|Can such things be?|
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Spiritualism is the belief that one can contact the dead through a medium leading a séance.
Although various Spiritualist traditions have their own beliefs, known as Principles, there are some shared concepts:
- A belief in spirit communication.
- A belief that the soul continues to exist after the death of the physical body.
- Personal responsibility for life circumstances.
- Even after death it is possible for the soul to learn and improve.
- A belief in a God, often referred to as "Infinite Intelligence".
- The natural world considered as an expression of said intelligence.
 Mediumship and spirits
Spiritualists believe in communicating with the spirits of discarnate humans. According to spiritualism mediums are humans gifted to do this, often through seances. Anyone may become a medium through study and practice. They believe that spirits are capable of growth and perfection, progressing through higher spheres or planes in the afterlife.
The origins of the modern spiritualist movement can be traced to of the 19th century where it became associated with the support of women's rights and the abolition of slavery. Because mediumship maintained that divine truth was accessible to any individual, female or male, it became associated with feminism as well. Most mediums have been female. According to (Owen, 2004) mediumship maintained that women were uniquely qualified to commune with spirits of the dead and offered "female mediums a new independence, authority, and potential to undermine conventional class and gender relations in the home and in society."
There is also a darker side to the history of spiritualism. Many female medium's of the 19th century took part in sexual activities with their male audiences in the séance room. (McGarry, 2012) wrote "It was precisely the negative, feminine coding of mediumship that shaped a cultural understanding of spiritualism as irrational and connected it with excessive, uncontrolled sexuality that later allowed doctors to recategorize the medium as the hysteric." Eusapia Palladino and Eva Carriere were both known for their erotic and sexual behavior in the séance room.
 Fox Sisters
In Hydesville, New York in 1848, the farmhouse of John D. Fox was filled with mysterious rapping sounds. The noises created a buzz throughout town, and the farmhouse became a local phenomenon. Two of the Fox daughters, Margeret and Kate (who the noises seemed to center around) attributed the sound to a spirit named Mr. Splitfoot. Eventually, a pattern was established to the knocks in response to questions, whereby one knock meant yes and two knocks meant no. Leah Fox, the older married sister of Margeret and Kate, returned home for a visit and discovered the town's fascination with the raps. Sensing a great money-making scheme, she took her sisters on the road to Rochester and founded the Society of Spiritualists. As the spirit seemed to follow them, people in Rochester could, for a price, ask the spirit yes or no questions. The sisters went on a tour of cities, including Philadelphia and New York. As Spiritualism increased, so did the number of séances not involving the Fox sisters. Mediums would lead them, asking spirits yes or no questions, which were responded to with the same system of raps.
On October 21, 1888, Margeret, done with traveling, wrote to the New York World. She explained that everything the Fox sisters had done was a fraud. They had begun in their house by pulling an apple connected to a string, and eventually discovered that by snapping toe joints against wood, the sound would resonate throughout the house. It is speculated that at the time of the confession, there were 8 million Spiritualists in the United States.
A medium is someone who claims to speak with spirits. It the main belief of spiritualism. Most mediums are charlatans helping people to part with their money and have been exposed as using tricks. While the majority of mediums claim psychic powers, there are a few - known as mentalists - who are honest about their use of the psychological principles and tricks that it is almost certain that the "real" mediums actually use. Some mediums may even be unaware that they're using these techniques and genuinely believe they have special powers - the rest that are well aware that they're not really speaking with spirits from the spirit world but are usually considered to be the most reviled. Some of the tricks that mediums use include:
 Cold reading
Cold reading is a process in which the medium has little to no information regarding their subject, so they must rely on guesses. Although guesses would seem random and easy to spot, many people are tricked in to believing that the medium is indeed talking to the dead. This process is facilitated by the subject's willingness to cooperate in order to assuage their grief by communicating with a dead friend or relative. This approach works well on a crowd, since this increases the chances of someone seeing relevance in the guesses. Subjects are very good at volunteering information, particularly when correcting errors, and the medium will feed this information back to them later in the reading. Many subjects don't even realise this is happening, and tend to ignore the times when a medium is wrong, concentrating entirely on the random sucesses - this is known as selective reporting.
 Hot reading
A hot reading is when the medium is provided with some background information on their subject. For example, they may be provided the name of the dead person or details on the location. This can backfire, such as in the case when TV medium Derek Acorah contacted a fake ghost that had been invented by a sceptical member of his production crew.
 How to detect the baloney
There is one simple method for checking if a medium is trying to read you with psychology rather than with super powers: avoid volunteering information! Simple yes or no answers will prevent the medium from mining information to be used for follow-up questions. Cold reading is almost entirely reliant on people volunteering extra information without realising it. For example, a medium would ask about a dog, but the unwitting participant may suddenly divulge that it's a cat - and with a clever twist, a medium can then say something about the cat being scared of dogs and suddenly they were right all along (and they don't even need to say "abracadabra" for that trick). Similar to this reversal approach, mediums frequently start from a detail and gradually "widen the net" a little, such as when Colin Fry begins with "let's talk about scars..." and then adds "...both physical and emotional" a few seconds after seeing no reaction from the participant. A final one to watch out for is taking "facts" that seem to be misses and then bringing them back up when enough detail has emerged to shoehorn them back into the supposedly psychic narrative, changing details and hoping no one notices.
The importance of reading can been in the fact that mediums are very unforthcoming with details early on in a reading as they probe the
victim participant, who unknowingly are filling in the details themselves! Spirits may express regret at having missed seeing a child grow-up, or they could relay information about their favourite clothes, but they forget the little things - such as their name. Consider the following options and choose the one you feel is more likely to be accurate:
- Mediums are deluded and/or fraudulent
- Spirits have a lousy memory for specifically difficult to guess information, such as names and loved ones
- Spirits enjoy torturing their loved ones by engaging them in bizarre guessing games
Perhaps the best tool to reveal mediums as less than accurate is a record of the entire session, ideally a recording or written transcript. A review of this record will reveal the sheer number of incorrect guesses made by the medium. Mediums rely on manipulating their subjects in to ignoring the misses, and elaborating on the hits - something that is clearly illustrated by reading the transcript. Televised mediums can be more directly deceitful, dropping their missed guesses on the cutting room floor so that the vast bulk of their audience doesn't even have the chance to notice the cold reading techniques in action.
 Physical fraud
There is a long history of fraud in spiritualist practices such as those found in mediumship and séances. Many mediums have been caught using tricks and even using theatrical props in their séances to convince their audience of the presence of spirits. Most nineteenth-century mediums were caught out in fraud at some point in their careers. (Owen, 2004). On the subject of fraud 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.
Notable tricks used by mediums include Mina Crandon using a piece of carved animal liver to pretend to her audience was a spirit hand and Eusapia Palladino releasing a jet of air from a rubbler bulb to move objects in the séance room. The Scottish medium Helen Duncan was known for using plastic dolls, cloth, rubber gloves and cut-out heads from magazine covers as spirits in her séances. Other debunked mediums include:
 Unconscious fraud
Some medium's who perform trance mediumship claim that spirits take over their body and consciousness to communicate with people in the séance room. It is clear that some mediums may fake these trances, but unconscious fraud by an alternate personality from the medium's subconscious mind has also been suggested by some psychologists and psychical researchers.
The claims of the spiritualism regarding the reality of mediumship were investigated by the Society for Psychical Research, founded in London in 1882 who came to the conclusion that many mediums were using fraudulent techniques and trickery in the séance room. Psychical researchers who had exposed fraud in mediumship came from a variety of different backgrounds such as Frank Podmore and Harry Price. During the 1920s, professional magician Harry Houdini undertook a well-publicised campaign to expose fraudulent mediums. Houdini wrote "Up to the present time everything that I have investigated has been the result of deluded brains". Other Professional conjurers such as John Nevil Maskelyne exposed mediumship by appearing in the audience during their shows and explaining how the tricks were done. The American magician John Mulholland had also exposed the tricks of mediumship.
Authors who were well known for exposing the fraud in spiritualism included the magician William Robinson author of Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena, Joseph McCabe author of Is Spiritualism Based on Fraud?, Frank Podmore the author of Modern Spiritualism: A History and Criticism and the book The Follies and Frauds of Spiritualism by Walter Mann.
There is currently no scientific evidence that spirits can communicate through mediumship. There has been over one hundred years investigation into mediumship and so far all results have proven natural explanations such as fraud and psychological factors, not spirits coming through. Spiritualists are well known for quote mining early reports from parapsychologists and the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in defence of the view that spiritualism has been scientifically proven. There are problems with this as most members of the SPR did not endorse the view that spirits can communicate with mediums and the minority of experiments which claimed to of proven spiritualism were never replicated by any other scientists.
Skeptics such as Robert Todd Carroll have written that some psychical investigators did not use scientific controls in their experiments, so it made it easy for the medium to perform trickery, especially in dark séance conditions.
Research and empirical evidence from psychology for over a hundred years has revealed that where there is not fraud, mediumship and spiritualistic practices can be explained by psychological factors. 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 personalities from the medium's subconscious mind.
 Spiritualism in the UK.
There are over 300 spiritualist churches in the UK. In April 2008 the British government intends to introduce a law which will make claims made by spiritualists subject to consumer legislation. Consequently if a clairvoyant charges an individual for services and that consumer subsequently deems those services to be "defective" then the consumer will have a legal right to seek compensation and damages. The spiritualist movement is unsure how best to respond to this situation.
 See also
- Actions which demand the death penalty in the Old Testament
- Spirit guide
- Michael E. Tymn
- Spiritualism at the Skeptic's Dictionary
- A Brief History and Examination of Modern Spiritualism by Edward Clodd
- Spiritualism: A Popular History From 1847 by Joseph McCabe
- Spiritualism Exposed: Margaret Fox Kane Confesses Fraud
- Christine Andreae Seances and Spiritualists Lippincott, 1974 ISBN 039731583X
- Ann Braude Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America Indiana University Press, 2001 ISBN 0253215021
- Ruth Brandon The Spiritualists: The Passion for the Occult in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries Prometheus Books, 1984 ISBN 0879752696
- Jenny Hazelgrove Spiritualism and British Society Between The Wars Manchester University Press, 2000 ISBN 071905558X
- Georgess McHargue Facts, Frauds, and Phantasms: A Survey of the Spiritualist Movement Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1972 ISBN 0385053053
- Antonio Melechi Servants of the Supernatural: The Night Side of the Victorian Mind Random House UK; Reprint edition, 2009 ISBN 0099478862
- Alex Owen The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England University Of Chicago Press, 2004 ISBN 0226642054
- Ronald Pearsall Table-Rappers: The Victorians and the Occult The History Press, 2004 ISBN 0750936843
- Jim Steinmeyer Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible Arrow Books; New edition, 2005 ISBN 0099476649
- ↑ Anne Braude Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America Indiana University Press; Second Edition, 2001 ISBN 0253215021
- ↑ Marlene Tromp Altered States: Sex, Nation, Drugs, And Self-transformation in Victorian Spiritualism State Univ of New York Pr, 2006 ISBN 0791467392
- ↑ Molly McGarry Ghosts of Futures Past: Spiritualism and the Cultural Politics of Nineteenth-Century America University of California Press, 2012 ISBN 0520274539
- ↑ William Kalush, Larry Ratso Sloman The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero Atria Books; Reprint edition, 2007 ISBN 0743272080
- ↑ Derek Revealed – Again, James Randi's SWIFT newsletter, 11 November 2005
- ↑ Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, Series 2, Episode 2 (video), a nice look at Colin Fry
- ↑ Syvlia Browne's Winda Snipes reading (Sylvia's dialogue is preceded by the letter A)
- ↑ The Problem of Fraud by Paul Kurtz
- ↑ Harry Houdini A Magician Among the Spirits Fredonia Books, 2002 ISBN 1589638956
- ↑ John Mulholland Beware Familiar Spirits Scribner, 1979 ISBN 0684161818
- ↑ Robert Todd Carroll The Skeptic's Dictionary Wiley; 1 edition, 2003 ISBN 0471272426
- ↑ Joseph Jastrow Fact and Fable in Psychology Macmillan, 1901 also see Millais Culpin Spiritualism and the New Psychology, an Explanation of Spiritualist Phenomena and Beliefs in Terms of Modern Knowledge Longmans, Green & Co., 1920 and Wilfrid Lay Man's Unconscious Spirit the Psychoanalysis of Spiritism Dodd, Mead and company, 1921
- ↑ Leonard Zusne, Warren H. Jones Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking Psychology Press; 2 edition, 1989 ISBN 0805805087
- ↑ Spiritualism homepage
- ↑ Psychic crackdown
- ↑ Spiritualist response