Archive for November, 2016


Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Here are references to some recent articles that represent different approaches to the study of mediumship.

Alvarado, C. S. (2015). Classic text no. 107: “Report of the Committee on Mediumistic Phenomena,” by William James (1886). History of Psychiatry, 27, 85–100.

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William James

Mediumship was a topic of great interest to some nineteenth-century students of mental phenomena. Together with the phenomena of hypnosis and other manifestations, mediumship was seen by many as a dissociative phenomenon. The purpose of this Classic Text is to present an excerpt of an article about the topic that William James (1842–1910) published in 1886 in the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research about American medium Leonora E. Piper (1857–1950). The article, an indication of late nineteenth-century interactions between dissociation studies and psychical research, was the first report of research with Mrs Piper, a widely investigated medium of great importance for the development of mediumship studies. In addition to studying the case as a dissociative experience, James explored the possibility that Piper’s mentation contained verifiable information suggestive of ‘supernormal’ knowledge. Consequently, James provides an example of a topic neglected in historical studies, the ideas of those who combined conventional dissociation studies with psychical research.

Alvarado, C.S. (2016). Classic Text No. 107: Joseph Maxwell on mediumistic personifications. History of Psychiatry, 27, 350-366.

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The study of mediumship received much impetus from the work of psychical researchers. This included ideas about the phenomena of personation, or changes in attitudes, dispositions and behaviours shown by some mediums that supposedly indicated discarnate action. The aim of this Classic Text is to reprint passages about this topic from the writings of French psychical researcher Joseph Maxwell (1858–1938), which were part of the contributions of some psychical researchers to reconceptualize the manifestations in psychological terms. Maxwell suggested these changes in mediums were a production of their subconscious mind. His ideas are a reflection of previous theorization about secondary personalities and a particular example of the contributions of psychical researchers to understand the psychology of mediumship.

Bastos, M. A. V., Jr.; Bastos, P. R. H., Osório, I. H. S., H., Muass, K. A. R., Curvello, Iandoly, D., Jr.; Lucchietti, G. (2016). Frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) activity and mediumship: A comparative study between spiritist mediums and controls. Archives of Clinical Psychiatry, 43, 20–26.

Mediumship and spirit possession are cultural phenomena found worldwide. The Spiritism, popular in Brazil, is a religious tradition that emphasizes mediumship. The “absorption hypothesis” (the association of marked increases in focused attention with concomitant decreases in self-awareness) is one of the neuropsychological explanatory theories for these experiences. We measured electroencephalographic (EEG) spectral power in frontal electrodes within theta, alpha and beta bandwidths, as well as cross-regional cortical coherences, in female Spiritist experienced mediums (n = 10) and in female non-medium control subjects from the same religious context (n = 10). Scalp EEG signals were captured simultaneously from participants in each of the two groups in three different moments: before, during and immediately after mediumistically speaking. Compared to non-medium controls, the mediums had greater beta power on some electrodes in all phases of the experiment, greater theta power on one electrode at the communication phase and greater alpha power on one electrode at the post-communication phase. No condition effects (within-group comparisons) were detected in any group. No group effects were noted for cross regional cortical coherences. No ictal EEG pattern was observed, except for one participant in the mediums group. These findings support the hypothesis that absorption could have a mechanistic role in anomalous sensorial experiences such as mediumship. The coherence pattern in mediums during the anomalous experience differed from prior studies on pathological dissociation and on hypnotic states. Cognitive control processes seem to be engaged during the anomalous sensorial experiences.

Beischel, J., Mosher, C., & Boccuzzi, M. (2014-2015). The possible effects on bereavement of assisted after-death communication during readings with psychic mediums: A continuing bonds perspective. Omega, 70, 169-194.

Unresolved, complicated, prolonged, or traumatic grief can have detrimental effects on mental and/or physical health. The effects of traditional grief counseling, with its focus on the client’s acceptance of separation and integration of loss, are unclear. Within the model of continuing bonds, however, grief resolution includes an ongoing relationship between the living and the deceased. Spontaneous and induced experiences of after-death communication (ADC) have been shown to be beneficial in the resolution of grief by demonstrating these continued bonds. Presently, many bereaved individuals are experiencing assisted ADCs by receiving readings from psychic mediums and though little is known about the effects of this self prescribed treatment option, anecdotal reports and exploratory data posit a positive outcome. This article aims to inform those who work with the bereaved about the relationships between grief, spontaneous, induced, and assisted ADC experiences, and the continuing bonds paradigm. Suggestions for future research are also included.

Crabtree, A. (2015). Mesmerism and the psychological dimension of mediumship. In C. Gutierrez (Ed.), Handbook of Spiritualism and Channeling (pp. 7-31). Leiden: Brill.

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Dr. Adam Crabtree

Espirito Santo, D. (2016). Recursivity and the self-reflexive cosmos: Tricksters in Cuban and Brazilian spirit mediumship practices. Social Analysis, 60, 37–55.

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Dr. Diana Espirito Santo

In this article, I explore how the cosmologies of two popular spirit possession cults—Espiritismo in Cuba and Umbanda in Brazil—exhibit forms of recursivity and self-reflexivity. Taking my cue from Don Handelman’s notion that the cosmos often contains its own logic of self-becoming, I argue that in these ethnographic cases, recursivity results from the interplay between, on the one hand, the spirits’ expression of their autonomy from living beings and, on the other, the spirits’ contingency for their effectiveness on human belief, representation, perception, and action. In Espiritismo and Umbanda, spirits intervene in human affairs unpredictably, throwing new light on anthropological and native conceptualizations of reflexivity.

Gauld, A. (2014). Two cases from the lost years of Mrs. Piper. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 78, 65-84.

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Leonora E. Piper

This paper presents two hitherto unpublished cases from what may be called the ‘lost years’ of Mrs. Piper, the period between 1897 and 1905 from which only a very limited amount has been published. The cases illustrate different aspects of the Piper phenomenon, and while not among the strongest are not without evidential interest. They are used as the basis for a discussion of various standard tactics for denying that there is any paranormal element in such cases.

Leonard, T.J. (2015). A qualitative analysis of mediumship development among ordained Spiritualist ministers: A research study. Bulletin of Fukuoka University of Education, 64, 33-42.

From the conclusion: “The mediums who participated in this survey are clearly dedicated and believe sincerely in what they do. This study was undertaken, in part, to determine how and when the mediums discovered their gifts of mediumship initially, and when they made the decision to become certified mediums. Also, this study endeavored to find out what personal mediumistic experiences the Spiritualist mediums had as they were developing their mediumship formally . . .  As evidenced in this paper, for Spiritualist mediums, mediumship is not a game or form of entertainment, but instead a very serious calling that allows them to use their gifts to help others. For many, it is a way of life and they dedicate themselves to offering evidentiary messages to those seeking comfort and consolation to know that their loved ones are around and are indeed able to communicate with their loved ones on this side of the veil.”

Medeiros, A.D.D. (2016). Occultism and mediums in Fernando Pessoa. Holos, 32, 81-90.

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Fernando Pessoa

This work is the result of a research on the influence that occultism had on the work of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. To delimitate the study, we selected papers of Fernando Pessoa, which suggested that the poet considered himself medium, and hence influenced his work, building his depersonalization. This work presents, thus, as main objective to analyze personal papers of Fernando Pessoa, whose outstanding characteristic is the presence of occultism and the supposed mediumship defended by him in response to non-literary and heteronymic manifestations. To this end, I focused on specific objectives, which are: a) to study the speech of Fernando Pessoa on his supposed mediumship / occultism b) to analyze specific texts that are, for the poet, mediumistic manifestations c) to study excerpts from a set of personal letters in which Fernando Pessoa suggested being a medium. It is true that this dissertation will address many discussions already made by scholars and specialists in Fernando Pessoa, but we consider the possibility to deepen issues and contribute to the critical fortune of the poet.

Parker, A., & Warwood, E. (2016). Revealing the real Madame d’Esperance: An historical and psychological investigation. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 30, 233-266.

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Elizabeth d’Espérance

Madame d’Esperance was a physical medium, well-known for her materialized forms which bereaved sitters often recognized as their dead relatives. A critical evaluation is made of her acclaimed autobiographical account, Shadow Land, with a particular focus on her activities, first in Newcastle, England, and then in Gothenburg, Sweden. In this process, we had access to recently discovered archives and rare publications. A presentation is made of some of the fraudulent methods used by physical mediums and the possible psychological processes behind the remarkable experiences of the sitters attending séances.

Pierini, E. (2016). Becoming a spirit medium: Initiatory learning and the self in the Vale do Amanhecer. Ethnos, 81, 290-314.

Drawing on ethnographic data from the Brazilian mediumistic religion known as Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of the Dawn) this article addresses the learning process at the core of mediumistic development. The process of learning is here approached as a multi-layered experience, which is embodied, intuitive, performative, conceptual, and inter-subjective. I will illustrate how the relationship between mediums and spirits is established in trance states through what Thomas Csordas calls a ‘multisensory imagery’. The discussion examines the concurrence of emotions, feelings, somatosensory experience, and doctrinal discourses in developing mediumistic skills, which simultaneously engenders the attributes of extendability and multidimensionality that ground the notion of the self informing the conceptualisation of trance.

Schmidt, B.E. (2015). Spirit mediumship in Brazil: The controversy about semi-conscious mediums. Diskus,17.2, 38-53.

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Dr. Bettina Schmidt

This article focuses on spirit mediumship in Brazil. The term mediumship refers to the communication between humans the spirit world which is the core of Spiritism. In anthropological literature it is often categorised as altered states of consciousness, however, people experiencing it reject these categorizations. This article presents excerpts from interviews with Brazilian spiritists in order to illustrate the different ways people explain mediumship to an outsider, an anthropologist from Europe. The article then discusses their interpretation within the wider academic discourse surrounding this kind of experience. The intention is that Brazilian Spiritism and the wider discourse surrounding mediumship will serve as a case study to present the complexity of this form of religious experience.

Shamdasani, S. (2015). ‘S.W.’ and C.G. Jung: mediumship, psychiatry and serial exemplarity. History of Psychiatry, 26, 288-302.

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Helene Preiswerk

On the basis of unpublished materials, this essay reconstructs Jung’s seances with his cousin, Helene Preiswerk, which formed the basis of his 1902 medical dissertation, The Psychology and Pathology of so-called Occult Phenomena. It separates out Jung’s contemporaneous approach to the mediumistic phenomena she exhibited from his subsequent sceptical psychological reworking of the case. It traces the reception of the work and its significance for his own self-experimentation from 1913 onwards. Finally, it reconstructs the manner in which Jung continually returned to his first model and reframed it as an exemplar of his developing theories.

Storm, L.C.,& Rock, A.J. (2015). Testing telepathy in the medium/proxy-sitter dyad: A protocol focusing on the source-of-psi problem Journal of Scientific Exploration, 29, 565-584.

Numerous mediumship studies (e.g., Beischel & Schwartz 2007, Kelly & Arcangel 2011, Rock, Beischel, Boccuzzi, & Biuso 2014) have reported statistically significant results, thus suggesting that various contemporary mediums are able to demonstrate anomalous information reception (AIR) under laboratory conditions. Importantly, however, such studies are unable to address the source of mediums’ AIR. Indeed, the source-of-psi problem (survival-psi and living agent psi [LAP] being the most likely contenders) cannot be resolved using current methodologies (Beischel 2012). However, innovative mediumship-testing techniques may produce results that indicate a convergence whereby sets of outcomes may evidentially favor one hypothesis over another (e.g., see Jamieson & Rock 2014 for a neurophenomenological approach). We present an innovative methodology focused on investigating whether mediums and well-rehearsed proxy-sitters, working under well-beyond double-blind conditions, create telepathic links that we refer to as dyad-telepathy, thereby producing response sets that indicate the psi source is more likely to be dyad-telepathy than a discarnate entity.

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Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
I recently participated, via Skype, in Alexandre Sech Junior’s doctoral defence of a thesis about William James and psychic phenomena. I was delighted by the quality of the thesis and the responses Alexandre gave to my questions. The degree was granted by the Health Program of the School of Medicine of the Federal University of Juiz de For a (Minas Gerais, Brazil).

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Dr. Alexandre Sech Junior

Alexandre, who I met in Brazil some years back, and with whom I have corresponded, has a masters degree in philosophy from the Pontifical Catholic University of Parana. He is a member of the Nucleo de Pesquisa em Espiritualidade e Saude (Group of Research in Spirituality and Health), which is part of the Federal University of Juiz de For a. Alexandre is the main author of an article about James that I mentioned before in this blog (click here), and has been active in other ways.

Here is the summary of his thesis, which is in Portuguese.

The Occult in the Works of William James and its Influence in the Conception and Development of the Concept of Stream of Consciousness

“This study deals with the occult expressed through exceptional mental phenomena – mediumistic trances, mystical experiences, automatisms and anomalous experiences of healing – and their relations to the works of psychologist and philosopher William James (1842-1910). Therefore, it is limited to the English and American context of science in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. In its first phase, the research gave priority to the exegesis of primary sources, such as: The Principles of Psychology, Psychology: Briefer Course, The Varieties of Religious Experience and A Pluralistic Universe. I also analyzed articles from works of the collection The Works of William James such as Essays in Psychology, Essays in Psychical Research, Essays in Radical Empiricism and Essays, Comments, Reviews.”

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William James

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“Furthermore, this study deals with secondary sources related to the life and thought of William James and of medium Leonora Piper (1857-1950), as well as other scholars that somehow were associated to his work. The second phase consisted of searching for new archival evidence from the William James Papers kept at Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, USA, and also from the Society for Psychical Research Papers preserved at Wren Library and at Cambridge University Library in Cambridge, England. Letters, journals, notebooks, private notes, lecture notes, marginalia, manuscripts and rough drafts of scientific observations and reports of William James and research associates who might have been present at the séances arranged by him have been photographed, categorized and analyzed, totaling almost 2,000 documents. I present this thesis in a threefold manner and although it is not a biographical study, this research adopted a chronological approach to present William James’s writings. The first part presents various concepts of the occult through history up to their relation to the exceptional mental phenomena within the context of this inquiry. The second part establishes the importance of the occult in the life and works of William James arguing the relevance of their phenomena for the definition and scope of a radical science of mind envisioned by him. The third and last part presents indications and evidence, which indicates that James might have put his project into practice. New and not yet published documents indicate the possibility of a direct influence of the occult in the conception and development of James’s important concept called Stream of Consciousness, leading this thesis to the conclusion that Jamesian tradition in psychology owes more to the occult than history currently admits. My main conclusions are that James’s interest in the occult was more than mere eccentricity; his many years of interest and dedication to occult phenomena had an important role in the development of his project of psychology. This means that in order to understand the works of William James in a thorough manner, one must consider the interface between his psychology and the occult; and finally, that phenomena deemed as paranormal which involve exceptional aspects of mental life may represent a legitimate way to understand human nature to its fullest extension.”

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Leonora E. Piper

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Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1909, 23, 2–121.

I hope we will see soon publications based on this fascinating study.

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

The Parapsychology Foundation is announcing their third Book Expo (on the second click here). This consists of three free online presentations of recently published book presented by their authors plus an opening and closing sessions with PF staff. The event will take place on Saturday, November 12, 2016.

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The books featured are Transcendent Mind, by Dr. Imants Barušs and Dr. Julia Mossbridge (presented by Mossbridge), The Self Does Not Die, by Titus Rivas, Anny Dirven, and Rudolf H. Smit (presented by Rivas and Smit), and Enquête sur 150 Ans de Parapsychologie, by Dr. Renaud Evrard.

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Here is the schedule:

Saturday November 12th, 2016

  • Noon Eastern: Opening Session, Lisette Coly, Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado, & Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone.
  • 12:30pm Eastern: Transcendent Mind: Rethinking the Science of Consciousness by Dr. Imants Baruss and Dr. Julia Mossbridge, presenter: Dr. Julia Mossbridge.
  • 2:00pm Eastern: The Self Does Not Die: Verified Paranormal Phenomena from Near-Death Experiences by Titus Rivas, Anny Dirven, and Rudolf Smit, translated by Dr. Jan Holden with a foreword by Robert and Suzanne Mays. Presenters: Titus Rivas and Rudolf Smit.
  • 3:30pm Eastern: Enquete sur 150 ans de parapsychologie: La legende de l’espirt [A Survey of 150 Years of Parapsychology: The Legend of the Spirit] by Dr. Renaud Evrard, presenter: Dr. Renaud Evrard.
  • 5:00pm Eastern: Closing Session, Lisette Coly, Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado, & Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone.

To register for free click here.

To purchase the books follow the links below:

Transcendent Mind

The Self Does Not Die

Enquête sur 150 ans de Parapsychologie

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

In this interesting book Titus Rivas, Anny Dirven, and Rudolf H. Smit address one of the most important aspects of near-death experiences (NDEs), veridical manifestations such as obtaining verifiable information during the experience.

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This interview is with the first author, Titus Rivas. He has masters degrees in psychology and in philosophy and is a freelance author who has published over 20 books, among them, Reincarnation: The Evidence is Building (with Dr. K.S. Rawat). Furthermore he has published many articles about psychical research, and other topics, such as animal rights and veganism.

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Titus Rivas

The Self Does not Die: Verified Paranormal Phenomena from Near-Death Experiences is available here.

Interview

Can you give us a brief summary of the book?

The book consists of a compilation of over 100 cases of near-death experiences with externally confirmed paranormal aspects. These concern ESP (clairvoyance and telepathy), encounters with known and unknown historical deceased persons, lucid consciousness that is not supported by sufficient cortical activity (according to the dominant materialist or physicalist paradigm), “miraculous” healings, perception by others of the NDEr while the latter is out of his or her body, and paranormal abilities (including psychokinesis) after the NDE. It also contains empirical, theoretical and philosophical analyses and a thorough evaluation of various arguments defended by “naturalistic” skeptics.  

It is a book in the tradition of early psychical reseachers such as Camille Flammarion, F.W.H. Myers, and Ernesto Bozzano, and we are also indebted to contemporary investigators such as the late Ian Stevenson, Mary Rose Barrington, and Erlendur Haraldsson.

What is your background in parapsychology, and with the topic of the book specifically?

My background is that of an experienced, independent psychical researcher and theorist with an ‘old-fashioned’ personalist/substance dualist ontology. I’m affiliated to several associations, including Athanasia Foundation, Network NDEs, and the Dutch SPR.

As far as I can remember, I have always been interested in parapsychology in its broadest sense, actually, from my childhood. I started writing my own articles about many paranormal phenomena in the 1980s. I’ve written several books about my work in the field, both alone and co-authored by Anny Dirven (1935-2016) and co-authored a book with Tilly Gerritsma, It’s Really Rather Normal. Another English treatise I wrote with my Indian friend Dr. Kirti Swaroop Rawat is Reincarnation: The Evidence is Building.

Two of my central parapsychological interests are survival research and personal evolution as outlined by Ian Stevenson, which encompasses topics like reincarnation, pre-existence, and longitudinal personal development over more than one lifetime. Obviously, the area of survival research prominently includes near-death experiences and this is the third book of mine that is largely devoted to this subject. The book was originally published in Dutch under the title Wat een stervend brein niet kan (What a Dying Brain Can’t Do), and its extended translated version was published by IANDS as The Self Does Not Die. The excellent translation project was undertaken by Wanda Boeke and there were three editors, Robert and Suzanne Mays and Jan Holden. Robert and Suzanne also played a very active role in the collection and investigation of new cases that were added to the original compilation. Jan Holden was also a great source of inspiration and information, because she is one of the leading experts on Apparently non-physical Veridical Perceptions (AVPs).

What motivated you to write this book?

Together with my co-authors Anny Dirven and Rudolf H. Smit, I wanted to present a collection of all strong cases of NDEs with paranormal aspects that are directly confirmed by a third party. I regard such cases as scientific or scholarly evidence rather than just so-called anecdotal material without any solid implications. By collecting all strong cases, including a few new ones that we directly investigated ourselves, we’ve tried to demonstrate that the evidence for paranormal phenomena linked to NDEs is very strong, and certainly cannot be explained away anymore.

Rudolf Smit has even written a whole chapter about the desperate attempts of pseudo-skeptics (or “debunkers”) to immunize their world view against this kind of evidence. They have done everything they could, but they’ve simply failed miserably. This means that materialism is not a serious theoretical option anymore for NDEs as a whole, and even deserves to be abandoned in all respects, something that had been concluded before by colleagues such as Charles Tart, and Chris Carter, and by the authors of Irreducible Mind.

We also tried to show that the evidence we collected, particularly concerning consciousness and veridical perception in NDEs during cardiac arrest, really leads the conclusion that there is an non-physical self that survives clinical death. It must be a personal self, which retains its consciousness, episodic and semantic memory, cognitive faculties, and psi abilities.

We indicate why extrapolation of this conclusion to the self’s condition after irreversible physical death is purely rational and parsimonious, and why alternative theories such as super-psi or living agent-psi are really less plausible in this particular case. We base this analysis both on cases of consciousness during cardiac arrest and on NDEs that involve paranormal encounters with deceased persons.

Why do you think your book is important and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

I think our book is important because –  in all modesty –  we have managed to reach our goals. The book is really compelling for anyone with an open mind. I hope that the The Self Does Not Die will reach many educated readers and that it will play an important part in serious future debates about features of NDEs that cannot be explained materialistically. I also hope it will give NDE research a sounder foundation, and help people to build a kinder, more hopeful, and liberal spiritual world view in an open, rational and tolerant spirit.