Medium
Throughout the history of Spiritualism, a special place has
been occupied by the medium as an individual qualified in
some special manner to form a link between the living and the
dead. Most Spiritualists would agree with the definition adopted
by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches ‘‘A
Medium is one whose organism is sensitive to vibrations from
the spirit world and through whose instrumentality intelligences
in that world are able to convey messages and produce
the phenomena of Spiritualism.’’
Through the medium, Spiritualism asserts, the spirits of the
departed may communicate with their friends or relatives still
on earth, either by making use of the material organism of the
medium (i.e., through automatic phenomena) or by producing
in the physical world certain manifestations that cannot be explained
by known physical laws (i.e., physical phenomena).
The essential qualification of a medium is a unique sensitiveness
that enables the medium to be readily ‘‘controlled’’ by
spirits. Mediums thus stand in contrast to sensitives or psychics,
terms applicable to psychically gifted individuals who are not
controlled by spirits of the dead.
If one accepts the possibility of mediumship, the next question
is whether mediumship is an inherent faculty or whether
it may be acquired. Some Spiritualists hold that all individuals
are mediums to some degree, and consequently that everyone
is in communication with spirits, from whom proceeds what is
called inspiration. Those who are ordinarily designated mediums,
say the Spiritualists, are gifted with this common ability
to a higher degree than their fellows.
What came to be known as mediumship in nineteenthcentury
Spiritualism is an ability that was found in the ancient
world. Early written records of demonic possession afford an
excellent example of mediumship, as does the ancient practice
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of witchcraft. The somnambule of the eighteenth-century mesmerists
provides a more recent example.
In its usual application, the term medium is used to describe
sensitives associated with the modern Spiritualist movement,
which had its origin in the United States in 1848. Spiritualism
was distinct as a post-Enlightenment movement in which mediumship
was used as a means of demonstrating to the public and
proving scientifically the reality of spirit contact and therefore
life after death. This peculiar context set it apart from all similar
behavior that had preceded it.
In this sense, then, Mrs. Fox and the Fox sisters, the subject
of the Rochester rappings, were the earliest mediums. The
phenomena of their séances consisted mainly of knockings, by
means of which messages were supposedly conveyed from the
spirits to the sitters.
Other mediums rapidly appeared, first in America and later
in Britain and throughout Europe. Their mediumship was of
both varieties—physical and automatic. One of these phases
was exhibited exclusively by some mediums, but others demonstrated
both, as in the case of William Stainton Moses. Indeed,
by the end of the nineteenth century it was practically impossible
to find a trance speaker who did not at one time or another
practice the physical manifestations. Leonora Piper, who became
well known early in this century, was unusual because the
phenomena she demonstrated was purely subjective.
The early rappings of the Fox sisters speedily developed
into more elaborate manifestations. For a few years an epidemic
of table turning caused widespread excitement, and the motions
of the table became a favorite means of communicating
with the spirits. The playing of musical instruments without visible
agency was a form of manifestation that received the attention
of mediums from an early date, as was the seemingly paranormal
materialization in the séance room of ‘‘apports’’ fruit,
flowers, perfume, and all manner of portable objects. Darkness
was said to facilitate the spirit manifestations, and since there
are certain physical processes (such as those in photography)
to which darkness is essential, no logical objection could be offered
to a dim séance room. The arrival of physical phenomena
coincided with the introduction of many amateur conjurers
into the movement, who saw a means of making a living bilking
sitters hungry for information about their deceased relatives.
Attendees at a Spiritualist séance were generally seated
around a table, holding each other’s hands, and were often enjoined
to sing or talk pending the manifestation of a spirit. All
this, although offering grounds of suspicion to the incredulous,
was plausible to the Spiritualists.
As the demand for physical manifestations increased
through the decades of the nineteenth century, they became
more daring and more varied. The moving of objects without
contact, the levitation of heavy furniture and of medium or sitters,
the elongation of the human body, and the fire ordeal
were all practiced by the medium Daniel Dunglas Home for a
quarter of a century until his death in 1886. At public performances
of the Davenport brothers, while the brothers were
bound hand and foot in a small cabinet, musical instruments
were played and moved about the room and objects moved
without being touched. (The Davenport brothers did not claim
to be mediums nor did they identify themselves with Spiritualism,
but the Spiritualists certainly welcomed their performances.)
The slate writing of ‘‘Dr.’’ Henry Slade and William Eglinton
enjoyed considerable attention. The tying of knots in endless
cords and the passing of matter through matter were typical
physical phenomena of the mediumistic circle.
The crowning achievement of mediumship, however, was
the materialization of the spirit form. Quite early in the history
of Spiritualism, hands were materialized, then faces, and finally
the complete form of the spirit ‘‘control.’’ Thereafter materialized
spirits allowed themselves to be touched, and even held
conversations with the sitters. Further ‘‘proof’’ of the actuality
of the spirits was offered by spirit photography.
Physical phenomena were the highlight of Spiritualism
through the 1920s. By the beginning of World War II, however,
continual exposure of fraud within the movement largely
drove the physical mediums to the fringe.
To those for whom Spiritualism was a religion, however, the
most important part of the mediumistic performances was the
trance utterances, which came under the heading of automatic
or psychological phenomena, commonly in the form of automatic
speaking and automatic writing. These dealt largely
with the conditions of life on the other side of the grave, although
in style they often tended to be verbose and vague.
Spirit drawings were sometimes amazingly impressive, at other
times nondescript (see Automatic Drawing and Painting).
Clairvoyance and crystal vision were included in the psychological
phenomena, and so were the prophetic utterances
of mediums and speaking in unknown tongues.
According to the Spiritualist hypothesis that all individuals
are mediums, it would be necessary to class inspiration—not
only the inspiration of genius, but all good or evil impulses—as
spiritual phenomena. That idea in turn suggested to the Spiritualist
that the everyday life of the normal individual is to some
extent directed by spirit controls. Therein lay the responsibility
of mediumship, for the medium who desired to be controlled
by pure spirits from the higher spheres had to live a wellconducted
and principled life. Misuse of the divine gift of
mediumship carried with it its own punishment, for the medium
became the sport of base human spirits and elementals, his
or her will was sapped, and the whole being degraded. Likewise
the medium had to be wary of giving up individual personality
to the first spirit who came by, for the low, earthbound spirits
had the least difficulty in communicating with the living.
Great Mediums of the Past
Of the physical mediums, the most noteworthy was Daniel
Dunglas Home (1833–86), who claimed to be of Scottish birth.
He arrived in the United States at an early age. He is worthy
of note in that he was never detected in fraud (unlike most
physical mediums) although his demonstrations were spectacular.
All who came into contact with him were impressed by his
simple manners and frank and affectionate disposition, so he
possessed the most valuable asset of a medium—the ability to
inspire confidence in his sitters.
The production of physical phenomena was promoted at an
early date by the Davenport brothers. Although widely popular
in their time, they were quite different from Home. Their performance
consisted of allowing themselves to be securely
bound in a cabinet by the sitters, and while thus handicapped
producing the usual mediumistic phenomena. The Davenports
were said to be mere conjurers however, and when the stage
magicians John Nevil Maskelyne and Cooke successfully imitated
their feats, the Davenports lost credibility.
Slate writing, which proved one of the most widely accepted
forms of psychic phenomena, had as its principal exponents
Henry Slade and William Eglinton. The best argument that can
be advanced against their feats is to be found in the pseudoséances
of S. T. Davey, given in the interests of the Society for
Psychical Research, London. Davey’s slate-writing exhibitions,
exposing the methods of producing spirit messages by
simple conjuring, were so much like those of the professional
mediums that some Spiritualists refused to believe that he was
conjuring and hailed him as a renegade medium.
Automatic drawing was principally represented by David
Duguid, a Scottish medium who attained considerable success
in that line. Prominent trance speakers and writers were
Duguid, J. J. Morse, Emma Hardinge Britten, and Cora L. V.
(Tappan) Richmond.
One of the best-known and most respected private mediums
was Stainton Moses (1839–92), a clergyman and schoolmaster
whose normal life was beyond reproach. He produced both automatic
and physical manifestations, the former including the
writing of a work, Spirit Teachings (1894), dictated from time to
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time by his spirit controls, while the latter consisted of levitations,
lights, and apports. His position, character, and education
gave to his support of Spiritualism a credibility of considerable
value.
It is to later mediums, however, that we must look for proof
worthy of scientific consideration, and of these the most important
were Eusapia Palladino and Leonora Piper. Palladino, an
Italian medium, was born in 1854, and for a good many years
acted as a medium for scientific investigators. In 1892 séances
were held at Milan at which were present Professors Schiaparelli,
Angelo Brofferio, Cesare Lombroso, Charles Richet, and
others. In 1894 Richet conducted some experiments with Palladino
at his house in the Ile Roubaud, to which he invited Sir
Oliver Lodge, F. W. H. Myers, and Julien Ochorowicz.
The phenomena occurring in Palladino’s presence were the
ordinary manifestations of the mediumistic séance, but were of
interest because all the distinguished investigators professed
themselves satisfied that the medium, with her hands, head,
and feet controlled by the sitters, could not herself produce the
phenomena. Credible witnesses asserted that she possessed the
ability to project psychic limbs from her person. Lodge and
Myers were so impressed as to posit the existence of a new
force, which they termed ectenic force, emanating from the
medium.
In 1895, however, some séances with Palladino were held at
Myers’s home in Cambridge, where it became apparent that
she habitually freed a hand or a foot—in short, habitually resorted
to fraud if not properly controlled. Yet even these exposures
were not conclusive, for in 1898, after a further series of
experiments, Myers, Lodge, and Richet once more declared
their belief in the genuineness of this medium’s phenomena.
Leonora Piper, the Boston medium whose trance utterances
and writings contain some of the best evidence forthcoming for
the truth of Spiritualism, first fell into a spontaneous trance in
1884, and in the following year she was observed by Professor
William James of Harvard. Thereafter her case was carefully
studied by the American branch of the Society for Psychical
Research, London.
Her first important control was a French physician, ‘‘Dr.
Phinuit,’’ but in 1892 a new control appeared, ‘‘George Pelham,’’
who claimed to be the spirit of a young author who had
died in February of that year. So complete was her impersonation
of Pelham, and so well was his identity established by the
mention of many private matters known only to himself and a
few of his friends, that more than thirty of his friends claimed
to recognize him.
In 1896 ‘‘George Pelham’’ gave place to ‘‘Imperator,’’ ‘‘Rector,’’
and other spirits who had formerly controlled Stainton
Moses. From that time, and especially after 1900, the interest
of the sittings declined, and they offered less material for the
investigator.
Another automatic medium, Hélène Smith, came under the
observation of Theodore Flournoy. Smith’s trance utterances
were spoken in what was claimed to be the ‘‘Martian language,’’
and she believed herself to be the reincarnation of
Marie Antoinette and a Hindu princess. In his discovery of a
more mundane explanation of Smith’s phenomena, Flournoy
made her one of the most notable mediums in the history of
psychical research, if not Spiritualism.
Healing Mediums
The diagnosis and cure of disease were extensively practiced
by Spiritualist mediums, following in the path of the older somnambulist
and magnetic healers, who not only traced the progress
of diseases but also diagnosed and prescribed modes of
treatment.
The prescribing aspect of the healing mediums’ work has
largely been discarded since it frequently falls into the legal category
of nonphysicians practicing medicine.
In the beginning it was not considered proper for healing
mediums, most of whom practiced part time, to accept any remuneration
for their services. As the movement developed and
healers became full-time professionals, they either expected a
fee or accepted freewill offerings.
Although it may be true that healing mediums, like Christian
Science and New Thought practitioners, mesmerists, and
others, effected a considerable proportion of bona fide cures,
whether the cures were caused by spirit influence, the release
of some psychic power, psychic healing, or mere suggestion is
a point on which controversy continues. Spiritualists, like almost
every religious community that practices some form of
spiritual healing, can point to people who have been cured of
a wide variety of diseases.
Spiritualist Views of Mediumship
Various theories have been advanced to explain mediumistic
manifestations. Spiritualists, of course, claim that the phenomena
are produced by the spirits of the dead acting on the
sensitive organism of the medium. Today, evidence for such a
theory is considered to be, at best, inconclusive. In fact, the
change from psychical research to parapsychology was in
large part a shift away from survival studies to laboratory experiments
on basic psychic phenomena.
Observation of Spiritualism by psychical researchers and its
claims to demonstrate life after death have been dominated by
the question of fraud. The exposure of two generations of physical
mediums has largely driven such phenomena from the
mainstream of even the Spiritualist movement, although it can
still be found in various churches and camps. Fraud was mostly
discovered in physical phenomena, but it was also active where
mediums practiced mentalist tricks. Information about sitters
was collected ahead of time, or, in the case of pellet reading,
during the session itself. Spiritualists explain these lapses into
fraud as being instigated by the spirits themselves, a hypothesis
that is clearly untenable in the majority of cases of mediums
who practice fraud as a matter of course.
Automatism covers a wider field. The possibility that automatic
utterances, writing, drawing, and so on may be involuntary
and outside the sphere of the medium’s consciousness can
no longer be dismissed. The psychological phenomena are
sometimes found in small children and in private mediums
whose good faith is beyond question. The state is recognized as
being allied to hypnotism and hysteria. Besides automatism
and fraud, there are some other factors to be considered.
Some deception may be practiced by sitters as well as by the
medium. It has been said that the ability to inspire confidence
in sitters is essential to a successful medium. If the sitters are
predisposed to believe in the paranormal, it is easy to imagine
a lessening of the attention and observation so necessary to the
psychic investigator.
The impossibility of continued observation for even a short
period is a fact that can be proved by experiment. Memory defects
and proneness to exaggeration are also accountable for
many of the claimed marvels of the séance room, and possible
hallucination must be considered. When the medium is in a
trance, with its accompanying hyperesthesia, unconscious suggestion
on the part of the sitters might offer a rational explanation
for so-called clairvoyance.
Psychical Researchers and Mediumship
Joseph Maxwell defined a medium as ‘‘a person in the presence
of whom psychical phenomena can be observed.’’ Gustav
Geley’s definition was ‘‘one whose constituent elements—
mental, dynamic, and material—are capable of being momentarily
decentralised,’’ in other words, an intermediary for communication
between the material and spirit worlds. Myers
called the word medium ‘‘a barbarous and question-begging
term’’ since many mediumistic communications were nothing
but subconscious revelations; he suggested the use of the word
automatist. The word psychic was proposed by others.
Cesare Lombroso maintained that there was a close relationship
between the phenomena of mediumship and hysteria.
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Charles Richet believed that ‘‘mediums are more or less neuropaths,
liable to headaches, insomnia, and dyspepsia. The facility
with which their consciousness suffers dissociation indicates
a certain mental instability and their responsibility while in a
state of trance is diminished.’’
The same opinion was expressed slightly more circumstantially
by psychical researcher Frank Podmore ‘‘Physiologically
speaking, the medium is a person of unstable nervous equilibrium,
in whom the control normally exercised by the higher
brain centres is liable, on slight provocation, to be abrogated,
leaving the organism, as in dream or somnambulism to the
guidance of impulses which in a state of unimpaired consciousness
would have been suppressed before they could have resulted
in action.’’
Joseph Maxwell advised caution. He admitted that a certain
impressionability—or nervous instability—was a favorable condition
for the effervescence of mediumship. But he stressed
that the term nervous instability was not meant in a negative
sense. His best experiments were made with people who were
not in any way hysterical; neurasthenics generally gave no result
whatever. Nor did instability mean want of equilibrium.
Many mediums he had known had extremely well-balanced
minds from the mental and nervous point of view. Their nervous
systems were even superior to the average person’s, he
said. The trance was a state such as appears in nervous hypertension.
‘‘There are four chief types of temperament,’’ wrote Dr.
Charles Lancelin, ‘‘nervous, bilious, lymphatic and sanguine.
Of these, the nervous temperament is the best suited for psychic
experiments of all kinds; the bilious is the most receptive;
the sanguine is liable to hallucinations, both subjective and objective;
while the lymphatic is the least suitable of all, from
every point of view. Of course, one’s temperament is usually a
compound of all of these, which are rarely found in their ideal
state; but the predominantly nervous temperament is the one
best suited for this test.’’
What Mediumship Is and What It Is Not
As mediumship emerged, some understood it to be a pathological
state. Psychical researchers considered the question of
pathology, but generally were able to draw sharp lines of distinction
between dysfunctional mental disorders and unusual
states of consciousness such as those displayed by mediums and
others demonstrating psychic abilities.
In the late nineteenth century W. F. H. Myers remarked that
the confusion on the point was the result of the observation that
supernormal phenomena use the same channels for manifestation
as the abnormal phenomena. The phenomena of mediumship
are developmental, however; they show the promise of
powers as yet unknown, whereas abnormal phenomena (like
hysteria or epilepsy) show the degeneration of powers already
acquired.
Flournoy, after his exhaustive study of the mediumship of
Hélène Smith came to the same conclusion
‘‘It is far from being demonstrated that mediumship is a
pathological phenomenon. It is abnormal, no doubt, in the
sense of being rare, exceptional; but rarity is not morbidity.
The few years during which these phenomena have been seriously
and scientifically studied have not been enough to allow
us to pronounce on their true nature. It is interesting to note
that in the countries where these studies have been pushed the
furthest, in England and America, the dominant view among
the savants who have gone deepest into the matter is not at all
unfavourable to mediumship; and that, far from regarding it
as a special case of hysteria, they see in it a faculty superior, advantageous
and healthy, but that hysteria is a form of degeneracy,
a pathological parody, a morbid caricature.’’
Dr. Guiseppe Venzano, an Italian psychical researcher, was
similarly emphatic ‘‘Mediumship only represents a temporary
deviation from the normal psychic state, and absolutely excludes
the idea of morbidity; it is even proved that the slightest
alteration of a pathological nature is sufficient to diminish or
arrest the mediumistic powers.’’
As Flournoy discovered, the conditions for the successful exercise
of mediumistic powers are the same as for the voluntary
exercise of any other power—a state of good health, nervous
equilibrium, calm, absence of care, good humor, and facilitative
surroundings.
Physical defects, significant injury, or serious illness have
been suggested as potential causes of mediumistic development.
Spiritualist believer Arthur Conan Doyle suggested that
a bodily weakness causes what may be described as a dislocation
of the soul, so that it is more detached and capable of independent
action. Eusapia Palladino had a peculiar depression of her
parietal bone caused by an accident in childhood. Leonora
Piper’s mediumship developed after two operations, and her
control, ‘‘Imperator,’’ in an automatic script by Stainton Moses,
said, ‘‘The tempering effect of a bodily illness has been in all
your life an engine of great power with us.’’ In the case of Mary
Jobson, Mollie Fancher, Lurrency Vennum (‘‘the Watseka
Wonder’’) and Vincent Turvey, prolonged physical agony accompanied
the period of their psychic activity.
Spiritualists, however, consider mediumship to be a gift and
its development to require great care and understanding. According
to Barbara McKenzie (Light, March 18, 1932), who
worked for many years at the British College of Psychic Science,
the production and ripening of psychical gifts involves ‘‘a
lengthy period of homely, warm, appreciative incubation . . .
which is found at its best in a family or in a very intimate home
circle, in which a continuity of conditions and a warm personal
and even reverent interest is assured.’’
Sir Oliver Lodge believed that the medium should be treated
as ‘‘a delicate piece of apparatus wherewith we are making
an investigation. The medium is an instrument whose ways and
idiosyncrasies must be learnt, and to a certain extent humoured,
just as one studies and humours the ways of some
much less delicate piece of physical apparatus turned out by a
skilled instrument maker.’’
Age, Sex, and Psychical Phenomena
Mediumship may appear spontaneously and early in life,
somewhat like artistic gifts. The five-month-old son of Kate
Fox wrote automatically. Raps occurred on his pillow and on
the iron railing of his bedstead almost every day. The sevenmonth-old
infant of Margaretta Cooper, the daughter of
LaRoy Sunderland, gave communications through raps. Alexander
Aksakof, in his book Animisme et Spiritism (1906), records
many instances of infantile mediumship. The child Alward
moved tables that were too heavy for her normal strength. Another
wrote automatically when nine days old.
In Eugène Bonnemère’s Histoire des Camisara (1869) and in
Louis Figuier’s Histoire du Merveilleux (4 vols., 1886–89), many
cases are quoted of mediumistic Camisard babies of 14 to 15
months of age and of infants who preached in French with the
purest diction. During the persecution of the Huguenots, these
babies were confined to prison in great numbers. The psychic
contagion spread to Catholic children as well.
Nationality has no known influence on the development of
mediumship, though the peculiar form the mediumship may
take and the ideas mediums espouse may show differences
across national boundaries. These differences seem more related
to social training than to any inherent aspect of mediumship.
Puberty seems to have a peculiar significance. In old chronicles,
prepubescent children were mentioned as the best subjects
for crystal reading. Poltergeist cases mostly occur in the presence
of young girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 16.
Hereward Carrington, in a paper on the sexual aspect of mediumship
presented at the First International Congress for Psychical
Research in Copenhagen in 1921, speculated that the
sexual energies that are blossoming into maturity within the
body may, instead of taking their normal course, be somehow
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turned into another channel and externalized beyond the limits
of the body, producing paranormal manifestations
‘‘There may be a definite connection between sex and psychical
phenomena; and this seems to be borne out by three or
four analogies. First, recent physiological researches as to the
activities of the ductless glands and particularly the sex glands
which have shown the enormous influence which these glands
have upon the physical and even upon the psychic life. Second,
the observation made in the cases of Kathleen Goligher and
Eva C. which show that the plasma which is materialised, frequently
issues from the genitals. [Given the questionable nature
of the mediumship of these two women, however, the observations
may have no relevance.] Third, the clinical observations
of Lombroso, Morselli and others upon Eusapia Palladino,
which brought to light many recognised sexual stigmata.
Fourth, the teachings and practices of the Yogis of India, who
have written at great length upon the connection between sexual
energies and the higher, ecstatic states. Many suggest and explain
the way to convert the former into the latter, just as we
find instances of ‘sublimation’ in modern Freudian psychoanalysis,
and connection between sex and religion, here in the
West.’’
In his book, The Story of Psychic Science (1930), Carrington
adds ‘‘These speculations have, I believe, been amply verified
by certain recent investigations, wherein it has been shown that
(in the case of a celebrated European medium) the production
of a physical phenomenon of exceptional violence has been coincidental
with a true orgasm. From many accounts it seems
probable that the same was frequently true in the case of Eusapia
Palladino, and was doubtless the case with other mediums
also.’’
Finally, Carrington pointed out that there was said to be a
very close connection between the sexual energies and the kundalini
energies that may be aroused and brought into activity
by various yoga exercises.
Health and Mediumship
The practice of mediumship appears to have no adverse affects
on health. Recovery from the trance state is usually very
quick and, unless too many sittings produce an excessive drain
on the vitality of the medium, the results may prove more beneficial
than harmful. Many spirit guides have been known to supply
regular medical advice, to take care of the medium’s health
to a greater extent than he or she could, and even to prescribe
treatment in case of illness.
The withdrawal of mediumship powers is often evidence of
care for the health of the medium. Of course, the lapse may
come for entirely different reasons. But recuperative rest was
given as an explanation when the ‘‘Imperator’’ group announced
on May 24, 1911, that Leonora Piper’s trance mediumship
would be temporarily withdrawn. The withdrawal lasted
until August 8, 1915.
In the case of the Marquis Centurione Scotto, it was similarly
announced on November 9, 1927, that ‘‘he will fall ill if he
continues thus. His nerves are shattered. By superior will his
mediumistic faculty will be taken from him for a time.’’ On another
occasion, his mediumship was suspended, supposedly to
allow him to read, study, and acquire more understanding of
Spiritualistic belief. Similar experiences befell Stainton Moses,
who revolted against his spirit guides when they tried to convince
him, as a minister of the Anglican church, that ‘‘religion
is eternal, whereas religious dogmas are but fleeting.’’ His
mediumship was temporarily removed. The powerful mediumship
of D. D. Home also lapsed from time to time, probably because
he suffered from a tubercular diathesis.
Mediums who are conscious during the production of phenomena
appear to suffer more than those in trance. The extrication
of power from their organism seems a veritable trial for
nerve and flesh. Producing the phenomena is often equivalent
to putting the body on the rack.
The Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus says in Divination
‘‘Often at the moment of inspiration, or when the afflatus
has subsided, a fiery appearance is seen—the entering or departing
power. Those who are skilled in this wisdom, can tell
by the character of this glory the rank of the divinity who has
seized for the time the reins of the mystic’s soul, and guides it
as he will. Sometimes the body of the man is violently agitated,
sometimes it is rigid and motionless. In some instances sweet
music is heard, in others discordant and fearful sounds. The
person of the subject has been known to dilate and tower to a
superhuman height, in other cases it has been lifted into the
air. Frequently not merely the ordinary exercise of reason, but
sensation and animal life would appear to have been suspended;
and the subject of the afflatus has not felt the application
of fire, has been pierced with spits, cut with knives and has not
been sensible of pain.’’
However, the disagreeable result of physical phenomena
soon vanishes. A quarter of an hour’s rest may be enough to dispel
the effect.
Curiously enough, the suppression of mediumship may
manifest in symptoms of disease. Dr. C. D. Isenberg of Hamburg
wrote of a case in Light (April 11, 1931) in which a patient
of his suffered from sleeplessness and peculiar spasmodic attacks
that generally occurred at night. The spasms seized the
whole body; even the tongue was affected, blocking the throat
and nearly suffocating her. When the patient mentioned that
in her youth she tried table tilting, the doctor thought it possible
that the mediumistic energy might be blocking his patient’s
body. A sitting was tried. The lady fell into trance and afterward
slept well for a few days. When the sleeplessness recurred the
sitting was repeated and the results proved to be so beneficial
that treatment with medication was discontinued.
Regarding a deleterious influence on the mind, Gladys Osborne
Leonard writes in her book My Life in Two Worlds (1931)
‘‘I myself have not found that the development of psychic
awareness detracts in any way from other so-called normal
studies. I am a more successful gardener than I used to be, I am
a much better cook; in many quite ordinary but extremely useful
directions, I know I have improved; my health and nerves
are under better control, therefore they are more to be relied
upon than they ever were before I developed what many people
think of as an abnormal or extraordinary power.’’
Dangers of Mediumship
Dangers, nevertheless, do exist in mediumship, but of another
kind. Hereward Carrington warned that there is a true
‘‘terror of the dark’’ as well as ‘‘principalities and powers’’ with
which, in our ignorance we can toy, without knowing or realizing
the frightful consequence that may result from tampering
with the unseen world. For that reason, he argued that a few
men of well-balanced minds should be designated lifelong investigators
in this field; they should be looked upon as recognized
authorities, ‘‘and their work accepted upon these problems
just as any other physicist is accepted on a problem in
physics.’’
Moses agreed, saying, ‘‘I do not think it would be reasonable
to say that it is wise and well for everyone to become acquainted
with mediumship in his own proper person. It would not be
honest in me to disguise the fact that he who meddles with this
subject does so at his peril. I do not say that peril is anything
that should always be avoided. In some cases it is not, but I do
say that the development of mediumship is sometimes a very
questionable benefit, as in others it is a very decided blessing.’’
The peril alluded to is the possibility of intrusion and control
of undesirable spirits. Moses further stated, ‘‘In developing
mediumship one has to consider a question involving three serious
points. Can you get into relation with a spirit who is wise
enough and strong enough to protect and good enough for you
to trust If you do not, you are exposed to that recurrent danger
which the old occultists used to describe as the struggle with
the dweller on the threshold. It is true that everybody who
crosses the threshold of this occult knowledge does unquestionMedium
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
1014
ably come into a new and strange land in which, if he has no
guide, he is apt to lose his way.’’
The nervous equilibrium of the medium during the séance
may be easily disturbed. Hudson Tuttle observed of his own
work, ‘‘During the physical manifestations I was in semi-trance,
intensely sensitive and impressible. The least word, a jarring
question, even when the intention was commendable, grated
and rasped. Words convey an imperfect idea of this condition.
It can only be compared with that physical state when a nerve
is exposed.’’
Yet regarding the moral responsibility of the medium, Tuttle
was emphatic ‘‘A medium cannot be controlled to do anything
against his determined will, and the plea that he is compelled
by spirits is no excuse for wrong-doing. The medium,
like anyone else, knows right from wrong, and if the controlling
spirit urges towards the wrong, yielding is as reprehensible as
it would be to the promptings of passion or the appetite.’’
Intelligence and Mediumship
The question of the medium’s intelligence seems to have
nothing to do with psychic powers, but it may greatly influence
the power of the communicators to convey clear ideas. The
most stolid mediums may exhibit an extraordinary intelligence
in trance. If they are educated the manifestation becomes more
marvelous. The question naturally arises whether in the long
run spirit influence imparts knowledge to rustic minds. The
Reverend J. B. Ferguson answered the question in the affirmative
‘‘Supramundane influence in the unfolding and education
of mind has been a common and most interesting experience
since my own attention was called to this subject. In the case of
Mr. H. B. Champion we have a very remarkable instance. This
gentleman, now distinguished for his comprehensiveness of
thought on all subjects connected with mental and moral philosophy,
and for unrivalled force and beauty of expression, was,
to my personal knowledge, educated entirely under these influences.
He was not educated even in ordinary branches, such as
the orthography of his native tongue; was never at school but
a few months in life. That which was at first the gift of a supramundane
power is now his own; and unless his history were
known he would be considered, as he often is, as a man of the
highest accomplishments.’’
Ferguson testified similarly regarding George W. Harrison,
another medium he believed to be educated by psychic power.
He concluded ‘‘These gentlemen are today highly educated
men. They speak and write our language with great precision
and accuracy. They converse with men of the first attainments
on all questions that engage cultivated thought. They are
sought by men distinguished as professors in various departments
of science; and where their history is not known, as it is
to myself and to others, they are recognised at once as men of
very high order of culture.’’
Physical and Mental Mediums
The classification of mediums is diverse, but in general they
fall into two main groups physical and mental mediums. Physical
mediumship as a rule means that there is no intellectual
content behind the phenomena. The distinction is useful, as
the coexistence of highly developed intellectual and physical
phenomena is somewhat rare. These gifts either alternate or
develop along lines of specification.
Leonora Piper produced no physical phenomena, and
Gladys Osborne Leonard but very few. Franek Kluski was a universal
medium. D. D. Home was mostly famous for his telekinetic
manifestations. His trance phenomena were not studied
in detail. Moses’ powerful physical manifestations occurred in
a small circle of friends. He was not subject to scientific experiments
on these phenomena, but they were recorded. A more
valuable record, affording unusual opportunity for study, was
left behind in the automatic scripts of his trance phenomena.
The Medium’s Source of Power
As a rule, most mediums require assistance for the production
of their phenomena. The sitters of the circle often feel
drained of power. According to Joseph Maxwell, Eusapia Palladino
could quickly discern people from whom she could easily
draw the force she needed ‘‘In the course of my first experiments
with this medium, I found out this vampirism to my cost.
One evening, at the close of a sitting at l’Agnelas, she was raised
from the floor and carried on to the table with her chair. I was
not seated beside her, but, without releasing her neighbors’
hands she caught hold of mine while the phenomena was happening.
I had a cramp in the stomach—I cannot better define
my sensation—and was almost overcome by exhaustion.’’
Justinus Kerner stated that the Seeress of Prevorst (Frederica
Hauffe) ate little and said that she was nourished by the
substance of her visitors, especially of those related to her by
the ties of blood, their constitution being more sympathetic
with her own. Visitors who passed some minutes near her often
noticed upon leaving that they were weakened.
Some mediums seemingly draw more of the sitters’ vitality
than others. These mediums become less exhausted and consequently
can sit more often. Etta Wriedt, the direct voice medium,
always left her sitters weak. Vice-Admiral Usborne Moore
complained that he could hardly use his legs after a sitting.
In one instance in Elizabeth d’Esperance’s mediumship the
draw on the sitter was seen as the cause of death. The materialized
phantom was grabbed, and an older woman (the mother
of the assailant), who those in attendance suggested had contributed
most of the ectoplasm for the materialization, was seriously
injured. Reportedly, after much suffering, she died.
(Light, November 21, 1903).
If the sitters of the circle are mediumistic themselves, the
phenomena tend to increase in strength. Perhaps the strongest
mediumistic circle ever recorded was the family of Jonathan
Koons, of Ohio. From the seven-month-old infant to the 18-
year-old Nahum, the eldest of the family, all the children were
mediumistic, making, with the parents, a total of ten mediums.
The same curious power was manifest in the family of John Tippie,
who had a similar spirit house at a distance of two or three
miles from that of the Koons. Ten children formed his ‘‘spirit
battery.’’
From 1859 to 1860, D. D. Home often gave joint séances
with the American medium and editor, J. R. M. Squire. Later
he sometimes sat with Kate Jencken, one of the Fox sisters, and
with Stainton Moses. Frank Herne and Charles Williams
joined partnership in 1871; Miss C. E. Wood sat with Annie
Fairlamb. The spirit photographer William Hope usually sat
with Mrs. Buxton, a member of the Crewe Circle founded by
Archdeacon Thomas Colley.
Catherine Berry was known as a ‘‘developing’’ medium. According
to a note signed by the editor of Human Nature, and
published in Berry’s Experiences in Spiritualism (1876), ‘‘. . . after
sitting with Mrs. Berry a medium has more power to cause the
phenomena at any other circle he may have to attend. Messrs.
Herne and Williams have been known to visit this lady for the
purpose of getting a supply of power when they had a special
séance to give. Mrs. Berry is, therefore, successful in developing
mediums, and has conferred the spirit voice manifestation,
as well as other gifts, upon several mediums. In a public meeting,
a speaker or trance medium is benefitted by having Mrs.
Berry sitting near him. These facts have not been arrived at
hastily, but after years of patient investigation.’’
Automatic writers have often joined forces. Frederick Bligh
Bond and the automatists with whom he received the Glastonbury
scripts presented a case of dual mediumship. Similarly
the ‘‘Oscar Wilde’’ scripts were produced through the mediumship
of Hester Dowden and Mr. V. On the other hand, mediums
may antagonize each other and nullify the power. Florence
Cook always objected on this ground to sitting with her
sister Katie.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Medium
1015
Machine Mediumship
An early idea in the history of mediumship was the possibility
of mechanical communication. The first confused thought of
communicating with the spirit world through instruments occurred
to John Murray Spear, who constructed something
called the ‘‘new motor.’’ He arranged copper and zinc batteries
in the form of an armor around the medium and expected a
phenomenal increase of mediumistic powers through the combination
of ‘‘mineral’’ and ‘‘vital’’ electricity. The dynamistograph,
the Vandermeulen spirit indicator, the reflectograph
and the communigraph were later developments. The most recent
developments concern electronic voice phenomenon,
also known as Raudive voices, and the SPIRICOM.
Mediumistic Induction
Incidents with mediums have led some to conclude that,
similar to electricity, mediumistic power can be generated by
induction. D. D. Home was the most famous medium for imparting
his powers to others. Cases are on record in which he
levitated others. Once he imparted the power of elongation to
a Miss Bertolacci, and he bestowed fire immunity in a number
of cases on his sitters.
The phenomenon of mediumistic induction was observed as
modern Spiritualism spread. Those who sat with the Fox sisters
sometimes discovered mediumistic abilities in themselves. Mrs.
Benedict and Sarah Tamlin, the two best early mediums, were
developed through the gift of Kate Fox. A writer in the New
Haven Journal in October 1850, refers to knockings and other
phenomena in seven different families in Bridgeport; 40 different
families in Rochester, Auburn, and Syracuse; some two
hundred in Ohio, New Jersey, and places more distant; as well
as in Hartford, Springfield, Charlestown, and other cities.
Several famous early investigators went on to become mediums.
Judge John W. Edmonds, Prof. Robert Hare, and William
Howitt, all confessed to having received the gift. In his last
years the psychical researcher Richard Hodgson was said to be
in direct contact with the ‘‘Imperator’’ group. Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle developed automatic writing and direct voice in his family.
H. Dennis Bradley received the power of direct voice after
his sittings with George Valiantine. Marquis Centurione Scotto
also developed his powers through Valiantine.
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