Séance conducted by John Beattie, Bristol, England, 1872

Mediumship is described as a form of communication with spirits.[1] It is a practice in religious beliefs such as Spiritualism, Spiritism, Espiritismo, Candomblé, Voodoo and Umbanda.



Mediumship is the ability of a person (the medium) to experience contact with spirits of the dead, angels, demons or other immaterial entities. A medium is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "a person believed to be in contact with the spirits of the dead and to communicate between the living and the dead".[2] The role of the medium is to facilitate communication with spirits who have messages to share with non-mediums. Mediums are able to listen to, relay messages from, and relate conversations with spirit, to go into a trance (it is not necessary to go into a trance, it all depends on the medium's control and knowledge) and speak without knowledge of what is being said, to allow a spirit to control their body and speak through it, perhaps using a writing instrument (as in automatic writing or drawing).

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". In some cultures, mediums (or the spirits to whom they are connected) reportedly produce physical paranormal phenomena such as materialisations of spirits, apports of objects, or levitation.[3][4]


Attempts to communicate with the dead and other 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 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.[5] 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 channelers relate the wisdom of non-corporeal and non-terrestrial teacher-spirits have become bestsellers.


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."[6] Then, describing the mediumship of Rev. Lillian Dee Johnson of Saint Petersburg, Florida, she noted, "Mandy Lou is Rev. Johnson's guide. [..] She was, on earth, a slave to Rev. Johnson's grandmother."[6]

Spirit operator

A spirit who uses a medium to manipulate 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."[6]

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.[7]

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.[8] Scholars have described Leonora Piper as one of the most famous trance mediums in the history of Spiritualism.[9][10][11]

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.[12]

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.[13][14] 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 voice

Direct voice communication involves spirits extracting ectoplasm from living persons (not limited to the medium) to create a spirit voice-box, which enables the spirits to communicate with the living during seances. This form included the medium Leslie Flint.[15]


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 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.[16] 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.[17] A widely known channeler of this variety is J. Z. Knight, who channeled the spirit of Ramtha, a 30 thousand-year-old man. Others channel spirits from "future dimensional", ascended masters,[18] or ,in the case of the trance mediums of the Brahma Kumaris, God.[19] Other notable channels are Jane Roberts for Seth, Esther Hicks for Abraham,[20] Margaret McElroy for Maitreya, Serge J. Grandbois for Kris, Barbara Marciniak, and Wendy Kennedy both for the Pleiadian Collective, 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. 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.[21]

  • 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."

Notable mediums

Notable deceased mediums include: Clifford Bias, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Emma Hardinge Britten, Edgar Cayce, George Chapman, Andrew Jackson Davis, Jeane Dixon, Arthur Ford, the Fox sisters, Elizabeth "Betty" Grant, Daniel Dunglas Home, M. Lamar Keene, Dada Lekhraj, Ruth Montgomery, Eusapia Palladino, Leonora Piper, Paschal Beverly Randolph, Jane Roberts, Doris Stokes, Paul Solomon, Stanisława Tomczyk and Chico Xavier.

Notable living mediums include: Derek Acorah, Rosemary Altea, Marisa Anderson, Sylvia Browne,Chip Coffey, Allison DuBois, John Edward, Danielle Egnew, Divaldo Pereira Franco, Colin Fry, Esther Hicks, John of God, J. Z. Knight,Char Margolis, Sally Morgan, James Van Praagh, Gary Spivey, Tony Stockwell, Neale Donald Walsch, Darryl Anka, David Wells, and Lisa Williams.


In Britain, the Society for Psychical Research has investigated some phenomena, mainly in connection with telepathy and apparitions.[22] 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.[23] 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).[24] According to paranormal researcher Brian Dunning the Schole 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.[25]

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.[26] Studies conducted by VERITAS into mediumship have been approved by the University of Arizona Human Subjects Protection Program and an academic advisory board. Schwartz claimed his 2005 experiments were indicative of survival, but do not yet provide conclusive proof.[27][28]

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.[29]

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. [30]


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 " 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."[31]

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.[32]

See also


  1. ^ "Mediums", Robert Todd Carroll, Skeptic's Dictionary, Retrieved March 23, 2007 "In spiritualism, a medium is one with whom spirits communicate directly."
  2. ^ "Medium". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd on-line version ed.). 2011. 
  3. ^ "Glossary of Key Words Frequently Used in Parapsychology", Parapsychological Association website. "Materialization: A phenomenon of physical mediumship in which living entities or inanimate objects are caused to take form, sometimes from ectoplasm." Retrieved January 24, 2006
  4. ^ "Medium - Definition". Retrieved 2007-03-23. 
  5. ^ "spiritism is not a religion but a science", by the famous French astronomer Camille Flammarion in Allan Kardec's Eulogy on April 2, 1869, in Death and Its Mystery - After Death. Manifestations and Apparitions of the Dead; The Soul After Death Translated by Latrobe Carroll (1923, T. Fisher Unwin, Ltd. London: Adelphi Terrace.), online version at Allan Kardec eulogy
  6. ^ a b c The Autobiogaphy of a Fortune Teller by C. Doreen Phillips, Vantage Press, 1958.
  7. ^ Castillo (1995)[page needed]
  8. ^ Braude, Anne, Radical Spirits, Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth Century America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  9. ^ Ruth Brandon, The Spiritualists, The Passion for the Occult in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Alfred A. Knopf, 1983
  10. ^ Deborah Blum, Ghost Hunters, William James and the Search for Scientic Proof of Life After Death, The Penguin Press, 2006
  11. ^ Amy Tanner, Studies in Spiritism, G. Stanley Hall, Introduction, p. 18, Prometheus Press, 1994, originally published by D. Appleton, 1910
  12. ^ God's World: A Treatise on Spiritualism Founded on Transcripts of Shorthand Notes Taken Down, Over a Period of Five Years, in the Seance-Room of the William T. Stead Memorial Center (a Religious Body Incorporated Under the Statutes of the State of Illinois), Mrs. Cecil M. Cook, Medium and Pastor. Compiled and Written by Lloyd Kenyon Jones. Chicago, Ill.: The William T. Stead Memorial Center, 1919.
  13. ^ "Ectoplasm" def. Merriam Webster dictionary, Retrieved 18 January 2007
  14. ^ Somerlott, Robert, Here, Mr. Splitfoot. Viking, 1971.
  15. ^ "Leslie Flint"
  16. ^ Wood, Matthew (2007). Possession Power and the New Age: Ambiguities of Authority in Neoliberal Societies. Ashgate Publishing, Limited. ISBN 0-75463-339-X. 
  17. ^ LeCron, Jean (1970). Hypnotism Today. Wilshire Book Co. p. 278. ISBN 087980081X. "When in a trance ... the medium seems to come under the control of another personality, purportedly the spirit of a departed soul. In the trance, the medium often enters a cataleptic state marked by extreme rigidity. The control then takes over, the voice may change completely ... and the spirit answers the questions of the sitter, telling of things 'on the other plane' and gives messages from those who have 'passed over.'" 
  18. ^ Brown, Michael F. (1999). The Channeling Zone: American Spirituality in an Anxious Age. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-67410-883-3. 
  19. ^ Klimo, Jon (1998). Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources. North Atlantic Books. p. 100. ISBN 978-1556432484. 
  20. ^ Chalmers, Robert (8 July 2007). "Interview: The couple who claim they can make you rich beyond your wildest dreams". The Independent. 
  21. ^ "Glossary of Key Words Frequently Used in Parapsychology", Parapsychological Association website, Retrieved January 29, 2007
  22. ^ The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, "Spiritism"
  23. ^ Journal of the Society for Psychical Research January, 2001 - Vol. 65.1, Num. 862
  24. ^ David Fontana (2005): Is there an afterlife, p. 324-351. See also
  25. ^ "The Scole Experiment: Said to be the best evidence yet for the afterlife -- but how good is that evidence?". Skeptoid. 2009-11-10. Retrieved 2011-10-30. 
  26. ^ The VERITAS Research Program of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona
  27. ^
  28. ^ The Truth about Medium by Gary E. Schwartz, Ph. D., with William L. Simon, Hampton Books, 2005, page 119
  29. ^ O'Keeffe, Ciaran (May 2005). Testing Alledged Mediumship: Methods and Results. British Journal of Psychology. doi:10.1348/000712605X36361. ISSN 00071269. 
  30. ^ Revisiting Survival 37 Years Later. Is the Data Still Compelling?
  31. ^ Spiritualism (religion) :: History - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  32. ^ Keene, Lamar (1997). The Psychic Mafia. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-161-0 (Republication of 1976 edition by St. Martin's Press.)

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