This is a most extraordinary form of mediumship, and I am currently reading a book about it by one of the few physical mediums of the present day, Stewart Alexander.
As he says in the book, physical seances conjure up images of elderly ladies sitting around tables in the dark asking: ‘Is anybody there?’ It is, in fact, a very rare gift which can produce really amazing phenomena. This includes much more than simply contacting the spirits of those who have physically died. Physical mediumship has converted many skeptics, scientists and inventors to the reality of the afterlife and phenomena we do not yet have the science to fully understand.
There are several problems with physical mediumship which has resulted in a great decline in the number and quality of mediums able to do this kind of work. First, it takes years of patiently sitting around in spiritualist circles in darkened rooms with nothing very much happening, and not many in our busy world with its many distractions nowadays are prepared to do this.
Secondly, the dark conditions essential for physical mediumship, at least until the medium is sufficiently developed, give rise to skepticism and the possibility of trickery.
Thirdly, the medium herself or himself has to go into a deep trance to produce the phenomena, and therefore has no knowledge or recollection of what took place. S/he is the only person in the seance not to witness the amazing phenomena, so this too might well put off many who would otherwise be eager to develop as physical mediums.
Fourthly, the practice is extremely dangerous, as ectoplasm if suddenly exposed to light can shoot back into the medium’s body causing sometimes fatal injuries. This happened to Helen Duncan the famous Scottish physical medium after a police raid in 1956. Once jailed on charges of being a fraud under the now obsolete Witchcraft Act, her death from burns received when ectoplasm entered her body suddenly when a police flashlight was shone on her during a seance proves she was no charlatan. A very hard way to have to prove she was genuine after all, by sacrificing her life on Earth.
During the final stages of World War II the Admiralty and Intelligence services used planted ‘witnesses’ to frame Helen. These planted witnesses not only contradicted the genuine witnesses present at the seance, but the police failed to produce the cheesecloth which was supposed to be the crucial evidence of fraud. At the trial they said they grabbed the cheesecloth (supposedly representing ectoplasm) but a woman at the seance grabbed it and the police didn’t like to search her because they didn’t have a female officer present. What utter nonsense – to obtain such crucial evidence they would have taken her to a police station where a female officer could search her.
The reason Helen was framed was because she brought drowned sailors into seance rooms to communicate with relatives BEFORE they or any member of the general public had been informed that the Navy ships had been sunk. For public moral the Admiralty wanted to delay such announcements for as long as possible. Again, had she been a fraud, where did Helen get such top secret information? She was not charged with being a German spy, which is the only possible way she might have got the information by conventional methods, since the Germans and British government certainly knew the ships had been sunk.
Back to the present day, and there are a few physical mediums still working, largely in closed groups because of the great dangers of admitting skeptics who might try and grab at the phenomena produced or shine lights and endanger the health and life of the medium. Stewart Alexander describes one such incident in which a young man, invited to a seance, grabbed at a levitated trumpet ‘to see who was holding it’ and next moment he and his chair was levitated to a great height. He was screaming as he felt around the bottom of his chair that nobody was holding it.
Levitation is a frequent phenomena at physical seances, as are apports. These are physical objects brought into the seance room by means of dematerialization and rematerialization, a process our scientists know is possible in theory but are as yet unable to successfully produce. Spirit scientists, however, do it quite frequently. There are numerous examples of this in physical mediumship.
The materializations of spirits themselves, usually using ectoplasm, a substance drawn from the medium and also from the sitters present, form gradually and last only for a short while, when they start to disintegrate. Stewart Alexander speaks of witnessing a face of a spirit gradually ‘melting’ and the whole form sinking slowly into the floor and then becoming a pulsating white mass of ectoplasm. The energy sustaining these physical materializations has to be constantly renewed, but when at full power ectoplasm can become as strong and solid as steel, lifting heavy objects into the air, like the young man’s chair with him in it.
Magicians and conjurors have attended physical seances and admitted they could not reproduce the phenomena under the strict conditions imposed. Everybody is thoroughly searched before entering the seance room, including the medium, who is then bound and gagged in many cases. The seance room is also thoroughly searched for trapdoors, loudspeakers and similar equipment and paraphenalia.
Apart from the materializations, ‘Direct Voice’ is a common phenomena at physical seances. These are voices of spirits emanating not from the medium but from elsewhere in the seance room. Sometimes thru the seance trumpets, which are more like megaphones made of cardboard or aluminium, or just from an ectoplasmic figure or voicebox situated at some distance from the medium.
One person who was skeptical of the Direct Voices produced by the great English medium, the late Leslie Flint, became convinced when Flint visited his New York apartment and the voices suddenly appeared there too. Flint had no way of installing hidden speakers or hiding accomplices away in the room beforehand.
David Thompson, Stewart Alexander, Colin Fry and quite a few others still practice physical mediumship in closed circles with invited guests. Some of the physical mediums in the past have developed such strong powers they were able to not only produce the phenomena in red light, sufficient to see clearly the materializations, but a few could also do so in bright light. This is the ultimate goal of physical mediumship, to produce the phenomena in full light so the proceedings can be seen and recorded on film/videotape/DVD.
Infra-red glasses and cameras have been used, but seem to interfere with the phenomena. However some success has been achieved and experiments continue. A hardened skeptic, however, would not be convinced if Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Princess Diana all materialized in the bright lights of a TV studio and conducted a full scale discussion about the afterlife, then levitated everyone in the studio and materialized the Jungle Room from Gracelands in front of the TV cameras.
I have read a lot about physical mediumship, but have never attended such a seance myself. However this year I am booked into two such seances with David Thompson in various parts of the country, with the possibility of another in London next month with another medium.
I look forward to these with great anticipation, so keep your eyes on this space especially in April, June and August when these seances are due to take place.