Mediums, and Messages
Sťances, Mediums, and Messages
BY PATRICK O'REILLY
Mediumship and channeling date back to ancient
history and undoubtedly tie in with humanity's long held belief in an ability to
in some way survive death. Vestiges of this belief are found in prehistoric
sites around the globe.
A 60,000-year-old Neanderthal burial site
includes medicinal flowers arranged around the body. (Leakey, 56-57). Other
ancient cultures also had ritualistic burials which prepared the deceased for
the afterworld. The Stone Age Irish built elaborate stone tombs, many with
astronomical significance (O'Brien, 1985, 7-11) and held beliefs in an
afterworld that were animistic (O'Faolain, 1947, 16-21). The ancient Egyptians
believed in a force they called Ka that was a spiritual likeness of the living
person and was capable of surviving death (Wilson, 1987, 9-11). Native American
myths of the Southwest emphasized the fertility of the next world and rituals
were used to insure that the deceased person avoided the dangers and evils on
his or her journey there (Bierhors, 1987, 77-83).
The spiritual healers of primitive cultures
were almost always the shamans, who acted as intermediaries between the spirit
world and the community. Shamans were believed to be able to travel astrally and
to act as conduits to higher beings (Parrinder, 1971, 46-47). A common
shamanistic ritual involved the acting out, by the shaman, of a trip to heaven
or the underworld to retrieve the lost soul of one of his or her sick
constituents (Couliano, 1991, 41).
Mediumship, the ability to communicate with the
spirits of the dead, and divination, the ability to foretell future events
through supernatural means, also date to ancient history and appear to be found
in all cultures. On Malatia, in the Solomon Islands, for instance, people
believed that humans had two souls. When a person died, one soul journeyed to
heaven. The other soul, however, became an ancestral spirit and was communicated
with by mediums (Ellwood, 1976, R. 36).
In ancient Greece, the most famous oracle was
in Delphi. Pilgrims traveled to Delphi to consult The Oracle about their
problems and their future. A priestess, while in a trance state, spoke
unintelligible words that were believed to be channeled from Apollo (Parrinder,
156). Priests "translated" these utterings into words of advice for
the supplicants. Many questions and answers from pilgrims to Delphi survive. One
such interchange was: "'How do I cure my son of lovesickness?' 'Treat him
gently.'" (Parinder, 157).
Indirect pronouncements were also popular and
given credence by preChristian pagans. Answers to questions presented at temples
were found in signs and omens at the shrines and sacred groves. Dreams,
particularly, were given great meaning when thought to be messages from gods.
Visitors journeyed to Egypt to get answers at the temple of the god Bes,
"entirely true, the giver of dreams and oracles, never-lying, acknowledge
throughout the world, heavenly...: (Fox, 205).
In the early part of the first millennium,
theurgy, the art of magic performed with supernatural assistance, became popular
in Roman and Greek culture. Prophets, both men and women, were much in evidence.
There was a perception that this supernatural power was most commonly found in
the young and innocent and the power of divination was often believe to increase
when accompanied by music and sweet aromas (Fox, 208).
In Dondona, the sound of rustling leaves was
interpreted and given as answers to questions of pilgrims. A few of these
questions were written on lead and have survived. One pilgrim, for example,
wanted to know if the child his lady friend was bearing was his. (Parrinder,
S…ANCES AND MEDIUMS
Sťances and mediums were frowned upon in the
Old Testament. Deuteronomy, 18:10-12 states: No Israeli may practice black
magic, or call on the evil spirits for aid, or be a fortune teller, or be a
serpent charmer, medium, or wizard, or call forth the spirits of the dead.
Anyone doing these things is an object of horror and disgust to the Lord.
The only sťance appearing in the Bible occurs
in the first book of Samuel. In I Samuel, 28:8-9, Saul, fearing approaching war
with the Philistines and having no one whose counsel he trusted, asked the witch
of Endor to summon his recently deceased counselor Samuel, who had anointed Saul
as king. After fasting for 24 hours, Saul visited the witch. "'I've got to
talk to a dead man,' he pleaded, 'will you bring his spirit up?' 'Are you trying
to get me killed?' the woman demanded. 'You know that Saul has had all of the
mediums and fortunetellers executed.'" However, Saul was desperate for
advice from Samuel and promised that no harm would come to her. Alas for Saul,
Samuel, through the medium, predicted that Saul's army would lose the upcoming
battle and that Saul would be killed in the fight. During the Middle Ages, there
were many stories and beliefs about ghosts, usually tied in with martyrs and
holy men and women. Frequently, the ghosts of these holy men and women visited
the living and most often did so to advocate the upholding of Christian morality
(Finucane, 1996, 41-43). In Ecclesiastical History Of The English People, Bede
wrote about a group of English missionaries who were murdered in what is now
Germany and thrown into the Rhine River. A shaft of light shown down from the
sky near where they were murdered. The ghost of one of the murdered missionaries
appeared to a Christian man and told the man that the shaft of light pointed to
the murdered Englishmen's bodies. The bodies were then recovered and buried at
Cologne Cathedral (Bede, 1990, 281-282).
During the Reformation, tales of ghosts usually
concerned the ghosts asking for some sort of absolution as a means of reaching
heaven. This could involve asking for forgiveness of those living whom they had
offended or pleading to be buried in sacred ground (Finucane, 1996, 105-107).
Besides ghostly appearances and appearances in visions and dreams, ghosts were
also said to communicate with the living by making rapping noises. In sixteenth
century Europe such rappings were reported by both Catholics and Protestants. In
1534, several Franciscan friars in France claimed to be in communication with
the deceased wife of the chief magistrate. Using a system of rapping sounds
developed by the friars, the spirit "told" the monks that there is a
purgatory, that the Catholic Church is the one true church, and that the spirit
greatly regretted having converted to Protestantism.
The deceased woman's husband filed a complaint
with civil authorities, accusing the friars of fraud and defamation, and the
king appointed a secular-lay investigative committee. The friars then withdrew
their insistence that their communications with the spirit were authentic. Upon
being officially confronted by the investigative committee, they admitted that
the entire episode was fraudulent and that they had made up the entire episode.
All of the friars, except the ringleaders, were sentenced to make public
confessions, pay monetary compensation to the chief magistrate, and serve prison
sentences or be exiled. The ringleaders were sentenced to be burned at the
stake. The sentence was later reduced to life banishment (Finucane, 109-110).
In the seventeenth century, Emanuel Swedenborg,
a gifted and accomplished scientist, began to receive visions which he said were
supernatural. He claimed to have traveled astrally to distant planets (although
only to those known to exist during his time) and to heaven, and to have spoken
Swedenborg quickly amassed a large following,
including several members of royalty. He said that on his astral travels, he
frequently recognized familiar people whom he had known while they were living.
He stated that he was able to communicate with the spirits of deceased persons,
even the spirits of specific people, on behalf of their living families. He and
his followers claimed that lost objects were found due to instructions
Swedenborg received from the spirits of people who had died. He wrote, In every
one that has religion there is implanted a knowledge that after death he will
live as a man...Inquiry was made in the spiritual world whether this knowledge
is implanted in all, and it was found to be implanted in all. (Swedenborg, 1909,
Swedenborg contended that initially, the spirit
of a newly deceased person is welcomed by angels and benign spirits but
eventually pursues a lifestyle similar to the one he or she had while living.
This occurs in a nether world midway between heaven and hell (Sigstedt, 1952,
Swedenborg claimed that he frequently saw and
communicated with the spirits of friends, family and coworkers who had died (Sigstedt,
250) and his followers also believed that he could view objects at great
distance (remote viewing). Swedenborg and his followers insisted that Swedenborg
had seen the murder of Czar Peter III of Russia occurring hundreds of miles from
where Swedenborg was currently residing (Wilson, 58). He also preached that the
"soul is identical with a life-force which originates from the cortex and
circulates in the blood" (Washington, 14). Swedenborg died in 1772 but his
visions and writings continue to wield impact, Swedenborgian churches still
exist, and his metaphysical books remain in print.
In the early and mid-nineteenth century,
Mesmerism was used as a way to communicate with spirits. Using Mesmer's work on
"animal magnetism," even educated people saw this invisible force as a
conduit to the spirit world. Proponents believed that people successfully
"mesmerized" were in the proper frame of reception to receive messages
from spirits. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, successful communication with the
spirits of the dead were chronicled using Mesmer's methods. In 1836, The Journal
du Magnetisme cited the work of several successful mediums who had interviewed
the spirits of deceased people in this way. The book Secrets of the Future Life
Unveiled, published in 1848, detailed what were purported to be successful
mesmeric communications with the spirit world (Finucane, 179-181).
Mesmerism set the stage for modern day
spiritualism, which really began with the Fox sisters in 1847. In 1847 in
Hydesville, New York, Margaretta and Katie Fox, aged 15 and 12, startled their
community when they claimed that spirits communicated with them by making
rapping noises when the sisters summoned "Mr. Splitfoot." Joined by
their married sister Leah Fish, who claimed that the gift of spirit
communication was an hereditary gift, and their mother, Mrs. Fox, the sisters
attracted great attention and many believers. They promptly went into mediumship
professionally and performed at P. T. Barnum's museum. Despite intense
accusations of fraud by journalists and an admission of fakery and fraud by the
sisters themselves (Kurtz, 1985, 178), the Fox sisters nonetheless continued
performing sťances for fees. Well known persons known to accept their
performances as legitimate communications with the dead included Horace Greeley,
William Cullen Bryant, George Bancroft and James Fennimore Cooper. A wealthy
banker became their European manager because of their purported success at
communicating with his deceased wife (Finucane, 181). Although the sisters were
frequently denounced as dishonest and vilified by many for preying on the naive
and desperate, their success started an avalanche of emulators.
Mediumship quickly became immensely popular in
Europe and America and by 1853, ten spiritualist journals were being published
in America. Also in 1853, "it was claimed that more than 300 magnetic
circles in the city of Philadelphia were receiving messages from the dead"
(Finucane, 180). New practitioners of mediumship in Europe and in America
developed their own techniques. Henry Gordon supposedly levitated to the ceiling
while in communication with spirits. Musical instruments hung from the ceiling
played music for Miss Vinson when the spirits were contacted. Mysterious
writings appeared on a slate for medium John W. Truesdale, who was twice
arrested and convicted of fraud as a result of his sťances. Francis Monck, too,
specialized in spirit slate writing. Like Truesdale, Monck also was successfully
prosecuted and imprisoned for fraud (Finucane, 186).
"Ectoplasm" (the luminous substance
believed to emanate from a spiritualistic medium) frequently emerged from the
mouths of dozens of mediums. Being touched by the hands of spirits and seeing
images of ghosts during sťances were common, as were tables vibrating, shifting
and moving. The planchette (Ouija board) was extensively used.
Despite the credulity of its proponents,
spiritualism did have its detractors. Huxley wrote: (set off) If anybody could
endow me with the faculty of listening to the chatter of old women and cures in
the nearest cathedral town, I should decline the privilege, having better things
to do. And if the folk in the spiritual world do not talk more wisely and
sensibly than their friends report them to do, I put them in the same category.
An English journalist writing about the
mediumistic use of the planchette wrote "What I did consciously, the
credulous do unconsciously." (Finucane, 184) Robert Browning satirized
spiritualism in general, and Daniel Home in particular, in his poem "Mr.
Sludge: Medium." And numerous professional magicians successfully
duplicated the performances of the mediums.
Probably the most famous medium practicing in
England in the nineteenth century was Daniel Home. It was claimed that he could
levitate, make objects move around the room, cause an accordion to float in the
air, and carry hot glowing coals in his bare hands. A notable aspect of Home's
career is that he seldom charged fees but instead relied on the generosity of
those attending his sťances. A wealthy woman named Mrs. Jane Lyons gave him
33,000 English pounds in gratitude for his spiritual services. Significantly,
during a Home sťance, her deceased husband told Mrs. Lyons to adopt Home and
will her wealth to him (Kurtz, 186). Mrs. Lyons, however, had a change of mind,
accused Home of undue influence, and successfully sued him for full recovery of
the money. Home did, none-the-less, marry twice and both times to wealthy women.
Eusapia Palladino was an attractive, barely literate woman from Italy who became
a quite famous medium in Europe and America in the late nineteenth century.
During her sťances, tables would levitate, her weight would change on a scale,
spirit hands would appear, objects would appear from a nearby cabinet, and
"spirit" music would be heard. Eusapia was observed by several
scientists and academics on both continents who declared her gifts genuine.
Still other observers insisted that she was a fraud and she was, in fact, caught
cheating on many occasions.
This did little to change the minds of those
who believed her gifts as a medium were genuine. The reasons so many people
believed in the legitimacy of mediumship are varied and outside the scope of
this paper. However, it might be of interest to explain briefly how the mediums
accomplished some, at least, of their feats. It may be that every medium had
methods specific to his or her own style, yet there was a commonality in most sťance
performances, and many such performances were revealed to have been done
by trickery. In 1851, the Fox sisters were exposed in a New York newspaper by an
investigator who determined that the raps heard during their sťances were caused
by the sisters cracking the bones in their knees. The Fox sisters acknowledged
that it was true yet continued successfully to perform professionally. In 1888,
Margarita Fox confessed during a public lecture that she and her sisters had,
from the very beginning, always faked their sťances, and that none of them had
ever had paranormal powers. Margarita then demonstrated to the packed lecture
hall how she and her sisters had made the rapping sounds (Somerlot, 1971, 76).
There was less of a market for lectures on fakery, however, than on spirit
communication, and Margarita Fox soon after recanted her confession and returned
to the sťance business (Wilson, 61).
Mediums held advantages over investigators who
attended sťances to test the legitimacy of the mediums' performances. Most of
the investigators studying mediums were academics who were not trained in stage
magic or in spotting street chicanery. Additionally, many such investigators
were, for reasons of their own, predisposed to believe in the legitimacy of
spiritualism and as a consequence, often rationalized mediumistic mediocrity and
Believers in spiritualism went to sťances seeking comfort, and by most accounts, the well-known mediums were very good at
giving comfort and reassurance. Many mediums were careful not to admit known
unbelievers, skeptics or unsympathetic investigators to their sťances, claiming
that the negative energy these people brought with them made spirit
communication prohibitively difficult. The participants of sťances were also
instructed to remain completely still during the sťance session and were nearly
always required to remain sitting at the sťance table. To aid the mediums, there
was also a "blue book" circulated among professional American mediums
(Kurtz, 185) which contained personal information about people known to attend sťances. And one absolutely cannot underestimate the importance of the fact that
sťances were held in the dark, where sleight of hand was difficult to detect.
In 1875, a French spirit photographer was
convicted and imprisoned for faking photographs (Finucane, 187). Mediums were
also caught sneaking around the darkened sťance table, some dressed in ghostly
garb. Blackburn and Smith were two highly regarded mediums of the 1880's. In
1911, Blackburn published a newspaper account detailing the highly developed
system of signals and signs, none of which were paranormal, that he and Smith
had used to convince their audiences that their gifts were supernatural.
Blackburn did not know in 1911, though, that Smith was still living and still
performing, and Smith angrily denied Blackburn's confession. Blackburn
apologized publicly to Smith but insisted that his published account of his and
Smith's fakery was accurate.
In both America and Europe, hidden cameras
revealed mediums using hidden rods to move tables, and furniture, and to strum
musical instruments suspended from the ceiling (Wilson, 64). Wind instruments
situated away from the sťance table were observed being played by mediums using
long hollow metal tubes. Eusapia Palladino was caught using an accomplice hidden
under the sťance table and of hiding fake hands and mechanical devices within
the folds of her clothing (Finucane, 185). She was also observed using her feet
both to move furniture and "spirit touch" her clients (Kurtz, 205).
Because sťances were conducted in the dark, no
one actually saw a medium levitate. Rather, they heard the voice of the medium,
which may have sounded as if it was above the sťance table. Mediums who claimed
to levitate were caught standing (instead of sitting) and/or speaking through
hollow tubes pointed upward. "Ectoplasm" emerging from a medium's
mouth was observed to be regurgitated surgical gauze (McHargue, 1972, 1989).
Photographs of ghostly figures glimpsed during sťances showed such figures to be
cloth painted with phosphorescent paint, and double exposure photography was
commonly used by mediums and their assistants to create spirit photographs.
A very important technique used by successful
mediums was, and is, the ability to do convincing cold readings. Ray Hyman wrote
that cold reading is the procedure by which a 'reader' is able to persuade a
client whom he has never before met that he knows all about the client's
personality and problems. (Hyman, 1981, 81)
Hyman emphasized that cold reading can be a
highly developed skill. Successful cold readers ask questions that sound like
pronouncements and are able to formulate both personal information and
predictions based on what the client has inadvertently revealed during the
session. Successful cold readers are also observant and notice things like
wedding bands (or the lack thereof), style and expense of clothing worn, worry,
and exhaustion. Through a careful methodical series of questions and
pronouncements (such as, 'I see you are worried about someone close to you, am I
right?') the cold reader quickly knows quite a bit about the client he or she
has just met (Steiner, 1989, 17-24). The willingness to believe by proponents of
mediums is of great importance.
Believers were invested in the belief that the
mediums were legitimate. Comfort received during a sťance with a deceased
spouse, for instance, would have been nullified had the believer accepted that
the medium was a fraud. Academics and scientists would have appeared
professionally ludicrous had they admitted that their methodology was faulty or
that the spiritualist they had championed had fooled them. Supporters of
specific mediums who were exposed as frauds often rationalized the mediums'
fakery by insisting that the medium's occasional use of trickery and fraud did
not mean that the medium always used trickery and fraud and that some, at least,
of their feats had not been determined to be sleight of hand and thus must be
legitimate proof of the medium's supernatural gifts. Hereward Carrington, a
respected scholar and supporter of Esaupia Palladino, defended his faith in her
by saying, I have seen levitation when both the medium's ankles were held
beneath the table... Esaupia herself says that she will cheat if allowed.
Kurtz points out that Carrington was the only
person known to have seen the medium levitate while her ankles were tied beneath
Site Map |
Michael FAQ |
Soul Age |
Advanced Topics |
Nine Needs |
Michael Channeling |
Related Articles |
Channels & Resources |
Michael Tools |
Michael Books |
Michael Chat |
Michael Student Database
Role Photos |
Spiritweb List Archives |
Personality Profile |