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Abstracts of the 40th Parapsychology Foundation International Conference
“The Study of Mediumship: Interdisciplinary Perspectives”

Held January 29th to 30th, 2005 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Printed proceedings will be available in late 2008.)

Carlos S. Alvarado (Parapsychology Foundation)

“Historical Notes on the Role of Mediums in Spiritualism, Psychical Research and Psychology”

Mediums have exerted important influences on the development of aspects of spiritualism, psychical research, and psychology. A variety of mediums were the ambassadors of the spiritualist movement. Such nineteenth century figures as the Fox sisters, Edmond T. Dexter, the Davenport brothers, D. D. Home, Cora L. V. Tappan, and Florence Cook, contributed greatly to the popular dissemination of the concept of mediumship through their performances in their home countries and abroad. Beyond this role mediums created both positive and negative images of their profession and of spiritualism at large. On the positive side, their autobiographical writings put a human face on mediumship, the case of Eileen J. Garrett being one of the best modern examples. Negative images were generated by the high number of exposures of fraudulent physical mediums, and this image of rampant fraud persists today.

Mediums were also very influential in the development of psychical research. The publications of such organizations as the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), the American Society for Psychical Research, and the Institut Métapsychique International clearly show that both mental and physical mediums provided psychical research with an empirical (e.g., veridical communications, telekinesis) and a conceptual agenda (e.g., survival of bodily death, subconscious explanations of mediumship).

The analysis of the evidence produced by some mediums raised methodological standards. Studies conducted with physical medium William Eglinton and mental medium Leonora E. Piper by SPR researchers are examples of this. J. B. Rhine’s well-known later work in the 1920s leading to the development of the modern experimental paradigm in psychical research was connected to his dissatisfaction with the methodological limitations of previous of studies of survival using mediums (e.g., Minnie Soule) and his exposure of fraud in physical mediumship (Margery).

Furthermore, mediums provided material for the development of influential theoretical views (e.g., concepts of force to account for physical mediumship) and methodology (e.g., techniques to quantify mediumistic mentation). Psychologists, psychiatrists and psychical researchers found in mediumship an opportunity to study the uncharted capacities of the subconscious mind. Frederic W. H. Myers and Théodore Flournoy are among those who did such work.

Much the same as hysterics and hypnotic “star” subjects of the past, mediums were active agents in the construction of a variety of ideas in both psychical research and psychology.

Loyd Auerbach (Office of Paranormal Investigations)

“They See Dead People: Working with Psychics and Mediums in Spontaneous Case Investigations”

The place of mediums in ostensible spirit communications is abundantly clear in situations in which individuals wish to attempt communication with the deceased. Much has been made of individual sittings and séance-room type situations over the last 100 years. However, one under-discussed area is the use of mediums and psychics in spontaneous case investigations.

In this paper, the author discusses his own experience working with individuals who have identified themselves as psychics able to communicate with discarnate entities. Since the early 1980s, the author has worked with several psychics and mediums, both professional and amateur. The paper provides coverage of specific experiences with several of these psychics, with an emphasis on professional psychic Annette Martin. Martin is notable in that her primary focus outside of personal readings is psychic criminology, having had more than two decades of experience working with police.

The variety of communication styles the author has experienced is discussed, as well as the range of information content the mediums provide. Most of the psychics tend to stay quite aware of their surroundings, although sometimes lapsing into a mild altered state. Martin herself has a range of communication styles from simple apparent communication to a seeming trance-like state.

How the various psychics involved with the author determine whether there is a discarnate entity, or some residual information imprinted in the environment is a focus of part of the paper. From his initial encounters with the late Alex Tanous, it was clear to the author that psychics, like the researchers accompanying them on spontaneous case investigations, need to consider various explanations for their perceptions, both normal and psychic. The paper goes into the importance of the mediums both questioning their own perceptions and allowing the researchers to ask questions of them, in order to determine what might be happening that has caused witnesses to conclude they have a “ghost” present. This also speaks to how psychics can provide information that helps flesh out the case to the point where the investigator can separate normal from ostensible paranormal, and if the latter, make an assessment as to what kind of model fits the situation.

The paper covers the role of the medium in resolving the case to the satisfaction of the witnesses and the researcher. In many situations, the explanations of the researcher are simply not enough for the witnesses. They need some kind of resolution, and perhaps a “removal” of the phenomena. The author discusses the role of the psychic in the resolution process, as sometimes placebo and sometimes active participant in discontinuing the occurrences.

Finally, the author provides some suggestions regarding the assessment of mediums or psychic volunteers, what to expect from them on different types of cases, and how to work with them so as to avoid any undue publicity. Furthermore, it is argued that working with psychics and mediums on cases can truly provide help to people in distress because of apparent spontaneous psi-related events.

Etzel Cardeña (University of Texas Pan-American)

“Anomalous Identity Experiences: Mediumship, Spirit Possession, and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, MPD)”

Anomalous experiences refer to events that are outside of the statistical or expectable socio-cultural norm, but are not necessarily pathological. People can have anomalous experiences about all major psychological processes, including personal identity. The notion that each one of us represents a discrete, single, and unified identity is, culturally speaking, the exception rather than the norm. Alternatives to this view include the Buddhist perspective that the self is an illusion, the belief that our personality is continuously porous to influences from spiritual forces (or, in more secular terms, to non-conscious forces), and the Gourdjeffian dictum that the unity of the self needs continuous practice to be achieved, among others.

When we move from belief to subjective experience, we encounter myriad variations. They include the general Western common sense view of a discrete, single identity, with some provision made for “clinical” cases in which a single identity may nonetheless have an unaccountable lack of control of a part of the body or speech. More challenging are the experiences of a “regular” identity who may share consciousness with discarnate entities, to the alternation of distinct, idiosyncratic identities within a single body (which, if causing dysfunction would qualify as dissociative identity disorder, or DID), to a spirit taking over, more or less completely, a human identity (spirit possession): the domain of mediumship crosses these three manifestations.

In this presentation I will first use as a heuristic the classification of anomalous identity experiences according to whether they bring about dysfunction or not, and whether they are caused mostly by psychosocial or neurological processes. I will then concentrate on two phenomena closely related to mediumship, dissociative identity disorder and spirit possession. This presentation, based on clinical and developmental psychology, and anthropology, will propose that: 1) Psychological identity is not a biological given, but the result of a long-term developmental process; and 2) Even a “normal,” technological individual, exhibits disruptions of memory, sense of agency, and so on, that remain unaccounted by the single, discrete identity notion.

Cultures and subcultures provide ideologies and techniques to attempt to explain and bring into control such disruptions. Mediumship represents just one particular ideology and set of techniques.

Hoyt Edge (Rollins College)

“Mediumship in the Balinese Context”

We typically understand mediumship in a Western context, but to comprehend it more broadly, we should examine it in a cross-cultural context. To that end, the focus of my paper is on Balinese mediumship and how it is understood within the context of its non-industrial, Hindu society, and especially of its religion.

Bali-Hinduism is a unique form of Hinduism which focuses on the interconnection among three worlds: the upper world of the spirits, the lower world of the demons, and the middle world of humans. The continued existence of the middle world is predicated on the balance between the generative forces of the upper world and the degenerative forces of the lower world.

Religion in Bali does not feature pronouncements by a preacher, but the religious sphere is managed by a host of people who perform specialized functions, such as making holy water, performing weddings, directing the calendar for planting rice, healing by using ancient lontar, or puppeteering (Dalang). The medium is one of these specialists.

In many ways the medium functions in the same way as in the West, but there are crucial differences. With the advent of the Modern world in the West, influenced by the rise of science, magical thinking was rejected and an epistemology of representation was adopted, characterized by an attempt to represent the world literally. Within this context, mediumistic communication focuses on what is said and how it correctly represents something in the spirit world (e.g., that the spirit is doing well) or in the physical world (e.g., that the sitter is depressed, or that some piece of information exists in a specified place). Hence, mediumship is usually tested by checking the accuracy of statements made, and gives rise to the problem of This-World-ESP becoming an alternative to explaining mediumistic utterances.

There is no doubt that one aspect of mediumship in Bali involves such information-giving speech. However, the type of information usually given is not open to being tested for its accuracy. Typical reasons for seeking out a medium in Bali are a sickness or sudden death in the family, or some malaise or other problem in the family. The cause of any of these problems will not lie in the physical world — an illness due to biomedical reasons — but they will lie in the spiritual realm and be due to black magic, for instance, or to performing inadequately important rituals. Therefore, although there is an information aspect to mediumship, it is not the representational kind favored in Western epistemology that can be tested for accuracy. The middle world is infused with the spiritual world, and it cannot be separated. As the traditional shadow puppets performances (Wayan Kulit) indicate, the two intermingle and cannot be separated. Mediumship both displays and instantiates this connection in a magical way.

Michael Grosso (University of Virginia)

“Mediumship and Creativity”

From Plato to Duchamp, writers have acknowledged the link between mediumship and creativity. According to F. W. H Myers, mediumship consists of procedures that lower the threshold to the subliminal mind, and thus to the creative process. Genius, the apex of creativity, connotes a high degree of integration of subliminal and supraliminal aspects of mental life. Myers’ account has implications for a general theory of creativity that merit further analysis, particularly his raising the bar on what is potentially “normal” in human function. To illustrate the fertility of Myers’ ideas, its little known influence on Surrealism will be discussed.

Emily W. Kelly (University of Virginia)

“Mediumship and Survival”

Mediumship holds a uniquely important place in psychical research, in that it is the only phenomenon that combines elements of spontaneous case studies, field studies, survival research, and experimental method. For the most part, mediumship develops spontaneously in a few gifted individuals, it must be studied more or less in its natural setting, and yet it is the only phenomenon directly relevant to survival research that can be produced and observed under conditions of experimental control. Mediumship therefore combines the significant emotional and psychological circumstances that often produce the strong psi effects seen in spontaneous experiences with the ability to control the conditions and thus reduce the uncertainties that too often accompany spontaneous cases about the possibility of normal sources of information.

As we are all well aware, however, mediumship research ultimately reached a stalemate when it became clear that super-psi was often just as good an explanation as survival for the phenomena produced. As a result, mediumship research all but died away in parapsychology and psychical research, and, although the general public today is showing a revival of interest in mediumship, few serious scientists have taken it up again as a topic for research. I would argue, however, that our intimidation in the face of the super-psi/survival impasse led to the suppression of one of our most valuable sources of information and phenomena relevant both to psi and the survival question. However one interprets the phenomena, there is little doubt among persons knowledgeable about mediumistic research that it clearly produced strong paranormal phenomena of some kind. Ceasing to find mediums and methods for producing those phenomena, simply because we could not resolve the theoretical impasse, was surely a serious self-inflicted wound on our science.

Difficulties over interpreting the phenomena also should not dissuade us from continuing to try to find ways to discriminate between the super-psi and the survival hypotheses. There were herculean efforts by earlier researchers to identify and study mediumistic communications difficult to subsume under a super-psi hypothesis, but we have barely begun to scratch the surface of such lines of research. Most notable among these were the cross-correspondences, drop-in cases, and proxy sittings. In the remainder of this paper, I will briefly review these lines of research and argue that by far the most important line of research to pursue now is that involving proxy sittings. Despite the undeniably important contribution of the cross-correspondences and drop-in cases to survival research, they suffer the weakness of spontaneous cases of all kinds, in that we must wait for them to appear before we can study them. In contrast, proxy sittings can be conducted under double-blind conditions whenever there is a medium able and willing to work under such conditions. I will review the literature on previous proxy-sitting research in an effort to understand better the kind of information produced in such sittings and the conditions that seem conducive for obtaining strong results. I will also briefly describe some preliminary proxy-sitting research that I have recently conducted.

Joan Koss-Chioino (George Washington University)

“Mental Health and Healing Process in Puerto Rican Spiritism”

Indigenous healing practices carried out by spirit mediums are widespread in the contemporary world. Many such practices are periodically revised from traditional-tribal or popular-local healing practices, while others are integral aspects of religious practices in popular or institutionalized religions. This paper focuses on two related questions about spirit healing in Puerto Rico: What is its relationship to mental illness and psychiatric treatment? And, how does spirit healing work in Puerto Rican Spiritism? A series of studies in Puerto Rico during the seventies and eighties provided answers to these questions. Although I have made brief follow-up visits, what I describe as its relationship to mental health care may have changed in the last decades. The latter question is based on a secondary analysis and provides a model through which we can understand mediumistic healing work. This model represents one dimension, among others that are also applicable.

At the present time Puerto Ricans are caught in the cross-streams of two cultures, Euro-american and Latin American, subjected to intensive cultural change yet maintaining a distinct core of cultural traditions. They are also heirs to two equally popular but competing worldviews from the 19th century, the “scientific” and the “spiritual.” One aspect of this conundrum is represented by the persistence of the widespread religious/healing cult “Spiritism” (Espiritismo). Its ritual is centered upon “working” with spirits in hundreds of small household-based centros (and several larger temples) presided over mostly by female mediums who hold two or more weekly sessions with an audience of 25 to 100 persons. Mediums become possessed by spirits and experience visions in order to heal (sanar) supplicants who bring a wide range of health and social problems to the centro.

Although there is historical evidence of Spiritism in Puerto Rico since at least 1873, its practice has continually met varying degrees of opposition from the Catholic and Pentecostal Churches and the biomedical establishment. Spiritism was introduced into Puerto Rico as the new “psychological” science by intellectual elites who studied in France and Spain. It almost immediately met opposition from the medical boards established by Spain in the colonies. In the latter part of the nineteenth century however, some Spiritist believers held political power and were associated with the anti-theological Masonic movement; important government officials were also known to be believers. With more extensive medical acculturation brought on by North American subsidies to finance health and mental health facilities, and ongoing modernization of public institutions, Spiritism gradually went underground in terms of public visibility, yet maintained its large base of adherents both among the poor and the elite.

Mental Health and Spiritism: My interest in the way healing works was considerably heightened by a three year study entitled the “Therapist-Spiritist Training Project” in the late seventies which interfaced the public mental health system with Spiritist healers to compare therapies, types of problems and healing outcomes. The main methods of that project compared patients and clients across systems, both as individual cases and as case reports by Spiritists and mental health professionals in meetings where they exchanged comments on each other’s cases. A third source of information about the relationship between mental health care and Spiritist healing work was obtained in cases where patients and clients were cross-referred or cross self- referred; at times both therapists and Spiritists observed these treatments. Differences in types of diagnoses and direction of treatments were highlighted in these data and illustrated the deep chasm between mental health care delivery and Spiritist healing systems. This chasm had its roots in the two conflicting worldviews, science and spirituality, that are the 19th century heritage of Puerto Ricans (and most Latin Americans).

Healing Process in Spiritism: Despite diversity and in the rich descriptions of healing rituals that employ spirits or other extraordinary beings, across cultures, it seems possible to delineate core elements in a common healing process, once cultural elaborations, such as very different mythic worlds, different schemas to identify illness and malaise and so on, are seen as an elaboration of content rather than process. This paper offers a model based on theories of emotion regulation to account for how Spiritists affect clients and the use of spirits to regulate and change emotions. It is in this sense that Spiritists can be said to treat emotional disorder whether considered “pre-clinical” or rating psychiatric diagnoses. This is not the only model or necessarily the most factual one that can represent this work. It is highly complex and relies mostly on a spiritual dimension. The science/spirituality question can be raised in this context but can it be answered?

Ruth Reinsel (The NeuroPsience Laboratory)

“Reflections on the Physiology of Mediumship”

Reports from the golden age of mediumship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries can be divided into activities of mental mediums and physical mediums. Mental mediumship, or channeling, was often accompanied by deep trance, and followed by amnesia for the events which transpired. Examples are cited from the records of sittings with Mrs. Piper, Mrs. Leonard, and Mrs. Garrett. Even in trance, the medium was not necessarily in a quiescent state; the medium would carry on an animated conversation with volitional movements, and respiration and cardiac function would be quite variable. The medium usually returned to normal consciousness within a short period after the channeling concluded.

Conversely, observations of such physical mediums as Eusapia Palladino, Franek Kluski, and Rudi Schneider give evidence that macro-PK phenomena were produced at a substantial physical cost to the medium. Symptoms that were commonly observed during macro-PK included pallor, increased heart rate (tachycardia), hyperventilation or irregular breathing (dyspnea), hoarseness of voice, and increased perspiration. After séances where macro-PK phenomena were apparently produced without fraud, many physical mediums experienced severe physical and mental sequelae, including in some cases, exhaustion, headache, extreme muscle weakness, vomiting, and long-lasting disturbances of digestive function and sleep.

These physiological symptoms from the séance room share a common basis in that they are produced by competing branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which exert opposing effects on bodily organs. The sympathetic branch has a stimulatory effect and produces arousal, while the parasympathetic branch produces relaxation. Normally both branches are active at the same time, to keep the body in an optimum state of functioning.

Braud reviewed the evidence that the autonomic nervous system may modulate psi performance. He concluded that GESP is generally facilitated by calm, quiet states, and PK may be facilitated by states of arousal. Roll and Persinger’s observations with poltergeist agents support the role of arousal in macro-PK. The symptoms listed above during production of macro-PK are symptoms of activation of the sympathetic branch of the ANS. The post-séance sequelae are typical of activation of the parasympathetic branch of the ANS.

This paper will consider the physiology of mental and physical mediumship. The physiology of trance induction will be discussed with reference to respiratory and cardiac function. Preliminary data from a survey I conducted of 18 self-described mediums will be described insofar as they shed light on phenomena occurring during present-day mediumship, as compared to reports from the séance rooms of a century ago. A more extensive report has been published elsewhere. Lack of memory for things that happened during trance was experienced frequently by nearly half, and occasionally by another 18%. Cognitive after-effects included feelings of increased energy and mental clarity in the majority of respondents, though from one-third to one-half report the apparently contradictory symptoms of temporary difficulty focusing attention and remembering details such as names and phone numbers after acting as a medium. Further investigation might find that the amnesia and mental sluggishness are after-effects of the deeper trance states. The physiological after-effects appear to be less pronounced in today’s mediums than in the past, perhaps reflecting the shift from deep trance to conscious channeling and the current practice of giving readings via clairvoyance or clairaudience, rather than engaging in full “possession trance” or materialization of physical phenomena. An interesting observation was that this small sample of primarily mental mediums reported frequent physical phenomena occurring during their readings, such as noises, temperature changes, and movements of objects. Further research is planned with a larger sample including healers, sensitives and control subjects as well as mediums.

Gary E. Schwartz (Human Energy Systems Laboratory)

“Survival is in the Details: Emerging Evidence for Discarnate Intention from Mediumship Research”

Contemporary experiments at the University of Arizona using single-blind and double-blind protocols with research mediums have provided compelling evidence for anomalous information retrieval. Gifted mediums can obtain highly specific information under experimental conditions that rule out conventional explanations such as fraud, cold reading, sitter-rater bias, and experimenter error.

Current research includes (1) long distance experiments where the mediums, experimenters, and sitters are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, (2) proxy-sitter experiments where the experimenter serves as the proxy sitter and the absent sitter does not know when the actual reading is taking place, (3) email experiments were the experimenter does not know when the actual reading is taking place, and (4) “double-deceased” designs were one deceased person (termed a departed hypothesized co-investigator) is requested to bring a second deceased person to a given medium. However, these experiments, by themselves, do not distinguish between alternative paranormal explanations such as telepathy, super-psi, and/or survival of consciousness after death.

Careful analysis of the transcripts from these experiments reveals unanticipated and uncontrolled – yet replicated – anomalous events implying discarnate intention that virtually rule out both telepathy and super-psi as plausible explanations of the totality of the findings. Four major classes of these apparent discarnate intention events are:

  • 1. Drop-Ins — Evidential information regarding unanticipated, uninvited, and sometimes unknown individuals that appear in specific readings.
  • 2. Interruptions — Evidential information that interrupts experimenter-initiated questions (implying intentional direction and effort from the purported deceased communicant).
  • 3. Cross-Correspondence — Evidential information that fits across readings as well as within readings, and
  • 4. Selective Withholding of Information — Evidential information that appears to be intentionally withheld across and within readings.

    Examples from each of these four classes of apparent discarnate intention events will be presented. Careful analyses of the wording and semantics from these transcripts provide additional evidence consistent with the survival of consciousness hypothesis.

    Jesús Soto (Confederacion Espiritista de Puerto Rico)

    “Are Mediumship and Science Compatible?”

    Mediumship is a bilateral communication that is established and sustained between the spirits and mediums, hence mediums are those who have developed spiritual perceptual sensitivity. It is through mediums that spirits (or the discarnate - as we Spiritists prefer to call them) have the opportunity to reveal, among other things, that their consciousness had survived “death”.

    The Spiritist movement as defined by Allan Kardec has accepted mediums as a beneficial human resource in the study of spiritual phenomenon. Are non-spiritists ready to accept mediums as an additional valid resource in scientific investigations?

    What is this spiritual perceptual sensitivity that we mentioned earlier? The Spiritist philosophy acknowledges that mediumship is the result of the different evolutionary states of life where human consciousness: sensitivity, intelligence, knowledge, will, and individuality develops – sometimes incarnated and in other instances discarnated - acquiring experiences that in sum can be defined as a whole, as life itself.

    It is with this vision in mind that spiritist mediums interpret each moment of their lives as an opportunity to learn and apply this knowledge purposely and positively. Such an effort is interpreted as a way to evolve spiritually by contributing as an individual and as a member of society to the well being of his/her fellows with the use of his/her spiritual responsiveness. These mediums assume attitudes and modes of conduct that lead them to strive for the development of their mediumship towards the use of psycho-spiritual therapeutic procedures that produce the results they are seeking in collaboration with the spirit dimension.

    History and controlled scientific stidies have positively confirmed the mediumship phenomenon as a past and present reality. But, are we ready as researchers to develop and coordinate efforts to obtain more productive, constructive and effective séances? Is the scientific community willing to help mediums to understand and structure procedures, methods and protocols that can develop more concrete and objective findings? Can we find a way to promote such contributions, develop new methods, knowledge and potential perspectives that will expand our present paradigm? Can we break away from decades of cycles of scientific exploration in which we have all participated, only to be redirected to the beginning? Can parapsychologists and Spiritists exchange knowledge constructively?

    The Spiritist Confederation of Puerto Rico has slowly but firmly been moving forward in the development of mediumship in individuals who have expressed their need to engage actively in community and humanitarian interests. Patients suffering from alcoholism, cancer, or depression, to name a few, have been successfully treated by their physicians, and/or mental health professionals with the valuable collaboration of Puerto Rican mediums. Without being overly confident, we know mediumship and science are compatible but much more needs to be done.

    Wellington Zangari (University of São Paulo)

    “Incorporating Roles: The Psychosocial Dimension of the Embodiment of Spirits among Umbanda Mediums”

    The paper analyses the psychosocial dimension of mediumship related to the embodiment of spirits, from the point of view of Hjalmar Sundén's Role Theory. The subjects studied were 12 Umbanda mediums, 11 of whom were female and 1 male, between 16 and 61 years-of-age, all participants of the Spiritist Temple of Umbanda Xangô Agodô, in São Paulo, Brazil. The mediums were submitted to semi-oriented interviews and were observed during the rituals in which they claimed to incorporate (that is, be possessed by) spirits. In order to examine cultural aspects of their social group, other subjects who were not mediums but who participated regularly in the activities of that temple were informally interviewed.

    An interdisciplinary interpretative model of “incorporative” (possession) mediumship is presented which considers the following points: (a) the importance of the wider group dimension, the social dimension of small groups, of the individual dimension, and of the relationships established between these dimensions to an understanding of “incorporative” mediumship; (b) the importance of language – considered in its broadest sense – as a way of social interaction which is necessary to the existence and maintenance of “incorporative” mediumship; (c) the process of social and individual construction of “incorporative” mediumship, that is composed by six elements: assimilation, surrender, training, creation, manifestation and confirmation; (d) the process of role-taking and role-adopting by “embodiment” mediums; (e) the social function of “incorporative” mediumship; and (f) the possible psychological benefits obtained by “incorporative” mediums from their mediumship.

    It is concluded that mediumship which includes the embodiment of “spirits” can be understood as a complex social role that is comprised of both social and individual elements. The “incorporated” entities are considered to be psychosocial constructs, therefore the mediums are, at the same time, their interpreters and their co-authors.



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