Throughout the history of Spiritualism, a special place has been occupied by the medium as an individual qualified in some special manner to form a link between the living and the dead. Most Spiritualists would agree with the definition adopted by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches : "A Medium is one whose organism is sensitive to vibrations from the spirit world and through whose instrumentality intelligences in that world are able to convey messages and produce the phenomena of Spiritualism."
Through the medium, Spiritualism asserts, the spirits of the departed may communicate with their friends or relatives still on earth, either by making use of the material organism of the medium (i.e., through automatic phenomena) or by producing in the physical world certain manifestations that cannot be explained by known physical laws (i.e., physical phenomena).
The essential qualification of a medium is a unique sensitiveness that enables the medium to be readily "controlled" by spirits. Mediums thus stand in contrast to sensitives or psychics, terms applicable to psychically gifted individuals who are not controlled by spirits of the dead.
If one accepts the possibility of mediumship, the next question is whether mediumship is an inherent faculty or whether it may be acquired. Some Spiritualists hold that all individuals are mediums to some degree, and consequently that everyone is in communication with spirits, from whom proceeds what is called inspiration. Those who are ordinarily designated mediums, say the Spiritualists, are gifted with this common ability to a higher degree than their fellows.
What came to be known as mediumship in nineteenth-century Spiritualism is an ability that was found in the ancient world. Early written records of demonic possession afford an excellent example of mediumship, as does the ancient practice of witchcraft. The somnambule of the eighteenth-century mesmerists provides a more recent example.
In its usual application, the term medium is used to describe sensitives associated with the modern Spiritualist movement, which had its origin in the United States in 1848. Spiritualism was distinct as a post-Enlightenment movement in which mediumship was used as a means of demonstrating to the public and proving scientifically the reality of spirit contact and therefore life after death. This peculiar context set it apart from all similar behavior that had preceded it.
In this sense, then, Mrs. Fox and the Fox sisters, the subject of the Rochester rappings, were the earliest mediums. The phenomena of their séances consisted mainly of knockings, by means of which messages were supposedly conveyed from the spirits to the sitters.
Other mediums rapidly appeared, first in America and later in Britain and throughout Europe. Their mediumship was of both varieties—physical and automatic. One of these phases was exhibited exclusively by some mediums, but others demonstrated both, as in the case of William Stainton Moses. Indeed, by the end of the nineteenth century it was practically impossible to find a trance speaker who did not at one time or another practice the physical manifestations. Leonora Piper, who became well known early in this century, was unusual because the phenomena she demonstrated was purely subjective.
The early rappings of the Fox sisters speedily developed into more elaborate manifestations. For a few years an epidemic of table turning caused widespread excitement, and the motions of the table became a favorite means of communicating with the spirits. The playing of musical instruments without visible agency was a form of manifestation that received the attention of mediums from an early date, as was the seemingly paranormal materialization in the séance room of "apports ": fruit, flowers, perfume, and all manner of portable objects. Darkness was said to facilitate the spirit manifestations, and since there are certain physical processes (such as those in photography) to which darkness is essential, no logical objection could be offered to a dim séance room. The arrival of physical phenomena coincided with the introduction of many amateur conjurers into the movement, who saw a means of making a living bilking sitters hungry for information about their deceased relatives.
Attendees at a Spiritualist séance were generally seated around a table, holding each other's hands, and were often enjoined to sing or talk pending the manifestation of a spirit. All this, although offering grounds of suspicion to the incredulous, was plausible to the Spiritualists.
As the demand for physical manifestations increased through the decades of the nineteenth century, they became more daring and more varied. The moving of objects without contact, the levitation of heavy furniture and of medium or sitters, the elongation of the human body, and the fire ordeal were all practiced by the medium Daniel Dunglas Home for a quarter of a century until his death in 1886. At public performances of the Davenport brothers, while the brothers were bound hand and foot in a small cabinet, musical instruments were played and moved about the room and objects moved without being touched. (The Davenport brothers did not claim to be mediums nor did they identify themselves with Spiritualism, but the Spiritualists certainly welcomed their performances.)
The slate writing of "Dr." Henry Slade and William Eglinton enjoyed considerable attention. The tying of knots in endless cords and the passing of matter through matter were typical physical phenomena of the mediumistic circle.
The crowning achievement of mediumship, however, was the materialization of the spirit form. Quite early in the history of Spiritualism, hands were materialized, then faces, and finally the complete form of the spirit "control. " Thereafter materialized spirits allowed themselves to be touched, and even held conversations with the sitters. Further "proof" of the actuality of the spirits was offered by spirit photography.
Physical phenomena were the highlight of Spiritualism through the 1920s. By the beginning of World War II, however, continual exposure of fraud within the movement largely drove the physical mediums to the fringe.
To those for whom Spiritualism was a religion, however, the most important part of the mediumistic performances was the trance utterances, which came under the heading of automatic or psychological phenomena, commonly in the form of automatic speaking and automatic writing . These dealt largely with the conditions of life on the other side of the grave, although in style they often tended to be verbose and vague. Spirit drawings were sometimes amazingly impressive, at other times nondescript (see Automatic Drawing and Painting ).
Clairvoyance and crystal vision were included in the psychological phenomena, and so were the prophetic utterances of mediums and speaking in unknown tongues.
According to the Spiritualist hypothesis that all individuals are mediums, it would be necessary to class inspiration—not only the inspiration of genius, but all good or evil impulses—as spiritual phenomena. That idea in turn suggested to the Spiritualist that the everyday life of the normal individual is to some extent directed by spirit controls. Therein lay the responsibility of mediumship, for the medium who desired to be controlled by pure spirits from the higher spheres had to live a well-conducted and principled life. Misuse of the divine gift of mediumship carried with it its own punishment, for the medium became the sport of base human spirits and elementals, his or her will was sapped, and the whole being degraded. Likewise the medium had to be wary of giving up individual personality to the first spirit who came by, for the low, earthbound spirits had the least difficulty in communicating with the living.
Great Mediums of the Past
Of the physical mediums, the most noteworthy was Daniel Dunglas Home (1833-86), who claimed to be of Scottish birth. He arrived in the United States at an early age. He is worthy of note in that he was never detected in fraud (unlike most physical mediums) although his demonstrations were spectacular. All who came into contact with him were impressed by his simple manners and frank and affectionate disposition, so he possessed the most valuable asset of a medium—the ability to inspire confidence in his sitters.
The production of physical phenomena was promoted at an early date by the Davenport brothers. Although widely popular in their time, they were quite different from Home. Their performance consisted of allowing themselves to be securely bound in a cabinet by the sitters, and while thus handicapped producing the usual mediumistic phenomena. The Davenports were said to be mere conjurers however, and when the stage magicians John Nevil Maskelyne and Cooke successfully imitated their feats, the Davenports lost credibility.
Slate writing, which proved one of the most widely accepted forms of psychic phenomena, had as its principal exponents Henry Slade and William Eglinton. The best argument that can be advanced against their feats is to be found in the pseudo-séances of S. T. Davey, given in the interests of the Society for Psychical Research, London. Davey's slate-writing exhibitions, exposing the methods of producing spirit messages by simple conjuring, were so much like those of the professional mediums that some Spiritualists refused to believe that he was conjuring and hailed him as a renegade medium.
Automatic drawing was principally represented by David Duguid, a Scottish medium who attained considerable success in that line. Prominent trance speakers and writers were Duguid, J. J. Morse, Emma Hardinge Britten, and Cora L. V. (Tappan) Richmond.
One of the best-known and most respected private mediums was Stainton Moses (1839-92), a clergyman and schoolmaster whose normal life was beyond reproach. He produced both automatic and physical manifestations, the former including the writing of a work, Spirit Teachings (1894), dictated from time to time by his spirit controls, while the latter consisted of levitations, lights, and apports. His position, character, and education gave to his support of Spiritualism a credibility of considerable value.
It is to later mediums, however, that we must look for proof worthy of scientific consideration, and of these the most important were Eusapia Palladino and Leonora Piper. Palladino, an Italian medium, was born in 1854, and for a good many years acted as a medium for scientific investigators. In 1892 séances were held at Milan at which were present Professors Schiaparelli, Angelo Brofferio, Cesare Lombroso, Charles Richet, and others. In 1894 Richet conducted some experiments with Palladino at his house in the Ile Roubaud, to which he invited Sir Oliver Lodge, F. W. H. Myers, and Julien Ochorowicz.
The phenomena occurring in Palladino's presence were the ordinary manifestations of the mediumistic séance, but were of interest because all the distinguished investigators professed themselves satisfied that the medium, with her hands, head, and feet controlled by the sitters, could not herself produce the phenomena. Credible witnesses asserted that she possessed the ability to project psychic limbs from her person. Lodge and Myers were so impressed as to posit the existence of a new force, which they termed ectenic force, emanating from the medium.
In 1895, however, some séances with Palladino were held at Myers's home in Cambridge, where it became apparent that she habitually freed a hand or a foot—in short, habitually resorted to fraud if not properly controlled. Yet even these exposures were not conclusive, for in 1898, after a further series of experiments, Myers, Lodge, and Richet once more declared their belief in the genuineness of this medium's phenomena.
Leonora Piper, the Boston medium whose trance utterances and writings contain some of the best evidence forthcoming for the truth of Spiritualism, first fell into a spontaneous trance in 1884, and in the following year she was observed by Professor William James of Harvard. Thereafter her case was carefully studied by the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research, London.
Her first important control was a French physician, "Dr. Phinuit," but in 1892 a new control appeared, "George Pelham," who claimed to be the spirit of a young author who had died in February of that year. So complete was her impersonation of Pelham, and so well was his identity established by the mention of many private matters known only to himself and a few of his friends, that more than thirty of his friends claimed to recognize him.
In 1896 "George Pelham" gave place to "Imperator," "Rector," and other spirits who had formerly controlled Stainton Moses. From that time, and especially after 1900, the interest of the sittings declined, and they offered less material for the investigator.
Another automatic medium, Hélène Smith, came under the observation of Theodore Flournoy. Smith's trance utterances were spoken in what was claimed to be the "Martian language," and she believed herself to be the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette and a Hindu princess. In his discovery of a more mundane explanation of Smith's phenomena, Flournoy made her one of the most notable mediums in the history of psychical research, if not Spiritualism.
The diagnosis and cure of disease were extensively practiced by Spiritualist mediums, following in the path of the older somnambulist and magnetic healers, who not only traced the progress of diseases but also diagnosed and prescribed modes of treatment.
The prescribing aspect of the healing mediums' work has largely been discarded since it frequently falls into the legal category of nonphysicians practicing medicine.
In the beginning it was not considered proper for healing mediums, most of whom practiced part time, to accept any remuneration for their services. As the movement developed and healers became full-time professionals, they either expected a fee or accepted freewill offerings.
Although it may be true that healing mediums, like Christian Science and New Thought practitioners, mesmerists, and others, effected a considerable proportion of bona fide cures, whether the cures were caused by spirit influence, the release of some psychic power, psychic healing, or mere suggestion is a point on which controversy continues. Spiritualists, like almost every religious community that practices some form of spiritual healing, can point to people who have been cured of a wide variety of diseases.
Spiritualist Views of Mediumship
Various theories have been advanced to explain mediumistic manifestations. Spiritualists, of course, claim that the phenomena are produced by the spirits of the dead acting on the sensitive organism of the medium. Today, evidence for such a theory is considered to be, at best, inconclusive. In fact, the change from psychical research to parapsychology was in large part a shift away from survival studies to laboratory experiments on basic psychic phenomena.
Observation of Spiritualism by psychical researchers and its claims to demonstrate life after death have been dominated by the question of fraud. The exposure of two generations of physical mediums has largely driven such phenomena from the mainstream of even the Spiritualist movement, although it can still be found in various churches and camps. Fraud was mostly discovered in physical phenomena, but it was also active where mediums practiced mentalist tricks. Information about sitters was collected ahead of time, or, in the case of pellet reading, during the session itself. Spiritualists explain these lapses into fraud as being instigated by the spirits themselves, a hypothesis that is clearly untenable in the majority of cases of mediums who practice fraud as a matter of course.
Automatism covers a wider field. The possibility that automatic utterances, writing, drawing, and so on may be involuntary and outside the sphere of the medium's consciousness can no longer be dismissed. The psychological phenomena are sometimes found in small children and in private mediums whose good faith is beyond question. The state is recognized as being allied to hypnotism and hysteria. Besides automatism and fraud, there are some other factors to be considered.
Some deception may be practiced by sitters as well as by the medium. It has been said that the ability to inspire confidence in sitters is essential to a successful medium. If the sitters are predisposed to believe in the paranormal, it is easy to imagine a lessening of the attention and observation so necessary to the psychic investigator.
The impossibility of continued observation for even a short period is a fact that can be proved by experiment. Memory defects and proneness to exaggeration are also accountable for many of the claimed marvels of the séance room, and possible hallucination must be considered. When the medium is in a trance, with its accompanying hyperesthesia, unconscious suggestion on the part of the sitters might offer a rational explanation for so-called clairvoyance.
Psychical Researchers and Mediumship
Joseph Maxwell defined a medium as "a person in the presence of whom psychical phenomena can be observed." Gustav Geley 's definition was "one whose constituent elements— mental, dynamic, and material—are capable of being momentarily decentralised," in other words, an intermediary for communication between the material and spirit worlds. Myers called the word medium "a barbarous and question-begging term" since many mediumistic communications were nothing but subconscious revelations; he suggested the use of the word automatist. The word psychic was proposed by others.
Cesare Lombroso maintained that there was a close relationship between the phenomena of mediumship and hysteria. Charles Richet believed that "mediums are more or less neuro-paths, liable to headaches, insomnia, and dyspepsia. The facility with which their consciousness suffers dissociation indicates a certain mental instability and their responsibility while in a state of trance is diminished."
The same opinion was expressed slightly more circumstantially by psychical researcher Frank Podmore: "Physiologically speaking, the medium is a person of unstable nervous equilibrium, in whom the control normally exercised by the higher brain centres is liable, on slight provocation, to be abrogated, leaving the organism, as in dream or somnambulism to the guidance of impulses which in a state of unimpaired consciousness would have been suppressed before they could have resulted in action."
Joseph Maxwell advised caution. He admitted that a certain impressionability—or nervous instability—was a favorable condition for the effervescence of mediumship. But he stressed that the term nervous instability was not meant in a negative sense. His best experiments were made with people who were not in any way hysterical; neurasthenics generally gave no result whatever. Nor did instability mean want of equilibrium. Many mediums he had known had extremely well-balanced minds from the mental and nervous point of view. Their nervous systems were even superior to the average person's, he said. The trance was a state such as appears in nervous hyper-tension.
"There are four chief types of temperament," wrote Dr. Charles Lancelin, "nervous, bilious, lymphatic and sanguine. Of these, the nervous temperament is the best suited for psychic experiments of all kinds; the bilious is the most receptive; the sanguine is liable to hallucinations, both subjective and objective; while the lymphatic is the least suitable of all, from every point of view. Of course, one's temperament is usually a compound of all of these, which are rarely found in their ideal state; but the predominantly nervous temperament is the one best suited for this test."
What Mediumship Is and What It Is Not
As mediumship emerged, some understood it to be a pathological state. Psychical researchers considered the question of pathology, but generally were able to draw sharp lines of distinction between dysfunctional mental disorders and unusual states of consciousness such as those displayed by mediums and others demonstrating psychic abilities.
In the late nineteenth century W. F. H. Myers remarked that the confusion on the point was the result of the observation that supernormal phenomena use the same channels for manifestation as the abnormal phenomena. The phenomena of medium-ship are developmental, however; they show the promise of powers as yet unknown, whereas abnormal phenomena (like hysteria or epilepsy) show the degeneration of powers already acquired.
Flournoy, after his exhaustive study of the mediumship of Hélène Smith came to the same conclusion:
"It is far from being demonstrated that mediumship is a pathological phenomenon. It is abnormal, no doubt, in the sense of being rare, exceptional; but rarity is not morbidity. The few years during which these phenomena have been seriously and scientifically studied have not been enough to allow us to pronounce on their true nature. It is interesting to note that in the countries where these studies have been pushed the furthest, in England and America, the dominant view among the savants who have gone deepest into the matter is not at all unfavourable to mediumship; and that, far from regarding it as a special case of hysteria, they see in it a faculty superior, advantageous and healthy, but that hysteria is a form of degeneracy, a pathological parody, a morbid caricature."
Dr. Guiseppe Venzano, an Italian psychical researcher, was similarly emphatic: "Mediumship only represents a temporary deviation from the normal psychic state, and absolutely excludes the idea of morbidity; it is even proved that the slightest alteration of a pathological nature is sufficient to diminish or arrest the mediumistic powers."
As Flournoy discovered, the conditions for the successful exercise of mediumistic powers are the same as for the voluntary exercise of any other power—a state of good health, nervous equilibrium, calm, absence of care, good humor, and facilitative surroundings.
Physical defects, significant injury, or serious illness have been suggested as potential causes of mediumistic development. Spiritualist believer Arthur Conan Doyle suggested that a bodily weakness causes what may be described as a dislocation of the soul, so that it is more detached and capable of independent action. Eusapia Palladino had a peculiar depression of her parietal bone caused by an accident in childhood. Leonora Piper's mediumship developed after two operations, and her control, "Imperator," in an automatic script by Stainton Moses, said, "The tempering effect of a bodily illness has been in all your life an engine of great power with us." In the case of Mary Jobson, Mollie Fancher, Lurrency Vennum ("the Watseka Wonder" ) and Vincent Turvey, prolonged physical agony accompanied the period of their psychic activity.
Spiritualists, however, consider mediumship to be a gift and its development to require great care and understanding. According to Barbara McKenzie (Light, March 18, 1932), who worked for many years at the British College of Psychic Science, the production and ripening of psychical gifts involves "a lengthy period of homely, warm, appreciative incubation … which is found at its best in a family or in a very intimate home circle, in which a continuity of conditions and a warm personal and even reverent interest is assured."
Sir Oliver Lodge believed that the medium should be treated as "a delicate piece of apparatus wherewith we are making an investigation. The medium is an instrument whose ways and idiosyncrasies must be learnt, and to a certain extent humoured, just as one studies and humours the ways of some much less delicate piece of physical apparatus turned out by a skilled instrument maker."
Age, Sex, and Psychical Phenomena
Mediumship may appear spontaneously and early in life, somewhat like artistic gifts. The five-month-old son of Kate Fox wrote automatically. Raps occurred on his pillow and on the iron railing of his bedstead almost every day. The seven-month-old infant of Margaretta Cooper, the daughter of LaRoy Sunderland, gave communications through raps. Alexander Aksakof, in his book Animisme et Spiritism (1906), records many instances of infantile mediumship. The child Alward moved tables that were too heavy for her normal strength. Another wrote automatically when nine days old.
In Eugène Bonnemère's Histoire des Camisara (1869) and in Louis Figuier's Histoire du Merveilleux (4 vols., 1886-89), many cases are quoted of mediumistic Camisard babies of 14 to 15 months of age and of infants who preached in French with the purest diction. During the persecution of the Huguenots, these babies were confined to prison in great numbers. The psychic contagion spread to Catholic children as well.
Nationality has no known influence on the development of mediumship, though the peculiar form the mediumship may take and the ideas mediums espouse may show differences across national boundaries. These differences seem more related to social training than to any inherent aspect of medium-ship.
Puberty seems to have a peculiar significance. In old chronicles, prepubescent children were mentioned as the best subjects for crystal reading. Poltergeist cases mostly occur in the presence of young girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 16. Hereward Carrington, in a paper on the sexual aspect of mediumship presented at the First International Congress for Psychical Research in Copenhagen in 1921, speculated that the sexual energies that are blossoming into maturity within the body may, instead of taking their normal course, be somehow turned into another channel and externalized beyond the limits of the body, producing paranormal manifestations:
"There may be a definite connection between sex and psychical phenomena; and this seems to be borne out by three or four analogies. First, recent physiological researches as to the activities of the ductless glands and particularly the sex glands which have shown the enormous influence which these glands have upon the physical and even upon the psychic life. Second, the observation made in the cases of Kathleen Goligher and Eva C. which show that the plasma which is materialised, frequently issues from the genitals. [Given the questionable nature of the mediumship of these two women, however, the observations may have no relevance.] Third, the clinical observations of Lombroso, Morselli and others upon Eusapia Palladino, which brought to light many recognised sexual stigmata. Fourth, the teachings and practices of the Yogis of India, who have written at great length upon the connection between sexual energies and the higher, ecstatic states. Many suggest and explain the way to convert the former into the latter, just as we find instances of 'sublimation' in modern Freudian psychoanalysis, and connection between sex and religion, here in the West."
In his book, The Story of Psychic Science (1930), Carrington adds: "These speculations have, I believe, been amply verified by certain recent investigations, wherein it has been shown that (in the case of a celebrated European medium) the production of a physical phenomenon of exceptional violence has been coincidental with a true orgasm. From many accounts it seems probable that the same was frequently true in the case of Eusapia Palladino, and was doubtless the case with other mediums also."
Finally, Carrington pointed out that there was said to be a very close connection between the sexual energies and the kundalini energies that may be aroused and brought into activity by various yoga exercises.
Health and Mediumship
The practice of mediumship appears to have no adverse affects on health. Recovery from the trance state is usually very quick and, unless too many sittings produce an excessive drain on the vitality of the medium, the results may prove more beneficial than harmful. Many spirit guides have been known to supply regular medical advice, to take care of the medium's health to a greater extent than he or she could, and even to prescribe treatment in case of illness.
The withdrawal of mediumship powers is often evidence of care for the health of the medium. Of course, the lapse may come for entirely different reasons. But recuperative rest was given as an explanation when the "Imperator" group announced on May 24, 1911, that Leonora Piper's trance mediumship would be temporarily withdrawn. The withdrawal lasted until August 8, 1915.
In the case of the Marquis Centurione Scotto, it was similarly announced on November 9, 1927, that "he will fall ill if he continues thus. His nerves are shattered. By superior will his mediumistic faculty will be taken from him for a time." On another occasion, his mediumship was suspended, supposedly to allow him to read, study, and acquire more understanding of Spiritualistic belief. Similar experiences befell Stainton Moses, who revolted against his spirit guides when they tried to convince him, as a minister of the Anglican church, that "religion is eternal, whereas religious dogmas are but fleeting." His mediumship was temporarily removed. The powerful medium-ship of D. D. Home also lapsed from time to time, probably because he suffered from a tubercular diathesis.
Mediums who are conscious during the production of phenomena appear to suffer more than those in trance. The extrication of power from their organism seems a veritable trial for nerve and flesh. Producing the phenomena is often equivalent to putting the body on the rack.
The Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus says in Divination:
"Often at the moment of inspiration, or when the afflatus has subsided, a fiery appearance is seen—the entering or departing power. Those who are skilled in this wisdom, can tell by the character of this glory the rank of the divinity who has seized for the time the reins of the mystic's soul, and guides it as he will. Sometimes the body of the man is violently agitated, sometimes it is rigid and motionless. In some instances sweet music is heard, in others discordant and fearful sounds. The person of the subject has been known to dilate and tower to a superhuman height, in other cases it has been lifted into the air. Frequently not merely the ordinary exercise of reason, but sensation and animal life would appear to have been suspended; and the subject of the afflatus has not felt the application of fire, has been pierced with spits, cut with knives and has not been sensible of pain."
However, the disagreeable result of physical phenomena soon vanishes. A quarter of an hour's rest may be enough to dispel the effect.
Curiously enough, the suppression of mediumship may manifest in symptoms of disease. Dr. C. D. Isenberg of Hamburg wrote of a case in Light (April 11, 1931) in which a patient of his suffered from sleeplessness and peculiar spasmodic attacks that generally occurred at night. The spasms seized the whole body; even the tongue was affected, blocking the throat and nearly suffocating her. When the patient mentioned that in her youth she tried table tilting, the doctor thought it possible that the mediumistic energy might be blocking his patient's body. A sitting was tried. The lady fell into trance and afterward slept well for a few days. When the sleeplessness recurred the sitting was repeated and the results proved to be so beneficial that treatment with medication was discontinued.
Regarding a deleterious influence on the mind, Gladys Osborne Leonard writes in her book My Life in Two Worlds (1931): "I myself have not found that the development of psychic awareness detracts in any way from other so-called normal studies. I am a more successful gardener than I used to be, I am a much better cook; in many quite ordinary but extremely useful directions, I know I have improved; my health and nerves are under better control, therefore they are more to be relied upon than they ever were before I developed what many people think of as an abnormal or extraordinary power."
Dangers of Mediumship
Dangers, nevertheless, do exist in mediumship, but of another kind. Hereward Carrington warned that there is a true "terror of the dark" as well as "principalities and powers" with which, in our ignorance we can toy, without knowing or realizing the frightful consequence that may result from tampering with the unseen world. For that reason, he argued that a few men of well-balanced minds should be designated lifelong investigators in this field; they should be looked upon as recognized authorities, "and their work accepted upon these problems just as any other physicist is accepted on a problem in physics."
Moses agreed, saying, "I do not think it would be reasonable to say that it is wise and well for everyone to become acquainted with mediumship in his own proper person. It would not be honest in me to disguise the fact that he who meddles with this subject does so at his peril. I do not say that peril is anything that should always be avoided. In some cases it is not, but I do say that the development of mediumship is sometimes a very questionable benefit, as in others it is a very decided blessing."
The peril alluded to is the possibility of intrusion and control of undesirable spirits. Moses further stated, "In developing mediumship one has to consider a question involving three serious points. Can you get into relation with a spirit who is wise enough and strong enough to protect and good enough for you to trust? If you do not, you are exposed to that recurrent danger which the old occultists used to describe as the struggle with the dweller on the threshold. It is true that everybody who crosses the threshold of this occult knowledge does unquestionably come into a new and strange land in which, if he has no guide, he is apt to lose his way."
The nervous equilibrium of the medium during the séance may be easily disturbed. Hudson Tuttle observed of his own work, "During the physical manifestations I was in semi-trance, intensely sensitive and impressible. The least word, a jarring question, even when the intention was commendable, grated and rasped. Words convey an imperfect idea of this condition. It can only be compared with that physical state when a nerve is exposed."
Yet regarding the moral responsibility of the medium, Tuttle was emphatic: "A medium cannot be controlled to do anything against his determined will, and the plea that he is compelled by spirits is no excuse for wrong-doing. The medium, like anyone else, knows right from wrong, and if the controlling spirit urges towards the wrong, yielding is as reprehensible as it would be to the promptings of passion or the appetite."
Intelligence and Mediumship
The question of the medium's intelligence seems to have nothing to do with psychic powers, but it may greatly influence the power of the communicators to convey clear ideas. The most stolid mediums may exhibit an extraordinary intelligence in trance. If they are educated the manifestation becomes more marvelous. The question naturally arises whether in the long run spirit influence imparts knowledge to rustic minds. The Reverend J. B. Ferguson answered the question in the affirmative:
"Supramundane influence in the unfolding and education of mind has been a common and most interesting experience since my own attention was called to this subject. In the case of Mr. H. B. Champion we have a very remarkable instance. This gentleman, now distinguished for his comprehensiveness of thought on all subjects connected with mental and moral philosophy, and for unrivalled force and beauty of expression, was, to my personal knowledge, educated entirely under these influences. He was not educated even in ordinary branches, such as the orthography of his native tongue; was never at school but a few months in life. That which was at first the gift of a supra-mundane power is now his own; and unless his history were known he would be considered, as he often is, as a man of the highest accomplishments."
Ferguson testified similarly regarding George W. Harrison, another medium he believed to be educated by psychic power. He concluded: "These gentlemen are today highly educated men. They speak and write our language with great precision and accuracy. They converse with men of the first attainments on all questions that engage cultivated thought. They are sought by men distinguished as professors in various departments of science; and where their history is not known, as it is to myself and to others, they are recognised at once as men of very high order of culture."
Physical and Mental Mediums
The classification of mediums is diverse, but in general they fall into two main groups: physical and mental mediums. Physical mediumship as a rule means that there is no intellectual content behind the phenomena. The distinction is useful, as the coexistence of highly developed intellectual and physical phenomena is somewhat rare. These gifts either alternate or develop along lines of specification.
Leonora Piper produced no physical phenomena, and Gladys Osborne Leonard but very few. Franek Kluski was a universal medium. D. D. Home was mostly famous for his telekinetic manifestations. His trance phenomena were not studied in detail. Moses' powerful physical manifestations occurred in a small circle of friends. He was not subject to scientific experiments on these phenomena, but they were recorded. A more valuable record, affording unusual opportunity for study, was left behind in the automatic scripts of his trance phenomena.
The Medium's Source of Power
As a rule, most mediums require assistance for the production of their phenomena. The sitters of the circle often feel drained of power. According to Joseph Maxwell, Eusapia Palladino could quickly discern people from whom she could easily draw the force she needed: "In the course of my first experiments with this medium, I found out this vampirism to my cost. One evening, at the close of a sitting at l'Agnelas, she was raised from the floor and carried on to the table with her chair. I was not seated beside her, but, without releasing her neighbors' hands she caught hold of mine while the phenomena was happening. I had a cramp in the stomach—I cannot better define my sensation—and was almost overcome by exhaustion."
Justinus Kerner stated that the Seeress of Prevorst (Frede-rica Hauffe ) ate little and said that she was nourished by the substance of her visitors, especially of those related to her by the ties of blood, their constitution being more sympathetic with her own. Visitors who passed some minutes near her often noticed upon leaving that they were weakened.
Some mediums seemingly draw more of the sitters' vitality than others. These mediums become less exhausted and consequently can sit more often. Etta Wriedt, the direct voice medium, always left her sitters weak. Vice-Admiral Usborne Moore complained that he could hardly use his legs after a sitting.
In one instance in Elizabeth d'Esperance 's mediumship the draw on the sitter was seen as the cause of death. The materialized phantom was grabbed, and an older woman (the mother of the assailant), who those in attendance suggested had contributed most of the ectoplasm for the materialization, was seriously injured. Reportedly, after much suffering, she died. (Light, November 21, 1903).
If the sitters of the circle are mediumistic themselves, the phenomena tend to increase in strength. Perhaps the strongest mediumistic circle ever recorded was the family of Jonathan Koons, of Ohio. From the seven-month-old infant to the 18-year-old Nahum, the eldest of the family, all the children were mediumistic, making, with the parents, a total of ten mediums. The same curious power was manifest in the family of John Tippie, who had a similar spirit house at a distance of two or three miles from that of the Koons. Ten children formed his "spirit battery."
From 1859 to 1860, D. D. Home often gave joint séances with the American medium and editor, J. R. M. Squire. Later he sometimes sat with Kate Jencken, one of the Fox sisters, and with Stainton Moses. Frank Herne and Charles Williams joined partnership in 1871; Miss C. E. Wood sat with Annie Fairlamb. The spirit photographer William Hope usually sat with Mrs. Buxton, a member of the Crewe Circle founded by Archdeacon Thomas Colley.
Catherine Berry was known as a "developing" medium. According to a note signed by the editor of Human Nature, and published in Berry's Experiences in Spiritualism (1876), "… after sitting with Mrs. Berry a medium has more power to cause the phenomena at any other circle he may have to attend. Messrs. Herne and Williams have been known to visit this lady for the purpose of getting a supply of power when they had a special séance to give. Mrs. Berry is, therefore, successful in developing mediums, and has conferred the spirit voice manifestation, as well as other gifts, upon several mediums. In a public meeting, a speaker or trance medium is benefitted by having Mrs. Berry sitting near him. These facts have not been arrived at hastily, but after years of patient investigation."
Automatic writers have often joined forces. Frederick Bligh Bond and the automatists with whom he received the Glaston-bury scripts presented a case of dual mediumship. Similarly the "Oscar Wilde" scripts were produced through the medium-ship of Hester Dowden and Mr. V. On the other hand, mediums may antagonize each other and nullify the power. Florence Cook always objected on this ground to sitting with her sister Katie.
An early idea in the history of mediumship was the possibility of mechanical communication. The first confused thought of communicating with the spirit world through instruments occurred to John Murray Spear, who constructed something called the "new motor. " He arranged copper and zinc batteries in the form of an armor around the medium and expected a phenomenal increase of mediumistic powers through the combination of "mineral" and "vital" electricity. The dynamisto-graph, the Vandermeulen spirit indicator, the reflectograph and the communigraph were later developments. The most recent developments concern electronic voice phenomenon, also known as Raudive voices, and the SPIRICOM.
Incidents with mediums have led some to conclude that, similar to electricity, mediumistic power can be generated by induction. D. D. Home was the most famous medium for imparting his powers to others. Cases are on record in which he levitated others. Once he imparted the power of elongation to a Miss Bertolacci, and he bestowed fire immunity in a number of cases on his sitters.
The phenomenon of mediumistic induction was observed as modern Spiritualism spread. Those who sat with the Fox sisters sometimes discovered mediumistic abilities in themselves. Mrs. Benedict and Sarah Tamlin, the two best early mediums, were developed through the gift of Kate Fox. A writer in the New Haven Journal in October 1850, refers to knockings and other phenomena in seven different families in Bridgeport; 40 different families in Rochester, Auburn, and Syracuse; some two hundred in Ohio, New Jersey, and places more distant; as well as in Hartford, Springfield, Charlestown, and other cities.
Several famous early investigators went on to become mediums. Judge John W. Edmonds, Prof. Robert Hare, and William Howitt, all confessed to having received the gift. In his last years the psychical researcher Richard Hodgson was said to be in direct contact with the "Imperator" group. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle developed automatic writing and direct voice in his family. H. Dennis Bradley received the power of direct voice after his sittings with George Valiantine. Marquis Centurione Scotto also developed his powers through Valiantine.
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me·di·um / ˈmēdēəm/ • n. (pl. -di·a / -dēə/ or -di·ums) 1. an agency or means of doing something: using the latest technology as a medium for job creation their primitive valuables acted as a medium of exchange. ∎ a means by which something is communicated or expressed: here the Welsh language is the medium of instruction.2. the intervening substance through which impressions are conveyed to the senses or a force acts on objects at a distance: radio communication needs no physical medium between the two stations the medium between the cylinders is a vacuum. ∎ the substance in which an organism lives or is cultured: grow bacteria in a nutrient-rich medium.3. a particular form of storage for digitized information, such as magnetic tape or discs: moving or copying backed-up data through a hierarchy of different mediums. 4. a liquid (e.g., oil or water) with which pigments are mixed to make paint. ∎ the material or form used by an artist, composer, or writer: oil paint is the most popular medium for glazing.5. (pl. -di·ums) a person claiming to be in contact with the spirits of the dead and to communicate between the dead and the living.6. the middle quality or state between two extremes; a reasonable balance: you have to strike a happy medium between looking like royalty and looking like a housewife.• adj. about halfway between two extremes of size or another quality; average: John is six feet tall, of medium build medium-length hair. ∎ (of cooked meat) halfway between rare and well-done: I wanted my burger to be medium.DERIVATIVES: me·di·um·ism / -ˌmizəm/ n. (in sense 5).me·di·um·is·tic / ˌmēdēəˈmistik/ adj. (in sense 5).me·di·um·ship / -ˌship/ n. (in sense 5).
1. any substance, usually a broth, agar, or gelatin, used for the culture of microorganisms or tissue cells.
2. see contrast medium.