A term designating the spirit entity that works with a medium
from the other side and who takes charge of the séance
proceedings while the medium is in a trance. This operator
might also be called a guide. Generally, the term implies enduring
attendance by a distinct and continuous personality who
uses the entranced mediums body. Some controls, such as Arthur
Fords Fletcher, became almost as famous as the medium.
In some ways, the control resembles the regular entities
that speak through channels and deliver a body of teachings.
In fact, controls often deliver a brief message at the beginning
of séances, but their primary function is to direct the orderly
contact of various spirit entities with the people present. The
apparent motive of controls is to do good, to be of service, and
to work out their salvation.
Spiritualists, who view the medium as a bridge to a lively
world of spirit entities, believe the control performs a variety
of functions during the séance delivering direct or relayed
messages to sitters, keeping order among those who rushed to
the light (emanating from the other side), keeping away
undeveloped or evil spirits, and occasionally getting out of the
way to allow the entity to communicate directly to others.
Spiritualists claim that the body of the medium is an instrument
that requires considerable practice in efficient handling.
The control is a communication expert that watches over the
fluency of the proceedings and often steps in to explain or repeat
unintelligible expressions. The conversational aspect of
the séances is largely due to the controls presence.
The nature of the control entity and the manner in which
the control functions remains unclear. There are, of course, a
variety of opinions on exactly what a control is. Today, many
non-Spiritualists, especially psychological scientists, consider
the control a part of the mediums personality. Otherseven
more skeptical in light of the significant amount of fraud found
among mediums in the early twentieth centurytend to write
off controls as mundane creations of mediums. Spiritualists
suggest that the controls long-term attendance of mediums is
considered on the other side as a kind of missionary work, or
as an occasional opportunity for experimental research.
Some of the most critical pieces of evidence to be considered
in assessing the nature of spirit controls suggest that some entities
at séances may be artificial personalities created from the
unconscious attitudes and thoughts of the sitters. In September
1972, a group of experimenters at the Toronto Society for Psychical
Research in Canada created an artificial entity named
Philip by meditating on his history, characteristics, and appearance
as decided on by the group. After negative results for
nearly a year, the group adopted the conventional Spiritualist
séance method and soon received messages from Philip
through table rapping. Some spirit guides and controls are obviously
synthetic and illusory, as in the deliberate creation of
Philip; however, it may be that the momentary acceptance of
them as real personalities can favorably influence paranormal
The Human Qualities of Controls
There is a human element in the process of establishing a
controls presence. Among the spirit entities, there may be a
Contact International Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
struggle for the post, and an established control may be replaced
by another, as witnessed in the case of Leonora Piper.
The struggle for control is often conveyed to the medium by
broken communications and spasmodic movements of the
hand or of the traveler on the ouija board.
The character and limitation of the controls also bear the
human stamp. They may have a large experience in life in the
beyond, yet, in answer to questions, they often confess ignorance
and reply that they will inquire from another who knows.
They tend to be patient, and during the days of physical phenomena
were ready to produce such phenomena to the sitters
satisfaction. But they seem adverse to taking orders; they expect
courteous treatment, appreciation for what they do, and
have their own caprices. Often they bring a religious atmosphere
but few of them seem of saintly disposition. Walter,
the control of Mina Crandon (Margery) cursed freely if something
displeased him and sent cantankerous objectors to the
devil. In his righteous indignation against Houdini he accused
him of cheating, swore terribly, called down curses on his head,
and used the most fearful language.
Eyen, the Egyptian control of Mrs. Travers Smith (Hester
Dowden), who claimed to have been a priest of Isis in the reign
of Ramses II, also cursed and swore in verse against a member
of the circle who drove him out by hypnotic suggestion given
to the medium. Peter, another control of Smith, was similar
to Walter, in that he attached himself to the circle to satisfy
his own curiosity and conduct psychical experiments from the
other side. He was excellent in devising tests, but otherwise his
character left little to be desired.
The power of constant controls is usually greater than that
of incidental communicators, and often appears to be specific.
I have only power for voices, said Cristo dAngelo, when he
was requested to be the control at the Rossi sittings. This is a
curious parallel with similar limitations on the part of mediums
and supports the theory that the control, in relation to other
spirits, is just as psychic as the medium in relation to the sitters.
For instance, in Cristo dAngelos case some spirits, if too weak
to reach the sitter on their own voice vibrations, came through
that of the control, which resulted in a blending of accent and
occasional predomination of the timbre of the control.
During the period when mediums were under widespread
scrutiny, the controls became central to physical effects (an understanding
of which has to be integrated with the belief that
the majority of the physical mediums were discovered in some
form of fraud). Consequently, the controls often had helpers
(some would term them confederates), other spirits who prepared
difficult physical phenomena while a message was being
delivered. These helpers sometimes assisted in the control as
well, increasing the coherence of the messages.
Many instances of blunders by controls were recorded in the
scripts of Stainton Moses. Once, heavy volumes of phosphoric
smoke were produced, scaring the medium as he was enveloped
in fire. It was explained afterward that an accident happened
during the production of the psychic lights (see luminous
phenomena). Another time, a perfume-producing
experiment miscarried and the sitters were driven out of the
room by an unbearable stench.
Sometimes harm reportedly occurred to the medium because
of the controls negligence or careless overdraft of power.
Occasionally controls failed in their capacity as doorkeepers
and undesirable, malignant elements invaded the séance room.
In such cases they immediately ordered the closing of the sitting.
When the medium awakened from trance, the control disappeared.
The control could not communicate anymore but
might be watchful and desirous of sending a message. Mrs.
Piper occasionally received such messages through her own entranced
The presence of the control was made known by various
means. The voice in direct speaking, the character of the handwriting
or the sensation experienced in automatic writing, the
peculiar style of rapping or tilting of the table, or mannerisms
disclosed the controls identity. Physiological observations may
have also furnished proof. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found that
the pulse of medium John Tichnor beat 100 when controlled
by Colonel Lee, 118 when under the control of Black
Hawk, and 82 when normal.
A curious case of two controls conversing audibly, each using
his own medium, was witnessed in the Mina Crandon séances
when another medium, Miss Scott, also fell into trance. The
control, Walter, who was in charge of the séance from the
other side, instructed the spirit of Mrs. Scott, mother of the medium,
how to proceed, when to start and when to stop talking.
The Picturesque Element
The claims by controls of prior existence in human embodiment
present another problem in assessing them. Most controls
have claimed a distant and inconspicuous life that defies
any verification. The control of D. D. Home always spoke in
plural and never gave his name. Stainton Moses was attended
by an organized band of controls that included biblical characters,
philosophers, sages, and historic personalities. The biblical
characters called themselves Imperator (Malachias),
Preceptor (Elijah), The Prophet (Haggai), Vates (Daniel),
Ezekiel, Theophilus (St. John the Baptist), Theosophus
(St. John the Apostle), and Theologus (St. John the
The philosophers and sages included a prestigious selection
of the famous and a few unknowns Solon, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca,
Athenodorus (Doctor), Hippolytus (Rector), Plotinus (Prudens),
Alexander Achillini (Philosophus), Algazzali or Ghazali
(Mentor), Kabbila, Chom, Said, Roophal, and Magus. Moses
was torn by doubts for a long time as to their identity and finally
concluded that, judging as I should wish to be judged myself
they were what they pretended to be.
Imperator was one of the most ancient spirit controls, but
he was preceded by nearly a thousand years by Lady Nona
(the guide of Rosemary), who claimed to have lived in Egypt
in the time of the pharaohs. Black Hawk, the control of Evan
Powell, insisted that a book had been published about him in
America. In 1932 the book was found; it was printed in 1834
There are several instances in which the same control has
manifested through different mediums. They have particular
favors for one medium at a time, however, and on that mediums
death the loss of power is passed on to another. John
King, who also claimed to have been Sir Henry Owen Morgan,
the buccaneer king, first appeared in the Davenport séances
and manifested at séances of other mediums for a long time,
while Katie King, his daughter, appeared to have passed on
to a higher sphere after her farewell from Florence Cook.
Katie, however, made an unexpected return to the circle of Dr.
Glen Hamilton in 1932. Roy Stemman reported that Katie
King materialized in Rome in July 1974 with the medium
Native American Controls
Native Americans attained a special status within Spiritualist
circles, so frequently did they act as controls. Spiritualism, in
fact, presents one of the earliest attempts to build a positive
image of Native Americans among the European-American
public. These controls bore romantic or plain Indian names;
for instance, North Star (Gladys Osborne Leonard), Red
Cloud (Estelle Roberts), White Feather (John Sloan),
Greyfeather (J. B. Johnson), Grey Wolf (Hazel Ridley),
Bright Eyes (May Pepper), Red Crow (F. F. Craddock),
Black Hawk (Evan Powell), Black Foot (John Myers),
Red Jacket (Dr. C. T. Buffum) and Emily French, Old
John and Big Bear (Dr. Charles B. Kenney), Hawk Chief
and Kokum (George Valiantine), Moonstone (Alfred Vout
Peters), Tecumseh (W. H. Powell), and Segaske (T.
dAute Hopper). Few Native American guides surpassed the
fame of White Eagle and Silver Birch, the controls of two
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Control
famous British mediums, Grace Cooke and Maurice Barbanell,
Other nationalities, primarily those identified as cultures
that taught the ancient wisdom, were also frequently encountered,
such as Tien-Sen-Tie (the Chinese guide of J. J.
Morse), Eyen (an Egyptian guide of Hester Dowden), and
Feda (the Asian Indian guide of Gladys Leonard. In addition,
Hooper was attended by a fakir, Annie Brittain by a Senegalese
child, and Eileen Garrett by an Arab control. Nevertheless,
Native American controls were in the majority.
In spirit photographs Native American controls followed
popular images and appeared in scalp locks and tribal robes.
Their chief organizer was said to have been John King, but before
the appearance of the romantic buccaneer the first Indian
controls manifested in the Shaker communities in America.
They came collectively as a tribe. A knock was heard at the door
and when the spirits were invited they possessed everyone. Indian
shouts echoed in the house; the obsessed spoke Native
languages among themselves and danced Native American
The Native American spirits did not deliver any teaching.
On the contrary, the Shakers came to the conclusion that they
had to teach and convert the spirits. The Shakers work was the
beginning of what later became known in Spiritualist groups as
a rescue circle. The visits continued from 1837 to 1844. When
the spirits left, they informed their teachers that they would return
soon and invade the world, entering palaces and cottages.
But generally the Native American controls restricted their activity
to physical manifestations.
E. W. Wallis, coauthor with M. H. Wallis of Guide to Mediumship,
Many Indian spirits become true and faithful friends. They
act as protectorsdoorkeepers so to speakto their mediums.
They do the hard work of development in the circle and
prevent the intrusion of undesirable spirits. Sometimes they
are boisterous and exuberant in their operations and manifestations
and while we do not share the prejudices which are expressed
against them we think it is wise to exercise a restraining
influence over their demonstrations. They generally possess
strong healing power and frequently put their mediums
through a course of calisthenic exerciseswhich, although
beneficial to the health of the medium and, in the presence of
a few friends, may pass without adverse comment, would probably
cause criticism if performed in a public assembly.
Apart from Native Americans, and in light of contemporary
discussion of the child as an element in the individuals subconscious
self, children furnished the most interesting group of
controls. The best known include Feda (Gladys Osborne
Leonard), Nelly (Rosina Thompson), Dewdrop (Bessie
Williams), Sunshine (Anne Meurig Morris), Little Stasia
(Stanislawa Tomczyk), Nina and Yolande (Elizabeth
dEsperance), Belle (Annie Brittain), Bell (Florence Perriman),
Harmony (Sussannah Harris), Snow Drop (Maud
Lord Drake), and Pocka Miss C. E. Wood).
Before Emanuel Swedenborg, the human element was
largely lacking in spirit contact. Paracelsus, for example, communed
with elemental creatures; the spirits seen in the shew
stoneof John Dee were not identified with men; and sleepwalkers
believed themselves to be possessed by the devil or by
the Lord. The first controls as guiding spirits appeared in the
experiments of G. P. Billot in France about 1820. The spirits
possessing his mediums claimed to be their guardian angels.
Some controls claim to be pure spirits (never incarnated), such
as Little Stasia of Stanislawa Tomczyk and Nona of Lujza
Control by the Living
In several recorded cases the messages delivered by the medium
were proved to have emanated from living individuals.
This introduces the important question of whether the living
can act as controls. It was found that messages from the living
often came without their knowledge, in most cases when they
were asleep. This would suggest that occasionally the spirit entity
communicating might also be unconscious of doing soit
might be dreaming through the medium. The repeated statements
of Mrs. Pipers controls that they have to enter a dream
state to communicate have a curious bearing on this idea.
The Frenchman Allan Kardec and American John Edmonds
were the first to state that spirit communications may
emanate from the living. In his Spiritual Tracts (October 24,
1857), Edmonds writes
One day while I was at West Roxbury there came to me
through Laura [his daughter] as a medium, the spirit of one
with whom I had once been well acquainted, but from whom I
had been separated some fifteen years. His was a very peculiar
characterone unlike that of any other man whom I ever
knew, and so strongly marked that it was not easy to mistake
his identity. I had not seen him for several years; he was not at
all in my mind at the time, and he was unknown to the medium.
Yet he identified himself unmistakably, not only by his peculiar
characteristics, but by referring to matters known only to him
and me. I took it for granted he was dead, and was surprised
afterwards to learn that he was not. He is yet living. . . . I have
known since then many similar manifestations so that I can no
longer doubt the fact that at times our communications are
from the spirits of the living as well as the dead.
Other interesting cases may be found in E. K. Batess Seen
and Unseen (1907), M. Monteiths The Fringe of Immortality
(1920), A. N. Aksakovs Animismus und Spiritismus (1890), and
Florence Marryats There Is No Death (1892).
In one instance the spirit of Florence Marryat was summoned
while she was asleep. In the experience of the author,
the spirits of the living invariably beg to be sent back or permitted
to go, as if they were chained by the will of the medium.
Among her own mediumistic gifts Marryat claimed the power
to summon the spirits of the living.
Some early clairvoyants suggested that the only perceptible
difference between the spirits of the living and those of the
dead was that a delicate line of light appears to proceed from
the latter, apparently uniting it with the distant physical body.
Some modern clairvoyants claimed to have discovered another
distinction. The spirit incarnate appears lifeless, dead, statuelike,
whereas the discarnate one is intensely alive.
Catherine Berry writes in Experiences in Spiritualism (1876)
The table presently began rolling in a most extraordinary
manner, so that we could scarcely keep it down. We asked what
was the matter and it spelled out We have buoyed the cable and
shall be home in three days. We did not know what this meant.
Someone suggested that we should ask the name which it gave.
A gentleman then present at once said Are you Alfred Answer
Yes. Then you are on board the Great Eastern Yes.
Then you are all safe Yes. At this time, I should say, the vessel
had not been heard of for ten days or a fortnight; and exactly
at the end of three days the vessel arrived. This spirit Alfred
was in the flesh at the time and is now; and though he has
been questioned he has no knowledge of the circumstance or
of having desired to send us such a communication.
The story of a communication by raps from a living man is
told in the Revue Spirite, January 1911 by a Mrs. Bardelia. This
medium reported the occurrence took place under the observation
of Gustave Le Bon. It happened in 1908 in St. Petersburg.
The manager of the hotel where the medium was staying
asked for the favor of a séance. He was eager to get a message
from his father, who had recently died. The manager was dissatisfied
when, with the aid of the alphabet, the first raps
spelled out a name quite different from the one he expected.
The family name shortly followed, and he exclaimed, Why,
that is the name of my best friend; but he is certainly not dead,
for I just lately heard from him from a hotel in Moscow, where
he is employed. Both the manager and the medium were surprised,
and Bardelia sought further information. The spirit
confided, I am not dead, but in a state of coma; I shall die toControl
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
night. The manager asked, Are you at your hotel No, at
the hospital, was the reply. The raps ceased.
The manager, still skeptical, announced his intention of immediately
telephoning to Moscow to verifying the message.
About an hour later he returned, very pale and greatly excited.
A hotel spokesman said that, delirious and dying, his friend
had been moved to the hospital that morning and was not expected
to live through the night.
Mrs. J. H. Conant, an American medium, could manifest
through other mediums while her body was in trance and
under spirit control.
Wsevolod Solowiof, a well-known Russian writer, and automatist
who usually produced mirror scripts, on one occasion
wrote the name Vera. On inquiry it was elicited that a relative
of his was communicating. Yes; I sleep, but I am here, and I
have come to tell you that we shall meet tomorrow in the summer
gardens. This came to pass. Moreover, the young girl told
her family that she dreamed of visiting her cousin and of having
told him of their meeting.
Hereward Carrington, in his introduction to Sylvan J. Muldoons
The Projection of the Astral Body (1929), narrates his personal
attempt at projectionto appear to a certain young lady,
an accomplished pianist, with a phenomenal musical memory
One day, I asked her if she had ever heard of an old song,
Sparrows Build, made famous years ago by Jenny Lind, and
a favourite of my childhood days. She stated that she never had.
I said that I would get and send her a copy some time as I
thought she would like it. That was all that was said about it at
the time and no particular importance was attached to it. A couple
of nights later I attempted to appear to her, and as usual
awoke in the morning without knowing whether my experiment
had succeeded or not. A little later I received a telephone
call and the young lady in question informed me that I
had appeared to her the night beforerather more vividly
than usualand that she had thereupon been seized with the
impulse to write automaticallythe result being a verse of poetry.
That afternoon I called, was told of the experience, was
shown the poetry and confess that I received quite a momentary
thrill. The poetry consisted of the opening lines of the song
When Sparrows Build, absolutely accurate with the exception
of one word.
The Gordon Davis case recorded by S. G. Soal in the Proceedings
of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 35) is one of
the more famous cases in all of psychical research. In a series
of séances with Blanche Cooper in 1922, a voice came through
which Soal recognized as that of Gordon Davis, an acquaintance
who he believed had died in the war. Details about home
and family were given in a very convincing manner. Three
years later Soal met Davis, still quite alive. He knew nothing of
the communications that were said to have come from him.
Several similar cases are recorded by W. Leslie Curnow in a
1927 article in Psychic Science.
Shamar, the Hindu control of Hester Dowden, specialized
in bringing communicators who were living. In one instance,
the name of an intimate friend came through
He stated that he was not sound asleep and therefore the
message would come in jerks, which it did. He said he was sitting
before the fire in his drawing-room; no one else was in the
room. I asked him to give my sister a message from me; he said,
Sorry, I cant; I shall forget all this when I wake. He then said
goodbye and that he could not speak any more as he was getting
Sir Lawrence J. Jones, in his presidential address to the Society
for Psychical Research in 1928, dwelt on the mediumship
of Kate Wingfield, saying,
On four different occasions my youngest girl, aged nine,
purported to control during her sleep, speaking with great animation
and very characteristically. In the first instance she was
at Ripley, some fifteen miles from Wimbledon, where K. [Wingfield]
was staying. Later at Valescure she was asleep either in
the same house or in a neighbouring villa. On the first occasion
the child was asked, after some conversation, What about the
sailor frock The answer came We went to a shop. Mummie
just said, You get those things out. That is her tallness. And
they got them; nothing else to be done, no alteringthey just
sent them home. Thats what I like.
This was a correct version of what had happened that afternoon.
The child had been taken by her mother to London but
none of us had been at Wimbledon that day, so K. and the other
members of the circle only knew that there was a plan to buy
a sailor frock. Here is Herberts (the guide) comment,
In many cases a spirit on our side is quite unable to tell if
a person is dead, or unconscious, or merely sleeping, if the spirit
is outside; for after death for some little time the cord hangs
loosely before it is absorbed into the soulbody and often in
sleep the slackness of the cord presents the same appearance.
This instance may be compared with the Beard case in
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 23), where
Mr. Beard was described as having quite recently passed over
at a sitting held some eight hours before his actual decease.
Mercy Phillimore (in Light, May 9, 1931) told of her experience
in 1917 in a sitting with Naomi Bacon when a man was described
whom she recognized as a living friend
The moment my mind realized his presence a certain ease
seemed to invade the sitting and he took direct control of the
medium. The control lasted between five and ten minutes, but
before it ended the communicator requested me never to refer
to the experience to him in his normal state. The facts communicated
were found to be correct. In another sitting a year later
the living friend again purported to be present. His communications
In a direct voice séance given by William Cartheuser for the
American Society for Psychical Research on October 26,
1926, Mrs. X, a lady acquaintance of Malcolm Bird received
what she considered communication from her former fatherin-law.
He said that he died of a lung condition and had tried
hard to impress Mrs. X the night before. He gave a correct description
of what she was doing at that particular time. After the
séance, Mrs. X found out that the communicator was alive and
in great mental distress on the date of the séance (Psychic Research,
Alfred Vout Peters, the well-known London clairvoyant,
had several similar experiences. On four separate occasions,
Laura Finch (Phygia) controlled Peters while she was in Paris
in the body and he in London. She promised to do so if she
could. All who know her have been unanimous in declaring it
was Phygias own self speaking; her mannerism was there;
things were said of which only she had cognisance, and when
tests were agreed upon beforehand in the shape of certain
phrases to be uttered they were invariably used (Light September
2, 1899). On another occasion it was found that a control
who manifested through Peters was alive in Africa.
Admiral J. G. Armstrong related (Light, April 25, 1931) that
on one occasion while he was in London, his mother, who lived
in Devonshire, spoke to him through a medium. She was asleep
at the time and had the impression, on waking, of having made
a long journey. During a naval conference in London a naval
officer whom he had known many years prior similarly came
through and advised him to protest against the reduction of the
navy. He gave facts about his recent service. On inquiry Armstrong
found out that the man was alive and served in the East.
Allowing for the difference in time, it was likely he was sleeping
at the hour of the communication.
There are some cases on record in which a materialized apparition
was discovered to be living. Alfred Vout Peters saw, in
a séance with Cecil Husk, the phantom of a friend who must
have been at home asleep at the time. Others had similar experiences
with the same medium. Stanley de Brath saw, on four
occasions, the materialized face of a lady (then in India) of
whom he had lost track. Afterward he received a letter from
her. A Church of England clergyman saw the materialized face
of his brother who was then living in South Africa (Light, 1903).
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Control
In the controversy that ensued, a correspondent wrote to Light
of the materialization in the United States of General Sherman,
who not only announced his identity, but also stated that he
had just died. The general, however, who was at the time on his
death bed, did not die until a day or two later.
Some mediums are claimed to have materialized animal
phantoms. From a Spiritualist perspective, the question might
arise, Is it not possible for animal spirits to control men in
trance The confession of Charles Albert Beare, a self-styled,
bogus medium of Peckham, London (Daily Express, September
18, 1931), contains this curious passage
One night at Bermondsey . . . I saw a woman supposed to
be controlled by an ape. She jumped on chairs, on the table and
darted all over the room just like an apein fact, she had all
the mannerism and characteristics of the ape. It was a horrifying
performance, and when the woman came out of the control
she had to be revived with water and by people beating her
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
Curnow, W. Leslie. Spirits in the Flesh. Psychic Science
Marryat, Florence. There Is No Death. New York John Lovell,
1891. Reprint, New York Causeway Books, 1973.
Moore, J. D. A Medium Appearing in a Materialized
Form. Facts 6 (March 1887).
Owen, Iris M., and Margaret Sparrow. Conjuring Up Philip.
New York Harper & Row, 1976.
Stemmen, Roy. Spirits a