Trance messages claiming to come from the medium's spirit control do not always reveal a definite personality. The control often reflects the thoughts and opinions of the medium and the sitters, possesses little knowledge that they do not possess, and is an artificial personality. Yet, frequently a trance medium is controlled by a spirit of distinct or distinguished personality, whose education level appears to be more extensive and culture of a much different quality than the medium's and whose ideas and opinions appear independent.
Such spirits are generally given distinguishing names. They may control the medium alternately with other controls. On the other hand, the medium has generally a monopoly of one or more of these spirits, though sometimes one control may seemingly appear to be shared by several mediums.
Among those who may justly be regarded as the common property of dubious mediums are the spirits of certain great men—Virgil, Socrates, Shakespeare, Milton, Benjamin Franklin, Victor Hugo, Swëdenborg, and so on. The messages delivered through their control seldom resemble anything they wrote or said during their lives.
Not all the mediums involved in such counterfeit personalities are frauds; some are self-deluded. Others exhibit the faculty of the subconscious mind to weave fantasies like the characters and incidents of a novelist. Similar artificial personalities sometimes manifest in the claimed reincarnation experiences of subjects in hypnotic regression as in the famous "Bridey Murphy" case (see Morey Bernstein ).
Some trance personalities assume pseudonyms, suggesting the possibility that the personality of everyday life, which is modified from year to year, may suffer radical change after death, losing the distinctive nature that the physical body, memories, and emotions normally reinforce.
Some of the most well-known pseudonymous trance personalities were those of the Rev. William Stainton Moses — "Imperator," "Rector," "Mentor," "Prudens," and others. "Imperator" and "Rector" were also among the controls of the medium Leonora E. Piper in subsequent years and indeed much of her automatic discourse did not come directly from communicating spirits, but was dictated by them to "Rector." It was suggested, however, by Sir Oliver Lodge and other investigators, that Piper's controls were not identical with those of Stainton Moses but were merely masqueraders.
Piper had, however, several interesting trance personalities of her own without borrowing from anybody. One of her earliest controls was "Sebastian Bach;" but before long he gave place to a spirit calling himself "Dr. Phinuit," who was an influence for a considerable time, then succumbing in his turn to George Pelham ("G. P."). Pelham was a young author and journalist who died suddenly in 1892. Soon after his death he supposedly controlled Piper, and indeed gave many striking proofs of his identity. He constantly mentioned intimate details of the affairs of Pelham, recognized his friends, and gave to each their due welcome. He never failed to recognize an acquaintance, or give a greeting to one whom he did not know. Many of Pelham's old friends did not hesitate to recognize in him that which he claimed to be.
Only on one occasion, when asked for the names of two persons who had been associated with him in a certain enterprise, the spirit "G. P." refused, saying that as there was present one who knew the names, his mentioning them would be referred to as telepathy. Later, he gave the names—incorrectly. When "G. P." ceased to communicate as the principal control of Piper, his place was taken by "Rector" and "Imperator," as mentioned above.
Another well-known trance medium, Rosina Thompson, had as her chief control "Nelly" (a daughter of hers who had died in infancy), a "Mrs. Cartwright," and others. Thompson's controls were said not to have shown any individual characteristics, but to resemble Thompson herself strongly both in voice and manner of speech, although Margaret Verrall, one of the sitters, stated that the impersonations gave an impression of separate identity to the sitter. Thompson's early trance utterances were controlled by another band of spirits, with even less individuality than those mentioned.
Frequently mediums and investigators themselves, when reaching the discarnate plane, seem to become controls in their turn. The psychical researchers F. W. H. Myers, Edmund Gurney, Richard Hodgson, and Henry Sidgwick claimed to speak and write posthumously through many mediums, notably through Piper, Thompson, Verrall, and Alice K. Fleming (i.e., Mrs. Holland). Many of the statements made by these controls were correct; some matters revealed were apparently outside the scope of the medium's normal knowledge. At the same time several fatal discrepancies were found to exist between the controls and those they were supposed to represent.
Thus the script produced by Fleming contained grave warnings, claiming to come from Myers, against the medium Eusapia Palladino and her physical phenomena, whereas Myers was known to hold opinions favorable to the physical manifestations.
On the whole, such trance personalities show themselves influenced by the personality of the medium. In cases where the latter was acquainted with the control, the trance personality was proportionately strong. When there was no personal acquaintance, it was often of a neutral tint, and sometimes bad guesses were made, as when Fleming represented the Gurney control as of a harsh and almost discourteous temperament.
But such instances must not be taken as impeaching the medium's good faith. Instances in which the trance personality is patently the product of the medium's own consciousness do not in themselves suggest that there is any intentional deception. In some of the most definite cases, there is evidence suggesting the operation of a discarnate intelligence, evidence that has proved convincing to careful investigators.
Among the most important pieces of evidence in evaluating the separate existence of trance personalities as spirit entities is the case of "Philip." In 1972-73, members of the Toronto Society for Psychical Research, Canada, deliberately created an artificial séance entity named "Philip," with a history, personal characteristics, and an appearance decided upon by the group in a quite mundane manner. Sitting as in a séance, the experimenters soon obtained raps from the séance table and communications from "Philip." It seems that in many instances, a spirit control may simply be a convention of personality. In other cases, however, convincing evidence of true personality survival has been established.
Broad, C. D. Personal Identity and Survival. London: Society for Psychical Research, 1968.
Carington, Whately. The Foundations of Spiritualism. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1920.
Ducasse, C. J. A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death. Springfield, Ill.: C. C. Thomas, 1961.
Garrett, Eileen J. My Life as a Search for the Meaning of Mediumship. New York: Oquaga; London: Rider & Co., 1939.
Hart, Hornell. The Enigma of Survival: The Case For and Against an After Life. Springfield, Ill.: C. C. Thomas, 1959.
M. A. (Oxon) [W. Stainton Moses]. Spirit Identity. London, 1879.
Myers, F. W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1903.
Owen, Iris M., and Margaret Sparrow. Conjuring Up Philip. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
Penelhum, Terence. Survival and Disembodied Existence. New York, Humanities Press, 1970.
Richmond, Kenneth. Evidence of Identity. London: G. Bell, 1939.
Salter, W. H. Trance Mediumship: An Introductory Study of Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Leonard. London: Society for Psychical Research, 1962.