Mediumship, or channeling, is the practice of certain people—known as mediums—to purportedly mediate communication between spirits of the dead and other human beings. While no evidence has been accepted by the scientific community in support of the view that there has been communication between the living and the dead, some parapsychologists say that some of their research suggests that such communication may have taken place. The practice is associated with several religious belief systems such as Spiritualism, Spiritism, Candomblé, Voodoo, Umbanda and some New Age groups.
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 criticized for not establishing thorough test conditions.
In Spiritism and Spiritualism the medium has the role of an intermediary between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Mediums claim that they can listen to and relay messages from spirits, or that they can 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 allegedly "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, 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.
Mediumship also forms 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 allegedly receives messages from a "teaching-spirit".
Attempts 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 guide 
In 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 operator 
A spirit who uses a medium to manipulate psychic "energy" or "energy systems."
Demonstrations of mediumship 
In 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,
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 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.
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. This type of mediumship is claimed to involve perceptible manifestations, such as loud raps and noises, voices, materialized objects, apports, materialized spirit bodies, or body parts such as hands, legs and feet. 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.
Direct voice 
Direct voice communication is the claim that spirits speak independently of the medium, who facilitates the phenomenon rather than produces it. The role of the medium is to make the connection between the physical 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. Leslie Flint, was one of the best known exponents of this form of mediumship.
In the latter half of the 20th century, Western mediumship developed in two different ways. One type involves psychics or sensitives who 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 allows the spirit-person to borrow his/her body, 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, Darryl Anka for Bashar, and Lee Carroll for Kryon.
Psychic senses 
In 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."
In Britain, the Society for Psychical Research has investigated mediumship phenomena. Critical SPR investigations into purported mediums and the exposure of fake mediums led to a number of resignations in the 1880s by Spiritualist members.
In the 1930s Harry Price (director of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research) had investigated the medium Helen Duncan and had her perform a number of test séances. She was suspected of swallowing cheesecloth which was then regurgitated as "ectoplasm". Price had proven through analysis of a sample of ectoplasm produced by Duncan, that it was made of cheesecloth.
A more recent investigation 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 séances 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. The experiments described by Schwartz have received criticism from the scientific community for being inadequately designed and using poor controls.
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.
Scientists who study anomalistic psychology consider mediumship to be the result of fraud and psychological factors. Research from psychology for over a hundred years has revealed that where there is not fraud, mediumship and Spiritualist practices can be explained by hypnotism, magical thinking and suggestion. Trance mediumship which is claimed by the Spiritualists to be caused by discarnate spirits speaking through the medium have been proven in cases to be alternate personalities from the medium's subconscious mind.
The medium may obtain information about their sitters by secretly eavesdropping on sitter's conversations or searching telephone directories, the internet and newspapers before the sittings. Mediums are known for employing a technique called cold reading and obtain information from the sitter's behavior, clothing, posture, and jewellery.
The psychologists 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.
Thomson Jay Hudson in The Law of Psychic Phenomena (1892) and Théodore Flournoy in his book Spiritism and Psychology (1911) wrote that all kinds of mediumship could be explained by suggestion and telepathy from the medium 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 less far fetched than invoking spirits.
Many 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.
Séances take place in darkness so the poor lighting conditions can become an easy opportunity for fraud. All physical mediumship that has been investigated has been discovered to be the result of deception and trickery. Ectoplasm a supposed paranormal substance was revealed to be made from cheesecloth, butter, muslin and cloth. Mediums would also stick cut-out faces from magazines and newspapers onto cloth or on other props and use plastic dolls in their séances to pretend to their audiences spirits were contacting them. Well known mediums who were exposed as frauds include Mina Crandon who claimed to materialise a spirit hand but was examined by biologists and discovered to be made from a piece of carved animal liver. Another famous medium Eusapia Palladino would move curtains from a distance by releasing a jet of air from a rubber bulb that she had in her hand. Helen Duncan was caught using a doll made of a painted papier-mache mask draped in an old sheet which she pretended to her sitters was a spirit.
On the subject of fraud in mediumship Paul Kurtz wrote:
No doubt a great importance in the paranormal field is the problem of fraud. The field of psychic research and spiritualism has been so notoriously full of charlatans, such as the Fox sisters and Eusapia Palladino–individuals who claim to have special power and gifts but who are actually conjurers who have hoodwinked scientists and the public as well–that we have to be especially cautious about claims made on their behalf.
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 US dollars for anyone who can scientifically prove psychic ability. Most celebrated psychics and mediums have rejected his offer.
See also 
- Faith healing
- List of modern 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 
- 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. Unknown parameter
- Doyle, Arthur Conan (1926). The History of Spiritualism, volume 1. New York: G.H. Doran. ISBN 1-4101-0243-2.
- Doyle, Arthur Conan (1926). The History of Spiritualism, volume 2. New York: G.H. Doran. ISBN 1-4101-0243-2.
- Lehman, Amy (2009). Victorian women and the theatre of trance: mediums, spiritualists and mesmerists in performance. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-3479-1.
- A Guide to Mediumship and Psychic Unfoldment by E. and M. Wallis (Chicago, 1903). Practical, no-frills instructions.
- Media related to Mediumship at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of Mediumship at Wiktionary