jump to navigation
  • Quentin Craufurd and Telepathy Among Birds July 12, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    ***Dedicated to Splendid Chap***

    We’ve met Quentin Craufurd on several occasions. He was a leading light of the FIS, perhaps the leading light. He also wrote extensively on clairvoyance. Beach is working up a bibliography of his work and has already got to eight including life boat shanties (!) and dawn in India. No greater love though has a man for his blog than to tap out 4000 words of bird stories. Beach kept hoping a fairy would crop up, but, instead, just another bloody parrot!

    Any other Quentin Craufurd: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    I have often been asked in what way I imagine animals communicate their thoughts. My view is that they do it, to a great extent, by what we call telepathy, but that they supplement this by signs and sounds.

    They use noises rather than words when they communicate by sound, just as a baby cries to express its disapproval.

    I have been taught certain war cries by some of my bird friends, and very delightful this teaching was.

    Other birds have picked up from me certain words, and most amusing was the interpretation they put upon the sound; but I have failed to establish a system of language based upon speech.

    My wish was to learn the bird language. At first I assumed that it must consist of subtle differences of tone and in that way would be similar to ours: but meanwhile I established a primitive form of communication that was not speech.

    Let me tell you of Ching, a little magpie-robin that I had in China.

    I think we got upon really intimate terms over a small wood-turning lathe that I used. He was greatly interested in this, and thought it very clever of me to turn him out little toys that roll about.

    He would sit on the lather and sing a tiny song to the measure of the purring wood. You could not mistake this song; it told of murmuring water. I am not musical, but the moment he would begin there rose in my memory various fishing experiences I had had.

    The little bird, his head on one side as he inspected the work of the lathe, would recall visions of running water for me as he softly sang to himself. Later, I found that, to him, this song actually appeared to mean running water. It would be sung to the rain trickling down the window pane; to water being poured from a jug; and also in the garden while sitting on my thumb, where he sang to the drain which led into a small pond into which the Chinese servants had water running from their washing.

    It was curiously brought out by an incident which took place at Waterloo Bridge.

    On top of a pile of luggage, the little bird was sitting his Chinese cage in charge of a porter whilst I went to buy tickets. The monotonous murmur of the traffic had started him and, when I returned, the porter had his head pressed against the cage of the little black and white robin. ‘Chatterin’ away to ‘ees little self’, the porter explained. ‘I could do wi’ that little pet sir, I suppose you wouldn’t sell ‘un for nought.’ I confirmed the supposition. ‘E’s singin’ about the place where I come from, sir, like the mill stream and all, my Gawd!’ said the porter. Son the man had caught what I had heard.

    I would pretend I was going to slap my wife. How Chap knew what a slap was I do not pretend to know, but, all fluffed out, he would land on my hand with a fierce shout and sound his war cry. I was to be furiously pecked if I dared to raise a hand against a lady. On the other hand, if my wife pretended to slap me, he showed no excitement, and didn’t mind a bit. That war cry was really the sweetest little chant. I learned it by heart; at least I thought I had learnt it, but Ching, thought otherwise, and, indeed, there were certain little grace notes I could not master. To my cost I learned that no cock should think he knows a better version of this chant than the original.

    Ching would sit up on a picture when the mood took him, and sing his chant. If nobody took any notice, he would probably prolong it into a tune with variations, but if I answered his challenge by an attempt at imitation, a duet would begin. You may see this sort of thing going on between two thrushes. Ching would shout his chant as loud as he could, the little beak opened wide to give it full effect and scarcely had my attempt been made than he would follow suit with the real thing and this would go on, his head cocked to hear my version. Then I would pause to think it over. Having given me sufficient time to show him, by my silence, that I was nonplussed he would chant again and strut about. I would then make a weak attempt. Now the fun would begin! Ching would whistle half the war cry. I would attempt it and fail.

    Presently, realising that I was beaten, he would give me the first three notes. Over and over again I would repeat these after him. At last he judged me sufficiently good to be allowed to tackle the next three notes. In other words, he taught me deliberately and with the utmost patience. I never became perfect, but I could in time make a tolerable attempt. If finally I whistled the whole cry with the assurance that I was perfect… with a sudden dart, he would hurl himself on my hand, a soft little ball of fury. He would peck and peck until he had administered enough punishment. Though it was all play had I been small enough he would have rolled me in the dust and driven into a bush, which is what he did to other cocks who tried to shout him down. Unless, of course, the battle went the other way, when he made for the house and, having gained sanctuary, would strut about and pretend the victory was his.

    In that way I learned one of the robin traditions, i.e. ‘Don’t try to teach your grandfather to suck eggs or sing; if you do you will get sat on.’ Another tradition I had to learn from Ching can easily be put into words, though Ching put it into practice. There were certain times when deserting my wife, I went away on a cruise. His attitude towards her was double. She a refuge and yet under his protection. If in our games I was too rough, he would sidestep along to her, knowing that there he would be safe from me, and he would defy me from under her arm, but if I attempted to touch her, he would fly at me, a little fury, fluffed out as large as he could make himself.

    While I was away on a cruise, Ching constituted himself her sole protector and, when I returned, he would greet me as a pal, but would not suffer me to approach her. He was jealous as could be and, in order not to hurt his feelings, we had either to keep apart in his presence, or let him drive me off. Things would settle down after a day or two, but having deserted my wife and left Ching in command, it seemed to him right that, on my return, he should be ‘top dog’.

    Had I not entered into the game, I would have learned nothing and Ching would have been reminded of the barrier between men and animals, the barrier we ourselves have put up. As it was, there was not communication of thought.

    Ching learned that I had not come back to steal from him or cut him out. It must be remembered, when considering this, that Ching was a little wild creature; he had not been brought up with human ideas.

    His love for us, his human friends, was a thing of his own, as also was his sense of right and wrong. Ching could have understood why a wild mother would sooner eat her young than have them peeped at by alien eyes: why a hedge sparrow will bring up the young cuckoo at the expense of her own flesh and blood; why the same hedge sparrow will die protecting her young and why she will desert the nest when her young are half fledged.

    These are problems the solutions of which are hidden from us, who pin our faith to reason.

    I have, I think, come to understand some of them, but have no words to translate my knowledge into human philosophy.

    From Ching, let us go on to the story of ‘Master Spic’. Spic was a sparrow which I found on the path, thirty feet below the eaves of the house where his home had hung.

    It was a concrete path and Spic lay, apparently dead, his little white legs stretched out behind his unfledged wings like the flappers of a prehistoric reptile barred with thorny pointed scales that were meant, in due course, to become strong pinions with which to beat the air.

    In his fall from that height, these could have been of no use. Yet little bones are soft and yielding at this early age. I did not kick the ugly thing out of sight. I picked it up.

    With care and attention Spic became a little sparrow in the course of the next few days and one with an enormous capacity for bread and milk.

    In a few days he could be relegated to a nest at the side of my bed. The pen-filler which had been used to replace hi mother’s beak was eventually laid aside. Spic could feed himself.

    He lay tucked into a warm nest with a dish of bread and milk within reach. One night I had a full share of rest. I like dreaming and when I was awoke, was aware that I had  had a fine series of dreams. Uppermost in my mind was a flamingo, which in some way was identified with myself and which was in the Sahara desert dying of thirst. I had been thrust back into wakefulness by the necessity to rescue myself, or the flamingo.

    The dream was built up out of several forgotten scenes in my life. These had been called up and thrown together in absurd confusion. At one and the same time, I was on the banks of the Suez Canal, flying through the air with a flock of flamingos, lying on the arid desert of caked dry sand, hurrying towards a mirage of a caravan and so on. The central impression of the dream was one of urgent need for water, yet I was not in the least thirsty. Where on earth did these absurd dreams come from?

    Flamingos! Yes, I had first seen flamingos in their wild state on their Suez Canal from board ship. This had nothing do with thirst. But wait! The flamingos had been flying towards a mirage in the desert, a mirage of a lake. What of that? The birds were not deceived by this appearance of a lake with reeds, probably they would not even see the mirage from their height. Also they has been flying away their own reeds. I had seen them get up and had been immensely struck by their long legs trailing out behind in flight.

    Legs trailing out behind! Spic! Yes, Spic as I had first seen him with his little white legs stuck out behind. The connection had not struck me then, consciously, but it had apparently struck my unconscious memory. Flamingos, legs trailing behind, Spic, Sahara desert, Spic and dry caked sand, mirage, disappointment, desire for water, for drink, urgent! In a flash I go it, as I awoke! Spic was urgently in need of drink. Was that it?

    But reason told me he cold look after himself! Still I would not chance it. I woke myself up.

    Dawn was breaking, and Spic was lying with his head out of his nest. He had crawled out to feed on the bread and milk but had found only a hard dried-up cake. The milk had evaporated in the warn night and I had not thought of providing water. I had to get up and find a teaspoon and water. It was a nuisance; and did Spic really need it? The little creature was actually shivering with thirst! He drank and drank! I had received an urgent call from him in my sleep, and the call had produced fitful dreams connected with thirst. I had not heard him, but some way my brain had known that he was asking for a drink.

    I will give another instance of a call due to thirst, this time from a monkey. A friend had brought home a monkey from Africa, which reached after having been delayed for nearly three days on the railway. Nobody had thought of giving it water and the instant I saw it, I knew it was frantic with thirst. I let it out of the box and it immediately dived for everything that looked like a bowl. Fortunately, I had some water handy, but what was it that telegraphed the information? I do not know . Several other people in the room got no such message and it may be that my mind has become accustomed by practice to receiving impressions from the animal mind.

    I can find another instance of thought communication in my Chinese note-book. Certain sparrows had contracted some kind of a disease; it showed itself as a growth, usually at the side of the beak.

    I picked up one, who was evidently at the point of death, and seeing it was in a sort of fit, I ministered to it with sherry weakened by water. It gradually revived. I then fed it with beef tea and, so far as I knew, it recovered. As a result we were then visited by several sparrows who had this disease. When far gone, they would come to the place where I had picked up the original sparrow. They would be treated in the same way. Some of them died, but there could no question that they all expected relief, for they allowed us to handle them. It is a mystery to me how such a complicated piece of news – human magic and its results – could have been communicated.

    These sparrows were sufficiently friendly to come and share our tea on the verandah. As a rule, a wild animal that is unwell wishes to hide, but it seems clear in this case, sparrow number one must have gone away and told its friends.

    Another incident that seems to fit in here, was the case of a mouse which had got imprisoned in a grain tank. It could not climb up the smooth iron sides.

    Three mice were thus caught, and I put arm into the tank to see if they would take advantage of it.

    One mouse, after the first panic, came up and nibbled at my finger. The he bit a little harder and finding that no harm came of the experiment he ran up my arm. Arrived at my shoulder, he could have leaped into safety but instead of that he sat up prettily and inspected me. The he peeped down at his comrades who were anxiously waiting. He must have said something that I could not hear, then he leaped on to a shelf and watched matters. The other two mice approached, and one after another ran up my arm to safety. I caught one of them gently and offered him a monkey nut. At first he bolted with it, thought again and finally sat to eat it, then came back and nosed about for another.

    Having secured this, he must have gone off to tell his friends of the strange but kindly ogre who had given him a nut.

    Not long after that, I saw a mouse on a shelf nearly level with my head. He was trying to reach a monkey nut I had placed there for a different little person. The mouse could not reach the nut, and seeing that I made no hostile movement, he looked at me as much as to say: ‘Can’t you get it for me?’ I could and did; he took it from me, quite as a matter of course, and ran off with it. I can only find one explanation for this. Mice scampered away from other people about the place, but they seemed to have passed the word round that I was not dangerous. I wonder if they gave out an emanation that they recognised?

    Let us go back to little Ching for a moment.

    He knew at once if anyone who did not care for birds entered the room. He was apt to attack strangers, for he was generally flying about the room, and I think he looked on them as potential enemies. Though intensely jealous of anyone who approached my wife, some people he took to at once. We talk of instinct, but what do we mean by the word? Do people who use that term imply that they believe in some strange psychic quality, a sort of sixth sense.

    Certain neighbours of mine possessed a spaniel who disliked meat. Now from the start Ching never took the slightest notice of this spaniel. Other dogs he would regard with horror. If he was in his cage, they might take an interest in him and he would flutter about the cage, but this spaniel never worried him. The consequence was we got careless and left Ching’s cage where the spaniel could reach it.

    Imagine my feelings one day, when I found the spaniel in the conservatory where Ching had been left in his cage.

    Ching was singing and the spaniel head between paws, was lying beside the cage as if fascinated. He looked up at me reproachfully, as much as to say: ‘Why do you come and disturb us?’ He and Ching had somehow become friends. The point which strikes me is the peculiar way in which this dog picked out any bones or meat from his plate of food and put them on one side before he would touch his dinner, and I wonder if it was his being a vegetarian that gave him an emanation which Ching detected from the first moment of making his acquaintance.

    Is it that, or it a case of transmission of thought through unrecognised channels?

    If we consider the following rather pretty little drama, we may obtain a clue to thought transmission.

    Soon after reaching Hong-Kong, where I was stationed for two years, I brought a small green parrot. At that time we were living in rooms and the parrot, having a particularly sweet nature, became very dear. Our upper room had a small verandah overlooking a thicket of bamboos and the parrot was at liberty to fly among the bamboos. As it cage was on the verandah, the sparrows of the garden made free with the cage, stealing anything that took their fancy.

    One afternoon, on returning from a walk, I found that the Chinese servant had captured one of the sparrows in the cage.

    It had settled down comfortably for the night.

    Directly the sparrow saw us there was panic.

    I wanted to see whether it would become tame if I introduced the parrot into the cage. I felt sure that the parrot would not attack it, but there was an upper door which I could open for the sparrow if necessary. Quite unconcerned, Polly climbed in and gained the perch on which the sparrow had been sitting. Meanwhile, the sparrow, alarmed by my presence, clung to the bars of the cage.

    Polly seated herself placidly on the perch; I retired, and presently the sparrow got back on to the perch. There they sat, one at each end, apparently eyeing one another with some suspicion. Presently, the parrot commenced preening itself, a sure sign of being unconcerned. The sparrow remained thin and anxious, all its feathers close, uneasy and on the alert.

    If the sparrow would settle down, I knew I could leave them together for the night, and once they had slept together they were bound to become friends. I thought I would put the cover half on the cage to see if that would induce sleep, but my movements only caused the sparrow to flutter about again; indeed, it soon became obvious that it was I whom the sparrow feared, and not the parrot.

    I had made the mistake of watching intently, whereas I ought, of course, to have turned my eyes away. It is bird etiquette to keep you eyes averted if you wish to make friends, and for the moment I had forgotten. The sparrow, terrified by my approach, blundered into the parrot, and then I suffered a pang of self reproach. With the parrot cowering down on the perch, the parrot side-stepped up to it, raised her head and appeared to be about to deliver an attack; to my astonishment the sparrow remained as if petrified, but the little red beak came down gently, the barest touch the wise eyes narrowed down to pin points and it was over.

    Something had passed between the two, something in which the parrot had made itself understood as a protector or as a guarantor, for, with that touch, the sparrow lost its fear. Not of the parrot, for I do not think there had been any misunderstanding there, but of me and the cover I was about to put over the cage. It was the work of a moment and it was exactly as if the parrot had said: ‘He will not hurt you!’

    I had hesitated with the cover in my hand, uncertain whether to withdraw or to try to rescue the sparrow before the parrot struck it; but there was no need to hesitate and as I put the cover over the cage the sparrow was pressed happily against its little green protector. So they remained until the sparrow presently put its head under its wing. The parrot remained awake for some time, its wise eyes roving around as if trying to find a clue to many things. No doubt it wondered gently why this strange visitor should have been shut up with it.

    In due course the parrot also slept. There they stood, both fluffed out, their heads tucked away among their feathers, at peace with one another and the world.

    In the morning, the sparrow departed to his friends, but one wonders if, during future days, there were greetings such as we would use; ‘Hullo, George! How’s things!’ ‘George, my dear, is a parrot who sleeps in that cage. I once went to spend a the night in his company – just to show him how bold we sparrows are as a race! George has a queer religion that teaches him to be kind to others. Di you ever hear of such foolishness?’ ‘One must not pretend to know George when in company with our sparrows, but I rather liked him once – the queer old stick!’

    I say one wonders, but we may find with a little further research that this is the kind of gossip that really does take place.

    New Frontiers (January 1947)


    14/7/12: AB writes in: I find this remark fascinating: “My view is that they do it, to a great extent, by what we call telepathy, but that they supplement this by signs and sounds.” I’m more and more convinced we ourselves actually communicate much more of what we mean this way than by the pulsations of gas we expel.  This’s especially apparent to me during many telephone conversations where I seem to pick up huge amounts of often subsequently confirmed information from the most idle of mutterings. Then again many a time either me or my brother’ll hear each other say or ask for something before then apologising for responding in completely the ‘wrong’ way only to then learn our response was correct – what was said or asked for was actually a huge slip of the tongue. Saying all that I must say you must read more books than writer Colin Wilson given the obscurity of the stuff you come up with.’ Thanks AB!