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Séance conducted by John Beattie, Bristol, England, 1872
Mediumship is supposedly a form of communication with spirits.It is a practice in religious beliefs such as Spiritualism, Spiritism, Espiritismo, Candomblé, Louisiana Voodoo, Shambala and Umbanda. While the Western movements of Spiritualism and Spiritism account for most Western news-media exposure, a majority of African and African-diasporic traditions include mediumship as a central focus of religious practice. The existence of spirits and the ability of people to communicate with them is not supported by scientific consensus.


Mediumship is the claimed ability of a person (the medium) to experience what they or others believe is contact with spirit of the dead, angels, demons or other immaterial entities. The role of the medium is supposedly to facilitate communication with spirits who have messages to share with non-mediums. Mediums claim to be able to listen to and relate conversations with spirit voices, to go into a trance and speak without knowledge of what is being said, to allow a spirit to control their body and speak through it, and to relay messages from the spirits to those who wish to contact them with the help of a physical tool, such as a writing instrument.

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 who claims to receive messages from a "teaching-spirit". In some cultures, mediums (or the spirits they claim are working with them) claim to be able to produce physical paranormal phenomena such as materialisations of spirits, apports of objects, or levitation.


Attempts to communicate with the dead and other spirits have been documented back to early human history. One of the most well-known is the story Witch of Endor, who was said to have 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 United States after the rise of Spiritualism as a religious movement. Modern Spiritualism is said to date to the mediumistic activities of the Fox sisters in New Yorkmarker 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 1800s. Mediumship was also described by Allan Kardec, who coined the term Spiritism, around 1860 .

After the exposure of the fraudulent use of stage magic tricks by physical mediums such as the Davenport Brothers, mediumship fell into disrepute, although it never ceased being used by people who believed that the dead can be contacted.

From the 1930s through the 1990s, as psychical mediumship became less practiced in Spiritualist churches, the technique of channelling gained in popularity, and books by channellers who claimed to relate the wisdom of non-corporeal and non-terrestrial teacher-spirits became best-sellers amongst believers.


Spirit guide

Some mediums claim a spirit guide is a highly evolved spirit with the sole purpose of helping the medium develop and use their skills . The mediums claim they assist in following their spiritual path. Other mediums claim a spirit guide is one who brings other spirits to a medium's attention or carries communications between a medium and the spirits of the dead . Many mediums claim to have specific guides who regularly work with them and "bring in" spirits of the dead . Some mediums claim that spirits of the dead will communicate with them directly without the use of a spirit guide . The relationship between the medium and the guide may be providential, or it may be based on family ties. In 1958, the Englishmarker-born Spiritualist C. Dorreen Phillips wrote of her experiences with a medium at Camp Chesterfield, Indianamarker: "In Rev. James Laughton's seances 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." Then, describing the mediumship of Rev. Lillian Dee Johnson of Saint Petersburg, Floridamarker, she noted, "Mandy Lou is Rev. Johnson's guide. [..] She was, on earth, a slave to Rev. Johnson's grandmother."

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 the pastor, or another medium, who receives messages from the spirit world for the congregants. This may be referred to as a "demonstration of mediumship."

A typical example of this older 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, Indianamarker: "Services are held each afternoon, consisting of hymns, a lecture on philosophy, and demonstrations of mediumship."

Today "demonstration of mediumship" is part of the church service at all churches affiliated with the National Spiritualist Association of Churches 'NSAC'. Demonstration links to 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, then, directly or with the help of a spirit guide, 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.

All 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 its ego to step aside for the message to be delivered, but has awareness of the thoughts coming through and may even influence the message with its own bias. It cannot be confused with sleepwalking as the patterns are entirely different. Castillo (1995) states that: "Trance phenomena result from the behavior of intense focusing of attention, which is the key psychological mechanism of trance induction. Adaptive responses, including institutionalized forms of trance, are 'tuned' into neural networks in the brain."

In the 1860s and 1870s, trance mediums were very popular. Spiritualism generally attracted female adherents many who had strong interests in social justice, and many trance mediums delivered passionate speeches on abolitionism, temperance, and women's suffrage. According to G. Stanley Hall, Deborah Blum, and historian Ruth Brandon, Leonora Piper is one of the most famous trance mediums in the history of Spiritualism.

Because the typical deep trance medium, the ones who sit or lie down during their sessions may not have a clear recall of all the messages conveyed while in an altered state, generally work with an assistant who selectively writes down or otherwise records his or her words and rarely, if at all, the exact 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, a non-mediumistic Spiritualist who transcribed Cook's messages in shorthand but then edited them for publication in book and pamphlet form.

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 and substance for such spirit manifestations. This is sometimes said to be accomplished using the energy or ectoplasm released by a medium. 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, and 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", as herein used, should not be construed as implying that any induced apport is itself confined to the physical plane; inasmuch the apport ("ectoplasm", or whatever) may itself 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 simply 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.


There are two main techniques mediumship developed in the latter half of the 20th century. One type involves psychics or sensitives who can speak to spirits and then relay what they hear to their clients. One of the most noted channels of this type is clairvoyant Danielle Egnew, known for her alleged communication with angelic entities.

The other incarnation of non-physical mediumship is a form of channeling in which the channeler goes into a trance, or "leaves their body" and then becomes “possessed” by a specific spirit, who then talks through them. In the trance, the medium enters a cataleptic state marked by extreme rigidity. The control spirit then takes over, the voice may change completely and the spirit answers the questions of those in its presence or giving spiritual knowledge.The most successful and widely known channeler of this variety is J. Z. Knight, who claims to channel the spirit of Ramtha, a 30 thousand year old man. Others claim to channel spirits from "future dimensional", ascended masters or in the case of the trance mediums of the Brahma Kumaris, God himself. Channeling is popularly parodied in the "Doonesbury" cartoon where a ditzy female character is occasionally taken over by "Hunk-Ra," an assertive 21,000-year-old warrior based on Ramtha. Other notable channels are Jane Roberts for Seth, Margaret McElroy for Maitreya and Serge J. Grandbois for Kris, Lee Caroll for Kryon.

This type of medium, a transferable soul with the mind changing immediately, has not been given any validity with science. New evidence disputes this type of channeling due to soul interchange experiments denoting no major or immediate change of the person's mind or body, i.e. possession or walk-ins. Some people believe that a soul exchange makes a major change in a person but this has not been proven. The person's memory is still intact. Also, see trance medium above.

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, whereas the Parapsychological Association defines "clairvoyance" as information derived directly from an external physical source.

  • Clairvoyance or "Clear Seeing", is the ability to see anything which is not physically present, such as objects, animals or people. This sight occurs "in the mind’s eye", and 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 the spirit person before they died.

  • 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, Richard Ireland, M. Lamar Keene, Dada Lekhraj, Ruth Montgomery, Eusapia Palladino, Leonora Piper, Paschal Beverly Randolph, Jane Roberts, Paul Solomon, Stanisława Tomczyk and Chico Xavier.

Notable living mediums include: Derek Acorah, Rosemary Altea, Marisa Anderson, Sathya Sai Baba, Sylvia Browne, Allison DuBois, John Edward, Danielle Egnew, Divaldo Pereira Franco, Colin Fry, Esther Hicks, J. Z. Knight, James Van Praagh, Gary Spivey, Tony Stockwell, David Wells and Lisa Williams.


In Britain, the Society for Psychical Research has investigated some phenomena, mainly in connection with telepathy and apparitions. According to an article in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, in some cases mediums have produced personal information which has been well above guessing rates . 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). No night vision apparatus was allowed.

The VERITAS Research Program of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizonamarker, run by Gary Schwartz, was created primarily to test the hypothesis that the consciousness (or identity) of a person survives physical death. 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.


While advocates of mediumship claim that their experiences are genuine, the Encyclopedia Britannica article on spiritualism notes 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."

In a TV2 series presented by Rebecca Gibney called Sensing Murder, which aired on TVNZ beginning in 2006, three psychic mediums from Australia and New Zealandmarker, Sue Nicholson, Kelvin Cruickshank and Deb Webber, armed only with photographs of the victims of unsolved murders, and purportedly no prior knowledge of the cases, attempted to help police detectives and a team of investigators by communicating with the spirits of the victims to uncover details of their life and death. The team of investigators followed up the psychics’ leads and apparently came up with information about the killers and whereabouts of victims' remains. Skepticism regarding the series has come from severalsources, and it was further satirized in the season finale, where host Jeremy Wells humorously highlighted the fact that not a single case had been solved.

In 1976, M. Lamar Keene, a medium in Floridamarker and at the Spiritualist Camp Chesterfield in Indianamarker, confessed in his book The Psychic Mafia, to defrauding the public. Keene detailed a multitude of common techniques utilized by mediums to conjure spirits.


In fantasy literature, references to channelers or mediums are sometimes used in other ways, particularly to describe a person's ability to draw on some form of magical power.

Film and television

Video games

  • In the 2004 video game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the player meets The Sorrow, a mysterious dead medium who battles and also assists the player.
  • In the Ace Attorney series, Maya, Pearl, Mia, Misty and Morgan Fey are spirit mediums who have the ability to allow spirits to take over their bodies temporarily "Kurain Channelling Technique." When they channel a spirit, their physical appearance changes to that of the spirit being channelled. Mia Fey never uses her abilities in the games, but Maya and Pearl demonstrate them numerous times.
  • In the 2007 independent computer game series The Blackwell Legacy, a young woman named Rosangela Blackwell is a medium who inherited the ability from her late Aunt Lauren who was thought to have dementia. She inherits her aunt's "spirit guide", a ghost named Joey that apparently only she, other ghosts, and other mediums can see. They work together to bring tortured souls trapped in the material plane to the afterlife. In the second game of the series you play as her Aunt Lauren at the time she was Rosangela's age, where she channels spirits whose souls are linked between another medium and a living "spirit guide" who wrote about their troubles.
  • The 1995 Sierra horror epic Phantasmagoria featured the main character consulting a hobo woman who turned out to be an actual medium who channeled one of the malicious spirits present on the property.
  • In the Guild Wars series, the Ritualist's key feature is summoning both offensive and defensive spirits. While there is another character that summons spiritual allies, the Ranger, those spirits are called Nature Rituals and affect both enemies and allies, while the Ritualist's spirits are always beneficial for his team.

Books and comics

See also


  1. Skeptic's Dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll, on Mediums Retrieved March 23, 2007 "In spiritualism, a medium is one with whom spirits communicate directly."
  2. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding-Public Knowledge About S&T, Chapter 7 of Science and Engineering Indicators 2004, National Science Board, National Science Foundation
  3. Parapsychological Association website. Glossary of Key Words Frequently Used in Parapsychology. "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. "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
  5. The Autobiogaphy of a Fortune Teller by C. Doreen Phillips, Vantage Press, 1958.
  6. Braude, Anne, Radical Spirits, Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth Century America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  7. The Spiritualists, The Passion for the Occult in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries by Ruth Brandon, Alfred A. Knopf, 1983
  8. Ghost Hunters, William James and the Search for Scientic Proof of Life After Death by Deborah Blum, The Penguin Press, 2006
  9. Studies in Spiritism by Amy Tanner, first introduction by G. Stanley Hall, page 18, Prometheus Press, 1994, orginally published by D. Appleton, 1910
  10. 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.
  11. "Ectoplasm" def. Merriam Webster dictionary, Retrieved 18 January 2007
  12. Somerlott, Robert, Here, Mr. Splitfoot. Viking, 1971.
  13. Parapsychological Association website, Glossary of Key Words Frequently Used in Parapsychology, Retrieved January 29, 2007
  14. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, "Spiritism"
  15. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research January, 2001 - Vol. 65.1, Num. 862
  16. David Fontana (2005): Is there an afterlife, p. 324-351. See also
  17. The VERITAS Research Program of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona
  19. The Truth about Medium by Gary E. Schwartz, Ph. D., with William L. Simon, Hampton Books, 2005, page 119
  20. Spiritualism (religion) :: History - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  21. Sensing Murder. Retrieved on 24 August 2009.
  22. Analysis of NZ 'Sensing Murder'
  23. Victorian Skeptics 'Sensing Murder' Review
  24. Armon, Katherine (2008). Sensing Murder or making a killing? Television psychics stir up debate. Touchstone. Retrieved on 24 August 2009.
  25. EML Awards 2007 TV2 Series 7, Episode 9, 7 Dec 2007. Retrieved on 24 August 2009
  26. [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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