The term ‘‘sensitive,’’ often interchangeable with ‘‘psychic,’’
refers to a person with psychic powers, but eschews communication
with the dead. A sensitive is thus distinguished
from the ‘‘medium,’’ or ‘‘channel.’’ A medium is usually also a
sensitive. According to Spiritualism, a medium is not necessarily
a sensitive but may be simply an instrument for spirit communication.
(It must be remembered that such a distinction was
made in the days in which may ‘‘mediums’’ accepted by the
movement were frauds. This distinction explained why they
made no pretense of being ‘‘psychic’’ except in the séance
Sensitives ordinarily believe that their psychic abilities are
a natural ability that they possess to a greater degree than most,
either through natural endowment or a process of psychic development.
Many believe in reincarnation, a belief that is often
incompatible with Spiritualist contact with the dead, and they
may explain many events (such as seeing an apparition) that
Spiritualists ascribe to spirit agency to memories from previous
lives. Sensitives may specialize in one form of psychic ability, be
it psychometry, precognition, telepathy, or clairvoyance.
Many emerge as healers with some ability in psychokinesis.
During the nineteenth century, prior to the rise of Spiritualism,
German scientist Baron Karl von Reichenbach conducted
numerous experiments with ‘‘sensitives’’ in order to validate his
concept of a mysterious vital force in nature which he termed
‘‘od’’ or ‘‘odyle.’’ These individuals, drawn from all walks of
life, were selected on the basis of specific sensitive reactions—
feelings of pleasant coolness or alternatively disagreeable feelings
in relation to other people or to metals, as well as reactions
to colors and foods.
Reichenbach, Karl von. Der sensitive Mensch und sein Verhalten
zum Ode (The sensitive man and his relation to od). 2 vols. Stuttgart
and Tübingen, 1854–55.

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