ISS Comment:

This article below by award winning author Michael Tymn will appear in a future issue of 'The Journal of Religion and Psychical Research' and is printed here with the permission of The Academy of  Religion and Psychical Research. With many thanks to Dr. Don Morse, President of the Academy. 


Mediumship: Direct Connection to a level of the Afterlife, Telepathy or Fraud?

 - Michael Tymn -

"[Nothing] could shake my knowledge that for thirty-five minutes I had talked on personal matters - matters unknown to anyone but ourselves - with the discarnate but living spirit of my sister: her voice, her personality, her spirit, her soul."

Dennis Bradley, British playwright, about his first (direct-voice) séance

          IT WAS 100 years ago this year - in 1902 - that Dr. Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) was knighted for his scientific work, thereby becoming Sir Oliver Lodge. Initially professor of physics at University College in Liverpool, England and later principal of the University of Birmingham, Lodge achieved world fame for his pioneering work in radio and for his invention of the spark plug. In 1894, he perfected and named the "coherer" (a radio-wave detector) and was the first person to transmit a message by wireless. Additionally, he was known for his exploration of the ethers, a medium permeating all space. It was also in 1902 that Lodge gave a presidential address to the Society of Psychical Research (SPR) in which he stated:

"If any one cares to hear what sort of conviction has been borne in upon my mind as a scientific man, in some twenty years familiarity with those questions which concern us, I am very willing to reply as frankly as I can. First, then, I am for all present purposes convinced of the persistence of human existence beyond bodily death; and though I am unable to justify that belief in a full and complete manner, yet it is a belief which has been produced by scientific evidence; that is, it is based upon facts and experience, though I might find it impossible to explain categorically how the facts have produced that conviction." (Tabori 1972, pg. 72)

Like Lodge, Dr. James Hyslop (1854-1920), a professor of logic and ethics at Columbia University, became interested in the mediumship of Leonore Piper of Boston, Mass. Initially a skeptic, he eventually became convinced of the genuineness of Mrs. Piper's mediumship. Hyslop had this to say:

"Personally, I regard the fact of survival after death as scientifically proved. I agree that this opinion is not upheld in scientific quarters. But this is neither our fault nor that of the facts. Evolution was not believed until long after it was proved. The fault lay with those who were too ignorant and too stubborn to accept the facts." (Hyslop, pg. 480)

Another physicist knighted for his scientific contributions was Sir William Barrett, (1844-1925), professor of physics at the Royal College of Science in Dublin for 37 years and the developer of a silicon-iron alloy important to the development of the telephone and in construction of transformers. In his book Death-Bed Visions, Barrett wrote this about his own investigation of psychic phenomena, including mediumship:

"…I am personally convinced that the evidence we have published decidedly demonstrates (1) the existence of a spiritual world, (2) survival after death, and (3) of occasional communication from those who have passed over." (Barrett 1917, pg. 162)

The history books have recorded that Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) was co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution. Wallace worked independently of Darwin and provided Darwin with his findings before Darwin published his historic conclusions. Darwin presented Wallace's parallel theory together with his own as a joint paper at an 1858 conference in London. Wallace later developed an interest in psychical research and became a devoted Spiritualist. In writing about the phenomena of Spiritualism, which is based primarily on mediumship, Wallace stated that in their entirety they do not require further confirmation. He added:

"They are proved, quite as well as any facts are proved in other sciences." 
(Ebon, pg. 112)

Sir William Crookes (1832-1919) was a physicist and chemist who discovered the element thallium and was a pioneer in radioactivity. He was the inventor of the radiometer, the spintharicope, and a high -vacuum tube that contributed to the discovery of the X-ray. He was knighted in 1897. He thoroughly investigated the mediumships of Daniel Dunglas Home and Florence Cook and came away certain that both were true mediums. In 1917, referring to the mediumstic phenomena he had studied, Crookes stated:

"They point to the existence of another order of human life continuous with this, and demonstrate the possibility in certain circumstances of communication between this world and the next." (Medhurst, pg. 242)

In addition to Lodge and Hyslop, the mediumship of Leonore Piper was investigated by Dr. Richard Hodgson (1855-1905), who had been lecturing at Cambridge when he was converted to a full-time psychic investigator. From 18 years of studying Mrs. Piper, Hodgson was convinced that she was a true medium. He stated:

"…at the present time I cannot profess to have any doubt but that the chief communicators are veritably the personalities that they claim to be, that they have survived the change we call death, and that they have directly communicated with us whom we call living, through Mrs. Piper's entranced organism." (Smith 1951, pg. 78) 

Were it not for the word limitation of this paper, the testimony of other pioneers of psychical research could continue in further support of both mediumship and survival. It would be difficult to find a more enthusiastic advocate than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), the physician who created Sherlock Holmes. It would be equally difficult to find a more respected investigator than Cambridge classics scholar Frederick W. H. Myers (1843-1901), whose book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death is a "classic" in the field of psychical research. More difficult still, would be finding a more highly-esteemed person than Harvard professor William James (1842-1910), known for his contributions to both psychology and philosophy. Nor can we forget French astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), Italian physician and anthropologist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), Rev. Charles Drayton Thomas 188?-1953), an English Methodist minister, Dr. Harry Price (1881-1948) of England, or Dr. Hereward Carrington (1880-1958) of the United States.

Nature of Mediumship

The word "medium" is derived from the Latin medius, meaning middle. Strictly speaking, therefore, a medium is a psychically gifted intermediary who facilitates communication (or healing) between a discarnate personality in another dimension and an incarnate personality in our physical world. However, not all mediumship involves three parties - the sender, the medium, and the recipient. In certain types of mediumship, such as automatic writing and the ouija board, the medium is not always an intermediary. He or she might be the sole recipient of information from the spirit world. "Sensitive" might be a more semantically correct word for this person, but when the information received is shared with others, the sensitive takes on the role of an intermediary and then becomes a medium. In the same way, the term can be stretched to include a person who has communicated with discarnates while having an out-of-body experience, including a near-death experience, and then shared the information given him or her with others.

Mediumistic phenomena include table rapping, the ouija board, automatic writing, direct writing, trance voice, direct voice, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and actual spirit materialization. The phenomena are usually classified as either physical or mental, although some, e.g., direct voice, are part physical and part mental.

In trance mediumship, the medium's "control" is purportedly a discarnate spirit who facilitates communication between other discarnates while acting as something of a "gatekeeper." This control can take over the organism of the medium and use her or his body, including the vocal cords, to deliver messages. The control usually has a totally different voice and personality than the medium. Often, after clearing the way, the control will step aside and allow the communicating spirit to use the medium's organism.

Ectoplasm is the vitalized matter formed within some mediums and exuded, thereby permitting spirits to materialize. In the direct-voice phenomenon, the spirits are said to form a larynx or voice box from the ectoplasm, permitting them to speak totally independent of the medium's body, the voice emanating two or three feet from the medium. As ectoplasm is sensitive to light, darkness is usually required for mediumistic phenomena.

Clearing all Hurdles

The detailed reports of all the aforementioned men of science and academia make it abundantly clear that their investigations were thorough and meticulous. There were essentially four hurdles to clear before linking mediumship with survival of the consciousness at death. The first hurdle was that of fraud. The second was telepathy by the medium. Third was the Super ESP hypothesis, while the final one was the subliminal or secondary personality theory. 

Several researchers, including Professor Charles Richet (1850-1935) of France and Baron (Dr.) von Schrenk-Notzing (1862-1929) of Germany had no problem clearing the first hurdle. They believed in the reality of mediumship; however, unlike the aforementioned researchers, they would not commit, perhaps concerned for their standing in the scientific community, to survival. Except for fraud, the other three "hurdles" offered paranormal explanations as mysterious as survival itself, explanations outside the scope of mechanistic science. Because of this, many of the hard-core scientists or skeptics, i.e., cynics, stood firm on the fraud explanation or simply scoffed at the whole subject as being beneath their intellects. 


There were undoubtedly many magicians, fakers, and charlatans posing as mediums, but it was William James who said that it takes only one "white crow" to prove that all crows aren't black. Leonore Piper was his "white crow." It was James who "discovered" Piper and brought her to the attention of Lodge and others. While James was at first very skeptical of Piper, he was apparently quickly convinced of her honesty and integrity, stating: "My later knowledge of her sittings and personal acquaintance with her has led me absolutely to reject the latter (lucky coincidence) explanation, and to believe that she has supernormal powers." (Smith 1951, page 80)

Interestingly, however, some crows were found to be white with dark spots. They offered genuine phenomena with some fraudulent. The most famous of the "mixed" mediums was Eusapio Paladino of Italy, who was studied by Lodge, Myers, Hodgson, Lombrorso, Richet, Carrington, and others. Her phenomena included table levitations, materializations (occasionally full body but usually of hands), grasps and touches (supposedly by spirits, including "John King," her "control"), playing of musical instruments (without touching them), and direct writing. (Direct writing involves a materialized hand writing, while automatic writing calls for a spirit to use the hand of an incarnate person.)

Both Lombroso and Lodge recognized that Paladino seemed to be cheating at times, but they were otherwise certain that much of the phenomena produced by her were genuine. There were simply too many things that could not be explained by fraud. Lombroso, who studied Paladino for 17 years, recalled a séance in Milan in which the image of a woman appeared to his right and spoke while Paladino was in a trance in the center of the room. On another occasion, the neuropathologist was "being caressed" by a phantom while two other sitters were being touched by other hands. Lombroso wondered how a cheater could cause the psychic forces of a medium to be in three places at one time. He had exercised every possible control.

Lombroso considered the possibility that what others saw as trickery was due in part to spirit activity not understood by incarnate man as well as the possibility that it was due to the abnormal state of the medium in trance." (Tabori, page 183).

While Sir William Crookes observed the spirit Katie King on many occasions, even talking with her and photographing her with the medium Florence Cook in the same photograph, the skeptics insisted that he had been duped, believing that Cook was masquerading as the spirit and undetected because of the darkness required for the medium's ectoplasm to function. "To imagine, I say, the Katie King of the last three years to be the result of imposture does more violence to one's reason and common sense than to believe her to be what she herself affirms," Crookes wrote. (Medhurst, pg. 112)

Crookes was not the only one to observe spirit materialization. Dr. Harry Price, known primarily for exposing fraudulent mediums, assumed he was about to expose another fraud when invited to attend a séance in 1925. He brought along his fake medium tools, had all excess furniture removed from the room, examined the floor for trap doors, and then sealed the doors and all openings in the room with tape. He sprinkled starch around the room and outside the room so that footprints might later be observed. He even insisted on inspecting the clothes of the sitters present in the room. It was impossible for anyone to enter or leave the room. There was no place to hide anything. After more than a half-hour of waiting, a young girl named Rosalie, about age six, materialized in the room. "There are no words to express how I felt at the appearance of the form before me - or rather to the left of me," Price later wrote, explaining that he was allowed to examine the child, who was about three feet seven inches tall. He asked questions of her and she replied in a reserved child-like manner. After about 15 minutes Rosalie disappeared. Price immediately began an examination of the premises and found every seal intact and the starch undisturbed. His conclusion was simply, "Amazing!" (Price, pgs. 130-144)

Such physical phenomena do not lend themselves to the telepathy, Super ESP, or secondary personality theories. Crookes and Price might have invoked the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur - the thing speaks for itself.


It was telepathy, then called "thought-transference," that got Lodge interested in psychical research in 1885. Initially, it was suspected that all the information coming through Leonore Piper was by means of telepathy. However, it was quickly recognized that some of the information was beyond the knowledge of the "sitter," and therefore could not result from this means. Lodge wrote of a sitting he had with Piper in which he first wrote to an uncle and requested the uncle send him an item that had belonged to the uncle's twin brother, deceased some 20 years earlier. The uncle mailed Lodge an old gold watch. "I was told immediately that it had belonged to one of my uncles," Lodge wrote. "Phinuit" (Piper's control), gave the name Jerry, short for Jeremiah, the deceased twin. Speaking through the entranced Mrs. Piper, "Uncle Jerry" proceeded to report a number of details, many of which were accurate but known to Lodge, and therefore, considering telepathy, discounted by him as evidential. However, a number of boyhood incidents unknown to Lodge but later confirmed by the surviving twin or another uncle were related. Since Lodge was unaware of them, telepathy did not seem to be a factor.

Phinuit also told Lodge to take the watch out of its case and to later examine it in good light. He would find some small nicks near the handle of the watch. Lodge did so and discovered the nicks, adding that he had until then never taken the watch out of the case. (Lodge 1915, pgs. 180-183)

In effect, this was a "proxy sitting" for Lodge's surviving uncles. Rev. Drayton Thomas carried out a number of such proxy sittings with Gladys Osborne Leonard of England, another medium known by all who studied her, including Lodge, to definitely be in the "white crow" category. One interesting series of séances is referred to as the "Bobbie Newlove Case." Thomas received a letter from someone who had heard him lecture, but with whom he was not acquainted. The letter writer was the father of Bobbie Newlove, who had died a few months earlier of diphtheria at age 10. Outside of some very basic information, Thomas knew nothing of the boy or his family. He handed the letter, resealed in the envelope, to the entranced Leonard, after which "Feda," Leonard's primary control, began providing veridical information from Bobbie. Drayton then passed on the information to the parents, and much of it was verified as true. Several bits of information were unknown to the parents but known to Bobbie's playmate. Since the information was unknown to Thomas, telepathy was ruled out. (Smith 1964, pgs. 87-102)

There are numerous similar cases in the annals of psychical research in which the information conveyed was unknown to the sitter. 

Another well-know case outside the scope of telepathy involves the R101 airship disaster over France in 1930. Five days after the tragedy, American medium Eileen Garrett went into a trance during a séance in the laboratory of Harry Price. "Uvani," her control, then announced that Lieutenant H. C. Irwin, the deceased commander of the airship, wished to speak. Uvani, speaking broken English, then turned over Garrett's entranced organism to Irwin, who proceeded to give a highly technical account of what caused the airship to crash. At the subsequent inquiry, many of the statements were verified. "It is inconceivable that Mrs. Garrett could have acquired the R101 information through normal channels and the case strongly supports the hypothesis of survival," Price wrote. (Price, pgs. 151-153)

Referring to contentions by a few scientists, including Richet, that telepathy could be explained by mechanistic physiology, Hereward Carrington pointed out that, according to mechanistic physiology, all our memories consist of "engrams" that are deposited in the brain in somewhat the same manner as grooves are cut in a phonograph record. "Inasmuch as these latent memories of the sitter must represent (on the mechanistic theory) merely physiological brain traces, we should have to assume that the subconscious mind of the entranced medium could somehow reach into the brain of the sitter, find the right engrams, interpret them and perceive them to be certain specific 'memories,' such as a boating trip up the Thames, a picnic, a passage in Kant's Critique, and so on," Carrington offered. "The very formulation of such a conception renders it so preposterous as to rule it out from serious consideration." (Carrington, pgs. 140-141)

Super ESP

The Super ESP hypothesis suggests that telepathy goes well beyond reading the mind of a single person in the immediate vicinity. Rather, the medium is able to "tap into"' many minds, no matter the distance. In the Bobby Newlove case mentioned above, Mrs. Leonard theoretically was able to obtain information from the minds of Bobbie's parents as well as his playmate even though they were all 200 miles away and unknown to her. This theory must seem more fantastic to the skeptic than the survival hypothesis itself. Clearly, it is a non-mechanistic theory from which we might infer some kind of "universal mind." "The final refuge of the skeptic is the hypothesis that no statement need be attributed to discarnate intelligence if it refers to anything known at the time by anyone on earth," Drayton Thomas commented on the Super ESP hypothesis. (Smith 1964, pg. 112).

If the Super ESP theory can explain the medium obtaining factual information from a giant computer in the ethers, it certainly falls well short of explaining how the will, intention, emotion, and personality of the discarnate can be expressed, not to mention occasional precognition. There were many recorded instances of "manifestation of purpose" along with other expressions of personality, but the famous "cross-correspondence" cases stand out in this regard. These were psychic jig-saw puzzles in which information coming through two or more mediums in different parts of the world made no sense at all until they were compared by researchers and then fit together to form an intelligent message. One of the communicators from the "other side" was purportedly Frederick W. H. Myers, who passed over in 1901 and apparently decided to continue his work from the other side. A classics scholar, Myers gave jumbled information concerning the classics to Leonore Piper in the United States and Winifred Coombe-Tennant in England. Sir Oliver Lodge became aware of it and submitted the confusing messages to classical scholars in London, who were able to piece the passages together and recognize it as part of the story told in Ovid's Metamorphoses. It was further determined that Piper had no knowledge of the classics while Coombe-Tennant had only a basic exposure to them. Collaboration on the part of the two mediums was completely ruled out. (Smith 1954, pgs. 69-88)

There were numerous other cross-correspondence cases recorded during this era, but their complexity makes them impossible to summarize in the limited space allotted to this paper.

Precognition, as demonstrated in the "newspaper tests" conducted by Drayton Thomas with Gladys Osborne Leonard and Feda, her control, are also difficult to reconcile with Super ESP. In these series of tests, Feda would tell Thomas that certain names or other information would appear in a specific column at a certain point in the London Times of the following day. As an example, on May 7, 1920, Feda told Thomas to look in column one, about a quarter of the way down, in the May 8 Times and he would find his father's name and the name of a place in which he had once lived. This information was purportedly given to Feda by Thomas' father. The next day, Thomas found his father's name, John, and the name Birkdale, the name of the only house his father had ever owned, in the very column and at the very place Feda had said. Thomas checked with the Times to confirm that the pages of the paper had not been planned at the time of his sitting. There were a number of other newspaper tests with similar results. (Smith 1964, pgs. 141-155)


The esteemed researchers often wondered if the "control" speaking through the entranced medium was really a split or secondary personality existing in the medium's subconscious. Even with non-trance mediums, subliminal information surfacing was always considered a possibility. The researchers attempted to test Leonore Piper and Phinuit, Gladys Osborne Leonard and Feda, Eileen Garrett and Uvani, by administering various psychological tests to both the medium and the control. While not conclusive, the findings were that they were indeed separate personalities. It was further pointed out that split personalities are advanced hysterics, while none of these mediums gave any sign of hysteria. The controls themselves insisted they were entities independent of the medium. However, even if it is assumed that the controls were secondary personalities of the mediums, we are left without an explanation as to the source of the veridical information coming through them. We revert to the telepathy, super ESP, or spirit and survival theories.

It was also claimed that some of the information coming through the mediums was "colored," or distorted, by the mediums. The controls and the communicating spirits confirmed that this was often the case, although usually the essence of the message got through. "It seems that no one yet understands the unique character of a sitting," said Drayton Thomas' discarnate sister through the entranced Leonard. "It is a no man's land between the two conditions, yours and ours…[there is] a peculiar bridgeway which has to be used and which belongs neither to the [medium] or the [communicating spirit], yet has some of the characteristics of each. Here lies the all the difficulty. Medium and sitter are in part working in a condition which is not entirely theirs, and we work in one which is not entirely ours. It is a pooling of resources which creates the bridge. One gets out of one's depth sometimes on both sides." (Smith 1964, pg. 201)

Res Judicata

The subject title given to this Ashby competition - "MEDIUMSHIP: DIRECT CONNECTION TO A LEVEL OF THE AFTERLIFE, TELEPATHY, OR FRAUD? - suggests that all of the research conducted by these esteemed scientists and scholars was for naught. They didn't prove anything. Otherwise, why ask the question? Were they all victims of hoaxes - hundreds of hoaxes totally independent of each other? Of course, if it can be demonstrated that there have been scientific discoveries or developments since their time to render their methods faulty or erroneous, we might simply dismiss all of their findings as outdated science. But there have been no such discoveries.

If we cannot accept the conclusions of such men, whose can we accept? Who today is qualified to say these respected scholars and scientists were wrong in their conclusions? Who is qualified to dissect their reports and writings and show where they went astray? The cynics who call themselves skeptics ridicule without any real investigation of their own.

To repeat the words of Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator of the theory of evolution: "[Survival is] proved quite as well as any facts are proved in other sciences."

As they say in the legal profession, res judicata - it has been adjudicated, or it has already been decided.


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Bradley, H. Dennis, 1924, TOWARD THE STARS, T. Werner Laurie, Ltd., London

Carrington, Hereward, 1957, THE CASE FOR PSYCHIC SURVIVAL, The Citadel Press, New York


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Pleasants, Helene, 1964, BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF PARAPSYCHOLOGY, Garrett Publications, Helix Press, New York 

Price, Harry, 1939, FIFTY YEARS OF PSYCHICAL RESEARCH, Longmans, Green, London

Smith, Alson J., 1951, THE PSYCHIC SOURCE BOOK, Creative Age Press, Inc., New York 

Smith, Alson J., 1954, IMMORTALITY, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 

Smith, Susy, 1964, THE MEDIUMSHIP OF MRS. LEONARD, University Books, New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Tabori, Paul, 1972, PIONEERS OF THE UNSEEN, Taplinger Publishing Co., New York

Tweedale, Charles L., 1940, NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD, Spiritualist Press, Ltd., London

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