Spiritualism and Mediumship
Spiritualism is a major religion with many millions of adherents spread across the USA and Europe. It is a real religious movement, and I respect the beliefs of any adherents of that faith, while not sharing them.
Spiritualism takes the reality of the spirit world for granted, and offers more proof than faith to its adherents, by providing communication with deceased friends and loved ones. This comunication is via a talented individual called a medium who possesses the ability to contact the dead. The movement has both organised churches and private home circles, and of course mediumship can occur outside the doctrinal and institutional base of Spiritualism. In almost all ways today's channellers are the spiritual heirs of the Spiritualist movement.
History of Spiritualism
began in Hydesville, New York state in 1848. In December1847 the Fox family,
father John, his wife and two daughters, Margaret and Kate, moved into a house
there near todays township of Arcadia, Wayne County. There were two more members
of the Fox family, Leah and David, both married and living with their partners
Soon the family was afflicted by bangs and raps in the night, which today would probably initiate a poltergeist investigation. Kate however discovered that it was possible to communicate with the 'haunting' entity by asking it to rap a certain number of times in response to questions. The family established that they were dealing with the ghost of a murdered pedlar buried under the house. Some authorities have claimed that human remains were found there during excavations in both 1848 and 1904. Eventually plagued by sightseers and the curious the family took off to Rochester, a nearby town.
Soon after their arrival in Rochester they discovered the rapping had followed them, and a circle of interested and sensible people began to gather for the first seances. In 1849 three public meetings were held to investigate these phenomenon, and no trickery could be discovered. (Many years later one sister claimed responsibility for the noises but her testimony is considered suspect because of pressure placed on her to confess and because of personal and financial difficulties she was experiencing at the time).
A new craze began and spiritualist circles repeating the phenomena sprang up all over the US in response to the news. By 1853 the movement had reached San Francisco and London, and by 1860 was worldwide. The Fox family were among the greatest missionaries of this new movement, even though as previously mentioned there were later admissions of fraud.
Spiritualism in the 1890-1916
There was little in the way of national organisation of mediums although some regions of Britain had organised Federations that might have up to thirty circles of similar beliefs, and in 1891 the National Federation of Spiritualists (NFS) came into existence and grew quite large before its name change to the Spiritualist National Union (SNU) in 1902. British spiritualists of this time were often adherents of the temperance and anti-capital punishment lobbys, often held radical political views and were frequently vegetarians. A few dabbled in Women's rights and a tiny minority espoused free love and anarchism!
"Two Worlds" was the major British magazine of spiritualism and had a fairly large circulation, and it advertised the existence of local circles. Trance mediumship flourished and table turning was a popular craze, reputedly even reaching Buckingham Palace. D.D.Home one of the greatest physical mediums had done much to make spiritualism fashionable and it was common among everyone from the aristocracy down. There can be no doubt that there were many fake mediums and few good ones and the fledgling SPR spent much time investigating the phenomena.
Within Britain the movement was greatly affected by the national trauma ofthe First World War, 1914 - 1919. Almost everyone knew someone who was killed in the conflict, and thousands of young wives and mothers turned to the Spiritualist Churches for comfort and reassurance. By 1916 a backlash had begun and the media and courts had begun to harass spiritualists, possibly because of the large numbers of fraudalent mediums who sprang up to cash in. Two prominent men, the noted psychical researcher Sir Oliver Lodge and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes did much to publicise the movement.
Types of Mediumship
There are two main types of mediumship, best classified as mental and physical. Physical mediumship was quite common in the 1890's and 1920's but is very rare in the 1990's for some reason, though one reason may be that we are now much better at exposing fraudulent practices. It does however produce fairly spectacular and interesting results and makes for a good scenario. The SPR's booklet "Hints on sitting with mediums" (1956) lists the following types of mediumship...
A group of sitters place their hands touching on a table that starts to lift, move, tilt or bang in accordance with a prearranged code. This was a great craze of the nineteenth century with even Queen Victoria rumoured to have participated. It is best performed in a room with either very subdued or red lighting, or in total darkness. Hoaxing is extremely easy.
Some mediums produce seemingly telekinetic effects, that being remote movement of objects. Again darkness or low light is preferred.
Ouija Board, Planchette.
I assume most people are familiar with the Ouija board but it is essentially a piece of wood decorated with the letters of the alphabet and often "yes", "no" and "maybe". The participants place their fingers lightly on a glass tumbler that moves around the board spelling out messages. This undoubtably works but is not really proof of anything. At the simplest the effect may be created by someone hoaxing, that is consciously pushing the glass or planchette. Asecond possibility is that the messages are created by the querent's unconscious mind and the glass moved by involuntary muscular action. It is also of course possible that one is contacting demons or spirits!
Originally marketes as a game the word 'ouija' is simply an amalgamation of the French and German words for yes. The author strongly discourages such practices in real life!
Spirit Trumpets, Banjos et al...
In the early twentieth century and late nineteenth century it was common for physical mediums to have spirit trumpets through which voices spoke. Guitars and other musical instruments played by themselves, and various objects floated round the seance room. These were often marked with luminous paint. Eusapia Palladino and Franz Kluski were two famous mediums who seemed capable of producing genuine effects, although controlled RSPK can not be ruled out as a cause, but that is perhaps solve one miracle with another!
(RSPK is shorthand for recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis by the way... :)
Made famous by the film Ghostbusters ectoplasm is a possibility yet to be substantiated or analysed by modern chemical science. A white, sometimes faintly bluish substance it resembles mucus in consistency, and is probably related to the ichor exuded by the dread Hounds of Tindalos, having its origin in the angles rather than the curves of the space-time continuum! Unlike that ichor it is not corrosive, but some mediums have claimed that it can not stand light. During a seance certain physical mediums can exude this stuff from their bodily orifices. It is quite luminous and may form swirling clouds or waving tendrils before solidifying into human or even animal form. The substance can beused by spirits to take on bodily form, making them clearly recognisable to all in the room. Ectoplasm is spectacular and the hallmark of the greatest materialisation mediums.
The medium must be genuinely gifted, the spirit contact must have occurred, the spirits must be willing and the medium relaxed. Total darkness, except for luminous objects that give off no real light, must prevail.
Several mediums of my acquaintance have told me of the terrible dangers of this process. At the end of the sitting the medium must reabsorb the ectoplasm into their body, and this can damage them if not done properly. Purportedly several mediums died in the early days of the movement when police or sceptics broke up seances and allowed this to happen. "Heart failure" would be the doctors verdict from the symptoms.
Most ectoplasm that has been witnessed by psychical researchers has borne an uncanny resemblance to muslin or cheesecloth soaked in luminous paint. There is no doubt that in many cases of fraudulent mediumship that is exactly what it was. The medium had either a concealed accomplice who draped themselves before appearing or had hidden the "ectoplasm" within or about their person or clothing. Hoaxing is a major possibility here.
These are peculiar appearances of objects apparently brought to the sitting by spirits, sometimes at the request of sitters. It is possible that some psi power allows for the teleportation of these objects but usually I think that hoaxing or a spirit using a SOD (small object displacement, or 'what's the sodding ghost done with my cufflinks?') type effect is the better explanation. Apports have included flowers, stones, rings, frogs, birds, ornaments and insects.
Quite rare by the 1990's but very popular in 1916 spirit photography purported to show the newly deceased standing behind their loved ones in an ordinary photograph. Hoaxing was ubiquitous with actors hired to appear behind the sitter through concealed panels and even double exposures where another photo was super-imposed. One spirit photograph of a rememberance ceremony at the Cenotaph, a London war memorial claimed to show the faces of dead soldiers hovering about. Unfortunately they were instantly recognisable as well known (living) sports personalities clipped from the newspaper!
It is of course possible that a talented medium could actually cause aspirit to appear on a photographic plate if that spirit so wished.
Requirements for physical mediumship.
the seance has a fairly limited attendance, say up to twelve persons. The
room is pitch black or lit by a very dim red light. Several objects with luminous
paint may be scattered around, including guitars and other instruments. Often
all participants sit holding hands and wait for medium to make contact. Hymns
or jolly songs may be sung to build up the energy.
This is by far the most common form of mediumship and is as prolific today as before. Here nothing physical occurs, and all communication is via the medium who either "sees" or "hears" the spirit messages. The SPR's invaluable "Hints on sittings with Mediums" lists three types of mental mediumship. These are:-
The Clairvoyant Medium.
The medium sees the spirits and converses with them, while often remaining conscious and fully aware.
The ability to read objects past histories by handling them and feeling the vibes, man.
The Trance Medium.
This is probably most people's idea of a medium. The medium relaxes and apparently goes to sleep, actually passing into a hypnotic self-induced trance. A new personality, or "Spirit Guide" takes over. Spirit Guides are spirits who have attached themselves to a human and protect them from hostile spirits. Normally they are foreign, and each medium's spirit guide has a unique personality.
Examples of Spirit Guides
Ra-Amen is an ancient Egyptian priest who lived in the 6th Dynasty. He speaks in a stilted, hesitant manner and often refers to popular conceptions of ancient Egyptian mythology. He explains that most souls reincarnate but spiritually advanced spirits, or Ka's as he refers to them, sometimes stick around to help mortals in their spiritual progress. Unfortunately he is totally unconcerned with furthering mortal knowledge of ancient history or archaeology, seeing these things as a waste of time. He is interested in "rescue work", that is in helping earthbound spirits to "move on." He regards his mediums friends as bumbling idiots and constantly encourages them to "strive for the unreflected light" and "love unconditionally".
Bright Eagle was a Red Indian, as indeed most spirit guides seem to have been. He acts like a stereotypical Amerind from a 1950's western, and has long since forgotten the Souix tongue and culture. His major concerns are ecology and saving the planet, and he constantly exhorts his medium and circle to greater concern for animals. He gives salutory lectures on moral philosophy from the happy hunting grounds, and tries to put people in touch with their departed loved ones. He frequently berates his medium for drinking, smoking and not being a vegetarian.
Lahm-Psu was an ancient Atlantean sorceror-priestess, and frequently tells stories of Ancient Atlantis. She warns constantly of the coming end of the age, and explains that the Ascended Masters are trying to gather a circle of faithful initiates who will learn hermetic magics and drive off an unspeakable evil that threatens the very cosmos. Lahm-Psu occasionally manages to be quiet long enough to find the spirits she is looking for, but most clients find her charming if a trifle moribund and they do get through to their loved ones eventually...
Dr. Otto was a doctor who lived in nineteenth century Germany andpracticed surgery. A pompous, stereotypical German he blusters and splutters as he tries to find out what is going on. He also specialises in psychic surgery (see below) and is happy to oblige with any rusty knife. No proof of his existence has ever checked out but he does speak fluent German, although his medium studied it at high school in Pennsylvania years ago.
This is most common today in Hispanic cultures, especially Brazil and the Phillipines where many psychic surgeons operate. It is not strictly necessary for a psychic surgeon to be a trance rather than clairvoyant medium, but many are. Like Dr. Otto (see examples of spirit guides) most claim to be spirits of medical men continuing their good work from the other side. They place the patient in a light trance although the patient remains fully conscious throughout, and operate in primitive unsterilised conditions such as the patient's own kitchen. They often use rusty knives and make swift incisions before cutting out tumours and other growths. Others use more traditional methods of psychic healing such as laying on of hands. The patient feels no pain and the scars heal with supernatural swiftness. Many sceptics claim that nothing more than hypnotism, autosugestion and sleight of hand are involved.
Automatism is another spiritualist gift. The automatist creates automatic writing as follows. Sitting relaxed, they hold pen (or paintbrush if an automatic painter) to paper and wait for sometimes hours for their spirit guide to take over and possess their body. They will then create fine paintings, compose symphonies or write either short messages or even complete novels. Some famous automatists have created in the style of well known masters of the past with considerable success, possibly allowing for a great career in forgery! Shorter transcripts such as those produced by the SPR group of automatists in the famous case of the Cross-Correspondences may provide some of the best evidence we have for short term post mortem survival of personality.
Hints for Investigating Spiritualist Phenomena.
To start with two points should be self-evident.
Firstly it is possible, at least in the case of physical mediumship, to apply all the standard investigative proceedures. The medium should be controlled and if it is not possible to securely rope them to their chair then the sitters on either side should hold their hands and place their feet gently on the mediums. If production of ectoplasm is expected then a competent medical practitioner should be asked to carry out a thorough body cavity search of the medium while their clothing is rigourously examined for concealed hiding places. If an apport is expected it may also be necessary to finely comb the medium's hair.
Meanwhile the other investigators should thoroughly examine the table, chair and other furnishings of the seance room. Finally the doors, walls and floor as well as the ceiling should be inspected for sliding panels, cavities and other hiding places or ways in which an accomplice could enter once the seance has begun. Whatever the phenomena expected the investigators should very carefully check hearing aids or any other location where a miniaturised radio reciever may be hidden. One very sucessful medium had an accomplice who went through his clients coats and bags in the cloakroom before transmitting information gathered to the medium. Use common sense and try to meet all rational objections by being prepared. If things are still happenning it is vital try to record the phenomena. Infrared photography will show up fraud in a darkened room where our normal senses may well fail us, and some highly amusing photographs have caught out hoaxers dangling objects on strings, etc...
Mental mediumship proves harder to evaluate. Here all we have to go on really is the quality of the information provided. The first question is,was the material lucky guesses or evidence of some sort of communication? To calculate this statistically is almost impossible. Almost everyone knows someone called John, and the chances that an aged relative died of a disease concerned with the chest (heart or lungs), had grey hair and liked gardening may be much higher than immediently obvious. Some if not all mediums "fish" for hints by asking leading questions, especially if floundering or failing to make contact. For this purpose a "proxy" sitter may be sent instead of the person who wants to make contact, and should know nothing about the person they are trying to contact apart from possibly the name. This also helps agaist the super-ESP theory of mediumship. The investigators should try to ascertain how many "hits" or pieces of correct information are related as opposed to "misses" or inaccurate statements.
One problem faced by investigators is verifying that the medium did not come across the information by normal processes of research or by carefully watching the querent's non-verbal communication (body language and facial expression). Here several possibilities exist. An accurate stenographic or tape recording of everything said, however trivial, should be kept. The querent should restrict their utterances to the bare minimum, saying "yes" or "no" and perhaps "go on." It is useful tosmile encouragingly throughout, trying to retain a simple posture. A disguise or pseudonymn should always be used if a proxy sitting is not useful, and the pseudonymn should be changed to stop mediums from swapping notes on their clients.