From its earliest beginnings to contemporary times, mediumship practices have had many instances of fraud and trickery. 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, a supposed paranormal substance, was revealed to have been 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. Lewis Spence in his book An Encyclopaedia of Occultism (1960) wrote:
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.
After her death in the 1980s the medium Doris Stokes was accused of fraud, by author and investigator Ian Wilson. Wilson stated that Mrs Stokes planted specific people in her audience and did prior research into her sitters. Rita Goold a physical medium during the 1980s was accused of fraud, by the psychical researcher Tony Cornell. He claimed she would dress up as the spirits in her séances and would play music during them which provided cover for her to change clothes.
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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 British medium Isa Northage claimed to materialize the spirit of a surgeon known as Dr. Reynolds. When photographs taken of Reynolds were analyzed by researchers they discovered that Northage looked like Reynolds with a glued stage beard.
What actually transpires during the trance is that the clairvoyant medium sees visions, hears voices, feels the energy and interprets his experiences in intelligible human language. The narration of the sequence of events is convincing as it divulges the secrets and facts, which are known only to the seeker. This revelation of personal facts builds trusts between the seeker and the clairvoyant medium.
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 the parapsychologist Gary Schwartz, was created primarily to test the hypothesis that the consciousness (or identity) of a person survives physical death. Schwartz claimed his 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.
Spiritualists believe that phenomena produced by mediums (both mental and physical mediumship) are the result of external spirit agencies. The psychical researcher 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.
In the later half of the 20th century, Western mediumship developed in two different ways. One type involved clairaudience or sensitives who hear spirit, and then relay what they hear to their clients. The other incarnation of non-physical mediumship is a form of channeling in which the channeler goes into a trance, or "leaves their body", allowing a spirit entity to borrow their body, who then speaks through them. When in a trance the medium appears to come under the control of the spirit of a departed soul, sometimes entering into a cataleptic state, although modern channelers may not. Some channelers open the eyes when channeling, and remain able to walk and behave normally. The rhythm and the intonation of the voice may also change completely.
The poet Robert Browning and his wife Elizabeth attended a séance on 23, July 1855 in Ealing with the Rymers. During the séance a spirit face materialized which Home claimed was the son of Browning who had died in infancy. Browning seized the "materialization" and discovered it to be the bare foot of Home. To make the deception worse, Browning had never lost a son in infancy. Browning's son Robert in a letter to The Times, December 5, 1902 referred to the incident "Home was detected in a vulgar fraud." The researchers Joseph McCabe and Trevor H. Hall exposed the "levitation" of Home as nothing more than his moving across a connecting ledge between two iron balconies.
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". https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-d3Pvb0xe_FgsB06SK4K4At_6z1F2naF/view?usp=sharing
The 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 escapologists use, and had acted as the medium's confederate by pretending to be M. Taylor, a magician. The British medium Estelle Roberts claimed to materialize an Indian spirit guide called "Red Cloud". Researcher Melvin Harris who examined some photographs of Red Cloud wrote the face was the same as Roberts and she had dressed up in a feathered war-bonnet.
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Senses used by mental mediums are sometimes defined differently from 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 include seeing spirit and visions instilled by the spirit world. The Parapsychological Association defines "clairvoyance" as information derived directly from an external physical source.