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There are several different variants of mediumship; the best known forms are where a spirit takes control of a medium's voice and uses it to relay a message, or where the medium simply 'hears' the message and passes it on. Other forms involve manifestations of the spirit, such as apparitions or the presence of a voice, and telekinetic activity.
Attempts to contact the dead date back to early human history, with mediumship gaining in popularity during the 19th century. Investigations during this period revealed widespread fraud—with some practitioners employing techniques used by stage magicians—and the practice started to lose credibility. Nevertheless the practice still continues to this day, and high profile fraud has been uncovered as recently as the 2000s.
In recent years scientific research has been undertaken to ascertain the validity of claims of mediumship. In an experiment undertaken by the British Psychological Society, the conclusion was that the test subjects demonstrated no mediumistic ability. Other experiments which have seemingly found evidence of paranormal activity have been criticised for not establishing thorough test conditions. An experiment considered by parapsychologists to be one of the most compelling involved taking electroencephalography readings of twelve test subjects, most of which were found to have abnormal readings, with some readings bearing similarities to those found in epileptics even though the subjects had never experienced fits and had no family history of epilepsy. While mediumistic ability is neither confirmed or denied by unusual brain activity, the findings of the experiment was that parapsychological phenomena are at least partly a function of the brain.
 ConceptIn Spiritism and Spiritualism, the role of the medium is to be an intermediary between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Mediums claim to be able to listen to and relay messages from spirits or allow a spirit to control their body and speak through it directly or by using automatic writing or drawing.
Spiritualists classify types of mediumship into two main categories: "mental" and "physical". Mental mediums are believed to "tune in" to the spirit world by listening, sensing, or seeing spirits or symbols. Physical mediums are believed to produce materialization of spirits, apports of objects, levitation, and other effects such as knocking, rapping, bell ringing, etc. by using "ectoplasm" created from the cells of their bodies and those of seance attendees. During seances, mediums are said to go into trances, varying from light to deep, that permit their minds to be controlled by spirits.
Mediumship is also part of the belief system of some New Age groups. In this context, and under the name "channelling", it refers to a medium (the channel) who is said to receive messages from a "teaching-spirit".
 HistoryAttempts to communicate with the dead and other living human beings, aka spirits, have been documented back to early human history. The story of the Witch of Endor tells of one who raised the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel to allow the Hebrew king Saul to question his former mentor about an upcoming battle, as related in the First book of Samuel in the Jewish Tanakh (the Old Testament).
Mediumship became quite popular in the 19th-century United States and the United Kingdom after the rise of Spiritualism as a religious movement. Modern Spiritualism is said to date from practices and lectures of the Fox sisters in New York State in 1848. The trance mediums Paschal Beverly Randolph and Emma Hardinge Britten were among the most celebrated lecturers and authors on the subject in the mid-19th century. Allan Kardec coined the term Spiritism around 1860. Kardec claimed that conversations with spirits by selected mediums were the basis of his The Spirits' Book and later, his five-book collection, Spiritist Codification.
After the exposure of the fraudulent use of stage magic tricks by physical mediums such as the Davenport Brothers and the Bangs Sisters, mediumship fell into disrepute. The practice continued among people who believed that the dead can be contacted and tried to do so. From the 1930s through the 1990s, as psychical mediumship became less practiced in Spiritualist churches, the technique of "channelling" gained in popularity. Books by channellers who claimed to relate the wisdom of non-corporeal and non-terrestrial teacher-spirits became best-sellers amongst believers.
 Spirit guideIn 1958, the English-born Spiritualist C. Dorreen Phillips wrote of her experiences with a medium at Camp Chesterfield, Indiana: "In Rev. James Laughton's séances there are many Indians. They are very noisy and appear to have great power. [...] The little guides, or doorkeepers, are usually Indian boys and girls [who act] as messengers who help to locate the spirit friends who wish to speak with you."
 Spirit operatorA spirit who uses a medium to manipulate psychic "energy" or "energy systems."
 Demonstrations of mediumshipIn old-line Spiritualism, a portion of the services, generally toward the end, is given over to demonstrations of mediumship through contact with the spirits of the dead. A typical example of this way of describing a mediumistic church service is found in the 1958 autobiography of C. Dorreen Phillips. She writes of the worship services at the Spiritualist Camp Chesterfield in Chesterfield, Indiana: "Services are held each afternoon, consisting of hymns, a lecture on philosophy, and demonstrations of mediumship."
Today "demonstration of mediumship" is part of the church service at all churches affiliated with the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC). Demonstration links to NSAC's Declaration of Principal #9. "We affirm that the precepts of Prophecy and Healing are Divine attributes proven through Mediumship."
 Mental mediumship"Mental mediumship" is communication of spirits with a medium by telepathy. The medium mentally "hears" (clairaudience), "sees" (clairvoyance), and/or feels (clairsentience) messages from spirits. Directly or with the help of a spirit guide, the medium passes the information on to the message's recipient(s). When a medium is doing a "reading" for a particular person, that person is known as the "sitter."
 Trance mediumship"Trance mediumship" is often seen as a form of mental mediumship.
Most trance mediums remain conscious during a communication period, wherein a spirit uses the medium's mind to communicate. The spirit or spirits using the medium's mind influences the mind with the thoughts being conveyed. The medium allows the ego to step aside for the message to be delivered. At the same time, one has awareness of the thoughts coming through and may even influence the message with one's own bias. Such a trance is not to be confused with sleepwalking, as the patterns are entirely different. Castillo (1995) states,
In the 1860s and 1870s, trance mediums were very popular. Spiritualism generally attracted female adherents, many who had strong interests in social justice. Many trance mediums delivered passionate speeches on abolitionism, temperance, and women's suffrage. Scholars have described Leonora Piper as one of the most famous trance mediums in the history of Spiritualism.Trance phenomena result from the behavior of intense focusing of attention, which is the key psychological mechanism of trance induction. Adaptive responses, including institutionalized forms of trance, are 'tuned' into neural networks in the brain.
In the typical deep trance, the medium may not have clear recall of all the messages conveyed while in an altered state; such people generally work with an assistant. That person selectively wrote down or otherwise recorded the medium's words. Rarely did the assistant record the responding words of the sitter and other attendants. An example of this kind of relationship can be found in the early 20th century collaboration between the trance medium Mrs. Cecil M. Cook of the William T. Stead Memorial Center in Chicago (a religious body incorporated under the statutes of the State of Illinois) and the journalist Lloyd Kenyon Jones. The latter was a non-medium Spiritualist who transcribed Cook's messages in shorthand. He edited them for publication in book and pamphlet form.
 Physical mediumship"Physical mediumship" is defined as manipulation of energies and energy systems by spirits.
Physical mediumship may involve perceptible manifestations, such as loud raps and noises, voices, materialized objects, apports, materialized spirit bodies, or body parts such as hands, and levitation. The medium is used as a source of power for such spirit manifestations. By some accounts, this was achieved by using the energy or ectoplasm released by a medium, see Spirit photography. The last physical medium to be tested by a committee from Scientific American was Mina Crandon in 1924.
Most physical mediumship is presented in a darkened or dimly lit room. Most physical mediums make use of a traditional array of tools and appurtenances, including spirit trumpets, spirit cabinets, and levitation tables.
The term "physical mediumship", should not be construed as implying that any induced apport is confined to the physical plane. The apport ("ectoplasm", or whatever) may be composed of "etheric", "astral", "mental", or "causal" substance (i.e., a substance naturally residing on one of those planes and only temporarily transported into the physical plane). Instead, the term "physical mediumship" is employed to imply an effect manifested upon [objects naturally existing on] the physical plane, by means of interaction (merely physical, not chemical) with substance transported out (temporarily) of another plane of existence.
 Direct voiceDirect voice communication involves spirits speaking independently of the medium, who facilitates the phenomenon rather than produces it. The role of the medium is to make the connection between the real and spirit worlds. Trumpets are often utilised to amplify the signal, and directed voice mediums are sometimes known as "trumpet mediums". This form of mediumship also permits the medium to participate in the discourse during séances, since the medium's voice is not required by the spirit to communicate. The British medium, Leslie Flint, is one of the best known exponents of this form of mediumship.
 ChannelingIn the latter half of the 20th century, Western mediumship developed in two different ways. One type involves psychics or sensitives who claim to speak to spirits and then relay what they hear to their clients. Clairvoyant Danielle Egnew is known for her alleged communication with angelic entities.
The other incarnation of non-physical mediumship is a form of channeling in which the channeler goes into a trance, or "leaves their body". He or she becomes "possessed" by a specific spirit (spirit possession), who then talks through them. In the trance, the medium enters a cataleptic state marked by extreme rigidity. As the control spirit takes over, the medium's voice may change completely. The spirit answers the questions of those in its presence or giving spiritual knowledge. A widely known channeler of this variety is J. Z. Knight, who channels the spirit of Ramtha, a 30 thousand-year-old man. Others claim to channel spirits from "future dimensions", ascended masters, or, in the case of the trance mediums of the Brahma Kumaris, God. Other notable channels are Jane Roberts for Seth, Esther Hicks for Abraham, Margaret McElroy for Maitreya, Darryl Anka for Bashar, and Lee Carroll for Kryon.
 Psychic sensesIn Spiritualism, psychic senses used by mental mediums are sometimes defined differently than in other paranormal fields. A medium is said to have psychic abilities but not all psychics function as mediums.  The term clairvoyance, for instance, may be used by Spiritualists to include seeing spirits and visions instilled by spirits. The Parapsychological Association defines "clairvoyance" as information derived directly from an external physical source.
- Clairvoyance or "Clear Seeing", is the ability to see anything that is not physically present, such as objects, animals or people. This sight occurs "in the mind’s eye". Some mediums say that this is their normal vision state. Others say that they must train their minds with such practices as meditation in order to achieve this ability, and that assistance from spiritual helpers is often necessary. Some clairvoyant mediums can see a spirit as though the spirit has a physical body. They see the bodily form as if it were physically present. Other mediums see the spirit in their mind's eye, or it appears as a movie or a television programme or a still picture like a photograph in their mind.
- Clairaudience or "Clear Hearing", is usually defined as the ability to hear the voices or thoughts of spirits. Some Mediums hear as though they are listening to a person talking to them on the outside of their head, as though the Spirit is next to or near to the medium, and other mediums hear the voices in their minds as a verbal thought.
- Clairsentience or "Clear Sensing", is the ability to have an impression of what a spirit wants to communicate, or to feel sensations instilled by a spirit.
- Clairsentinence or "Clear Feeling" is a condition in which the medium takes on the ailments of a spirit, feeling the same physical problem which the spirit person had before death.
- Clairalience or "Clear Smelling" is the ability to smell a spirit. For example, a medium may smell the pipe tobacco of a person who smoked during life.
- Clairgustance or "Clear Tasting" is the ability to receive taste impressions from a spirit.
- Claircognizance or "Clear Knowing", is the ability to know something without receiving it through normal or psychic senses. It is a feeling of "just knowing". Often, a medium will claim to have the feeling that a message or situation is "right" or "wrong."
 ResearchIn Britain, the Society for Psychical Research has investigated some phenomena, mainly in connection with telepathy and apparitions. According to an article in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, in some cases media have produced personal information which has been well above guessing rates. One of the more noteworthy recent investigations into mediumship is known as the Scole Experiment, a series of mediumistic séances that took place between 1993–98 in the presence of the researchers David Fontana, Arthur Ellison and Montague Keen. This has produced photographs, audio recordings and physical objects which appeared in the dark séance room (known as apports). According to paranormal researcher Brian Dunning the Scole experiments fail in many ways. The seances were held in the basement of two of the mediums, only total darkness was allowed with no night vision apparatus as it might "frighten the spirits away". The box containing the film was not examined and could easily have been accessible to fraud. And finally, even though many years have passed, there has been no follow-up, no further research by any credible agency or published accounts.
The VERITAS Research Program of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona, run by Gary Schwartz, was created primarily to test the hypothesis that the consciousness (or identity) of a person survives physical death. Schwartz claimed his 2005 experiments were indicative of survival, but do not yet provide conclusive proof.
An experiment conducted by the British Psychological Society suggests that under the controlled condition of the experiment, people who claimed to be professional mediums do not demonstrate the mediumistic ability. In the experiment, mediums were assigned to work the participants chosen to be “sitters.” The mediums contacted the deceased who were related to the sitters. The research gather the numbers of the statements made and have the sitters rate the accuracy of the statements. The readings that were considered to be somewhat accurate by the sitters were very generalized, and the ones that were considered inaccurate were the ones that were very specific.
In a 1973 essay published in the University of the Witwatersrand medical school journal, “The Leech”, current director of the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute, Vernon Neppe proposed that the human personality survives bodily death and concluded that that the “dead” have communicated with the living. Neppe referenced A.C. Munday-Castle’s hypothesis on the neurophysiological implications of parapsychology; a timeless, spaceless universe in which all things or events exist but in a more dormant sense, where drugs such as LSD may free the cerebral cortex from the “modulating effect of the brain stem reticular activating system,” allowing the cortex to run free. Neppe described a possibility that under such circumstances the individual is exposed to a purely mental universe, independent of matter, that contains all mental events, which may in some way overlap or be interlinked with the ordinary physical four-dimensional universe. Neppe also proposed that scientific investigation of parapsychological phenomena regarding brain function may imply an attempt to test the validity of these experiences. Neppe describes one such scientific investigation:
“In a study of twelve subjects, ten women and two men, ranging in age between 18 and 66 years, and consisting of eleven mediums and an “automatic writer” (all of whom volunteered through the agency of the South African Society for Psychical Research), G.K. Nelson adopted the following procedure: routine EEG examinations were carried out, usually with the subject in a separate room from the recording equipment. Photic stimulation was the only activating procedure applied in all cases. Six cases went into a trance after an initial few minutes of EEG monitoring."
"In the resting EEG recordings, ten out of the twelve eases showed localized signs of temporal lobe instability. The young automatic writer showed a partial suppression of alpha rhythms on the left side. Asymmetries and or asynchronies of EEG activity were therefore present in 11 of the 12 subjects almost equally divided between the dominant and non-dominant hemispheres as far as the site of maximum effect was concerned. (Interhemispheric differences in amplitude of the alpha rhythm are by no means uncommon; indeed the alpha amplitude often tends to be lower in the dominant hemisphere. It is only when the amplitude in one hemisphere is less than half that in the other that one takes particular note of such a difference — the EEG of the automatic writer showed such a difference."
"EEG abnormalities of the kind often found in the interictal EEGs of patients with epilepsy were seen in five cases in the form of paroxysmal bursts or focal spikes and sharp waves. Three other cases showed occasional sharp waves, raising the possibility of cortical hyperexcitability. Only four cases had EEGs of the kind usually associated with epilepsy and there were no reports of fits in the histories of any of the twelve volunteers. For these reasons the possibility exists that if the EEG signs are valid indices of temporal lobe dysfunction this is of a non-epileptic kind.”
According to Neppe, although the validity of mediumistic experience is neither confirmed nor denied by the presence of an unusual anatomical or physiological characteristic in the brain, such findings show that parapsychological phenomena are at least partly a function of the brain, and could serve to strengthen the hypothesis that certain people by reason of their individual pattern of brain function may be in a position more readily to experience a mental universe which is independent of matter.
 HypothesesVarious hypotheses have been proposed to explain mediumship, explanations vary from the metaphysical to the scientific.
 PhysicalSome early scientists proposed that mediumship occurred due to electricity, electromagnetism or a vital fluid such as ectenic or Odic force. Other early psychical researchers who had investigated mediumship and spiritualism proposed that the phenomena observed in séances could be explained by a mysterious energy or force. The idea of ectoplasm was merged into the theory of an "ectenic force" by some early psychical researchers who were seeking a physical explanation for reports of psychokinesis in seances. Its existence was initially hypothesized by Count Agenor de Gasparin, to explain the phenomena of table turning and tapping during séances. Ectenic force was named by de Gasparin's colleague M. Thury, a professor of Natural History at the Academy of Geneva. Between them, de Gasparin and Thury conducted a number of experiments in ectenic force, and claimed some success. Their work was not independently verified.
Other researchers who studied mediumship speculated that within the human body an unidentified fluid termed the "psychode", "psychic force" or "ecteneic force" existed and was capable of being released to influence matter. This view was held by Camille Flammarion Edward William Cox and William Crookes. Cox wrote that mediumship occurs due to the action of a "psychic force" from the medium. Cox described his theory in his book Spiritualism Answered by Science (1872). Gracis Gerry Fairfield in his book Ten Years with Spiritual Mediums (1875) proposed that the psychic force originates from the human nervous system. Similar views were also supported by Asa Mahan in The Phenomena of Spiritualism Scientifically Explained and Exposed (1875); most of these authors had rejected the spirit hypothesis of the spiritualists as they claimed the phenomenon associated with mediumship was caused by a force from the medium's body. A later psychical researcher Hereward Carrington pointed out these forces and fluids were hypothetical and have never been discovered.
 SpiritsSpiritualists believe that phenomena produced by mediums (both mental and physical mediumship) are the result of external spirit agencies.
 ESPIndependent psychical researchers and psychologists such as Thomson Jay Hudson in The Law of Psychic Phenomena (1892) and Théodore Flournoy in his book Spiritism and psychology (1911) had claimed that all kinds of mediumship could be explained by suggestion and telepathy from the mediums subconscious mind and that there was no evidence for the spirit hypothesis. The idea of mediumship being explained by telepathy was later merged into the "super-ESP" hypothesis of mediumship which is currently advocated by some parapsychologists.
According to the Extrasensory perception (ESP) hypothesis of mediumship the "medium is believed to have the ability to exercise Psi capacities (telepathy, clairvoyance, retrocognition, precognition and psychokinesis." According to (Heath and Klimo, 2010) "the super-ESP hypothesis says that even if only one person who knew the information being communicated is dead, there is still no guarantee that they survived death to act as the communicating source. This is because it is equally possible that the medium could acquire the information through some form of ESP". The ESP hypothesis of mediumship has never been proven yet has been advocated by some parapsychologists who believe the explanation is more scientific and less far fetched than invoking metaphysical spirits.
 PsychologicalEarly psychical researchers and some investigators associated with the Society for Psychical Research rejected the spirit hypothesis and claimed that where there was no sign of fraud then there has to be a psychological explanation due to the medium's subconscious such as an alternate personality. Psychologists such as Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones in their book Anomalistic psychology: a study of magical thinking (1989) wrote:
The spirits, controls, and guides of a medium are the products of the medium's own psychological dynamics. On the one hand, they personify the medium's hidden impulses and wish life. On the other, they are also shaped by the expectations of the medium's sitters, the medium's experience, the cultural background, and the spirit of the times.
 CriticismMany 19th century mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud. While advocates of mediumship claim that their experiences are genuine, the Encyclopædia Britannica article on spiritualism notes in reference to a case in the 19th century that "...one by one, the Spiritualist mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud, sometimes employing the techniques of stage magicians in their attempts to convince people of their clairvoyant powers." The article also notes that "the exposure of widespread fraud within the spiritualist movement severely damaged its reputation and pushed it to the fringes of society in the United States."
Lewis Spence in his book An Encyclopaedia of Occultism (1960) wrote:
A very large part is played by fraud in spiritualistic practices, both in the physical and psychical, or automatic, phenomena, but especially in the former. The frequency with which mediums have been convicted of fraud has, indeed, induced many people to abandon the study of psychical research, judging the whole bulk of the phenomena to be fraudulently produced.Ronald Pearsall in his book Table-rappers: The Victorians and the Occult (1972) documented how every Victorian medium investigated had been exposed as using trickery, in the book he revealed how mediums would even use acrobatic techniques during seances to convince audiences of spirit presences.
In 1976, M. Lamar Keene, a medium in Florida and at the Spiritualist Camp Chesterfield in Indiana, confessed to defrauding the public in his book The Psychic Mafia. Keene detailed a multitude of common stage magic techniques utilized by mediums which are supposed to give an appearance of paranormal powers or supernatural involvement.
Michael Shermer criticized mediums in Scientific American, saying, "mediums are unethical and dangerous: they prey on the emotions of the grieving. As grief counselors know, death is best faced head-on as a part of life." Shermer wrote that the human urge to seek connections between events that may form patterns meaningful for survival is a function of natural evolution, and called the alleged ability of mediums to talk to the dead "a well-known illusion of a meaningful pattern."
According to James Randi, a scientific skeptic who has debunked many claims of psychic ability and uncovered fraudulent practises, mediums who do cold readings "fish, suggest possibilities, make educated guesses and give options." Randi has a standing offer of $1 million for anyone who can scientifically prove psychic ability. Most celebrated psychics and mediums have rejected his offer.
 See also
- Cold reading
- Faith healing
- List of channelled texts
- Raymond Moody's book Life After Life. He coined the term "near-death experience"
- The Book on Mediums
- The Spirits Book
- Theatrical seances
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 Further reading
- Lehman, Amy (2009). Victorian women and the theatre of trance: mediums, spiritualists and mesmerists in performance. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-3479-1.
- Barrow, Logie (1986). Independent spirits: Spiritualism and English plebeians, 1850-1910. Routledge and Kegan Paul Books. ISBN 0-7102-0815-4
- Brandon, Ruth (1983). The spiritualists: the passion for the occult in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-87975-269-6
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- A Guide to Mediumship and Psychic Unfoldment by E. and M. Wallis (Chicago, 1903). Practical, no-frills instructions.