Attempts to contact the dead date back to early human history, with mediumship gaining in popularity during the 19th century. Investigations during this period revealed widespread fraud—with some practitioners employing techniques used by stage magicians—and the practice started to lose credibility.* The practice still continues to this day, and high profile fraud has been uncovered as recently as the 2000s.*In recent years, scientific research has been undertaken to ascertain the validity of claims of mediumship. In an experiment undertaken by the British Psychological Society, the conclusion was that the test subjects demonstrated no mediumistic ability. Other experiments which have seemingly found evidence of paranormal activity have been criticized for not establishing thorough test conditions.
There are several different variants of mediumship; the best known forms are where a spirit takes control of a medium's voice and uses it to relay a message, or where the medium simply 'hears' the message and passes it on. Other forms involve manifestations of the spirit, such as apparitions or the presence of a voice, and psychokinesis|telekinetic activity.
The practice is associated with several religious belief systems such as Spiritualism (religious movement)|Spiritualism, Spiritism, Candomblé, Haitian Vodou|Voodoo, Umbanda and some New Age groups.
ConceptIn Spiritism and Spiritualism the medium has the role of an intermediary between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Mediums claim that they can listen to and relay messages from spirits, or that they can allow a spirit to control their body and speak through it directly or by using automatic writing or automatic drawing|drawing.
Spiritualists classify types of mediumship into two main categories: "mental" and "physical":
During seances, mediums are said to go into trances, varying from light to deep, that permit spirits to control their minds.*Mediumship also forms part of the belief-system of some New Age groups. In this context, and under the name "channelling", it refers to a medium (the "channel") who allegedly receives messages from a "teaching-spirit".*
HistoryAttempts to communicate with the dead and other living human beings, aka spirits, have been documented back to early human history. The story of the Witch of Endor tells of one who raised the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel (Bible)|Samuel to allow the Hebrew king Saul to question his former mentor about an upcoming battle, as related in the books of Samuel|First book of Samuel in the Jewish Tanakh (the Old Testament).
Mediumship became quite popular in the 19th-century United States and the United Kingdom after the rise of Spiritualism as a religious movement. Spiritualism (religious movement)|Modern Spiritualism is said to date from practices and lectures of the Fox sisters in New York State in 1848. The trance mediums Paschal Beverly Randolph and Emma Hardinge Britten were among the most celebrated lecturers and authors on the subject in the mid-19th century. Allan Kardec coined the term Spiritism around 1860.* Kardec claimed that conversations with spirits by selected mediums were the basis of his The Spirits' Book and later, his five-book collection, Spiritist Codification.
After the exposure of the fraudulent use of magic (illusion)|stage magic tricks by physical mediums such as the Davenport Brothers and the Bangs Sisters, mediumship fell into disrepute. The practice continued among people who believed that the dead can be contacted and tried to do so. From the 1930s through the 1990s, as psychical mediumship became less practiced in Spiritualist churches, the technique of "channelling" gained in popularity. Books by channellers who claimed to relate the wisdom of non-corporeal and non-terrestrial teacher-spirits became best-sellers amongst believers.
Spirit guideIn 1958, the England|English-born Spiritualist C. Dorreen Phillips wrote of her experiences with a medium at Camp Chesterfield, Indiana: "In Rev. James Laughton's séances there are many Indigenous peoples of the Americas|Indians. They are very noisy and appear to have great power. [...] The little guides, or doorkeepers, are usually Indian boys and girls [who act] as messengers who help to locate the spirit friends who wish to speak with you."*
Spirit operatorA spirit who uses a medium to manipulate psychic "energy" or "energy systems."
Demonstrations of mediumshipIn old-line Spiritualism, a portion of the services, generally toward the end, is given over to demonstrations of mediumship through contact with the spirits of the dead. A typical example of this way of describing a mediumistic church service is found in the 1958 autobiography of C. Dorreen Phillips. She writes of the worship services at the Spiritualist Camp Chesterfield in Chesterfield, Indiana: "Services are held each afternoon, consisting of hymns, a lecture on philosophy, and demonstrations of mediumship."*
Today "demonstration of mediumship" is part of the church service at all churches affiliated with the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC). Demonstration links to NSAC's Declaration of Principal #9. "We affirm that the precepts of Prophecy and Healing are Divine attributes proven through Mediumship."
Mental mediumship"Mental mediumship" is communication of spirits with a medium by telepathy. The medium mentally "hears" (clairaudience), "sees" (clairvoyance), and/or feels (clairsentience) messages from spirits. Directly or with the help of a spirit guide, the medium passes the information on to the message's recipient(s). When a medium is doing a "reading" for a particular person, that person is known as the "sitter."
Trance mediumship"Trance mediumship" is often seen as a form of mental mediumship.
Most trance mediums remain conscious during a communication period,wherein a spirit uses the medium's mind to communicate. The spirit or spirits using the medium's mind influences the mind with the thoughts being conveyed. The medium allows the Id, ego and super-ego|ego to step aside for the message to be delivered. At the same time, one has awareness of the thoughts coming through and may even influence the message with one's own bias. Such a trance is not to be confused with sleepwalking, as the patterns are entirely different. Castillo (1995) states,
In the 1860s and 1870s, trance mediums were very popular. Spiritualism generally attracted female adherents, many who had strong interests in social justice. Many trance mediums delivered passionate speeches on abolitionism, temperance movement|temperance, and women's suffrage.* Scholars have described Leonora Piper as one of the most famous trance mediums in the history of Spiritualism.*In the typical deep trance, the medium may not have clear recall of all the messages conveyed while in an altered state; such people generally work with an assistant. That person selectively wrote down or otherwise recorded the medium's words. Rarely did the assistant record the responding words of the sitter and other attendants. An example of this kind of relationship can be found in the early 20th century collaboration between the trance medium Mrs. Cecil M. Cook of the William T. Stead Memorial Center in Chicago (a religious body incorporated under the statutes of the State of Illinois) and the journalist Lloyd Kenyon Jones. The latter was a non-medium Spiritualist who transcribed Cook's messages in shorthand. He edited them for publication in book and pamphlet form.*
Physical mediumshipPhysical mediumship is defined as manipulation of energies and energy systems by spirits. This type of mediumship is claimed to involve perceptible manifestations, such as loud raps and noises, voices, materialized objects, apports, materialized spirit bodies, or body parts such as hands, legs and feet. The medium is used as a source of power for such spirit manifestations. By some accounts, this was achieved by using the energy or Ectoplasm (paranormal)|ectoplasm released by a medium, see Spirit photography.* The last physical medium to be tested by a committee from Scientific American was Mina Crandon in 1924.
Most physical mediumship is presented in a darkened or dimly lit room. Most physical mediums make use of a traditional array of tools and appurtenances, including spirit trumpets, spirit cabinets, and levitation tables.
Direct voiceDirect voice communication is the claim that spirits speak independently of the medium, who facilitates the phenomenon rather than produces it. The role of the medium is to make the connection between the physical and spirit worlds. Trumpets are often utilised to amplify the signal, and directed voice mediums are sometimes known as "trumpet mediums". This form of mediumship also permits the medium to participate in the discourse during séances, since the medium's voice is not required by the spirit to communicate. Leslie Flint, was one of the best known exponents of this form of mediumship.*
ChannelingIn the later half of the 20th century, Western mediumship developed in two different ways. One type involves psychics or sensitives who speak to spirits and then relay what they hear to their clients.* Clairvoyant Danielle Egnew is known for her alleged communication with angelic entities.
The other incarnation of non-physical mediumship is a form of channeling in which the channeler goes into a trance, or "leaves their body". He or she allows the spirit-person to borrow his/her body, who then talks through them.* In the trance, the medium enters a catalepsy|cataleptic state marked by extreme rigidity. As the control spirit takes over, the medium's voice may change completely. The spirit answers the questions of those in its presence or giving spiritual knowledge.* A widely known channeler of this variety is J. Z. Knight, who channels the spirit of Ramtha, a 30 thousand-year-old man. Others claim to channel spirits from "future dimensions", ascended masters,* or, in the case of the trance mediums of the Brahma Kumaris, God.* Other notable channels are Jane Roberts for Seth Material|Seth, Esther Hicks for Abraham,* Darryl Anka for Bashar, and Lee Carroll for Kryon.
Psychic sensesIn spiritualism, psychic senses used by mental mediums are sometimes defined differently than in other paranormal fields. A medium is said to have psychic abilities but not all psychics function as mediums.* The term clairvoyance, for instance, may be used by Spiritualists to include seeing spirits and visions instilled by spirits. The Parapsychological Association defines "clairvoyance" as information derived directly from an external physical source.*
Paranormal beliefSpiritualists believe that phenomena produced by mediums (both mental and physical mediumship) are the result of external spirit agencies.*Thomson Jay Hudson in The Law of Psychic Phenomena (1892) and Théodore Flournoy in his book Spiritism and Psychology (1911) wrote that all kinds of mediumship could be explained by suggestion and telepathy from the medium and that there was no evidence for the spirit hypothesis. The idea of mediumship being explained by telepathy was later merged into the "super-ESP" hypothesis of mediumship which is currently advocated by some parapsychologists.*
Scientific skepticismScientists who study anomalistic psychology consider mediumship to be the result of fraud and psychological factors. Research from psychology for over a hundred years has revealed that where there is not fraud, mediumship and Spiritualist practices can be explained by hypnotism, magical thinking and suggestion.* Trance mediumship which is claimed by the Spiritualists to be caused by discarnate spirits speaking through the medium have been proven in cases to be Dissociative identity disorder|alternate personalities from the medium's Subconscious|subconscious mind.*The medium may obtain information about their sitters by secretly eavesdropping on sitter's conversations or searching telephone directories, the internet and newspapers before the sittings.* Mediums are known for employing a technique called cold reading and obtain information from the sitter's behavior, clothing, Human positions|posture, and jewellery.*The psychologists Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones in their book Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking (1989) wrote:
The spirits, controls, and guides of a medium are the products of the medium's own psychological dynamics. On the one hand, they personify the medium's hidden impulses and wish life. On the other, they are also shaped by the expectations of the medium's sitters, the medium's experience, the cultural background, and the spirit of the times.*
FraudMany 19th century mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud.* While advocates of mediumship claim that their experiences are genuine, the Encyclopædia Britannica article on spiritualism notes in reference to a case in the 19th century that "...one by one, the Spiritualist mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud, sometimes employing the techniques of stage magicians in their attempts to convince people of their clairvoyant powers." The article also notes that "the exposure of widespread fraud within the spiritualist movement severely damaged its reputation and pushed it to the fringes of society in the United States."*Lewis Spence in his book An Encyclopaedia of Occultism (1960) wrote:
A very large part is played by fraud in spiritualistic practices, both in the physical and psychical, or automatic, phenomena, but especially in the former. The frequency with which mediums have been convicted of fraud has, indeed, induced many people to abandon the study of psychical research, judging the whole bulk of the phenomena to be fraudulently produced.*Séances take place in darkness so the poor lighting conditions can become an easy opportunity for fraud. Physical mediumship that has been investigated by scientists has been discovered to be the result of deception and trickery.* Ectoplasm (paranormal)|Ectoplasm a supposed paranormal substance was revealed to be made from cheesecloth, butter, muslin and cloth. Mediums would also stick cut-out faces from magazines and newspapers onto cloth or on other props and use plastic dolls in their séances to pretend to their audiences spirits were contacting them.
On the subject of fraud in mediumship Paul Kurtz wrote:
No doubt a great importance in the paranormal field is the problem of fraud. The field of psychic research and spiritualism has been so notoriously full of charlatans, such as the Fox sisters and Eusapia Palladino–individuals who claim to have special power and gifts but who are actually conjurers who have hoodwinked scientists and the public as well–that we have to be especially cautious about claims made on their behalf.*In Britain, the Society for Psychical Research has investigated mediumship phenomena. Critical SPR investigations into purported mediums and the exposure of fake mediums led to a number of resignations in the 1880s by Spiritualist members.*At a séance in the house of the solicitor John Snaith Rymer in Ealing on July 1855, a sitter Frederick Merrifield observed that a "spirit-hand" was a false limb attached on the end of the medium Daniel Dunglas Home's arm. Merrifield also claimed to have observed Home use his foot in the séance room.*
The psychologist and psychical researcher Stanley LeFevre Krebs had exposed the Bangs Sisters as frauds. During a séance he employed a hidden mirror and caught them tampering with a letter in an envelope and writing a reply in it under the table which they would pretend a spirit had written.*The British materialization medium Rosina Mary Showers was caught in many fraudulent séances throughout her career.* In 1874 during a séance with Edward William Cox a sitter looked into the cabinet and seized the spirit, the Headgear|headdress fell off and was revealed to be Showers.*In a series of experiments in London at the house of William Crookes in February 1875, the medium Anna Eva Fay managed to fool Crookes into believing she had genuine psychic powers. Fay later confessed to her fraud and revealed the tricks she had used.* Frank Herne a British medium who formed a partnership with the medium Charles Williams was repeatedly exposed in fraudulent Materialization (paranormal)|materialization séances.* In 1875 he was caught pretending to be a spirit during a séance in Liverpool and was found "clothed in about two yards of stiffened muslin, wound round his head and hanging down as far as his thigh."* Florence Cook had been "trained in the arts of the séance" by Herne and was repeatedly exposed as a fraudulent medium.*The medium Henry Slade was caught in fraud many times throughout his career. In a séance in 1876 in London Ray Lankester and Bryan Donkin snatched his Slate (writing)|slate before the "spirit" message was supposed to be written, and found the writing already there.* Slade also played an accordion with one hand under the table and claimed spirits would play it. The magician Chung Ling Soo revealed how Slade had performed the trick.*
The British medium Francis Ward Monck was investigated by psychical researchers and discovered to be a fraud. On November 3, 1876 during the séance a sitter demanded that Monck be searched. Monck ran from the room, locked himself in another room and escaped out of a window. A pair of stuffed gloves was found in his room, as well as cheesecloth, reaching rods and other fraudulent devices in his luggage.* After a trial Monck was convicted for his fraudulent mediumship and was sentenced to three months in prison.*In 1876, William Eglinton was exposed as a fraud when the Parapsychology|psychical researcher Thomas Colley seized a "spirit" materialization in his séance and cut off a portion of its cloak. It was discovered that the cut piece matched a cloth found in Eglinton's suitcase.* Colley also pulled the beard off the materialization and it was revealed to be a fake, the same as another one found in the suitcase of Eglinton.* In 1880 in a séance a spirit named "Yohlande" materialized, a sitter grabbed it and was revealed to be the medium Mme. d'Esperance herself.*In September 1878 the British medium Charles Williams and his fellow-medium at the time, A. Rita, were detected in trickery at Amsterdam. During the séance a materialized spirit was seized and found to be Rita and a bottle of phosphorus oil, muslin and a false beard were found amongst the two mediums.* In 1882 C. E. Wood was exposed in a séance in Peterborough. Her Indian spirit control "Pocka" was found to be the medium on her knees, covered in muslin.*The Fox sisters confessed to fraud in 1888. Margaret Fox revealed that she and her sister had produced the "spirit" rappings by cracking their toe joints.*
In 1891 at a public séance with twenty sitters the medium Cecil Husk was caught leaning over a table pretending to be a spirit by covering his face with phosphor material.* The magician Will Goldston also exposed the fraud mediumship of Husk. In a séance Goldston attended a pale face materialization appeared in the room. Goldston wrote "I saw at once that it was a gauze mask, and that the moustache attached to it was loose at one side through lack of gum. I pulled at the mask. It came away, revealing the face of Husk."* The British materialization medium Annie Fairlamb Mellon was exposed as a fraud on October 12, 1894. During the séance a sitter seized the materialized spirit, and found it to be the Mellon on her knees with white muslin on her head and shoulders.*The medium Swami Laura Horos was convicted of fraud several times and was tried for rape and fraud in London in 1901. She was described by the magician Harry Houdini as "one of the most extraordinary fake mediums and mystery swindlers the world has ever known".*In the late 19th century the fraudulent methods of Spirit photography|spirit photographers such as David Duguid and Edward Wyllie were revealed by psychical researchers.* Hereward Carrington documented various methods (with diagrams) how the medium would manipulate the Photographic plate|plates before, during, and after the séance to produce spirit forms.* The Ectoplasm (paranormal)|ectoplasm materializations of the French medium Eva Carrière were exposed as fraudulent. The fake ectoplasm of Carrière was made of cut-out paper faces from newspapers and magazines on which fold marks could sometimes be seen from the photographs.* Cut out faces that she used included Woodrow Wilson, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, French president Raymond Poincaré and the actress Mona Delza.*
The trance medium Leonora Piper was investigated by psychical researchers and psychologists in the late 19th and early 20th century. In an experiment to test if Piper's "spirit" controls were purely fictitious the psychologist G. Stanley Hall invented a niece called Bessie Beals and asked Piper's 'control' to get in touch with it. Bessie appeared, answered questions and accepted Dr. Hall as her uncle.* The psychologist Joseph Jastrow wrote that Piper pretended to be controlled by spirits and fell into simple and logical traps from her comments.* Researchers who studied the mediumship of Piper came to the conclusion she was a Cold reading|cold reader and would "fish" for information from her séance sitters.*
In March 1902 in Berlin, police officers interrupted a séance of the German Apport (paranormal)|apport medium Frau Anna Rothe. Her hands were grabbed and she was wrestled to the ground. A female police assistant physically examined Rothe and discovered 157 flowers as well as Orange (fruit)|oranges and lemons hidden in her petticoat. She was arrested and charged with fraud.* Another apport medium Hilda Lewis known as the "flower medium" confessed to fraud.*The psychical researchers W. W. Baggally and Everard Feilding exposed the British Materialization (paranormal)|materialization medium Christopher Chambers as a fraud in 1905. A false moustache was discovered in the séance room which he used to fabricate the spirit materializations.* The British medium Charles Eldred was exposed as a fraud in 1906. Eldred would sit in a chair in a curtained off area in the room known as a "séance cabinet". Various spirit figures would emerge from the cabinet and move around the séance room, however, it was discovered that the chair had a secret compartment that contained beards, cloths, masks, and wigs that Eldred would dress up in to fake the spirits.*Between 1908-1914 the Italian medium Francesco Carancini was investigated by psychical researchers and they discovered that he used phosphorus matches to produce "spirit lights" and with a freed hand would move objects in the séance room.*
In 1910 at a séance in Grenoble, France the Apport (paranormal)|apport medium Charles Bailey (medium)|Charles Bailey produced two live birds in the séance room. Bailey was unaware that the dealer he had brought the birds from was present in the séance and he was exposed as a fraud.* The psychical researcher Eric Dingwall observed the medium Bert Reese in New York and claimed to have discovered his billet reading tricks.* The most detailed account at exposing his tricks (with diagrams) was by the magician Theodore Annemann.*
The Polish medium Stanislawa Tomczyk's levitation of a glass beaker was exposed and replicated in 1910 by the magician William S. Marriott by means of a hidden thread.* The Italian medium Lucia Sordi was exposed in 1911, she was bound to a chair by psychical researchers but would free herself during her séances. The tricks of another Italian medium Linda Gazzera were revealed in the same year, she would release her hands and feet from control in her séances and use them. Gazzera would not permit anyone to search her before a séance sitting, as she concealed muslin and other objects in her hair.*In the 1920s the British medium Charles Albert Beare duped the Spiritualist organization the Temple of Light into believing he had genuine mediumship powers. In 1931 Beare published a confession in the newspaper Daily Express. In the confession he stated "I have deceived hundreds of people…. I have been guilty of fraud and deception in spiritualistic practices by pretending that I was controlled by a spirit guide…. I am frankly and whole-heartedly sorry that I have allowed myself to deceive people."*The British direct-voice medium Frederick Tansley Munnings was exposed as a fraud when one of his séance sitters turned the lights on which revealed him to be holding a trumpet by means of a telescopic extension piece and using an angle piece to change the auditory effect of his voice.* Richard Hodgson (parapsychologist)|Richard Hodgson held six sittings with the medium Rosina Thompson and came to the conclusion she was a fraud as he discovered Thompson had access to documents and information about her séance sitters.*The medium Kathleen Goligher was investigated by the physicist Edmund Fournier d'Albe. On July 22, 1921 in a séance he observed Goligher holding the table up with her foot. He also discovered that her ectoplasm (paranormal)|ectoplasm was made of muslin. During a séance d'Albe observed white muslin between Goligher's feet.*The Danish medium Einer Nielsen was investigated by a committee from the University of Oslo|Kristiania University in Norway, 1922 and discovered in a séance that his ectoplasm was fake.* In 1923 the Polish medium Jan Guzyk was exposed as a fraud in a series of séances in Sorbonne in Paris. Guzyk would use his elbows and legs to move objects around the room and touch the sitters. According to Max Dessoir the trick of Guzyk was to use his "foot for psychic touches and sounds".*
The Hungarian medium Ladislas Lasslo confessed that all of his spirit Materialization (paranormal)|materializations were fraudulent in 1924. A séance sitter was also found to be working as a confederate for Lasslo.*
Mediums such as Eusapia Palladino and Rudi Schneider were experts at freeing their hands and feet from the controls in the séance room.*In the séance room Palladino would move curtains from a distance by releasing a jet of air from a rubber bulb that she had in her hand.*The Austrian medium Rudi Schneider was investigated in 1924 by the physicists Stefan Meyer and Karl Przibram. They caught Rudi freeing his arm in a series of séances.* Rudi claimed he could Levitation (paranormal)|levitate objects but according Harry Price a photograph taken on April 28, 1932 showed that Rudi had managed to free his arm to move a handkerchief from the table.*Mina Crandon claimed to materialize a "spirit hand", but when examined by biologists the hand was discovered to be made from a piece of carved animal liver.* The German Apport (paranormal)|apport medium Heinrich Melzer was discovered to be a fraud in 1926. In a séance psychical researchers found that Melzer had small stones attached to the back of his ears by flesh coloured tape.* Psychical researchers who investigated the mediumship of Maria Silbert revealed that she used her feet and toes to move objects in the séance room.*In 1930 the Polish medium Stanislawa P. was tested at the Institut Metapsychique in Paris. Eugene Osty suspected in the séance that Stanislawa had freed her hand from control. Secret flashlight photographs that were taken revealed that her hand was free and she had moved objects on the séance table.*
In the 1930s Harry Price (director of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research) had investigated the medium Helen Duncan and had her perform a number of test séances. She was suspected of swallowing cheesecloth which was then regurgitated as "Ectoplasm (paranormal)|ectoplasm".* Price had proven through analysis of a sample of ectoplasm produced by Duncan, that it was made of cheesecloth.* Helen Duncan would also use a doll made of a painted papier-mâché mask draped in an old sheet which she pretended to her sitters was a spirit.*In 1931 George Valiantine was exposed as a fraud in the séance room as it was discovered that he produced fraudulent "spirit" fingerprints in wax. The "spirit" thumbprint that Valiantine claimed belonged to Arthur Conan Doyle was revealed to be the print of his big toe on his right foot. It was also revealed that Valiantine made some of the prints with his elbow.*The medium Frank Decker (medium)|Frank Decker was exposed as a fraud in 1932. A magician and séance sitter who called himself M. Taylor presented a mail bag and Decker agreed to lock himself inside it. During the séance objects were moved around the room and it was claimed spirits had released Decker from the bag. It was later discovered to have been a trick as Martin Sunshine, a magic dealer admitted that he sold Decker a trick mail bag, such as stage Escapology|escapologists use, and had acted as the medium's confederate by pretending to be M. Taylor, a magician.*In 1936 the Hungarian apport medium Lajos Pap was tested in London and during the séance a dead snake appeared. Pap was searched and was found to be wearing a device under his robe, where he had hidden the snake.* A photograph taken at a séance in 1937 in London shows the medium Colin Evans (medium)|Colin Evans "levitating" in mid air. He claimed that spirits had lifted him. Evans was later discovered to be a fraud as a cord leading from a device in his hand has indicated that it was himself who triggered the flash-photograph and that all he had done was jump from his chair into the air and pretend he had levitated.*The physicist Kristian Birkeland exposed the fraud of the direct voice medium Etta Wriedt. Birkeland turned on the lights during a séance, snatched her trumpets and discovered that the "spirit" noises were caused by chemical explosions induced by potassium and water and in other cases by lycopodium powder.*The magician Julien Proskauer revealed that the levitating trumpet of Jack Webber was a trick. Close examination of photographs reveal Webber to be holding a telescopic reaching rod attached to the trumpet, and sitters in his séances only believed it to have levitated because the room was so dark they could not see the rod. Webber would cover the rod with crepe paper to disguise its real construction.*
The psychical researcher Tony Cornell investigated the mediumship of Alec Harris in 1955. During the séance "spirit" materializations emerged from a cabinet and walked around the room. Cornell wrote that a stomach rumble, nicotine smelling breath and a pulse gave it away that all the spirit figures were in fact Harris and that he had dressed up as each one behind the cabinet.*The British medium William Roy (medium)|William Roy earned over £50,000 from his séance sitters. He confessed to fraud in 1958 revealing the microphone and trick-apparatus that he had used.*
In 1970 two psychical researchers investigated the direct-voice medium Leslie Flint and found that all the "spirit" voices in his séance sounded exactly like himself and attributed his mediumship to "second-rate ventriloquism".* The medium Arthur Ford died leaving specific instructions that all of his files should be burned. In 1971 after his death, psychical researchers discovered his files but instead of burning them they were examined and discovered to be filled with obituaries, newspaper articles and other information, which enabled Ford to research his séance sitters backgrounds.*
Ronald Pearsall in his book Table-rappers: The Victorians and the Occult (1972) documented how every Victorian medium investigated had been exposed as using trickery, in the book he revealed how mediums would even use acrobatic techniques during séances to convince audiences of spirit presences.*In 1976, M. Lamar Keene, a medium in Florida and at the Spiritualist Camp Chesterfield in Indiana, confessed to defrauding the public in his book The Psychic Mafia. M. Lamar Keene|Keene detailed a multitude of common stage magic techniques utilized by mediums which are supposed to give an appearance of paranormal powers or supernatural involvement.*In the 1980s the medium Doris Stokes was exposed as a fraud. It was revealed that she planted specific people in her audience and did prior research into her sitters.* Rita Goold who acted as a physical medium in the 1980s would dress up as the spirits in her séances and would play music during them which provided cover for her to change clothes.*In 1990 the researcher Gordon Stein discovered that the Levitation (paranormal)|levitation photograph of the medium Carmine Mirabelli was fraudulent. The photograph was a trick as there were signs of chemical retouching under Mirabelli's feet. The retouching showed that Mirabelli was not levitating but was standing on a ladder which was erased from the photograph.*Colin Fry was exposed in 1992 when during a séance the lights were unexpectedly turned on and he was seen holding a spirit trumpet in the air, which the audience had been led to believe was being levitated by spiritual energy.*A more recent investigation into mediumship is known as the Scole Experiment, a series of mediumistic séances that took place between 1993–98 in the presence of the researchers David Fontana, Arthur Ellison and Montague Keen. This has produced photographs, audio recordings and physical objects which appeared in the dark séance room (known as apports).* According to paranormal researcher Brian Dunning (skeptic)|Brian Dunning the Scole experiments fail in many ways. The séances were held in the basement of two of the mediums, only total darkness was allowed with no night vision apparatus as it might "frighten the spirits away". The box containing the film was not examined and could easily have been accessible to fraud. And finally, even though many years have passed, there has been no follow-up, no further research by any credible agency or published accounts.*The VERITAS Research Program of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona, run by Gary Schwartz, was created primarily to test the hypothesis that the consciousness (or identity) of a person survives physical death.* Schwartz claimed his 2005 experiments were indicative of survival, but do not yet provide conclusive proof.* The experiments described by Schwartz have received criticism from the scientific community for being inadequately designed and using poor controls.*An experiment conducted by the British Psychological Society in 2005 suggests that under the controlled condition of the experiment, people who claimed to be professional mediums do not demonstrate the mediumistic ability. In the experiment, mediums were assigned to work the participants chosen to be “sitters.” The mediums contacted the deceased who were related to the sitters. The research gather the numbers of the statements made and have the sitters rate the accuracy of the statements. The readings that were considered to be somewhat accurate by the sitters were very generalized, and the ones that were considered inaccurate were the ones that were very specific.*The exposures of fraudulent activity led to a rapid decline in Ectoplasm (paranormal)|ectoplasm and Materialization (paranormal)|materialization séances.* Investigator Joe Nickell has written that modern self-proclaimed mediums like John Edward, Sylvia Browne, Rosemary Altea and James Van Praagh are avoiding the Victorian tradition of dark rooms, spirit handwriting and flying tambourines as these methods risk exposure. They instead use “mental mediumship” tactics like cold reading or gleaning information from sitters before hand (hot reading). Group readings also improve hits by making general statements with conviction, which will fit at least one person in the audience. Shows are carefully edited before airing to show only what appears to be hits and removing anything that does not reflect well on the medium.*Michael Shermer criticized mediums in Scientific American, saying, "mediums are unethical and dangerous: they prey on the emotions of the grieving. As grief counselors know, death is best faced head-on as a part of life." Shermer wrote that the human urge to seek connections between events that may form patterns meaningful for survival is a function of natural evolution, and called the alleged ability of mediums to talk to the dead "a well-known illusion of a meaningful pattern."*According to James Randi, a scientific skeptic who has debunked many claims of psychic ability and uncovered fraudulent practises,* mediums who do cold readings "fish, suggest possibilities, make educated guesses and give options." Randi has a standing offer of One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge|$1 million US dollars for anyone who can scientifically prove psychic ability. Most celebrated psychics and mediums have rejected his offer.*