Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
One of the most important recent publications about mediumship is Talking With the Spirits: Ethnographies From Between the Worlds (Brisbane, Australia: Daily Grail Publishing, 2014), a collection of essays edited by Jack Hunter and David Luke . The authors of the chapters discuss mediumship from different parts of the world, among them Africa, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, and Great Britain.
The book is described by the publisher as follows:
“Talking With the Spirits is a cross-cultural survey of contemporary spirit mediumship. The diverse contributions to this volume cover a wide-range of ethnographic contexts, from Spiritualist séances in the United Kingdom to self-mortification rituals in Singapore and Taiwan, from psychedelic spirit incorporation in the Amazonian rainforest, to psychic readings in online social spaces, and more. By taking a broad perspective the book highlights both the variety of culturally specific manifestations of spirit communication, and key cross-cultural features suggestive of underlying core-processes and experiences. Rather than attempting to reduce or dismiss such experiences, the authors featured in this collection take the experiences of their informants seriously and explore their effects at personal, social and cultural levels.”
Here is the list of chapters and authors.
Talking with the Spirits: Ethnographies from Between the Worlds by David Luke and Jack Hunter
Believing Impossible Things: Scepticism and Ethnographic Enquiry by Fiona Bowie
An Agnostic Social Scientific Perspective on Spirit Medium Experience in Great Britain by Hannah Gilbert
Spirits in the City: Examples from Montreal by Deirdre Meintel
Mediumship and Folk Models of Mind and Matter by Jack Hunter
Cyber Psychics: Psychic Readings in Online Social Spaces by Tamlyn Ryan
Spirit Possession in East Africa by Barbara Stöckigt
Developing the Dead in Cuba: An Ethnographic Account of the Emergence of Spirits and Selves in Havana by Diana Espirito Santo
Mediumship in Brazil: The Holy War Against Spirits and African Gods by Bettina Schmidt
Psychedelic Possession: The Growing Incorporation of Incorporation into Ayahuasca Use by David Luke
Anomalous Mental and Physical Phenomena of Brazilian Mediums: A Review of the Scientific Literature by Everton de Oliveira Maraldi, Wellington Zangari, Fatima Regina Machado, and Stanley Krippner
Spirit Mediums in Hong Kong and the United States by Charles Emmons
Vessels for the Gods: Tang-ki Spirit Mediumship in Singapore and Taiwan by Fabian Graham
The book is highly recommended, particularly to those who want to obtain a view of mediumistic manifestations from different cultures. In addition to anthropology, the essays have much to offer to students of parapsychology, psychology, and sociology. Furthermore, the authors of the essays say much about the various manifestations of mediumship, illustrating the complexity of the phenomenon. The diversity of mediums discussed may allow, as the editors point in the introduction, “for discernment to emerge on what might be universal or near-universal features of mediumship, such as, for example, the role of a control spirit and the use of an altered state of consciousness, respectively.”
There is also much to learn from the essays regarding the attitudes the researcher can take to the study of what some see as extraordinary phenomena. This includes belief, skepticism, and various other middle points, not to mention the bracketing of the reality of the paranormal to focus on purely anthropological concerns.
Talking with the Spirits is a welcome and much needed addition to the current literature about mediumship that will help us expand our views of the various manifestations of this fascinating phenomenon.