today everywhere apparent. I cannot accept such responsibility...

After sixty years' experience and personal acquaintance with most of the leading parapsychologists of that period I do not think I could name half a dozen whom I could call objective students who honestly wished to discover the truth.

His essay The Need for Responsibility in Parapsychology: My Sixty Years in Psychical Research (1985) was published in A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology (1985) by the CSICOP founder Paul Kurtz.[10] The skeptic Gordon Stein dedicated the book The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal to Dingwall.[11]


When investigating the medium Mina Crandon, Dingwall told Crandon to take off her clothes and sit in the nude. Crandon would also sometimes sprinkle luminous powder on her breasts and because of such activities William McDougall and other psychical researchers criticized Dingwall for having improper relations with Crandon.[12]


  • The American Women: An Historical Study (1976)
  • Abnormal Hypnotic Phenomena four-volumes (1967–68)
  • Very Peculiar People (1962)
  • Four Modern Ghosts (1958) [with Trevor Hall]
  • The Unknown, is it Nearer? (1956)
  • The Haunting of Borley Rectory. A Critical Survey of the Evidence (1956) with [K. M. Goldney and Trevor Hall]
  • Very Peculiar People: Portrait Studies in the Queer, the Abnormal and the Uncanny (1950)
  • Racial Pride and Prejudice (1946)
  • Woman: An Historical, Gynecological and Anthropological Compendium (1935)
  • The Girdle of Chastity (1931)
  • Artificial Cranial Deformation (1931)
  • Ghosts and Spirits in the Ancient World (1930)
  • How to Go to a Medium: A Manual of Instruction (1927)
  • Studies in the Sexual Life of Ancient and Medieval Peoples (1925)

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Eric Dingwall (1890-1986)
  2. ^ Daryl E. Chubin, Ellen W. Chu. (1989). Science Off the Pedestal: Social Perspectives on Science and Technology. Wadsworth Publishing Company. p. 28. ISBN 978-0534098582
  3. ^ Raymond Buckland. (2005). The Spirit Book: The Encyclopedia of Clairvoyance, Channeling, and Spirit Communication. Visible Ink Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-1578592135
  4. ^ Jonathan Croall. (1983). Neill of Summerhill: The Permanent Rebel. Pantheon Books. p. 174. ISBN 978-0394514031
  5. ^ Eric Dingwall Personal Facts and Details
  6. ^ Dr Eric Dingwall “A Sceptical Enquirer”
  7. ^ William Hodson Brock. (2008). William Crookes (1832-1919) and the Commercialization of Science. Ashgate. p. 17. ISBN 978-0754663225
  8. ^ David C. Knight. (1969). The ESP Reader. Grossett & Dunlap. p. 60
  9. ^ Eric Dingwall in The Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology
  10. ^ Eric Dingwall. (1985). The Need for Responsibility in Parapsychology: My Sixty Years in Psychical Research. In Paul Kurtz. (1985). A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. pp. 161-174. Prometheus Books.
  11. ^ Gordon Stein. (1996). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1573920216
  12. ^ William Kalush, Larry Sloman. (2006). The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero. Atria Books. p. 447. ISBN 978-0743272070