© Colin Wilson 1980 
The late Tom Lethbridge had two qualities that made him a good historian: a lively imagination and a consuming curiosity. And after he left Cambridge in disgust - I shall tell that story in a moment - and retired to Devon, they helped to make him one of the most brilliant and stimulating parapsychologists of modern times.
You can see both the curiosity and the imagination at work in a typical passage from his book about the Scots, The Painted Men. He is talking about the ruins of a Roman fort near Melrose: ‘Why was the skeleton of a female dwarf found in a well beneath those of nine horses? Why were several valuable parade helmets flung into other wells, with swords, spears and bits of armour?’
Lethbridge reasons it out, like Sherlock Holmes. The female dwarf - a servant? - and the horses were thrown down the well to poison the water and make the fort useless to the enemy. But the horses and the dwarf would not have been dead unless the enemy - the Britons - had not forced an entrance first. If the Britons had held the place, then there would also be Roman corpses down the wells.
So what happened is clear: the Britons burst in, there was violent hand-to-hand fighting, and the Britons were driven out again. The Romans cleared up the mess, poisoned the main well with dead horses, tossed parade helmets and other equipment down other wells, then abandoned the fort.
Lethbridge goes on to complain that archaeologists never use their imagination; they only want to know what date something took place, or where the artefacts originated:
'There is room for both points of view, but I regret to say I like the more dramatic version. When I find a dead man with a sword cut in his head, or something of the kind, I like to try to follow up the mystery of how he came by his death-blow. Entirely by chance I have stumbled on quite a lot of them: old women eaten in cannibal feasts; men with skulls cleft in war; old women beheaded to prevent their ghosts walking; prisoners executed by the sword; men with their faces hacked to pieces by exultant enemies and so on.'
'These were all living persons like ourselves. The solution of the mystery of their ends is quite as important as the dating of some particular shape of pot. Tiny scraps of evidence may enable you to see more vivid pictures of past ages than can be obtained from months of study of the more material relics of antiquity. The arthritic femur of a headless old woman told me why her head had been cut off and laid at her feet. She was bad tempered from the pain; nobody wanted her ghost to haunt them. You lay a ghost by cutting off the corpse’s head.’
It takes a peculiar type of imagination to realize that ‘these were all living persons like ourselves’, not just old bones. Lethbridge possessed it, and it explains why he produced such fascinating results when he turned his attention to ‘ghosts and ghouls’ and other such strange matters.
Lethbridge, who was born in 1901, came from a west-country family. In his unpublished autobiography, The Ivory Tower, he remarks that family records date back to the twelfth century, and that the Lethbridges are mostly landed people - soldiers, explorers, members of Parliament and churchmen.
His own branch of the family possessed that independence of character and natural eccentricity that were so notable in himself; he tells how his grandfather came up to London from the country, and was arrested for leaning out of his bedroom window and shooting a cock that kept him awake.
Tom was destined for the army; but he was only 17 when the First World War ended, and someone persuaded his mother that since there would never be another war, it was pointless to send him to Sandhurst. University seemed the next best choice. His family were traditionally Oxford men, but Tom knew no Greek, so had to go to Cambridge.
There he was thoroughly bored by the lectures, but spent much time reading books on archaeology, and making drawings of ancient brooches in the museum. He made the acquaintance of the curator, Louis Clarke; and when Tom left Cambridge, after taking his degree, Clarke invited him to come back and work for him as a volunteer ‘digger’. Since Tom had a private income, this seemed as good an idea as any; so he became an archaeologist.
In the autobiography his life sounds idyllic: digging up Anglo-Saxon remains all day in quiet country churchyards, and sipping port in the evenings with eccentric characters like Sir William Ridgeway, Sir Cyril Fox, James Wordie and Louis Clarke. The story of those Cambridge years is told in The Ivory Tower, that entirely delightful autobiography which will, I trust, see print in the not-too-distant future.
In due course, Tom became the Keeper of Anglo-Saxon Antiquities at the Archaeology Museum; he remained in Cambridge until 1957, except for a brief period in 1944 when he and Mina - his second wife - tried to become cattle farmers on an island off the west coast of Scotland.
After the war, he found Cambridge increasingly unpleasant and dreary. Most of his old friends were dead. He disliked what he called ‘academic trade unionism’. But it was the Gogmagog affair that finally decided him to leave. Tom had become acquainted with that extraordinary lady, Margaret Murray, who believed that witches were actually practitioners of an ancient pre-Christian religion of fertility worship. When he heard of a legend of a giant figure cut into the turf of Wandlebury Camp (an Iron Age fort near Cambridge) he decided to try and find it.
He did this by driving an iron bar into the turf of the hillside and noting which of the holes went deeper than the others. He was working on the assumption that the ‘giant’ had been carved into the chalk of the hillside, like the famous Cerne Abbas giant with his erect penis, and therefore the turf that covered the outline would be deeper than the surrounding turf.
In due course, Lethbridge located the giant figure of a woman on horseback, with a sword-waving warrior on one side of her and the sun god on the other. There could be no doubt that the woman, obviously a goddess, was the central figure; the symbol of the moon behind her suggested that this was the moon and earth goddess Matrona, the Celtic equivalent of Diana, goddess of the witches.
Lethbridge wrote a book all about it - Gogmagog: The Buried Gods - in which he argued strongly in favour of Margaret Murray’s theories. It made him thoroughly unpopular at Cambridge. The days when Margaret Murray was sufficiently respectable to be regarded as the leading authority on witches were long past. Lethbridge’s critics said that his giant figures were non-existent - the result of his own wishful thinking.
It was the last straw; Tom was already sick of Cambridge, and decided it was time to leave for good. Which explains how, in 1957, the Lethbridges came to move into Hole House, near Branscombe, in Devon, and how Tom began the most remarkable and fruitful period of his crowded life.
I should explain that Lethbridge had never taken much interest in the ‘supernatural’. As an archaeologist and historian, he regarded it as irrelevant. But this is not to say that he was a sceptic. During the course of his life, he had had a number of odd experiences.
At the age of 18 he had been walking in the woods near Wokingham with his mother when they both experienced ‘a horrible feeling of gloom and depression, which ‘crept over us like a blanket of fog over the surface of the sea.’ They hurried out of the wood, convinced that something ghastly had happened there. A few days later, a man’s body was found close to the spot where they had been standing; he had committed suicide. Lethbridge later became convinced that the man’s own misery and fear had somehow ‘imprinted’ themselves on the surroundings.
When at Cambridge, Tom had seen a ghost, although he was not aware of it at the time. Leaving a friend’s room, he saw a man in hunting kit, who stood as if waiting for him to leave. The next day he asked his friend the identity of his visitor; the friend looked at him blankly and said nobody had entered the room.
Two years later, in the Chorister’s School, he and a friend confronted an ‘icy presence’ at the bottom of the stairs; it was known to the masters as ‘the ghoul’. They tried walking into it, and it retreated up the stairs. They walked on, and it stayed ahead of them. At the top of the stairs they began to feel alarmed in case it should materialise, so they linked arms and took the last step. The ‘ghoul’ reappeared behind them.
So Lethbridge had some slight practical acquaintance with the ‘supernatural’ when he came to Hole House. He also knew that he could ‘dowse’. He had tried it before on Lundy Island, when searching for volcanic dykes. As a test, he had allowed himself to be blindfolded, then led along by a friend; he held a divining rod in his hands, and it accurately located every one of the volcanic dykes.
Still, he might well have spent the remainder of his life pottering around Iron Age sites, and writing more books like Merlin’s Island and The Painted Men. Fate intervened, in the form of an extraordinary neighbour who seemed to be a practising witch. She told him casually that she possessed the power of ‘astral projection’ - leaving her physical body - and readers of this book will find evidence in the first chapter to suggest she may have been telling the truth. She also renewed Tom’s interest in dowsing - not, this time, with a forked stick, but with a pendulum.
And here Tom’s innate curiosity led him to make an interesting discovery. Instead of using the ‘short pendulum’ that most dowsers seem to prefer - any fairly heavy object on the end of six inches of string - he decided to try making a far longer pendulum, varying its length by winding it round a pencil.
He soon made a discovery that filled him with excitement. The pendulum seemed to react to various substances at different lengths. For example, if he wanted it to react to copper, he had to make the length precisely 30½ inches – in which case, the wooden bob would stop swinging back and forth, and go into a circular motion above the copper. Held above sand, it rotated at 14 inches. Iron was 32 inches, lead 22, mercury 12½. He used the pendulum for detecting lead-glazed pottery in the courtyard of Hole House. The pendulum even detected truffles in the nearby wood.
The next discovery was even more exciting. The pendulum would react not only to objects, but to ideas. If he thought about the moon, the pendulum reacted at 30 inches. It reacted to the points of the compass - or the thought of them - at 10 inches, 20 inches, 30 inches and 40 inches. And if he wanted to distinguish between the moon and silver, both at 30 inches, he merely had to count the number of times it rotated; each object - or idea - had its own individual number.
The next decade of Lethbridge’s life was quite literally a detective story. He conducted a long series of experiments into the pendulum and its reactions. He discovered, for example, that it could distinguish between sling stones that had been used in battle and the same stones gathered from a beach, as well as stones that had been thrown by Mina and stones that he had thrown himself.
And the clues kept coalescing to indicate new lines of thought. If anger could impress itself on a sling stone, then surely it explained how a suicide’s misery could impress itself on the place where he died? In which case, his reaction to the place where the man committed suicide was a dowser’s reaction. If he and his mother had suspended a pendulum in the woods near Wokingham, it should have gone into violent rotation at 40 inches, the rate for death.
What had happened, basically, was that Lethbridge had rediscovered something that had first been noticed more than a century earlier by an American professor, Joseph Rodes Buchanan. Bishop Polk - later a Civil War general - told Buchanan that he could detect brass in the dark simply by touching it; it produced an odd taste in his mouth. Buchanan tested him and found he was telling the truth. So clearly, Polk possessed some curious ‘sense’ that the rest of us lack. Buchanan discovered that some of his students were even more sensitive, and could name various chemicals even when they were wrapped in heavy brown paper packages.
But it was his next discovery that intrigued him most - that these ‘sensitives’ could also hold a letter, and describe the sort of person who had written it, and whether the writer was happy or sad at the time. The writer’s personality and mood had apparently imprinted itself on the letter. Buchanan’s brother-in-law, William Denton, was a professor of geology, and he tested his students with geological specimens wrapped in thick paper. They received clear pictures of times in the remote past, convincing Denton that this new faculty - which he called psychometry - was a kind of telescope through which man could contemplate the history of the earth.
For a few years, ‘psychometry’ attracted wide attention in America; then scientific scepticism triumphed, and it was consigned to the rubbish bin of ‘occult’ superstitions. Lethbridge, whose reading was limited, had most certainly never heard of either Buchanan or Denton. He had simply stumbled upon their discovery from a completely different angle.
But, as he realized himself, he had stumbled upon something far more important than a half-forgotten faculty. (After all, dowsing has been known for thousands of years.) What it really amounted to was that he had discovered a new dimension of reality. As a scientific archaeologist, he had always assumed that the world is made up of solid matter, and that the task of the mind is to try to understand its laws.
The behaviour of his pendulum told him quite plainly that it is not as simple as this. The pendulum is, as he discovered, as accurate as a voltmeter. But it is not connected directly to the effects it is trying to measure. These have somehow to pass through the intermediary of the human brain. Here, as it happens, I can speak with personal experience.
I first discovered that I could use a dowsing rod at the standing stones called the Merry Maidens, near Penzance. What amazed me was not so much that the rod twisted violently in my hands as I approached the stones, but that I felt nothing: no prickling of the hair, no tingling in the hands. It reacted just like any other scientific instrument that I might have been testing.
Some unknown part of my brain - almost certainly the right cerebral hemisphere - was ‘picking up’ some curious force in the stones, and causing some involuntary contraction of my muscles that twisted the rod in my hands.
This is what fascinated Lethbridge. Not only, it seems, is nature full of curious ‘tape recordings’, some dating back millions of years, but our brains possess the electronic equipment to play them back. It is enough to make a good scientist feel faint and queasy. How can we hope to keep the mind and nature - or the ‘objective facts’ and our interpretation of them - in separate compartments if there are aspects of nature that can only be observed by some unknown part of the mind?
As the years went by, Lethbridge became increasingly fascinated by this problem. He said that the sensation reminded him of a time in Iceland when the ice suddenly gave way under his feet, and he found himself in freezing water. Yet freezing water does not seem to have alarmed him unduly. He had the courage – and imagination – to recognize that his old scientific view was distorted and incomplete.
The mind does not study nature; it is intimately involved with it, and cannot escape this involvement, except when engaged in the crudest kind of measurement. Nature is somehow alive, as Goethe realized – not only trees and flowers, but rocks, water and minerals. In fact, as ancient man seems to have realized, the earth itself is a living body, not a mere cooling fragment of the sun.
And so Lethbridge moved from his early experiences of ‘ghosts and ghouls’ to the study of dowsing, and from dowsing to the force of evolution. He became convinced that the physical world in which we live - and to which the pendulum responds between 1 and 40 inches - is only one level of reality, and that other levels - other ‘dimensions’ - coexist with our own; they can even be detected by the pendulum.
His interest in the problem of time led him - like J.W. Dunne  to study ‘precognitive dreams’. Reports of flying saucers led him to look into the subject of Unidentified Flying Objects, and their possible relation to the forces of the earth - he came to suspect that monuments like Stonehenge could be ‘beacons’ for guiding UFOs. Yet he never lost his sense of humour, or that good-natured pragmatism that makes his early books on archaeology so delightful.
Between 1961, and his death in 1971, Lethbridge wrote ten books, all of them fairly short (about 150 pages). In these he described in detail the progress of his investigations. These books, I believe, form one of the most fascinating records of ‘paranormal research’ of the twentieth century; I have read and re-read every one of them.
 Source: Foreword by Colin Wilson to The Essential T.C. Lethbridge edited by Tom Graves and Janet Hoult; Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 1980, ISBN 0 586 05077 9.
 An Experiment with Time by J.W. Dunne was published in 1927 followed in 1934 by The Serial Universe. J.B. Priestley published Time and the Conways (1937) and several other time plays based on Dunne’s ideas including I Have Been Here Before, Dangerous Corner and An Inspector Calls. Towards the end of his long life, Priestley wrote Man and Time (1964) and Over the Long High Wall (1972); books which helped keep Dunne’s ideas in the public eye. It would be nice to think that Priestley was acquainted with Lethbridge. Priestley’s third wife was the Cambridge archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes, whose first husband, C.F.C. Hawkes, participated in the work of the Fenland Research Committee. According to Pamela Jane Smith in a paper published in 1994: ‘As Honorary Director of Excavations for the Cambridge Antiquarian Society for over thirty years, T.C. Lethbridge was an important local figure in archaeology, specialising in Anglo-Saxon remains found in the Fens. Although a founding member of the Committee and a close friend of Kenny, Leaf, Tebbutt, and Fowler’s, he attended irregularly, did not participate in sub-committees, and does not appear to have been very involved.’ Smith wrote elsewhere in her paper that ‘Lethbridge’s wife lived somewhere in Girton and a close friend, Rachel O’Leary, and I spent a day searching Girton for Lethbridge’s wife and eventually found a delightful woman who asked us in for tea and offered us a trunk of fifty-year old papers. [Ed]