Trance Personalities
Trance messages claiming to come from the medium’s spirit
control do not always reveal a definite personality. The control
often reflects the thoughts and opinions of the medium and
the sitters, possesses little knowledge that they do not possess,
and is an artificial personality. Yet, frequently a trance medium
is controlled by a spirit of distinct or distinguished personality,
whose education level appears to be more extensive and culture
of a much different quality than the medium’s and whose ideas
and opinions appear independent.
Such spirits are generally given distinguishing names. They
may control the medium alternately with other controls. On the
other hand, the medium has generally a monopoly of one or
more of these spirits, though sometimes one control may seemingly
appear to be shared by several mediums.
Among those who may justly be regarded as the common
property of dubious mediums are the spirits of certain great
men—Virgil, Socrates, Shakespeare, Milton, Benjamin Franklin,
Victor Hugo, Swëdenborg, and so on. The messages delivered
through their control seldom resemble anything they
wrote or said during their lives.
Not all the mediums involved in such counterfeit personalities
are frauds; some are self-deluded. Others exhibit the faculty
of the subconscious mind to weave fantasies like the characters
and incidents of a novelist. Similar artificial personalities
sometimes manifest in the claimed reincarnation experiences
of subjects in hypnotic regression as in the famous ‘‘Bridey
Murphy’’ case (see Morey Bernstein).
Some trance personalities assume pseudonyms, suggesting
the possibility that the personality of everyday life, which is
modified from year to year, may suffer radical change after
death, losing the distinctive nature that the physical body,
memories, and emotions normally reinforce.
Some of the most well-known pseudonymous trance personalities
were those of the Rev. William Stainton Moses—
‘‘Imperator,’’ ‘‘Rector,’’ ‘‘Mentor,’’ ‘‘Prudens,’’ and others.
‘‘Imperator’’ and ‘‘Rector’’ were also among the controls of the
medium Leonora E. Piper in subsequent years and indeed
much of her automatic discourse did not come directly from
communicating spirits, but was dictated by them to ‘‘Rector.’’
It was suggested, however, by Sir Oliver Lodge and other investigators,
that Piper’s controls were not identical with those
of Stainton Moses but were merely masqueraders.
Trance Personalities Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Piper had, however, several interesting trance personalities
of her own without borrowing from anybody. One of her earliest
controls was ‘‘Sebastian Bach;’’ but before long he gave
place to a spirit calling himself ‘‘Dr. Phinuit,’’ who was an influence
for a considerable time, then succumbing in his turn to
George Pelham (‘‘G. P.’’). Pelham was a young author and journalist
who died suddenly in 1892. Soon after his death he supposedly
controlled Piper, and indeed gave many striking
proofs of his identity. He constantly mentioned intimate details
of the affairs of Pelham, recognized his friends, and gave to
each their due welcome. He never failed to recognize an acquaintance,
or give a greeting to one whom he did not know.
Many of Pelham’s old friends did not hesitate to recognize in
him that which he claimed to be.
Only on one occasion, when asked for the names of two persons
who had been associated with him in a certain enterprise,
the spirit ‘‘G. P.’’ refused, saying that as there was present one
who knew the names, his mentioning them would be referred
to as telepathy. Later, he gave the names—incorrectly. When
‘‘G. P.’’ ceased to communicate as the principal control of
Piper, his place was taken by ‘‘Rector’’ and ‘‘Imperator,’’ as
mentioned above.
Another well-known trance medium, Rosina Thompson,
had as her chief control ‘‘Nelly’’ (a daughter of hers who had
died in infancy), a ‘‘Mrs. Cartwright,’’ and others. Thompson’s
controls were said not to have shown any individual characteristics,
but to resemble Thompson herself strongly both in voice
and manner of speech, although Margaret Verrall, one of the
sitters, stated that the impersonations gave an impression of
separate identity to the sitter. Thompson’s early trance utterances
were controlled by another band of spirits, with even less
individuality than those mentioned.
Frequently mediums and investigators themselves, when
reaching the discarnate plane, seem to become controls in their
turn. The psychical researchers F. W. H. Myers, Edmund
Gurney, Richard Hodgson, and Henry Sidgwick claimed to
speak and write posthumously through many mediums, notably
through Piper, Thompson, Verrall, and Alice K. Fleming
(i.e., Mrs. Holland). Many of the statements made by these controls
were correct; some matters revealed were apparently outside
the scope of the medium’s normal knowledge. At the same
time several fatal discrepancies were found to exist between the
controls and those they were supposed to represent.
Thus the script produced by Fleming contained grave warnings,
claiming to come from Myers, against the medium Eusapia
Palladino and her physical phenomena, whereas Myers
was known to hold opinions favorable to the physical manifestations.
On the whole, such trance personalities show themselves influenced
by the personality of the medium. In cases where the
latter was acquainted with the control, the trance personality
was proportionately strong. When there was no personal acquaintance,
it was often of a neutral tint, and sometimes bad
guesses were made, as when Fleming represented the Gurney
control as of a harsh and almost discourteous temperament.
But such instances must not be taken as impeaching the medium’s
good faith. Instances in which the trance personality is
patently the product of the medium’s own consciousness do not
in themselves suggest that there is any intentional deception.
In some of the most definite cases, there is evidence suggesting
the operation of a discarnate intelligence, evidence that has
proved convincing to careful investigators.
Among the most important pieces of evidence in evaluating
the separate existence of trance personalities as spirit entities
is the case of ‘‘Philip.’’ In 1972–73, members of the Toronto
Society for Psychical Research, Canada, deliberately created an
artificial séance entity named ‘‘Philip,’’ with a history, personal
characteristics, and an appearance decided upon by the group
in a quite mundane manner. Sitting as in a séance, the experimenters
soon obtained raps from the séance table and communications
from ‘‘Philip.’’ It seems that in many instances, a spirit
control may simply be a convention of personality. In other
cases, however, convincing evidence of true personality survival
has been established.
Broad, C. D. Personal Identity and Survival. London Society
for Psychical Research, 1968.
Carington, Whately. The Foundations of Spiritualism. New
York E. P. Dutton, 1920.
Ducasse, C. J. A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After
Death. Springfield, Ill. C. C. Thomas, 1961.
Garrett, Eileen J. My Life as a Search for the Meaning of Mediumship.
New York Oquaga; London Rider & Co., 1939.
Hart, Hornell. The Enigma of Survival The Case For and
Against an After Life. Springfield, Ill. C. C. Thomas, 1959.
M. A. (Oxon) [W. Stainton Moses]. Spirit Identity. London,
Myers, F. W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily
Death. 2 vols. London Longmans, Green, 1903.
Owen, Iris M., and Margaret Sparrow. Conjuring Up Philip.
New York Harper & Row, 1976.
Penelhum, Terence. Survival and Disembodied Existence. New
York, Humanities Press, 1970.
Richmond, Kenneth. Evidence of Identity. London G. Bell,
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