Friday, 22 May 2009

Sandy's Mediumship & Spirit Houses...

I attended a seance yesterday, at the Bristol Spirit Lodge, with a medium called Sandy. Unlike Jon's mediumship (which is characterised by the medium remaining perfectly still throughout the course of the seance), Sandy's trance communications are much more physical; with individual communicators presenting not only through an alteration of the voice, but also through particular body postures and movements.

Sandy's mediumship is interesting in that there appear to be occassions when more than one individual spirit entity is occupying her physical body. This plurality of presences is expressed through the posturing of her body during trance, often with individual limbs operating independently of others. For example, yesterday the spirit of a deceased soldier incorporated itself within Sandy's right leg, which was moving indepdently of her other limbs; being under the control of other incorporating members of her spirit team.

Teotihuacano "host figurines"

Observing this strange phenomenon again reminded me of, what are called, "host figurines" found at the pre-columbian American site of Teotihuacan in Mexico. Teotihuacan was one of America's great civilizations, flourishing between 250 AD and 750 AD (Saunders, 2006, 51), whose culture contained elements of pan-American cosmological understanding (e.g. belief in the existence of multiple worlds, deities and spirits) and shamanistic belief systems. These belief structures consititute the Teotihuacan world-view, which can be inferred from material culture remains uncovered at the site; for example fundamental beliefs about the nature and structure of the universe, as conceived at Teotihuacan, can be found in artefacts, architecture, and even encoded within the layout of the city on a broader scale (Sugiyama, 1993).

Teotihuacano "host figurines"

Warren Barbour (as cited by Pasztory, 1993, 133) has suggested that these so-called “host figures” “may represent the totality of the body politic at Teotihuacán. The hosts may be deities, while the figurines are the male and female inhabitants and functionaries”. In other words they are representative of the social structure of Teotihuacán. I think, however, that it might be best to interpret these artefacts a little more literally and with reference to contemporary Amerindian practice. When looking at the host figures we see an individual inhabited by multiple smaller individuals. A contemporary analogue to this belief might be the Yanomamo conception of “spirit houses” within the body of a shapori or shaman (Jokic, 2008, 41). The shapori initiation rituals of the Yanomamo involve the incorporation of numerous individual spirits, called hekura, who inhabit a “spirit house” believed to be embodied in the shaman’s chest. To my mind these Teotihuacáno sculptures provide a clear reference to a similar, if not identical, structure of belief in supernatural or spiritual entities, as well as the notion that these beings can be incorporated within the bodies of certain specialised individuals; shamans or mediums.

The similarities, at least in terms of imagery, between these intriguing statuettes and the apparent multiplicity of spirits incarnating within a single human body during certain mediumship practices, as in Sandy's case, are fascinating. They are perhaps indicative of cross-cultural, and cross-temporal, similarities in what might be called the "channeling experience", whereby an individual acts as a vessel for containing discarnate intelligence, perhaps implying that similar processes are in operation when indivudals across the world allow their bodies to be occupied by external agents, even if the cultural contexts of these incorporation events are entirely different (e.g. different interpretations of what is happening, different mythological contexts, different methods for inducing the required trance for incorporation to take place, etc.).



Jokic, Z. 2008. Yanomami Shamanic Initiation: The Meaning of Death and Postmortem Consciousness in Transformation. Anthropology of Consciousness, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 33-59.

Pasztory, E. 1993. An Image is Worth a Thousand Words: Teotihuacán and the Meaning of Style in Classic Mesoamerica. In D.S. Rice (ed.) Latin American Horizons. United States: Dumbarton Oaks.

Saunders, N.J. 2006. Ancient Americas: Maya, Aztec, Inka & Beyond. United Kingdom: Sutton Publishing Limited.

Sugiyama, S. 1993. Worldview Materialized at Teotihuacán, Mexico. Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 103-129.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Characteristics of Trance...

The trance state is central to our understanding of discarnate intelligence. It is through such states that communications with spiritual entities usually (although not always) take place. It is important, therefore, to try to elucidate, at least to some extent, what is happening while these communications are taking place.

Very often the term "trance" is used synonymously with other terms such as "possession", "dissociation", and even "altered state of consciousness". Very little attempt is made to distinguish between these varying states of consciousness and the words used to refer to them (Winkelman, 1986).

In actuality there is a great range of altered states of consciousness, with each state possessing its own disctinctive characteristics and associated subjective phenomena. It would be wrong to think, however, that these different states represent mutually exclusive grades of consciousness; the whole issue would be best thought of in terms of a continuum of incredibly subtle degrees flowing smoothly into one another (just as we experience when we drift off to sleep and then wake up in the morning, through various stages of drowsiness to alertness).

Aspects of the Spectrum of Consciousness (Source)

The various states of consciousness do, however, appear to exhibit certain continuities of theme:

"ASCs share features in common... alterations in thinking, change in sense of time and body image, loss of control, change in emotional expression, perceptual distortion, change in meaning and significance, a sense of ineffability, feelings of rejuvination, and hypersuggestibility" (Winkelman, 1986, 175)

These are fundamental aspects of what constitutes our sense of self, time and place. They are dependent on the way we perceive and interact with our environment, which in turn is dependent upon our particular state of consciousness. Altering our state of consciousness consequently affects the way in which we interact with the world around us (e.g. when we are drowsy we may not fully engage with our surroundings, but when fully lucid our engagement is more complete).

What, then, are the characteristics of the mediumistic trance state?

This question can be broken down into three distinct (although interlinked) areas of focus: (1) the external behaviour of the medium; (2) the phenomenological experience of the medium; (3) the psychophysiological processes in operation during the trance state.

(1) There is a huge variety of different manifestations of spirit mediumship.

In the case of the Bristol Spirit Lodge, Jon's mediumship is characterised by remaining completely motionless, except for an intense vibration in the right hand. His eyes remain firmly shut throughout the trance communication session. Jon's behaviour indicates a redirection of attention from the external world to the internal; his closed eyes symbolising the link being made with the spirit world (as with the Hmong Shaman discussed below); a redirection of perception.

(2) Jon has described the experience of trance as follows:

"For the first half of the evening I have absolutely no awareness of what's going on externally ... I can't feel anything at all what-so-ever. Occasionally, I go off into a 'day dream?' mode and visit places and people ... but not every time. Recently I've started to feel strong energies around me (hot and cold breezes particularly on my legs), usually just before Charlie (or whoever) comes in to talk first... Often now, when they are talking I'll go back into myself and I get a strange sensation of vertigo & being detached from the conversation, not just intellectually but physically as well. As if I'm on the edge of a precipice or inside a vast canyon. It's a sense of scale I think, I feel very small in comparison to something very large?"

(3) With regard to the psychophysiological processes occurring during the trance state, it is not possible to provide a precise account of what is taking place within the physiological structure of Jon's brain, but there are certain pointers available that might shed some light on the matter.

The simple act of closing the eyes has an observable psychophysiological effect. Electoencephalograph (EEG) readings have revealed that "closing one's eyes leads to an increase in synchronous alpha patterns", which is a conconmitant effect of parasympatheitc nervous system dominance (Winkelman, 1986, 177). The frequency range of alpha waves is between 7-12 Hz. Parasympathetic dominance is characterised by hemispheric synchronisation resulting in relaxation.

EEG brainwaves (Source)

It would be possible to speculate, perhaps, that Jon's trance state is also associated with hemispheric synchronisation and alpha wave dominance.

An important question to ask here is that relating to the causal direction of these psychophysiological observations. Do they represent the cause of the phenomena (e.g. communications with discarnate entities are nothing more than the result of psychophysiological processes), or are the psychophysiological processes the product of some external influence (e.g. the psychophysiological changes occur because communication is taking place)?

I am of the opinion that the psychophysiological changes are necessary if communication with discarnate beings is to be achieved. The release of certain chemicals and alterations to the frequencies of our brain waves are required to tune us into another aspect of reality; in other words altered states of consciousness affect the way that we interface with reality (and there are very many different ways for us to achieve this interface).

To be continued...



[1] Winkelman, M. 1986. Trance States: A Theoretical Model and Cross Cultural Analysis. Ethos, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 174-203.

[2] While writing this article I received an e-mail from Beatrice McCraig, an accredited medium from Scotland, concerning her interpretation of trance states and the processes involved in transmitting communications from discarnate entities.

An interesting point she brought up is a distinction between the ASC associated with Deep Trance and that associated with the Lesser Trance state (as utilised for clairvoyance, clairaudience, etc.). She suggests that Deep Trance states are associated with a relaxation whereby the medium's unconscious is utilised by the discarnate intelligence communicating, while the Lesser Trance is associated with a heightened awareness; necessary for consciously selecting the information that is received.

This seems to agree with the suggestion that deep trance states are associated with alpha waves and parasympathetic dominance. Lesser trance states utilise a different ASC, perhaps associated with dominance of the sympathetic nervous system (this system is resposnsible for making the body alert through the release of certain hormones and neurotransmitters, such as adrenaline, and leads to a hemispheric desynchronization).

To read Beatrice's article click HERE.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Cultural vs. Pre-Cultural Sources...

When I intially started working towards my dissertation I was unsure as to where I was going to focus my investigations. I knew that I wanted to explore people's experiences of the "supernatural" or "paranormal", and that I was particularly interested in the experiences of those who claimed to have communicated with discarnate entities, but I wasn't entirely sure where I could find people who had had such experiences to study.

Before discovering the Bristol Spirit Lodge, therefore, I was on the lookout for individuals who had experienced near-death experiences (NDE), out-of-body experiences (OOBE), ghost sightings, abduction experiences and so on. To this end I put up a notice on a paranormal forum asking for people who had had such experiences to get in touch with me. Only one person did, an individual by the name of Rudy.

Rudy had experienced an NDE in his 20's as his car rolled during a flash-flood. Reading through Rudy's statement it became apparent to me that there were certain elements of his experience that correlated with traditionally conceived notions of what happens during a near death experience (e.g. life-review, out-of-body experience, moving towards the light and through a tunnel, loving being of light, etc.(Siegel, 1980, pp. 920-921)), while there were other aspects that didn't seem to fit so neatly into the traditional model, aspects which at the time of the experience even Rudy was shocked by because they didn't fit with his expectations for such an occurrence. The following are extracts from his account of the experience that most surprised him:

"I did not know that heaven in scripture was squarish shaped before my NDE. I tend to think of it now as some type of spaceship."

"The orbs of light were particularly different from my expectations of heaven... On my return to my body I saw some of the orbs or souls peel off and going to places other than the earth. This was certainly a surprise to me and conunter to my religious notions that we humans are alone in the universe with souls."

"I could not return to the church of my youth as its message contradicts the loving God I met in heaven... Any time a preacher puts others down it offends my absolute knowledge that God loves everyone regardless of their religious views/addiction/homelessness/wealth/political affiliation/sexual orientation..."

There must be more to such experiences than simply creating an anomalous experience based upon cultural constructs. While it is undoubtedly true that we do utilise models from our own private experience and learning to interpret phenomena that we have not experienced before, it is also evident, particularly in Rudy's case, that there were elements that exceeded his expectations of what he would experience in such a situation.

The transformational capacity of such experiences is interesting, particularly, as in Rudy's case, when the experience causes a reinterpretation of previously held conceptions about the nature of what might be termed God and heaven. If these experiences were entirely rooted in cultural notions and expectations, we would not expect to see facets which exceeded these occuring during the experience.

To what extent, then, are we dealing with a cultural or pre-cultural phenomenon?

David Hufford's (1987) book "The Terror that Comes in the Night" suggests that the Old Hag tradition of Newfoundland is a cultural interpretation of a pre-cultural experience (sleep paralysis), which also occurs in other parts of the world but under a different name. The use of the term pre-cultural here refers to sources of experience that are not determined by culture, for example innate biological processes (e.g. the experience is nothing more than an hallucination triggered by the release of certain chemicals in the brain when the body is in serious danger of death), or some other element external to the body of the individual undergoing the experience (e.g. actually visiting "heaven" and meeting discarnate beings).

This is a subject that will be brought up again....

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Suspension of Disbelief...

It is clear that there are many factors involved in the production of altered consciousness in those who are witness to séance phenomena. An important aspect that I feel needs to be addressed is the role of performance. Performance can have a significant effect on the observer.

Performance has the ability to move our consciousness to other places. It is said that we may suspend our disbelief when watching a play or reading a book in order to fully engage ourselves in the situation being presented to us. This suspension of disbelief is usually created by the performance: if the performance is good the observer will be better able to immerse him/herself in the drama, and may even forget that what they are observing is an act. This is a powerful phenomenon.

Performance often takes a central role in the practices of shamans throughout the world. The types of performance utilised might include; dancing, singing, drumming, illusions/tricks, role playing and fantastic feats of physical ability, alone or in combination with one another. I would suggest that such performances serve as external cues to induce within the observer a sense of the otherworldly and as proofs to the witness that the shaman is indeed in contact with this other world.

Korean shaman performing physical feats with knives (Source)

To a degree then, trickery may well form a part of the physical medium’s trade, but only to serve the purpose of engaging the sitter’s energies with his/her endeavours. Tricks and illusions can cause the observer to look at reality differently; they can induce in the observer a sense of the impossible and magical. To this end the performance increases the acceptance of the witness that something is actually happening, which may well be the case. In other words performance can produce a conducive atmosphere within which certain phenomena can manifest more easily.

To this end it might be reasonable to suggest that our notion of fraud is somewhat misplaced when used in reference to the practice of physical mediumship. The anthropologist Edith Turner (1998) arrived at a similar conclusion when considering the ihamba healing ceremony of the Ndembu. During this ritual a human tooth, possessed by spirit intentionality, is believed to be the cause of physical illness. Following a lengthy and ritualised ordeal the tooth is finally extracted from the patient. But was the tooth really to blame for the illness, and did it really get extracted from the patient? Edith Turner writes:

“…Meru’s affliction by a human tooth looks impossible; in the West the only words for such a process are “trickery”, “sleight of hand”, and the like. But these terms derive from quite a different world from the scene at Mulandu farm” (Turner, 1998, 169)

Performance and/or elements of trickery may be a fundamental aspect of the process of inducing something to happen: creating an atmosphere in which things may occur through providing stimulus to suggest the tangible action of the spirit world; through allowing the individual to suspend their disbelief. Once in that frame of mind an individual will be open to experience on more subtle levels and will be able to willingly engaging with them. In the case of Edith Turner's experience, whether the spirit tooth was produced by trickery or supernatural means is irrelevent when the overall effect is understood: the patient was healed.

Indeed, the importance of acceptance has been stressed by spirits communicating through trance mediumship. These beings operate on a mental level in which thought is fundamental. If we wish to communicate with them we must literally allow them in; we have to be in a receptive frame of mind. Belief is a highly significant factor: if you do not believe it is possible it is much less likely to happen (but then again there are numerous accounts of individuals who have had their pre-conceptions entirely altered by an apparently impossible experience).

In writing this I am not apologizing for the use of fraud in the history of physical mediumship, but am rather suggesting that our understanding of such matters is far from complete and that by dismissing mediums on the grounds that they have utilised trickery is not necessarilly the right move to make. Shamans maintain a high status in their societies for aiding communication with the other world, even if this process involves an element of trickery; the communication and its effects are, nevertheless, still valid.

We must suspend our disbelief in order to experience the other world.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Perception & Altered States of Consciousness...

In the literature concerning spirit possession and mediumship a great deal of attention is paid to the medium’s state of consciousness (and rightly so, as there is a great deal to be learned from this perspective), but I feel that the issue needs also to be brought up with regard to those who witness the trance channelling session, and any phenomena that might accompany it (e.g. lights, mists and the like). Mediumship is a three-way process involving the incorporating spirit, the medium/channel and the sitter being spoken to, all of which need to be considered in an exploration of such matters. I would suggest, therefore, that in addition to the alteration of the medium/channel’s consciousness, a similar process is also occurring with the consciousness of the witness.

Indeed, it is true to say that in the majority of cases the medium is unaware of the phenomena being displayed while he/she is in trance. The most extraordinary claims, therefore, derive not from the medium but from the sitters: it is the sitters who hear voices and bangs, perceive spirit lights and transfiguration, witness levitation and feel the solidity of ectoplasmic materialisations.

What, then, is going on?

There is a wide range of techniques for the attainment of altered states of consciousness, ranging from the consumption of psychoactive substances to meditation and all that is in between (e.g. sleep). Different techniques produce different phenomenological states, is there evidence for the induction of altered states of consciousness within the sitters as well as the medium? This section will venture to explore one of the possibilities (it is intended that other issues pertaining to this aspect of the seance will be elaborated on in later sections).

Sensory Deprivation…

One of the simplest methods of consciousness alteration is sensory deprivation. Experiments concerning the effects of sensory and perceptual deprivation have demonstrated the sort of experiences people undergo in such circumstances: visual and auditory hallucinations are common (Vernon, 1971, p.170-173).

When we consider hallucinations it is common for us to regard them as symptoms of abnormality and as purely mental productions with no “objective” reality outside of the individual’s perception. Such a notion is, however, by no means universal: Richard Noll (1985) has suggested that the cultivation of mental imagery is a hallmark of shamanic societies around the world. In such societies endogenous imagery is considered to be a valuable tool, providing a means to catch a glimpse of a world that cannot otherwise be seen. Mircea Eliade (1989) has suggested that seeing a spirit is a hallmark of shamanic development:

“Seeing” a spirit, either in dream or awake, is a certain sign that one has in some sort obtained a “spiritual condition”, that is, that one has transcended the profane condition of humanity. This is why, among the Mentaweians, the “vision” (of spirits), whether occurring spontaneously or obtained by effort, immediately confers magical power” (Eliade, 1989, 85)

Visions are clearly a significant, and hence desired, phenomenon in a great many societies throughout the world. Indeed, there are themes within contemporary mediumship practice which suggest the importance of sensory deprivation for the cultivation of visual “hallucinations”, most notably the use of blackout (or red lighting) conditions and the positioning of the medium within a curtained cabinet.

The process of closing the medium off from view can be paralleled with the symbolic significance of the Hmong shaman, who, when entering into trance, covers his eyes with special blinkers. This act demonstrates that the shaman is no longer using his eyes to see in the physical world, but is instead looking beyond it into the spirit world: there has been a shift in focussed awareness.

Hmong Shaman, Thailand (Source)

Sensory deprivation, whether the product of sitting in blackout, wearing blinkers, or simply closing the eyes, provides the individual with an opportunity to focus attention inwards (or at least away from his/her physical environment), without (or with fewer) distracting sense impressions. Castillo (1995) has suggested that the ability to enter in to trance, both pathological and otherwise (27) is derived from an ability to narrowly and intensely focus attention onto inner processes. Trance and other (sleep, hypnosis, meditation, etc.) states of consciousness represent different “tunings” (Castillo, 1995, 27) of the central nervous system which differ to that of “normal waking consciousness" [2].

But what is it that the sense deprived individual perceives?

The terms "phosphene" and "entoptics" are used to refer to the sort of visual phenomena observed when an individual is subjected to sensory deprivation. Phosphenes/Entoptics are understood to be endogenous visual phenomena, that is they are a product of the structure of the eye and nervous system. Do these phenomena correlate in any way with the observations of individuals sitting in blackout (or red-lit) seance conditions?

Examples of common entoptic hallucinations (Horowitz, 1964, p.518)[1]

The sort of visual phenomena commonly reported following sitting in seance conditions include:

  • Spirit lights (of which there are seemingly a variety of different sorts; ranging from minute flashes of light to solid and constant orbs of light)
  • Mists (often considered to be ectoplasm in a more subtle form)
  • Transfiguration (whereby the medium's face is seen to shift between his/her own likeness and that of many others)
  • Apparitions

There is clearly a distinction to be made between the different forms of visual phenomena observed. There are certain visual phenomena, such as mists and spirit lights, that might be identified as entoptic hallucinations, and then there are those that do not seem to fall so neatly into this category, such as apparitional and transfiguration phenomena.

It becomes even more difficult when we consider the claims of individuals to have witnessed (visually and tactilely) full form materialisations and other definitely physical phenomena such as levitation and dematerialization. Can these fantastic claims be reduced to notions of endogenously derived subjective hallucinations, brought about through sensory deprivation?

Not really. These phenomena must fall into a different classification entirely. Either they are hallucinations of a much greater magnitude, or they represent objective occurrences (either genuine or the product of trickery, these are matters that will be brought up at a later date).


There are a variety of processes in action during the seance situation all of which culminate in the overall effect of the proceedings. To my mind the notion of altered states of consciousness in the sitters has been somewhat ignored (although perhaps I am wrong). It seems to me to be an important issue, and one which clearly stands out when we look at the facts. There are similarities in contemporary mediumship practice with other traditions of spirit seership from across both time and space.

Our culture has an inherent aversion to altered states of consciousness, and would consider them abnormal, so that anything encountered or observed while experiencing such a state cannot have any reality: they become labelled as "anomalous" and insignificant. This is not the case. Using the term hallucination to describe certain of the phenomena observed during blackout séances need not necessarily imply that there is no intrinsic reality to what is seen and heard. Altered states of consciousness may be considered as lenses of different magnifications, each state allowing a more detailed perspective on a particular facet of existence; allowing us to see what is already there, just below the surface of our everyday waking world.

These issues, and more, will be explored in greater depth as this site develops.

Thoughts, opinions and suggestions are welcomed.



[1] Horowitz, M.J. 1964. The Imagery of Visual Hallucinations. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disorders, Vol. 138, pp. 513-523.

[2] Castillo, R.J. 1995. Culture, Trance and the Mind-Brain. Anthropology of Consciousness, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 17-32.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

What is Charlie?

I am currently attending a physical mediumship circle in Bristol at the Bristol Spirit Lodge, where I have come to know a spirit by the name of Charlie. Charlie makes himself known through the trance mediumship of Jon.

The question of what exactly constitutes an incorporating spirit such as Charlie is an interesting and complex one. There have been numerous propositions suggested in answer to this question over the course of humanity’s dealing with such entities; from what might be termed spiritualistic interpretations to psychological conceptions and classifications. A brief overview of some of these varying interpretations will be the subject of the following section.


Alter is the term used to refer to distinct personalities that can develop when an individual suffers from what has been termed Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)[1]. A person suffering from DID experiences a number of phenomenological states which appear, at least on surface value, to bare some similarity to cases of spirit incorporation and possession.

Alters are understood to be created by the individual as a coping strategy to deal with some early life traumatic experience(s). In the event of witnessing a horrific scene during childhood, for instance, the mind might protect itself through constructing a personality that is not afraid of such experiences; a personality able to cope with the trauma (Crabtree, 1988, pp.72-78). Or if an individual is particularly shy, for example, an alter personality may develop that is substantially more outgoing and more socially able. In some cases a variety of different personalities might be formed, each with their own particular area of activity or individual speciality. In the event of further traumatic experiences these alters might once again be brought to the foreground to psychologically protect the original personality from emotional harm. In most cases, although by no means all, the original personality is completely unable to recall any event their physical body was experiencing while under the control of an alter (again a similarity with mediumship). Occasionally an alter personality might come to the fore in order to replace the original personality entirely.

Alter personalities can be complete in many, if not all, respects and exhibit a surprising depth, complexity and independence; “autonomous complexes” in Jung’s (2008, p.135) terminology. Indeed occasions have been reported on which it has become difficult to tell the difference between an individual’s “real”, or original, personality and that of an alter that has assumed control over the physical body (Crabtree, 1988, pp.89-90). In this respect, there is little differentiation between the personality (as we would define it) of an alter and that of a normal human being; as a form of consciousness it can be just as valid, real and complete as your own; with life experiences, memories, feelings and beliefs.

This use of the concept of dissociative identity, or multiple personality, disorder with regards to the practices of mediumship and trance channelling naturally implies that they are the symptoms of some form of mental abnormality or illness. This notion, however, does not sit well with the findings of anthropologists in the field studying societies where mediumistic practices, and the beliefs associated with them, still maintain a central role in day-to-day living.

The anthropologist Morton Klass (2006) has suggested a new approach to assessing whether behaviours, e.g. mediumistic trances of whatever sort, are abnormal or not. He suggests that spirit incorporation states do not represent disorders because they are not understood to be so in the social groups in which they occur; they are characterised as accepted and normal and generally have a place within the culture; that is that these states and behaviours are understood as mediumship or spirit possession, there is a cultural referent and explanation available and procedures to deal with such states are in place. A disorder, on the other hand, is not incorporated into the culture in anyway, indeed a disorder most clearly disrupts the norm; it stands out, and would consequently be recognizable as an abnormality to anyone within that social group (even within a society that practices mediumship of one form or another).

Adam Crabtree has suggested that the similarity between mediumistic, and possession, trance states and multiple personality disorders is rooted in an inherent human ability to dissociate[2]. The difference arises in the way in which dissociation occurs; if unpredictable, uncontrollable and debilitating dissociative symptoms are exhibited it would be considered abnormal; if, on the other hand, the symptoms of dissociation are desired, respected and understood as of value to the individual and community then they would not be seen as abnormal.

Jon’s mediumship is certainly understood to have a purpose within the social group in which it takes place; the Bristol Spirit Lodge. The trance and incorporation state is culturally recognised by the group, and does not, consequently, represent an abnormal behaviour. Moreover, Jon’s behaviour is perfectly normal in all respects when not engaged in the trance state. The distinct lack of negative impact of his mediumship on his everyday functioning is a clear indication of its normal, and safe, nature. In other words mediumship is not a symptom of an abnormal psychological state, even if it does bare surface resemblances in certain respects to dissociative identity, and multiple personality, disorders. It is a form of dissociation but not a disorder.

Egrigore (thought-form)...

The term egrigore has traditionally been utilised by occult practitioners to refer to a conscious “thought-form”. A thought-form is an entity, conscious or otherwise, made manifest through the application of focussed imaginative thinking and intent by a group or individual. Such an entity may also be referred to as an imaginal being.

A Canadian psychical investigation group conducted an experiment, which they called “the Philip Experiment” (as cited by Klimo, 1987, pp.249-250), in the 1970s whereby they collaborated on the concoction of an imaginary character by the name of Philip; going so far as to write a detailed but fictional background history for him, and even creating a likeness of his face on which to focus attention. Under séance conditions the group attempted to contact this imaginary creation and, after several failed attempts, eventually succeeded in doing so. The Philip they had created was complete, and to some extent exhibited a degree of independent thought when probed with questions. Séances during which Philip was contacted also featured a number of physical phenomena including rappings and table tipping; phenomena identical to physical mediumship séances.

Such entities might be thought of in terms of a group mind; a collective expression of intent made manifest. The notion bares similarities with occult ideas of conjuring spirits through the use of symbols and chants as foci of intentionality. A thought-form is believed, once manifest, to exist as an independent external entity within the mental realm.

These thought creations clearly posses the ability to have a tangible, and indeed physical, effect on the world around us, and in consequence, once created, are as real as any other intelligence.
Christine recalls an occasion with one of her foster children; a young girl of about 3 years of age who developed an imaginary friend. In Christine’s experience many children in similar situations have developed such imaginary friends. On one occasion it was only a matter of weeks before other children in her care began to 'join in' with this particular imaginary friend. All three children in her care at the time (aged 3-7 years) described him identically, perhaps indicative of a group manifested entity. There came a time when, one evening, another child reported that this imaginary friend was upset, because he didn’t feel loved anymore. It was exactly as if the children's acceptance of this imaginary child had 'caused' him to become real; he felt emotions in much the same way as a normal child would.

It is possible that Charlie represents the manifestation of a collective thought form communicating through Jon as a vessel. There is certainly an intention set during séances to communicate with Charlie; his conversations are enjoyable, and to this end the sitters are engaged in an intentional willing for Charlie to make himself known. There is, however, a significant point to be made here; Charlie is not the only communicator received through Jon’s mediumship; there are in actuality several others who regularly make themselves audible and on occasion entirely unknown communicators are brought forward. Consequently sitters are never sure which of Jon’s spirit team will present themselves during the séances.

An intention is set to communicate with any spirit person, and not Charlie in particular.

The subconscious mind...

The notion of a hidden aspect of the human mind has likely been perceived since the earliest days of human sentience. It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, with the work of pioneering psychologists such as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, that the idea became firmly established in the scientific literature as an active factor in the cognitive processes of the human mind.

Utilising this conceptual framework, it has been suggested that trance communications do not necessarily represent a form of contact with independent discarnate entities, but are, in fact, a means of receiving information stored deep within the subconscious mind of the medium him/her self.

This position holds that any information received during trance sessions was already unconsciously known by the medium. This unconscious information, when it comes forward, appears to derive from a consciousness other than that of the medium. In order to better comprehend the source of this information, the mind personifies the source thus creating the illusion of a separate intelligence; again what would be termed dissociation.

The 19th and early 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) conceived of the spirits described in the Goetia[3], or the Lesser Key of Solomon, as “portions of the human brain” (1997, p.17). The symbolic seals presented in the book “represent… methods of stimulating or regulating those particular spots” (ibid.). From this perspective it may be suggested that spirits represent subconscious aspects of the mediums (or conjuror’s) own mind brought forward through the apprehension of subconsciously stimulating cues in the external world.

It would be possible to argue that a similar process is in operation at the Spirit Lodge. Symbols can take many forms and can have a profound effect on the consciousness of their observers. While the séances conducted at the Lodge do not use symbols like those represented in the Goetia to bring spirits forward, it might be argued that the building itself, along with other ritualised behaviours when inside it (e.g. sitting in a circle, dimming the lights, prayers etc) serve as symbolic cues which suggest that an entity will become available to communicate with. These cues may activate elements of the subconscious mind of both the medium and sitters with the effect of manifesting a personified intelligence by the name of Charlie.

Naturally, such a fact would be impossible to verify, but it is interesting food for thought.

Spirit of the dead...

The suggestion that the entities communicated with during séances are the spirits of the dead (that is disincarnate human beings), derives directly from the communications that are received. Simply put, the majority of entities communicated with during séances declare themselves to be the spirits of the deceased. This is their own understanding of their existence; that is how they perceive themselves.

Charlie has indicated that he once lived upon the earth as a monk by the name of Dao Lin. What reason do we have to disregard this claim? In truth it is an impossible fact to verify, but this claim is the most positive evidence available as to the nature of the intelligence we call Charlie. He himself has told us what and who he is.

If we are willing to consider Charlie as a manifestation of consciousness then we must also treat him with the respect we ourselves would expect of an interlocutor. We would not like to have our own understanding of what we are questioned by a stranger. We should allow for a degree of trust in our dealings with these entities. Although trickery is a possibility, it must also be considered that anyone we meet on the street may also deceive us on first meeting them, but we would not dare to question them (unless their claims were extraordinary) out of politeness and respect, although we might later on, as we got to know them a little better.

Treating apparent spirit people with respect and courtesy is one of the best means to understand more about them.


Jon has described the confusion arising from trying to determine what exactly it is that he channels at the Spirit Lodge. On certain occasions, even from his own perspective, it is difficult to distinguish where he ends and the spirits begin, while on other occasions the distinction appears fairly clear cut:

I do sometimes wonder if it's not really my subconscious just raking up all these thoughts and regurgitating them out under the pretext of an alter ego. Although, last week, when [a spirit] came through I felt a very definite 'feeling' of a personality that wasn't mine. Hard to explain, but I know how "I" feel, and this wasn't how "I" feel at all.”

Indeed, it is true to say that any number of the explanations given for the existence of these other personalities (whether alters, thought-forms, the subconscious or spirits) does not rule out any of the others as equally valid possibilities. It is entirely possible that all processes could co-exist; an individual may divide his/her consciousness into multiple personalities to escape traumatic experiences, but this does not mean that thought-forms and spirits do not exist[4].

Indeed, Charlie, intriguingly and with humour, has provided a number of possible explanations for what he is:

Charlie: Ah, what could we be? I could be a thought, soaring on the wind…I could be a collective consciousness, perhaps from the physical world, or maybe even another. I might be a mischievous demon capturing your attention, slowly sucking you in... I think, I feel.

As usual, Charlie leaves us to make up our own mind; to find our own truth. He does not give us the answers, but provides food for thought.

(A collection of Charlie's teachings is currently being compiled with the aim of publishing within the coming months)


[1] Dissociative disorders are a classification of mental illness in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders vol. 4 (DSM-IV). According to the DSM-IV “The essential feature of the dissociative disorders is a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception. The disturbance may be sudden or gradual, transient or chronic”. There are a variety of different manifestations of dissociative disorder. DID, or multiple personality disorder, is just one.
[2] The term dissociation refers to a change in the functioning of consciousness “such that part of oneself appears to be split off and operating independently” (Klimo, 1987, p.346). Klass (2006, pp.115-116) suggests that this is a natural capacity of the human mind.
[3] The Goetia, also known as “The Lesser Key of Solomon” is an almanac of magical symbols used for the invocation of certain specific spiritual entities that originally appeared in 16th century AD Europe. Each entity described (of which there are 72) in the book is associated with a particular seal that can be utilised as a focus of attention and intention during conjuring rituals. These beings could be contacted to carry out specific actions on behalf of the conjuror, provided that he performed the relevant rituals and possessed the necessary protective seals and amulets.
[4] The above quotation from Jon includes the terms “subconscious”, “alter ego” and “definite…personality” to describe his experience, clearly indicating the potential action of all processes simultaneously during the channelling experience. The influence of the subconscious, for instance, is constant throughout even our waking lives, why should it not also be active during the trance channelling state? Indeed Charlie has referred to the central role of the subconscious in the trance channelling procedure.