A séance or seance (/ˈseɪ.ɑːns/) is an attempt to communicate with spirits. The word "séance" comes from the French word for "session", from the Old French seoir, "to sit". In French, the word's meaning is quite general: one may, for example, speak of "une séance de cinéma" ("a movie session"). In English, however, the word came to be used specifically for a meeting of people who are gathered to receive messages from ghosts or to listen to a spirit medium discourse with or relay messages from spirits. In modern English usage, participants need not be seated while engaged in a séance.
One of the earliest books on the subject of communication amongst deceased persons was Communication With the Other Side by George, First Baron Lyttelton, published in England in 1760. Among the notable spirits quoted in this volume are Peter the Great, Pericles, a "North-American Savage", William Penn, and Christina, Queen of Sweden. The popularity of séances grew dramatically with the founding of the religion of Spiritualism in the mid-nineteenth century. Perhaps the best-known series of séances conducted at that time were those of Mary Todd Lincoln who, grieving the loss of her son, organized Spiritualist séances in the White House, which were attended by her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, and other prominent members of society. The 1887 Seybert Commission report marred the credibility of Spiritualism at the height of its popularity by publishing exposures of fraud and showmanship among secular séance leaders. Modern séances continue to be a part of the religious services of Spiritualist, Spiritist, and Espiritismo churches today, where a greater emphasis is placed on spiritual values versus showmanship.
The term séance is used in a few different ways, and can refer to any of four different activities, each with its own social norms and conventions, its own favoured tools, and its own range of expected outcomes.
In the religion of Spiritualism, and the religion of Divine Metaphysics (a federally recognized religious branch out of Spiritualism in the United States), it is generally a part of services to communicate with living personalities in the spirit world. Usually, this is only called "séance" by outsiders; the preferred term for Spiritualists is "receiving messages". In these sessions, which generally take place in well-lit Spiritualist churches or outdoors at Spiritualist camps (such as Lily Dale in upstate New York or Camp Cassadaga in Florida), an ordained minister or gifted contact medium will relate messages from spirit personalities to those here in the physical form. Generally Spiritualist "message services" or "demonstrations of the continuity of life" are open to the public. Sometimes the medium stands to receive messages and only the sitter is seated; in some churches, the message service is preceded by a "healing service" involving some form of faith healing.
In addition to communicating with the spirits of people who have a personal relationship to congregants, some Spiritual Churches also deal with spirits who may have a specific relationship to the medium or a historic relationship to the body of the church. An example of the latter is the spirit of Black Hawk, a Native American warrior of the Fox tribe who lived during the 19th century. Black Hawk was a spirit who was often contacted by the Spiritualist medium Leafy Anderson and he remains the central focus of special services in the African American Spiritual Churches that she founded.
In the Latin American religion of Espiritismo, which somewhat resembles Spiritualism, séance sessions in which congregants attempt to communicate with spirits are called misas (literally "masses"). The spirits addressed in Espiritismo are often those of ancestors or Catholic saints.
Mediums who contact spirits of the dead or other spirits while on a stage, with audience members seated before them, are not literally holding a séance, because they themselves are not seated; however, this is still called "séance". One of the foremost early practitioners of this type of contact with the dead was Paschal Beverly Randolph, who worked with the spirits of the relatives of audience members, but was also famed for his ability to contact and deliver messages from ancient seers and philosophers, such as Plato.
Leader-assisted séances are generally conducted by small groups of people, with participants seated around a table in a dark or semi-dark room. The leader is typically asserted to be a medium and he or she may go into a trance that theoretically allows the spirits to communicate through his or her body, conveying messages to the other participants. Other modes of communication may also be attempted, including psychography or automatic writing, numbered raps, levitation of the table or of spirit trumpets, apports, or even smell. It was thought spirits of the dead resided within the realm of dark and shadow, making the an absence of light a necessity to invoke them. Skeptics were unwilling to accept this required condition. Saying,"You would not buy an automobile if it was only presented in the dark."
This is the type of séance that is most often the subject of shock and scandal when it turns out that the leader is practicing some form of stage magic illusion or using mentalism tricks to defraud clients.
Among those with an interest in the occult, a tradition has grown up of conducting séances outside of any religious context and without a leader. Sometimes only two or three people are involved, and, if they are young, they may be using the séance as a way to test their understanding of the boundaries between reality and the paranormal. It is in such small séances that the planchette and ouija board are most often utilized.
Here spiritualists and practitioners (psychic and mediums) hold a seance so that all participants speak with various personalities in the spirit world. This held in a seating manner in a circle.
Mediumship involves an act where the practitioner attempts to receive messages from spirits of the dead and from other spirits that the practitioner believes exist. Some self-ordained mediums are fully conscious and awake while functioning as contacts; others may slip into a partial or full trance or into an altered state of consciousness. These self-called "trance-mediums" often state that, when they emerge from the trance state, they have no recollection of the messages they conveyed; it is customary for such practitioners to work with an assistant who writes down or otherwise records their words.
Spirit boards, also known as talking boards, or ouija boards (after a well-known brand name) are flat tablets, typically made of wood, Masonite, chipboard, or plastic. On the board are a number of symbols, pictures, letters, numbers and/or words. The board is accompanied by a planchette (French for "little board"), which can take the form of a pointer on three legs or magnifying glass on legs; homemade boards may employ a shot glass as a planchette. A most basic Ouija board would contain simply the alphabet of whatever country the board is being used in, although it is not uncommon for whole words to be added.
The board is used as follows: One or more of the participants in the séance place one or two fingers on the planchette which is in the middle of the board. The appointed medium asks questions of the spirit(s) with whom they are attempting to communicate.
During the latter half of the 19th century, a number of Spiritualist mediums began to advocate the use of specialized tools for conducting séances, particularly in leader-assisted sessions conducted in darkened rooms. "Spirit trumpets" were horn-shaped speaking tubes that were said to magnify the whispered voices of spirits to audible range. "Spirit slates" consisted of two chalkboards bound together that, when opened, were said to reveal messages written by spirits. "Séance tables" were special light-weight tables which were said to rotate, float, or levitate when spirits were present. "Spirit cabinets" were portable closets into which mediums were placed, often bound with ropes, in order to prevent them from manipulating the various aforementioned tools.
Scientific skeptics and atheists generally consider both religious and secular séances to be scams, or at least a form of pious fraud, citing a lack of empirical evidence. The exposure of supposed mediums whose use of séance tools derived from the techniques of stage magic has been disturbing to many believers in spirit communication. In particular, the 1870s exposures of the Davenport Brothers as illusionists and the 1887 report of the Seybert Commission brought an end to the first historic phase of Spiritualism. Stage magicians like John Nevil Maskelyne and Harry Houdini made a side-line of exposing fraudulent mediums during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1976, M. Lamar Keene described deceptive techniques that he himself had used in séances; however, in the same book, Keene also stated that he still had a firm belief in God, life after death, ESP, and other psychic phenomena. In his 2004 television special Seance, magician Derren Brown held a séance and afterwards described some of the tricks used by him (and 19th-century mediums) to create the illusion of paranormal events.
Critics of channeling—including both skeptics and believers—state that since the most commonly reported physical manifestations of channeling are an unusual vocal pattern or abnormal overt behaviors of the medium, it can be quite easily faked by anyone with theatrical talent. Critics of spirit board communication techniques—again including both skeptics and believers—state that the premise that a spirit will move the planchette and spell out messages using the symbols on the board is undermined by the fact that several people have their hands on the planchette, which allows any of them to spell out anything they want without the others knowing. They claim that this is a common trick, used on occasions such as teenage sleepover parties, to scare the people present.
Another criticism of spirit board communication involves what is called the ideomotor effect which has been suggested as an automatism, or subconscious mechanism, by which a Ouija-user's mind unknowingly guides his hand upon the planchette, hence he will honestly believe he is not moving it, when, in fact, he is. This theory rests on the embedded premise that human beings actually have a "subconscious mind," a belief not held by all.
The exposures of fraud by tool-using mediums have had two divergent results: skeptics have used historic exposures as a frame through which to view all spirit mediumship as inherently fraudulent, while believers have tended to eliminate the use of tools but continued to practice mediumship in full confidence of its spiritual value to them.
Research in anomalistic psychology has revealed the role of suggestion in seances. In a series of fake seance experiments (Wiseman et al. 2003) paranormal believers and disbelievers were suggested by an actor that a table was levitating when, in fact, it remained stationary. After the seance, approximately one third of the participants incorrectly reported that the table had moved. The results showed a greater percentage of believers reporting that the table had moved. In another experiment the believers had also reported that a handbell had moved when it had remained stationary and expressed their belief that the fake seances contained genuine paranormal phenomena. The experiments strongly supported the notion that in the seance room, believers are more suggestible than disbelievers for suggestions that are consistent with their belief in paranormal phenomena.
Among the notable people who conducted small leader-assisted séances during the 19th century were the Fox sisters, whose activities included table-rapping, and the Davenport Brothers, who were famous for the spirit cabinet work. Both the Foxes and the Davenports were eventually exposed as frauds.
Notable people who have attended séances and professed a belief in Spiritualism include the social reformer Robert Owen; the journalist and pacifist William T. Stead; William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Prime Minister of Canada for 22 years, who sought spiritual contact and political guidance from his deceased mother, his pet dogs, and the late US President Franklin D. Roosevelt; the journalist and author Lloyd Kenyon Jones; and the physician and author Arthur Conan Doyle.
A number of artists, including abstractionists Hilma af Klint, the Regina Five, and Paulina Peavy have given partial or complete credit for some of their work to spirits that they contacted during seances. Paulina said that "when she painted, she did not have control over her brush, that it moved on its own, and that it was Lacamo(the spirit) who was directing it."
Scientists who have conducted a search for real séances and believed that contact with the dead is a reality include the chemist William Crookes, the evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, and reportedly, the inventor of radio Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of telephone Alexander Graham Bell, and the inventor of television technology John Logie Baird, who claimed to have contacted the spirit of the inventor Thomas Edison.
Among the best-known exposers of fraudulent mediumship acts have been the researchers Frank Podmore of the Society for Psychical Research, Harry Price of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, the professional stage magicians John Nevil Maskelyne (who exposed the Davenport Brothers) and Harry Houdini, who clearly stated that he did not oppose the religion of Spiritualism itself, but only the trickery by phony mediums that was being practiced in the name of the religion.
The psychical researcher Hereward Carrington exposed the tricks of fraudulent mediums such as those used in slate-writing, table-turning, trumpet mediumship, materializations, sealed-letter reading and spirit photography. The skeptic Joseph McCabe documented many mediums who had been caught in fraud and the tricks they used in his book Is Spiritualism Based on Fraud? (1920).
Magicians have a long history of exposing the fraudulent methods of mediumship. Early debunkers included Chung Ling Soo, Henry Evans and Julien Proskauer. Later magicians to reveal fraud were Fulton Oursler, Joseph Dunninger, and Joseph Rinn. The researchers Trevor H. Hall and Gordon Stein have documented the trickery of the medium Daniel Dunglas Home. Tony Cornell exposed a number of fraudulent mediums including Rita Goold and Alec Harris.
Ghosts can come to us for good, but we must not attempt to conjure or control spirits.
Jews have sometimes engaged in conjuring spirits when worried, even though the Bible prohibits this behavior.
Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.
The play was first seen in the West End in 1941, creating a new long-run record for non-musical British plays of 1,997 performances. It also did well on Broadway later that year, running for 657 performances. Coward adapted the play for film in 1945, starring Rex Harrison, and directed a musical adaptation, High Spirits, on Broadway in 1964. It was also adapted for television in the 1950s and 1960s and for radio. The play enjoyed several West End and Broadway revivals in the 1970s and 1980s and was revived again in London in 2004, 2011 and 2014. It returned to Broadway in February 2009.Charles Bailey (medium)
Charles Bailey (1870–1947) was an Australian apport medium who was exposed as a fraud.Conjuring (film)
Conjuring (French: Séance de prestidigitation) is an 1896 French short silent film directed by Georges Méliès.Derek Acorah
Derek Acorah (born Derek Francis Johnson on 27 January 1950) is an English self-styled spiritual medium. He is best known for his television work on Most Haunted, broadcast on Living TV (2002–2010). He has received a lot of criticism casting doubts over his legitimacy as a medium.Etta Wriedt
Etta Wriedt (1859-1942) was an American direct voice medium.Wriedt was born in Detroit and was well known in the field of spiritualism, she employed a trumpet in the darkness of the séance room which she claimed spirits would use to make noises and voices. She charged people money to attend her séances, one of her spirit guides was "John Sharp" who claimed he was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in the eighteenth century. She visited England five times and held séances with W. T. Stead. Stead and Vice-Admiral William Usborne Moore author of the book, The Voices (1913) endorsed her mediumship as genuine.Eva Carrière
Eva Carrière (born Marthe Béraud 1886 in France, died sometime after 1922), also known as Eva C, was a prominent spiritualist and psychic in the early 20th century.Frank Decker (medium)
Frank Decker was a 20th-century American spiritualist medium who was discovered to be a fraud.Heinrich Melzer
Heinrich Melzer (born 1873) was a German spiritualist medium.
Melzer was born in Dresden, Germany. For thirty years he gave séances and claimed to have the ability to materialize stones and flowers. In the séance room he would only materialize the flowers under the table, and as the table was not checked skeptics accused him of simply hiding the flowers under the table before his séances. When the room was checked and scientific controls were introduced no flowers appeared. In 1926 Melzer was exposed as a fraud as he was caught with small stones attached to the back of his ears by flesh coloured tape.Helen Duncan
Victoria Helen McCrae Duncan (25 November 1897 – 6 December 1956) was a Scottish medium best known as the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735. She was famous for producing ectoplasm made from cheesecloth.Legends of Tomorrow (season 4)
The fourth season of the American television series Legends of Tomorrow, which is based on characters from DC Comics, premiered on The CW on October 22, 2018, and concluded on May 20, 2019, with a total of 16 episodes. The season follows the Legends, a dysfunctional team of time-traveling superheroes and anti-heroes, and their mission to recapture the magical fugitives that they accidentally released throughout time. It is set in the Arrowverse, sharing continuity with the other television series of the universe, and is a spin-off of Arrow and The Flash. The season was produced by Berlanti Productions, Warner Bros. Television, and DC Entertainment, with Phil Klemmer and Keto Shimizu serving as showrunners.
The season was ordered in April 2018, and production began that July. Principal cast members Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Tala Ashe, Amy Louise Pemberton, Nick Zano, and Dominic Purcell return from previous seasons, while Matt Ryan, Jes Macallan, and Courtney Ford were promoted to the principal cast from their recurring statuses in season three. They are joined by new cast member Ramona Young.Leslie Flint
Leslie Flint (1911 – 16 April 1994) was a British medium who is credited as having been one of the last psychics to use direct-voice mediumship. He has been described by spiritualists as the most renowned psychic of the 20th century. Skeptics have pointed out a number of alleged frauds Flint perpetuated during his career.Materialization (paranormal)
In spiritualism, paranormal literature and some religions, materialization (or manifestation) is the creation or appearance of matter from unknown sources. The existence of materialization has not been confirmed by laboratory experiments. Numerous cases of fraudulent materialization demonstrations by mediums have been exposed.Mediumship
Mediumship is the practice of purportedly mediating communication between spirits of the dead and living human beings. Practitioners are known as "mediums." There are different types of mediumship, including spirit channeling and ouija.
Humans have been fascinated with contacting the dead since the beginning of human existence. Cave paintings by indigenous Australians date back 28,000 years, some depicting skulls, bones, spirits and the afterlife. Other cave paintings in Indonesia date back a further 10,000 years.
Mediumship gained popularity during the nineteenth century, when ouija boards were used by the upper classes as a source of entertainment. Investigations during this period revealed widespread fraud—with some practitioners employing techniques used by stage magicians—and the practice began to lose credibility. Fraud is still rife in the medium/psychic industry, with cases of deception and trickery being discovered to this day.Scientific researchers have attempted to ascertain the validity of claims of mediumship. An experiment undertaken by the British Psychological Society led to the conclusion that the test subjects demonstrated no mediumistic ability.Several different variants of mediumship exist; arguably the best-known forms involve a spirit purportedly taking control of a medium's voice and using it to relay a message, or where the medium simply "hears" the message and passes it on. Other forms involve materializations of the spirit or the presence of a voice, and telekinetic activity.
The practice is associated with several religious-belief systems such as Vodun, Spiritualism, Spiritism, Candomblé, Voodoo, Umbanda and some New Age groups.Mina Crandon
Mina "Margery" Crandon (1888–November 1, 1941) was a well known psychical medium who claimed that she channeled her dead brother, Walter Stinson. Investigators who studied Crandon concluded that she had no genuine paranormal ability, and others detected in her outright deception. She became well-known as her alleged paranormal skills were touted by Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and were disproved by legendary magician Harry Houdini.
She was the wife of a wealthy Boston surgeon and socialite, Dr. Le Roi Goddard Crandon.Rita Goold
Rita Goold was a British psychic and spiritualist medium from Leicester.Rosina Thompson
Rosina Thompson (born, 1868) was a British trance medium.
Thompson worked as a medium at Hertford Lodge in Battersea, London. She came to the attention of the Society for Psychical Research and performed séance experiments for them from 1898 onward. Thompson was originally a physical medium, however as physical mediumship was exposed as fraudulent the psychical researcher Frederic W. H. Myers persuaded Thompson to take up trance mediumship. Some psychical researchers were not impressed with her mediumship as it was discovered that her trances were not genuine. Richard Hodgson had six sittings with Thompson and came to the conclusion she was a fraud. Hodgson claimed that Thompson had access to documents and information about her séance sitters.The medium Leonora Piper was described as an American counterpart to Thompson. According to William James after the death of Frederic Myers, Piper claimed to receive messages from Myers for his widow. The messages were warnings that Thompson was a fraudulent medium.In spiritualist literature, Thompson has been referred to by other aliases such as Rosalie Thompson and Mrs. Edmund Thompson.Séance Time
"Séance Time" is the sixth and final episode of the second series of the British dark comedy anthology television programme Inside No. 9. It was first broadcast on 29 April 2015 on BBC Two. The episode was written by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, and directed by Dan Zeff. It stars Pemberton, Shearsmith, Alison Steadman, Alice Lowe, Sophie McShera, Dan Starkey, Cariad Lloyd and Caden-Ellis Wall. The episode begins with Tina (McShera) arriving at a Victorian villa for a séance. Hives (Shearsmith) sits her at a table and then escorts the ominous, shrouded Madam Talbot (Steadman) into the room.
Like "The Harrowing", the final episode of the first series of Inside No. 9, "Séance Time" is somewhat more horrific than is typical for the programme, though humour remains. In writing the episode, Pemberton and Shearsmith began with the idea of a séance, and developed the plot from there. The theme was one that they had wanted to address for some time, though they wanted to approach it in an original way. The writers aimed to begin "Séance Time" with minimal humour, presenting it as straight horror, before introducing the first twist.
The episode explores both the norms of horror films and the unpleasantness of actors and the television industry. Critics responded positively to "Séance Time", praising the horror—several considered the episode genuinely frightening—the humour, and the writing. Steadman's performance was singled out as strong, with critics commending her character as a highlight.Séance on a Wet Afternoon
Séance on a Wet Afternoon is a 1964 British film directed by Bryan Forbes, based on the novel by Mark McShane, in which an unstable medium convinces her husband to kidnap a child so she can help the police solve the crime and achieve renown for her abilities. The film stars Richard Attenborough (who was also the film's co-producer), Kim Stanley, Nanette Newman, Mark Eden and Patrick Magee.Theatrical séance
A theatrical séance is an aspect of mentalism that purports to give its audiences the feeling of contacting the spirits of the dead, as might be experienced in a successful Spiritualist séance.
Theatrical séances are usually performed in either total or partial darkness to replicate the atmosphere of a traditional seance, to set the mood for the performance, and to hide the methods of the performer. Performance-goers may be treated to a variety of mentalism demonstrations during a theatrical séance, including examples of clairvoyance, ESP, precognition and telekinesis, in addition to or in preparation of apparent mediumship.
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