There is one area we still have not talked about in my blogs. Spiritualism. Although many of you Alexandrites may not choose to work presentations of this type into your shows, the subject has recently gained much interest lately. Priests of ancient times made deception a science and an art so as to convince their followers that there was life after death. They preyed on the superstitious fears of the masses with cleverly concealed apparatus in their temples to make it seem that the spirits spoke to them. In certain parts of Greece you may even still find speaking tubes, trap doors, secret passageways, syphons, trick altars, etc., by means of which they controlled the speaking idols, fire-spitting, water-projecting, and food-eating gods. These excite the admiration of the modern magician and almost cause him to turn green with envy, so clever and such good magic are these contraptions.
From the time when the Faux sisters startled the world with their spirit rappings in 1848, rogues posing as spirit mediums have mulcted millions of dollars annually from the simple minded and even from the intelligent but credulous, by using magic to prey on the most solemn and sacred emotion of the human heart, the longing to hear from a loved one beyond the grave. Until about 1908, physical phenomena were the rage among spiritualists. In practically every large city there were hundreds of materializing, trumpet, slate writing, table tilting and rap producing mediums. Most of them prided themselves on working under “strict scientific test conditions,” being tied with ropes, handcuffed, placed in sacks, etc.
Due to the publications of David P. Abbott, Hereward Carrington, Henry Ridgeley Evans, Joseph F. Rinn, and others, about 20 years ago, exposing the methods of these fake mediums in various parts of America, investigators began to flash lights on trumpet mediums and to grab the “spirit” in a materializing seance, or in other ways to catch the medium cheating. A reaction set in and physical phenomena got a set back from which they have not yet recovered. Today physical phenomena mediums are practically nonexistent except in the mid-western states. There are only a few slate writing mediums working today, while table tilting and rap producing mediums are little known among the present generation of spiritualists. Trumpet and materializing mediums are still found in the large cities of the mid west, but are few in number in other parts of the country. The Magic Castle in Hollywood even has a fake seance that you can pay to go to where a spirit medium will join a group of five or six at a table and perform amazing experiments apparently contacting the dead. Years ago most spiritualists actually believed in trumpet speaking, but today, even in Chicago, formerly the mecca of trumpet workers, probably only one in a hundred believes in that phase of mediumship. Trumpet and materializing seances today usually have about one-fifth the number of people they had in the “good old days,” and the earnings of mediums have decreased accordingly. In fact there’s a Facebook group dedicated to this very cause here: https://www.facebook.com/Psychic-Support-Group-429820675603/
However, don’t think that all who attend trumpet and materializing seances believe in those phases of spiritualism, or that they have faith in the honesty of the medium. Many spiritualists attend for amusement or to investigate seriously in the hope that they will see genuine psychic phenomena or, at least, something interesting. There are those who claim that even when they know the mediums to be counterfeit, a certain percentage of the phenomena are genuine.
Millions of dollars have been spent by honest, sincere, but mistaken seekers of truth in chasing that elusive will-o’-the-wisp, a genuine medium. In many cases, these people were spurred in their search by reading the publications made by analytical scientific investigators of the phenomena of spiritualism. I mean the writings of those highly intellectual, keenly intelligent men of science who have for years been patiently, laboriously, accumulating a vast mass of evidence dealing with spiritualistic and supernormal phenomena without the slightest thought to material reward — Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Barrett, Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, Sir Conan Doyle, and others. Without due thought and preparation, these truth seekers I speak of rushed headlong into investigation of this abstruse and perplexing subject in the hope of experiencing the phenomena of which the scientists had written. In visiting public mediums, many were sadly disillusioned and others were convinced by the spurious phenomena they saw.
Counterfeit mediumship is built on newspaper and magazine stories of prophetic dreams and inexplicable ghostly happenings, on the love of the mysterious and supernatural inherent in all of us, and even more on the publications of scientific investigators of the phenomena of spiritualism. Imagination runs riot in the religious atmosphere of the seance room. The prayers, singing of hymns, subtle suggestions of the medium or confederate, the will to believe, the darkness, the tenseness, all play on the emotions of the sitters and cause imaginary perception of things which do not occur. Mistaken observation, faulty reasoning, hallucination, and fraud account for most of the alleged phenomena.
Contrary to general belief, there is today very little information passed from one medium to another by phone or email, and the much discussed “Blue Book” is a myth. True, many counterfeit mediums have a “notebook” in which is recorded information that might later be used, but most fake mediums today do not use even a “notebook,” and not once in a hundred times does a medium have advance information about a caller. If a medium cannot get what is wanted at one sitting, more sittings are arranged for.
It should be remembered that the spiritualistic phenomena reported by scientists are not the kind usually found in spiritualistic churches or seances or message meetings conducted by professional mediums. Extensive literature on psychic science and numerous well-authenticated cases of spontaneous and induced supernormal phenomena of various kinds, such as telepathy, pre-vision, prophetic dreams, etc., reported by competent authorities, makes it seem that the subject has some merit. In my own personal experience, however, I haven’t experienced anything that I would attribute to spiritualistic or Psychic phenomena.
Certain forms of supernormal phenomena is well worthy of study by those who have the proper qualifications. As recent as the 1950′s Dr. J.B. Rhine devoted ten years of research and to study to the field of Extra-Sensory Perception or ESP, as it’s called today, and tried to quantify it and see if it was actually possible. Real ESP is an unknown field that takes years, even lifetimes, to develop, and isn’t really that reliable. We magicians need predictable, measurable methods to accomplish our tricks.