Do Mediums Fake It?
Different Kinds of Psychics
Psychics, sensitives, clairvoyants, and mediums. The outside world bunches them all together. They themselves see differences, but how they do what they do is obscure. Sometimes psychics purposefully obscure the situation. I have known enough psychics to believe that there is something going on there, though I’m still not sure what.
Real psychics are picking up some kind of information that the rest of us don’t get. I’ve also known enough psychics to know that a lot of them make it up, or at least stretch the truth, and fill in gaps in psychically received information through guesswork.
Mediums are technically the people who communicate with spirits—either dead people or discarnate intelligences—that are not human ghosts. Clairvoyants are people who see things—often the future—psychically, and they may have no ability at all to converse with spirits. Clairaudients hear things rather than see them, and there are also people who just sense things.
The Spiritualist Church has given rise to a great deal of mediumship in the Western world. Because it is a religion, it has a set of beliefs, so spiritual mediums may think they are talking to the spirit of a dead person when it could be a non-human entity, telepathic communication from a living person, or just their own thoughts that they think are coming from outside of themselves.
However, I have also been to haunted properties where more than one medium has independently reported similar (not the same) experiences with spirits. That is very convincing. It’s also convincing when the medium comes back with personal details about the ghost that can be checked against official records.
I should also say that some haunted places have been reported by different mediums to have different ghosts, never the same one twice. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t hundreds of ghosts in some old properties, but it would be good if the mediums reported at least some of the same ones.
My experience of clairvoyants is that they sometimes very strikingly know things about their clients that they clearly haven’t gotten from normal sources. However, my experience again is that the predictions of the future they make, though you may believe them because the clairvoyant has been absolutely correct about your past or present, turn out not to be true.
Sometimes they make predictions that follow the way you expect things to go, so you believe them. Then things don’t turn out that way after all. This would support the theory of a telepathic link of some kind
Psychics’ Theories of the Spirit World
The Spiritualist Movement and various sources influenced by its beliefs report the spirit world as a kind of park filled with flowers, smiling dead relatives, and tea parties on the lawn. I tend to view this as a folk version of Christian heaven.
Other mediums talk about “ghosts” as being spirits who have not been able to free themselves from the earth plane and who may need the help of the living to move on to the next stage of their existence. These earthbound spirits are said to live in a murky, dim, and cold place, much like walking through a thick fog and not knowing where you are.
Some of these spirits have realized they require assistance and will attempt to attract the attention of the living by rapping walls, moving objects, throwing objects, using voices, or actually appearing. I have never known a medium who was frightened of the dead.
I have been told that these earthbound spirits recognise that a medium can see them and flock to the medium, eager for their help. Some spirits are earthbound because strong emotions, love, anger, or the desire for revenge, bind them to places and people.
Sometimes suicides may want to apologise for the hurt they have caused. Mediums can help them get through this and release them to travel on their journey. Above I talked about non-human entities which seem intent on frightening people – even to the extent of driving them mad. I theorised this might be because they feed off the emotional energy generated by fear.
Mediums can normally deal with these, except the most powerful ones, they may also be attracted if a medium opens up a channel with earthbound spirits.
Ouija Boards, Planchettes and Automatic Writing
Related to the comments about spirits flocking to mediums is the way they flock to people opening up channels with Ouija boards or through automatic writing sessions. Again, a beacon seems to be lit in the gloomy spirit world and they come to it like moths.
My experience with this kind of communication is that the information the spirits give you is either unverifiable or unlikely. Even when they do produce coherent sentences, it is usually a sunny “New Age” kind of wisdom that boils down to not very much at all.
There is an old Zen story that talks about how to test whether a ghost is real or a figment of your imagination. Grab a handful of beans—I guess anything small like this would do—and don’t look at them yourself. Then ask the spirit how many beans you have in your hand. If it gives you the right number, then it’s a real ghost, not just your imagination.
Most people report that spirit communications are very tedious. But if they knew nothing while they were alive, why should they become great spiritual authorities once they’re dead?
Then there are the emotional parasites who give scary messages like “Kill,” “Devil,” “You Will Die!” and all that kind of thing. The smart ones start talking about love and then end up revealing that you are going to die horribly. Again, I think this is their way of scaring you so they can feed off your energy.
Warnings are needed here. Some people get so obsessed with this kind of communication that they do it all day and all night and end up in a mental hospital. Be very careful—don’t become addicted.
One piece of advice is to keep your sessions to about fifteen minutes and then close it down. Be polite to the spirits. Don’t communicate when you’re drunk or under the influence of drugs. The gremlins love that.
Our minds have two methods of working. While we are awake, our mind is always splitting the world up into smaller and smaller pieces so it can manipulate them. So a cat is NOT a dog. A black cat is NOT a tabby cat. A young tabby cat is NOT an old tabby cat, etc.
Mostly we use words as tools in this. So to make something separate from something else we give it a name and we try to make sure the names are fixed and don’t get mixed up with each other. They do of course, because the word isn’t the thing, though we do sometimes seem to believe that.
The second mode of thought is the opposite of this. The language of dreams makes one thing run into another. So you may dream of a lake and find it to be a river, and then that it is a swimming pool, and then that it’s an ocean. What we are doing here is not looking at the differences between things but at how they are the same. The language used in this kind of thinking is symbolic and uses pictures; it is older and deeper than words. Artists seem able to use this symbolic language in their art.
Religion also talks in symbols, and people who are psychotic find that this dream language takes over their waking life.
The reason for including this here is that many mediums report that spirits communicate with them by showing them symbols like bunches of flowers, fish, or tridents. The medium then has to work out what these symbols mean, and sometimes they can’t work them out for a long time. Spirits once again seem more in touch with the world of imagination than the world of waking thought.
Developing Psychic Abilities
The College of Psychic Studies in London was established in 1844. You can go on courses to become a medium!
I have been told many times by psychics that everyone is naturally sensitive. Though that may be true, some people have a head start. I’m not psychic, so I can’t really advise you on developing your own abilities. The only thing I can say is that I have been contacted by young teenagers who are starting to see ghosts and are scared by it.
They usually think they are going crazy. I explain to them, and to you, if you are in that situation, that I know lots of people who see ghosts and it’s perfectly natural for them. It doesn’t mean you’re going crazy and you shouldn’t be frightened of this gift.
Psychics have told me that being aware of spirits feels closely related to imagination. Though imagination and daydreams appear to come from inside your mind, these closely related psychic impressions come from outside it.
The whole world of psychism and the related fields of magic lean heavily on the ability to visualise things. That is creating thought forms from the imagination, which appear to be powerful and to have an effect on the spirit world. Of course magicians say they are also effective on the physical world too.
On an investigation, for those who are interested, we go through a visualization exercise to get people open to this plane of imagination, visualization, and spirits. The theory is that it will make them more likely to see or feel ghosts, and this has proved to be the case for some people, though not for others.
Two little visualizations that we use are given below. The first is, I believe, a spiritualist exercise. This involves someone leading the group on an imaginary journey, eyes closed, down a lane, and through a gate. The leader leaves those involved behind the gate to visualize the place as clearly as they can, then the leader comes back and gets them, returning them to the waking world.
In effect this is a light form of hypnosis but the leader at no point makes any suggestions or gives any commands to them while they involved in this visualisation.
The second visualization involves people finding an animal spirit guide. In most tribal communities, there is a medicine man or woman, sometimes known as a shaman. This is as true for ancient European cultures as it is for those in Australia, Africa, Asia, and America. This person communes with the spirits and goes on spirit journeys for the good of the tribe.
We use a Celtic style visualisation that involves the participants walking through an oak wood. They find a huge old tree and lifting a root, go down a tunnel into a cavern where they find a man with stag’s antlers growing out of his head. They ask him for an animal guide and he knocks his club against the bole of the great tree that grows through the cavern.
Most people get an animal – sometimes totally unexpected ones. The leader then brings everyone back to the waking world. I would recommend people to read John Matthew’s The Celtic Shaman for details of this.
Having had quite a bit of personal experience with mediums—that is to say, people who claim to be able to contact spirits and relay messages from them to the client—it has become obvious to me that some of them are charlatans. However, I have also met people who seemed to know things that they couldn’t have learned from normal methods, and so I believe that there is something happening; I’m just not sure what. Mediums mostly claim to be psychics as well.
Psychics usually claim to be in touch with spirits, but not always, so there is a difference. In this article I will use both terms more or less interchangeably. There is a great deal of non-verbal communication going on when two people meet.
Messages are conveyed by body language, pheromones and even good old gut instinct. A lot of these do not directly enter our consciousness. For example we don’t ‘smell’ pheromones, but they still have an effect on us. It might be that the medium is very skilled in picking up these signals or in fact there may be a form of telepathy involved.
It has been noted many times that psychics are very good at knowing things about a client – their present concerns and their past. But future predictions turn out to be fairly shaky.
Actually in many occasions psychics make a prediction that is in line with what the client thinks and hopes will turn out – the birth of a golden haired boy, a son in high ranking military uniform. Both these predictions were made to members of my family and were what they expected to happen at the time. Neither did.
Are They in Touch With Spirits?
Modern mediums in the Western world mainly come from a Christian background, and their beliefs are shaped by that background. Popular Christianity shows a scene in which the dead go to heaven and wait until the day of judgment.
They can then come back to talk to mediums and send messages to their loved ones. Other cultures don’t see the dead hanging around in an afterlife, perhaps believing in reincarnation, and so, mostly these cultures don’t produce mediums who claim to be in contact with the human dead.
But there have always been people whose job in society was to mediate between the human and spirit world. In indigenous cultures and pre Christian European cultures we might loosely classify this function as that of the shaman. This is a Siberian word, but I am using it to mean people who journey into the spirit world to bring messages, healing and solutions to problems back from the spirits.
This is of course what mediums claim to do, and so they are just fulfilling the same role which seems to represent either a perpetual human need, or in fact, the truth. However, in cultures without a Christian background, the spirits that contact the shamans are not normally those of the human dead but rather animal spirits or even gods.
Frazer in The Golden Bough says that the basis of all religion is fear of the human dead, and it is astonishing to see how a loved one is transformed from comforting relative into an object of dread once they die. Why are we so frightened? Is it because it reminds us of our own eventual fate? Mediums and shamans claim to contact spirits, but the question is – are these spirits real?
I have recently seen three mediums reporting the same feelings and pictures from a reputedly haunted room – without conferring with each other beforehand. Though this isn’t definite proof, it seems pretty persuasive that some people are sensitive to impressions that most of us don’t pick up. The analogy of the radio set has been used many times. There are radio and TV programmes in the air around us all the time; it’s just that without the right equipment we don’t perceive it. Quite possibly the skill of the medium is something like that.
Another story was told to me was about a message given to one family member about a sister. She didn’t know what the medium was talking about but the sister confirmed every detail. This seems to undermine the theory that it is telepathy. The first sister didn’t have the details of this incident in her head to be surreptitiously read by the medium, so it had to come from a third party.
Faking It Just a Bit
Even mediums who seem to have a gift are tempted to fake it a little. It has appeared to me that once they strike on something that is meaningful, they see that in the client’s face and then fill in the details by fishing. The original impression may have been from the spirit world, but the padding is skillfully added by the medium by reading the client’s reaction to fishing questions.
The classic fake is the medium who stands up in a crowded hall asking if someone has lost a relative called
Mary, – no – Marie – Margaret.
Ah yes, was she an old dear lady?
Small and bent?
Down to earth, no nonsense?
What a surprise!
Mediums who know their own audience will be able to pick common family names from the generation likely to have just passed away – Edith, Doreen, etc. It depends on your local culture which names they pluck out. Mediums grew out of a quasi religion called Spiritualism which has strong Christian affiliations.
A Brief History of Spiritualism
It first started in the United States in 1848. It was one of the first cultural imports from the New World to the Old. It started with some raps in the household of the Fox family of Rochester, New York. The raps seemed to have a pattern, and the story was told that the ghost of a murdered peddler was behind them.
The Fox sisters then started taking the ghost out with them and demonstrating raps at house parties. Later, one of them admitted making the noises by cracking her knee joints. But from then on, every middle class party had to have raps and moving furniture.
These two types of incident – table rapping, and table turning were very common in the early days of spiritualism. The fact they went out of fashion to be replaced by apports and ectoplasm, now also long gone, suggests to the cynical that they were tricks that were abandoned once they became well known.
Once people had gathered and a suitably spooky and darkened atmosphere set up, questions were asked and the spirits would rap once or tilt the table once for a yes and do it three times for a no. Shops started selling guaranteed turning tables, bound to bring the spirits (or your money back?). Questions were asked about how the tables were tilted and rapped.
The common explanation was that rods of ectoplasm were produced by the spirits from the medium’s body which would then rap or tilt the table. This ectoplasm was invisible to the human eye, but could be photographed. So it was claimed. However some mediums used leather straps round their neck with a hook protruding below their jackets at the front so they could lean over the table in trance, place the hook underneath its run and then in the dark, lift the table up.
The formal séance developed from table rapping demonstrations. In many early séances, the medium would sit in a ‘punch and Judy” cabinet set up in the middle of the room. Many of the most famous cases of fraud were connected with these rigged cabinets.
The atmosphere of the séance was important. People would be nervous to start off with. The low lights and the spooky atmosphere encouraged by the mediums made it more likely that people would ‘see’ things, or believe what they had seen. In many early séances musical instruments were thrown about and placed on peoples laps. It is fairly easy to see how a stooge in the group could do this in the dark while everyone else held hands.
The fact that these flying musical instruments are never reported now suggests that the spirits have changed their habits, or the mediums have had to change their tricks. A famous fraudulent medium called Miss Fairlamb was discovered in the middle of séance when the light was switched on to have a gauze mask on her face, bare feet and her skirt and sleeves hitched up as if she was planning some sleight of hand in the dark.
Very often three stooges would sit together holding hands. Once it was dark the middle one was free to wander about the room, banging tambourines, dropping flowers (the famous apport), making noises or whatever. Sometimes the rooms were rigged and trapdoors cut in ceilings which could be opened to allow flowers and fruit to pour out.
This was technically known as an apport where the spirits produced flowers and fruit out of thin air. It was noticed however that the fruit was always in season, though materialising it from nowhere, the spirits couldn’t produce an apple in midsummer.
In Florence in 1869 a question was asked whether the spirits could distinguish colours. When the lights were put on a heap of coloured sugar plums was found on the table. The lights went off again, there was a rattling and when the lights were lit, they were sorted into colours.
Even if the medium was being searched, a call to nature or a trip to get smelling salts would allow him or her to replenish her tricks. Tables were definitely lifted by rods concealed up the sleeves and held on with leather straps round the arms.
Sometimes when tables tilted up to 45 degrees, sitters were astonished that the objects on the table didn’t fall off – this is explained by magnets concealed in the table. In dark rooms, levitation could be faked by the medium taking off his shoes and waggling them about at head height.
Phosphorescence seems a very odd thing to the layman, but can be easily faked with chlorophane (a type of fluorspar) which becomes phosphorescent at hand temperature, and phosphorous oil which glows when exposed to moist air. Many fake mediums were caught with phosphorous oil in their kit.
Spiritualism and mediums had a boom time in Europe after the First World War when grieving relatives were desperate to hear news of their loved ones who had mostly died tragically young. Mediums are known to have used rods of iron which they let slip out of their sleeves to lift things. They were adept at using their mouths and feet to move things around and touch guests at the séance and even put false hands on their feet which they would wave above the table as ‘spirit hands’.
There was a surge in ectoplasm after table rapping and later apports became unpopular and discredited.
Ectoplasm was a substance that became a must at every séance but is now never seen. Mediums would exude a gross rubbery material from their mouths or other orifices, which would spread around the room and be moulded by the spirits. It was supposed to be the manifestation of spirits but was easily faked.
The question is why should the spirits be so keen on ectoplasm between the late 1800s and mid 1900s, but never produce it before or since? It supposedly manifests as a solidified white mist which has a distinctive smell but it can be faked from a recipe of soap, gelatin and egg white, which when blown in the air shimmers and glows in bubble like forms.
Another recipe was made from toothpaste and peroxide and in the 19th Century fake mediums used muslin cloth. In the early days ectoplasm formed spirit hands, but these are not seen much now which casts further doubt on its genuineness.
The current common manifestation of spirits are the ‘orbs’ – specks of dancing lights that have been much photographed. These didn’t seem to be popular with the spirits before but are all the rage now. This again leads me to believe that orbs might be the latest trick of those charlatans who want to fool us.
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