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