The term mediumship denotes the ability of a person (the medium) to apparently experience contact with spirits. The medium generally attempts to facilitate communication between people and spirits who may have messages to share.
A medium may appear to listen to and relate conversations with spirit voices, go into a trance and speak without knowledge of what is being said, allow a spirit to enter their body and speak through it, and relay messages from the spirits those who wish to contact them with the help of a physical tool, such as a writing implement.
Mediumship is also part of the belief system of some New Age groups. In this context, and under the name channeling, it refers to a medium who receive messages from a teaching spirit.
Channeling became quite popular in the United States after the rise of Spiritualism as a religious movement. Modern Spiritualism is said to date to the mediumistic activities of the Fox sisters in New York state during 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 1800s. Mediumship was also described by Allan Kardec, who coined the term Spiritism, around 1860.
After the exposure of the fraudulent use of stage magic tricks by mediums such as the Davenport Brothers, mediumship fell into disrepute, although it never ceased being used by people who believed that the dead can be contacted.
From the 1930s through the 1990s, as psychical mediumship became less practiced in Spiritualist churches, the technique of channeling gained in popularity, and books by channellers who related the wisdom of non corporeal and non terrestrial teacher spirits became best sellers amongst believers.
For some mediums, a spirit guide is a highly evolved spirit with the sole purpose of helping the medium develop and use their skills. They assist mediums in following their spiritual path. For other mediums, a spirit guide is one who brings other spirits to a medium’s attention or carries communications between a medium and the spirits of the dead.
Many mediums claim to have specific guides who regularly work with them and bring in spirits. Some mediums believe that spirits will communicate with them directly without the use of a spirit guide.
In old line Spiritualism, a portion of the service, generally toward the end, is given over to the pastor or another medium who receives messages from the spirit world for the congregants. This may be referred to as a demonstration of mediumship. Today, demonstration of mediumship is part of the church service at all churches affiliated with the National Spiritualist Association of Churches.
Some mediums remain conscious during this communication period, while others go into a trance where a spirit uses the medium’s body to communicate. Trance mediumship is defined as a spirit taking over the body of the medium, sometimes to such a degree that the medium is unconscious.
In the 1860s and 1870s, trance mediums were very popular. Spiritualism had attracted adherents who had strong interests in social justice, and many trance mediums delivered passionate speeches on abolitionism, temperance, and women’s suffrage.
Because the typical trance medium has no clear memory of the messages conveyed while in a trance, a medium of this type generally works with an assistant who writes down or otherwise records his or her words.
There are two main techniques mediumship developed in the latter half of the 20th century. One type involves psychics or sensitives who can speak to spirits and then relay what they hear to their clients. One of the most noted channels of this type is clairvoyant Danielle Egnew, known for her communication with angelic entities.
The other incarnation of non physical mediumship is a form of channeling in which the channeler goes into a trance, or leaves their body and then becomes possessed by a specific spirit, who then talks through them. In the trance, the medium enters a cataleptic state marked by extreme rigidity. The control spirit then takes over, the voice may change completely and the spirit answers the questions of those in its presence or giving spiritual knowledge.
The most successful and widely known channeler of this variety is JZ Knight, who claims to channel the spirit of Ramtha, a 30 thousand year old man. Others claim to channel spirits from future dimensional ascended masters or in the case of the trance mediums of the Brahma Kumaris, God himself. Hossca Harrison is medium for a non physical entity named Jonah. There is video of Jonah taking over Hossca’s body and giving a message on YouTube.
While advocates of mediumship claim that their experiences are genuine, the Encyclopedia Britannica article on spiritualism notes that many 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.
Skeptics include atheists, agnostics who do not believe in the existence of spirits, and those who do not think contact with spirits through mediums is possible. Some skeptics say the phenomena of mediumship are the result of self delusion, unconscious influence, or magician’s techniques such as cold reading, hot reading, and conjuring.