Attempts 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 (In the most recent edition of the NIV witch is rendered medium in the passage) tells of one who raised the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel to allow the Hebrew king Saul to question his former mentor about an upcoming battle, as related in the Books of Samuel in the Jewish Tanakh (the basis of the Old Testament).
In 1930 the Polish medium Stanisława P. was tested at the Institut Metapsychique in Paris. French psychical researcher Eugéne 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. It was claimed by spiritualists that during a series of séances in 1930 the medium Eileen J. Garrett channeled secret information from the spirit of the Lieutenant Herbert Carmichael Irwin who had died in the R101 crash a few days before the séance. Researcher Melvin Harris who studied the case wrote that the information described in Garrett's séances were "either commonplace, easily absorbed bits and pieces, or plain gobblede-gook. The so-called secret information just doesn't exist."
Psychologists and researchers who studied Pearl Curran's automatic writings in the 1930s came to the conclusion Patience Worth was a fictitious creation of Curran. 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.
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.
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^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Spiritualism: A Popular History from 1847. Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 110–12. A Mr. Merrifield was present at one of the sittings. Home's usual phenomena were messages, the moving of objects (presumably at a distance), and the playing of an accordion which he held with one hand under the shadow of the table. But from an early date in America he had been accustomed occasionally to "materialise" hands (as it was afterwards called). The sitters would, in the darkness, faintly see a ghostly hand and arm, or they might feel the touch of an icy limb. Mr. Merrifield and the other sitters saw a "spirit-hand" stretch across the faintly lit space of the window. But Mr. Merrifield says that Home sat, or crouched, low in a low chair, and that the "spirit-hand" was a false limb on the end of Home's arm. At other times, he says, he saw that Home was using his foot."
In a 2019 television segment on Last Week Tonight featuring prominent purported mediums including Theresa Caputo, John Edward, Tyler Henry, and Sylvia Browne, John Oliver criticized the media for promoting mediums because this exposure convinces viewers that such powers are real, and so enable neighborhood mediums to prey on grieving families. Oliver said "...when psychic abilities are presented as authentic, it emboldens a vast underworld of unscrupulous vultures, more than happy to make money by offering an open line to the afterlife, as well as many other bullshit services."
Today "demonstration of mediumship" is part of the church service at all churches affiliated with the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC) and the Spiritualists' National Union (SNU). Demonstration links to NSAC's Declaration of Principal #9. "We affirm that the precepts of Prophecy and Healing are Divine attributes proven through Mediumship."
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The séance trick of the Eddy Brothers was revealed by the magician Chung Ling Soo in 1898. The brothers utilized a fake hand made of lead, and with their hands free from control would play musical instruments and move objects in the séance room. The physiologist Ivor Lloyd Tuckett examined a case of spirit photography that W. T. Stead had claimed was genuine. Stead visited a photographer who had produced a photograph of him with deceased soldier known as "Piet Botha". Stead claimed that the photographer could not have come across any information about Piet Botha, however, Tuckett discovered that an article in 1899 had been published on Pietrus Botha in a weekly magazine with a portrait and personal details.
^ LeCron, Leslie; Bordeaux, Jean (1970). Hypnotism Today. Wilshire Book Co. p. 278. ISBN 0-87980-081-X. When in a trance ... the medium seems to come under the control of another personality, purportedly the spirit of a departed soul, and a genuine medium undoubtedly believes the 'control' to be a spirit entity ... In the trance, the medium often enters a cataleptic state marked by extreme rigidity. The control then takes over, the voice may change completely ... and the supposed spirit answers the questions of the sitter, telling of things 'on the other plane' and gives messages from those who have 'passed over.' https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jaiz1mTECKiiESpwX8al362NU5Rjk2JP/view?usp=sharing
In the late 19th century, the fraudulent methods of 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 plates before, during, and after the séance to produce spirit forms. The 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. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Zc3KULgEeXfa-vu5QjH7kGb4X1RKWEi3/view?usp=sharing
The magician Samri Baldwin exposed the tricks of the Davenport brothers in his book The Secrets of Mahatma Land Explained (1895). 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".
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^ John Casey. (2009). After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. Oxford. p. 373. ISBN 978-0-19-997503-7 "The poet attended one of Home's seances where a face was materialized, which, Home's spirit guide announced, was that of Browning's dead son. Browning seized the supposed materialized head, and it turned out to be the bare foot of Home. The deception was not helped by the fact that Browning never had lost a son in infancy."
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These details were from the falsified Facebook accounts for the pair which were prepared by a group of skeptics in advance of the reading, and Gerbic and Edward were not aware of the specific information in these accounts. This blinding was done in order to avoid John later being able to claim he obtained the false information by reading Gerbic and Edward's minds. In her report, Gerbic also revealed that during an after-show private event, John disclosed in a group setting that at least one of the people in the audience which he did a reading about was actually his own student.
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 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.