Showing posts with label mediumship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mediumship. Show all posts

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Old Rennaissance and the New

I was just thinking, while reading the amazon blurb for a book on Spiritualism and its role in early feminism ("Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth Century America" by Ann Braude), about the possibility that mass social change is conduive to paranormal phenomena. A link between the concept of liminality,anti-structure and the paranormal has often been suggested; a major exposition of the issue can be found in George Hansen's "The Trickster and the Paranormal". The rise of spiritualism in the 19th century was coincident with enormous social change: the rise of modern science, the decline of religion, women's rights and so on - by any reckoning an anti-structural scenario. The spiritual phenomena allegedly produced at this time were of an extraordinary variety: full materializations of spirits, levitation, ectoplasmic rods, independent voice, and apports to name just a few. Might it be that these spirit manifestations were so impressive as a result of the seances taking place right in the middle of widespread social flux? If there is a link between intensity of paranormal phenomena and social upheaval, then might the alleged successes of certain mediumship groups (for example the Felix Experimental Group and the Yellow Cloud Circle) in producing materializations be linked to the current state of society? Is our society in a state of change?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Rhine Online Magazine

In addition to numerous other interesting features, there is a great article by Hannah Gilbert on "A Sociological Perspective on Becoming a Spirit Medium in Britain" in the latest issue of the Rhine Online Magazine, an web-based newsletter published by the Rhine Research Centre.

Monday, 29 March 2010

The Anthropologist & the Spiritualists

An article that I wrote about my dissertation research has been published in Issue 47 (April 2010 edition) of Paranormal Magazine.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Trance Mediumship....

I have recently come into possession of a new set of audio cassette recordings of spirit communications received through trance mediumship. They are fascinating.

This situation provides me with the perfect opportunity to compare two sets of spirit teachings received through separate mediums and recorded at different times and in different locations by groups unknown to each other.

It will be very interesting to see what sort of correlations and possible divergences show up between the two data sets.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Talking With The Spirits - Interview...


Here is a short film that I edited together from an interview conducted a week or so ago with Christine Di Nucci, the founder of the Bristol Spirit Lodge; the venue at which I conducted my dissertation fieldwork.

Due to a change of circumstance interviews with mediums and sitters will now likely be in audio format.

More news to come...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Talking With the Spirits: Bristol Spirit Lodge Documentary Film...

I have just commenced work an an ethnographic/documentary style film about the Bristol Spirit Lodge, a centre for the development and promotion of trance and physical mediumship. The film will feature indepth interviews with members of the lodge, including sitters and mediums, in an attempt to expand upon the fieldwork I conducted there for my dissertation earlier in the year. It's primary focus will be on the way in which seance experiences are interpreted and lived with by those who are witness to them.


More news on the film will be made available as the project develops.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Depicting Discarnate Entities...

Human beings have been making depictions of "the supernatural realm" since at least as far back as the Palaeolithic (depicting, at least, in such a way as to withstand the ravages of time - we would not, for example, be able to detect drawings made with sticks and sand in the archaeological record). Some of the earliest known depictions of "non-ordinary beings" can be found in the caves of Algeria.

The paintings seem to depict anthropomorphic creatures with animal characteristics - horns, tails, etc. Creatures that are neither human nor animal, but something more than the sum of their parts. Beings such as this are referred to as therianthropes. The inspiration for these enigmatic images may well have come from encounters with beings during altered states of consciousness achieved through any number of techniques (I have spoken a little about rock art and psychedelics in an earlier post).

The spirits depicted in the above image were drawn by the Iglulik Eskimos. "They represent deities which through terrifying and frightening their natural state can be captured and tamed by shamans and thus transformed into benevolent 'helping spirits' or familiars" (Lewis, 1971).

Different cultures, from different time periods and geographic locations have depicted the spirit world for thousands of years.

The psychic photography of the Spiritualist movement represents a more recent attempt at embodying the disincarnate. Cultural Historian Marina Warner has discussed at length the evolution of the western depiction of the supernatural in her book Phatasmagoria (2008). Key elements she has highlighted include the use of metaphors and analogies concerned with light, air, mist, clouds, wings, etc. when describing the denizens of the invisible world. Spiritualist photographs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries clearly partake of a cultural tradition in western art - they are a culmination of motifs and iconography that have developed over centuries of attempts to picture the invisible. At the core of this tradition, however, is the experience of the supernatural - the inability to convey the precise nature of the experience and the necessity to draw analogies with bright, fluid and etherial aspects of the physical world.

I am not suggesting that all Spiritualist photographs are the product of "fraud" or "trickery" but am rather pointing towards a wider frame-work in which to understand and interpret such images. I would even consider the blatantly "fraudulent" (again, a term that I think may need re-evaluating) photographs, which clearly show that the spirit-form is nothing more than a doll, such as those taken of the medium Helen Duncan and the spirit-child Peggy (see below), to be objects worthy of investigation.

Belief in the ability to imbue objects with independent agency is both ancient and widespread. What we are seeing in these photographs is a vestigal practice - a pre-christian survival that shares commonalities with other cultural and beliefs systems, across the world, but shares nothing with the positivistic empirical world-view that evaluates their validity as proof of the existence of spirits and mediumistic ability.

In Ancient Egyptian tombs, archaeologists have uncovered thousands of small humanoid figurines called shabti figures. These figurines were essential companions to the deceased as they journeyed forth into the afterlife. Because it was believed that the afterlife was much the same as the world of the living, deceased individuals would be called up to work in the fields and on the land on their arrival there. The purpose of the shabti was to come to life and carry out the work in place of the deceased, their work was primarily agricultural (Spencer, 1991, 68). These little figurines possess agency - they are more than just models. They were believed to have the power to come to life and to serve (much as the Swedish Tomtar statuettes, discussed in an earlier post, are said to).

Ancient Egyptian belief in the power of representation provides fascinating insights to our understanding of the depictions of supernatural beings:

"The Ancient Egyptians believed that once a word was written down it was inherently magical and could make whatever was written true, especially when spoken aloud, an act which breathed life into the words. Thus the representations on the walls could come alive and make real what they depicted and had to be chosen with care lest some dangerous being came into existence in the tomb" (Dodson & Ikram, 2008, 15)

Representation gives life to abstract concepts - it enables a manifestation to occur - entities that can only be grasped in the mental realm are condensed into the material. Again, in the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians we find this power put into use. Tombs are adorned with depictions of the deceased and engraved with their names - the act of creating a likeness of the deceased allows for that individual to "live on" after death. Indeed the link between the effigy and the soul of the deceased was a strong one, and tombs often house small shrines at which offerings of food and drink would be deposited. These carvings became a point of merging between the world of the living and the invisible world of the dead - a false door to the other world.

It is possible, therefore, that we could be missing the point when we dismiss the photographs of Helen Duncan and her doll Peggy as evidence of fraudulence. Marina Warner writes of Peggy:

"...the photograph shows a ghastly crude mask, with huge white face and heavily daubed mouth wrapped in an old sheet, every inch a Hallowe'en bogey. That these ghosts could ever have persuaded anyone, that these makeshift clumsy apparitions could ever have been recognized as the lost loved child by the child's own mother, reveals the depth of people's need to reach some peace with the dead" (2008, 246)

To my mind it is not so difficult to believe. The doll may act as a conduit, a vessel or a focus point through which a spirit can be channelled. The idea is not a new one, and parallels to it are in evidence throughout the ethnosphere. If spirits are believed to be disincarnate, as they very often are, then there is no reason to assume that a spirit cannot incorporate itself into an inanimate object - like pouring water into a vase - in much the same way as the Egyptians believed the spirit of the deceased could inhabit its likeness carved in stone.

When viewed from the Ancient Egyptian perspective representation and reality are blurred - an image IS what it depicts in a very real sense. A photograph of a materialised spirit is a materialised spirit, a painting on a cave wall of a horned being from another world is just that, and a model of a deceased individual is what it appears to be.


Dodson, A & Ikram, S. 2008. The Tomb in Ancient Egypt. Great Britain: Thames & Hudson.

Lewis, I.M. 1971. Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism. United Kingdom: Penguin Books Ltd.

Warner, M. 2008. Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-first Century. Great Britain: Oxford University Press.

Spencer, A.J. 1991. Death in Ancient Egypt. Great Britain: Penguin Books Ltd.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Michael Jackson's Ghost (pt. 2)...

In a PREVIOUS POST I discussed the way in which Michael Jackson, following his death, became associated with the paranormal (in much the same way that many other celebrities have become entwined with the supernatural). I have suggested that this "cult of celebrity" is deeply connected to the realm of mediumship and spirit communication.

This current manifestation of the supernatural-celebrity mediumshp cult has taken another interesting turn: Derek Acorah is set to make contact with Michael Jackson during a live seance to be broadcast on Sky1 (read full article HERE).

Tantalising food for thought regarding the relationship between celebrity and mediumship.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Charlie: Trance Communication & Spirit Teachings...

Coming Soon...
A collection of transcribed seance recordings from the Bristol Spirit Lodge. The book is specifically concerned with communications and teachings received via trance mediumship from a spirit affectionately referred to as Charlie. The transcriptions are written out in full as a means to demonstrate the informal nature of the seances conducted at the Lodge and to provide an insight into the type of topics generally discussed with spirit communicators revealing a fascinating perspective on philosophy, life, death and the afterlife.

The book is set to be published and made available within the coming months.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Famous and Recurring Spirit Guides...

One of the aspects of mediumship that I find particularly interesting is the cross-over of spirit guides, or communicators, between mediums. Occasionally this cross-over can become quite a problem, as in the case of Warren Caylor and Colin Fry's dispute over a communicator called Magnus.

Other communicators appearing through different mediums often include a range of deceased celebrities: Freddy Mercury, Louis Armstrong etc...

In the realm of musical mediumship it is not unkown for composers to channel new music through more than one medium: Liszt and Chopin appear to be common channeling composers.

Grubelei transmitted by Franz Liszt through the mediumship of Rosemary Brown (1916-2001).

In his book Pursuing Physical Mediumship (2007), Robin Foy details various communicators that have not limited their contact with this plane through just one medium. Foy recounts numerous situations in which communications have been received through different mediums (including Leslie Flint) from the likes of Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Emily Bronte, Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Crookes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and so on.

Winston Churchill communicating through the mediumship of Leslie Flint (1911-1994) in 1980.

Indeed, there appears to be a propensity towards receiving communications from those individuals who were at one time themselves engaged in the investigation of spiritualistic phenomena. This is, perhaps, as we would expect: an individual that had been fascinated with the mechanics of mediumship throughout life would not hesitate to explore that machinery first-hand when given the opportunity in the afterlife.

Interestingly we also find accounts of communications with those who were skeptical in life, who now, upon experiencing the truth of life after death for themselves, cannot resist but come to communicate how misguided they had been in life. This situation, naturally, seems suspect to any inquisitive researcher (the medium might well be faking it in order to "demonstrate" the truth of life after death and to prove that his/her critics were ultimately wrong) , but it cannot be denied that it is a distinct possibility; we shouldn't rule it out just because it appears improbable, but we'd ought to remain inquisitive.

One argument put forward to account for the recurrence of "celebrity communicators" is that certain discarnate entities will utilise a famous name in order to enhance the enthusiasm of the sitters to communicate, thusly resulting in far stronger phenomena.

Celebrity "possession cults" are not limited to this particular form. The Changun possession cult of Korea is solely centred around the incorporation of famous deceased generals, including the likes of Genghis Khan during the Kut ceremony:

I would suggest, perhaps, that if these entities are not in actuality the individuals they claim to be, that the utilisation of the name of a celebrity/general is to denote elevation. The human being might find that attributing the label of a well known and respected individual to an unknown spiritual entity enables them to better conceive of the "elevatedness" of the entity. By giving it the name of a general, for instance, it is implied that the being is above our status. Conceiving of the spirit as "above our status" might simply be a means for us to abstractify higher dimensionality; I am "normal", the communicator is not; a way of communicating the sense of an uncanny presence.

Some food for thought perhaps...