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:
The trance medium Leonora Piper was investigated by psychical researchers and psychologists in the late 19th and early 20th century. In an experiment to test if Piper's "spirit" controls were purely fictitious the psychologist G. Stanley Hall invented a niece called Bessie Beals and asked Piper's 'control' to get in touch with it. Bessie appeared, answered questions and accepted Hall as her uncle. The psychologist Joseph Jastrow wrote that Piper pretended to be controlled by spirits and fell into simple and logical traps from her comments. Science writer Martin Gardner concluded Piper was a cold reader that would "fish" for information from her séance sitters. The physiologist Ivor Lloyd Tuckett who examined Piper's mediumship in detail wrote it could be explained by "muscle-reading, fishing, guessing, hints obtained in the sitting, knowledge surreptitiously obtained, knowledge acquired in the interval between sittings and lastly, facts already within Mrs. Piper's knowledge." https://drive.google.com/file/d/1v-yKnSyHSOKG16JAd6WMkAyRH9zcHZJe/view?usp=sharing
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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.
^ 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." https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lfkfFLrxcEniet0G2UUIj-c3Tp03HESc/view?usp=sharing
According to the magician John Booth the stage mentalist David Devant managed to fool a number of people into believing he had genuine psychic ability who did not realize that his feats were magic tricks. At St. George's Hall, London he performed a fake "clairvoyant" act where he would read a message sealed inside an envelope. The spiritualist Oliver Lodge who was present in the audience was duped by the trick and claimed that Devant had used psychic powers. In 1936 Devant in his book Secrets of My Magic revealed the trick method he had used.
The spiritualists Arthur Conan Doyle and W. T. Stead were duped into believing Julius and Agnes Zancig had genuine psychic powers. Both Doyle and Stead wrote that the Zancigs performed telepathy. In 1924 Julius and Agnes Zancig confessed that their mind reading act was a trick and published the secret code and all the details of the trick method they had used under the title of Our Secrets!! in a London Newspaper.
^ M. Lamar Keene. (1997). The Psychic Mafia. Prometheus Books. p 122. ISBN 978-1-57392-161-9 "A medium still riding high in England is Leslie Flint, famed as an exponent of direct voice. William Rauscher and Allen Spraggett, who attended a sitting Flint held in 1970 in New York, said that it was the most abysmal flop of any seance they had endured. All the spirit voices sounded exactly like the medium and displayed an incredible ignorance of nearly everything pertaining to the sitters. The "mediumship " was second-rate ventriloquism."
The magician Julien Proskauer revealed that the levitating trumpet of Jack Webber was a trick. Close examination of photographs reveal Webber to be holding a telescopic reaching rod attached to the trumpet, and sitters in his séances only believed it to have levitated because the room was so dark they could not see the rod. Webber would cover the rod with crepe paper to disguise its real construction.
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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.
In 1970 two psychical researchers investigated the direct-voice medium Leslie Flint and found that all the "spirit" voices in his séance sounded exactly like himself and attributed his mediumship to "second-rate ventriloquism". The medium Arthur Ford died leaving specific instructions that all of his files should be burned. In 1971 after his death, psychical researchers discovered his files but instead of burning them they were examined and discovered to be filled with obituaries, newspaper articles and other information, which enabled Ford to research his séance sitters backgrounds. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zitTBgGddn7i6vwXjcjY-cBbhDhhupsW/view?usp=sharing
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In 1970 two psychical researchers investigated the direct-voice medium Leslie Flint and found that all the "spirit" voices in his séance sounded exactly like himself and attributed his mediumship to "second-rate ventriloquism". The medium Arthur Ford died leaving specific instructions that all of his files should be burned. In 1971 after his death, psychical researchers discovered his files but instead of burning them they were examined and discovered to be filled with obituaries, newspaper articles and other information, which enabled Ford to research his séance sitters backgrounds.