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.[177] 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.[178]

Mediumship became quite popular in the 19th-century United States and the United Kingdom after the rise of Spiritualism as a religious movement. Modern Spiritualism is said to date from practices and lectures of the Fox sisters in New York State in 1848. The trance mediums Paschal Beverly Randolph and Emma Hardinge Britten were among the most celebrated lecturers and authors on the subject in the mid-19th century. Allan Kardec coined the term Spiritism around 1860.[12] Kardec claimed that conversations with spirits by selected mediums were the basis of his The Spirits' Book and later, his five-book collection, Spiritist Codification.
Many 19th century mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud.[64] While advocates of mediumship claim that their experiences are genuine, the Encyclopædia Britannica article on spiritualism notes in reference to a case in the 19th century that "...one by one, the Spiritualist mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud, sometimes employing the techniques of stage magicians in their attempts to convince people of their clairvoyant powers." The article also notes that "the exposure of widespread fraud within the spiritualist movement severely damaged its reputation and pushed it to the fringes of society in the United States."[65]

The fraudulent medium Ronald Edwin confessed he had duped his séance sitters and revealed the fraudulent methods he had used in his book Clock Without Hands (1955).[167] The psychical researcher Tony Cornell investigated the mediumship of Alec Harris in 1955. During the séance "spirit" materializations emerged from a cabinet and walked around the room. Cornell wrote that a stomach rumble, nicotine smelling breath and a pulse gave it away that all the spirit figures were in fact Harris and that he had dressed up as each one behind the cabinet.[168]
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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.[37]