Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
Mediumship is widely practiced in Brazil. Aspects of the topic are reviewed in a recently published article by Everton de Oliveira Maraldi, who I first met in Brazil and who has distinguished himself with various publications. He is about to finish his PhD in psychology at the University of Sao Paulo.
Here is the reference to the article:
“Medium or Author? A Preliminary Model Relating Dissociation, Paranormal Belief Systems and Self-Esteem” (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2014, 78, 1-24).
The article is based on the author’s master’s thesis (2009-2011) at the Institute of Psychology of the University of Sao Paulo. Everton wrote to me that he conducted field observations and interviews “with 11 mediums in order to understand the role of Kardecist beliefs and practices in shaping the identity and personality of the participants.”
In his view “the experience of mediumship depends on a wide variety of individual and contextual factors, resulting in a psychosocial construction in which the phenomenon of dissociation may play an important role. In dissociative experiences, the individual believes that something or someone is acting through him, controlling his movements, when in fact he is the agent itself. It is also suggested that mediumistic writing functions as a psychological elaboration of diffuse or impulsive emotions. This phenomenon seems to depend not only on suggestions and on group expectations, but also reflects low self-esteem or an impaired self-concept, which tends to increase in unfavorable socioeconomic conditions and in people with a history of childhood trauma, repressive education or lack of affection.”
From the paper: “There is reason to believe that many of the shortcomings and difficulties in learning and adaptation reported by mediums have found a place for recovery and improvement in the spiritist centro, almost as if the institution has acted, at such times, as a second school, filling some of the gaps in the educational process, a process interrupted or impaired in childhood or adolescence. There, mediums can serve as intermediaries for several painters and writers from beyond, and if they do not see themselves as having any valuable talent, they can, at least, offer their minds and bodies to these higher spiritual forces. The process of mediation between the living and the dead is thus more than a religious practice: it seems to allow certain contact with previously unknown talents or facets of an individual.”
“Due to a lack of stimulation and encouragement to develop their individual capacities, these individuals had felt disconnected from their own potentials and creativity, which could have fostered the eruption of latent potentials in the form of automatisms and dissociative phenomena attributed to spiritual entities. The attribution of authorship of these productions to external sources will depend primarily on the automatic and involuntary aspect of the phenomenon, as well as the content of such productions, which would differ from the person’s conscious ideas or behavioural repertoire (the criterion would therefore be incompatibility with self-concept). As the psychological contents frequently emerge in a dissociated manner (lack of control of the hand or little awareness of the content produced), the self tends to perceive them as incompatible with certain voluntary aims or with self-concept. The intelligent (or at least intentional) aspect of such productions (even when they are relatively inferior to those the individual is able to produce in his or her normal condition) seems to serve as another element that could help sustain a spiritualist interpretation. Experiences of low self-esteem in childhood could enhance feelings of passive influence and the avoidance of personal responsibility for success, thereby reinforcing paranormal or spiritual assertions involving external (or invisible) agencies.”
Maraldi is the first one to recognize the limitations of the study, including the small number of mediums studied and that his participants did not present all the range of phenomena of artistic mediumship. Nonetheless, he believes, and I agree with him, that the model he presents using the variables of dissociation, impulsive tendencies, self-esteem and paranormal belief should be considered in future research.