They also observed who was
gathered for a sťance through two-way mirrors and they could then prepare
their "spirit messages" accordingly. That way, a sitter could always say to a
skeptic that "the mediums didn't even see me before the sťance, so if they
needed prior research to prepare their messages, how could they have known to
prepare one for me?"
The mediums also employed
high-tech devices to help gather information. Of course, in years past, a
high-tech device might have been nothing more than an electronic sound
collector, which could pick up sounds at a considerable distance. Keene used
one that was set up in a house across the street from the Spiritualist church
at Camp Chesterfield. By aiming it at the church before a service, he could
pick up all sorts of information that could later be incorporated into his
Today, unscrupulous readers
can employ more sophisticated devices such as tiny ear plugs that can receive
messages from assistants about the sitters. This is a method that has been
used to great effect by not only phony mediums but by questionable religious
evangelists as well. Healing needs and spiritual messages can be incorporated
into services by collecting "prayer requests" that are filled out by the
attendees in advance of the service. It may appear that the evangelist has no
access to these requests, but his assistants do and can feed the information
to the minister through the ear plug.
Mediums (and evangelists with
working with ailments that need to be healed) have also been known to use
sealed envelopes that contain questions for the spirits to answer. The medium
will hold up the envelope and then answer the question inside of it -- without
ever actually seeing it. Of course, the information was given to him by the
spirit world! Or was it?
The medium then opens the
envelope to read the question back that he answered, thus "proving" his
mediumistic skills. What he has really done is to open an envelope that
contains an actual request from a sitter. He memorizes it and then tosses it
away. He then picks up the next sealed envelope and pretends to answer the
question that is contained inside of it. What he is actually doing is
answering the question from the envelope that he opened earlier. It appears
that the spirits are providing him with the information inside of the
envelope, when it's really the one that he already opened. He repeats the
process over and over again, staying one envelope ahead throughout the entire
sitting, and appears to be receiving information from the spirits.
Today, things are more
sophisticated (in some ways) and carnival tricks are liable not to fool most
audiences. When those who are believers take a look at the television shows
that claim to speak with the dead, many swear that no room for trickery
exists. They are certain that someone would have long ago detected their
favorite medium if he was hacking into people's personal files for information
or using an accomplice to feed him data through an electronic wire. And while
it's impossible to know what is taking place in a television studio (for the
shows are obviously highly edited) I concede that it's likely that these
mediums are not using electronic trickery -- for the information they need is
provided directly by the sitters themselves!
TALKING TO DEAD PEOPLE?
As mentioned earlier, most of today's popular mediums limit themselves to
receiving messages from the dead through clairvoyance and then pass those
messages on to their sitters. Because they do not have to produce physical
phenomena, it is much more difficult to expose the frauds and also to
differentiate between those who may be self-deceived (believing they really
can talk to the dead) and those who might actually have a gift that is beyond
our understanding. Unfortunately, this puts all mediums in a bad light and
those who really are genuine, or strive to be, should do whatever they can to
expose the ones who are frauds. If those who attempt to be legitimate allow
only the debunkers (who believe in nothing -- including even the
possibility of spirit communication) to expose the fraudulent mediums,
then they are allowing the entire community to look bad by appearing as though
they will do nothing about the frauds.
Today's popular television
mediums are doing nothing more than blatantly employing the "cold read"
method, which was used for years in many magician's "mind reading" acts. I was
instructed in this method a number of years ago by a friend who was a magician
and since have researched it quite a bit. When this new breed of television
psychic began to appear on the scene a few years ago, I recognized their
method for what it was right away. And so did many others but logic has been
bedeviled by the popularity of this new movement and by those who simply "want
to believe", no matter what. As stated already though, it is not my place to
try and convince the reader of what to believe or what not to believe --
that's up to you -- but I do want you to understand how subtle variations on
this familiar method can be accomplished.
These current mediums work by
asking a lot of questions. This should be your first clue that something is
not quite right for the "spirits" apparently have very poor memories or a lot
of trouble communicating! In my opinion, if the spirits have a message to
relay, they should be able to so without all of the silly guessing and weird
unrelated information that seems to spew out. Anyway, what happens is
that by this information being provided in a question form, it may be
considered correct (or a "hit) if it happens to be on target and if wrong,
then will seem to be just an innocent query. The medium can then obtain clues
to the information they are providing by watching the body language of the
sitter (facial expressions when either wrong or on the right track) and then
can shift the information to fit the mood. For example, almost anyone can
react positively to a mention of a common object like a ring, a watch or some
special piece of jewelry and this guess can then be transformed into a hit by
In addition, the mediums will
attempt to boost the accuracy of their statements by trying to get the sitters
to focus on their accurate statements rather than the numerous incorrect ones.
Even the most believing viewer will admit that the mediums are wrong much more
often that they are right. Of course, this is hard to tell from an edited
television program that is designed to showcase the medium. If you really want
to observe them in action, try to do so on a live broadcast or news program
that is not skewed in one direction or another. I think you'll find it be very
revealing as the misses fall as often (or more so) than the hits and the
accurate statements are usually weak ones -- such as telling an elderly person
that the medium senses his parents are deceased or "I sense an elderly woman
with an 'm' in her name". The only thing that really seems to be "uncanny"
about what is going on is the editing involved with the taped shows. Many
audience members who have attended the shows in the studio go away more
disenchanted with the mediums than when they came.
Another popular variation on
the cold read (and one that often does not make the final television cut) is
the method that some mediums have of "brow beating" the sitter and refusing to
accept the negative responses to their statements. This is a common technique
in which the medium persists in attempting to redeem a wrong statement,
harassing the sitter so that they begin to feel that the incorrect response is
their fault. Many sitters will start to accept the statements out of guilt and
this further boosts what seems to be the accuracy of the medium's visions.
Regardless of how you look at
it, or your fascination with your favorite popular medium, there are a myriad
of problems when it comes to accepting the authenticity of their readings. All
that I ask is that you not be too quick to believe -- or too quick to doubt
either -- and study these things for yourself before making up your mind. I
believe that an analysis of how many of these mediums work will shed a
much-needed light on the "mysteries" of "communicating with the dead".
WANT TO TRY IT FOR YOURSELF?
Still don't believe
it's that easy? You can try cold reading for yourself and soon you'll see that
the work of fraudulent mediums is not as mysterious as you once thought. You
can try this with a group of friends or even one or two people. Once you
master it, or at least have the basics down, try it with someone that you
don't know and see how "uncanny" your "spirit messages" actually are!
The basic method behind cold
reading is to start by throwing out common names to your group of sitters. You
hope that someone will link up with one of them and then you can fine tune
your guesses based on the reaction of the person that you have connected with.
You can either guess or ask the relationship of the sitter to the name and at
this point, you are well on your way to convincing an unknowing person that
you have contacted the dead. To do this though, you have to add some drama to
the presentation, perhaps by saying that you "are receiving a message from a
person named _________ -- does this mean anything to anyone present?" Also, on
the off chance that your common name is not common enough, expand the
possibilities into friends, relatives or neighbors of a deceased person.
Eventually, you are going to get a hit.
Once you find someone who has
accepted the name, it's time to move forward. The method includes a number of
clever ways to get information from the sitter so that it never looks like the
medium asked for it. You can make comments like "Why is this person
laughing?". "They seem to be upset about something, do you know what this
could be?" or "she's shaking her head 'no', why would this be?" Seemingly
innocuous statements like this are sure to elicit a response. Once the reading
moves ahead, it's important to use words that generalize the statements so
that it never appears that your statements are absolute fact. In this way,
they are never actually wrong! Just remember to add things like "I feel
that...", "I think that..." or "I want to say that..."
Another devious way to
reinforce the reading is to agree with the sitter when they give you
information. In other words, if the sitter answers a question to something,
say "yes, of course", as though you knew that information all along, and then
repeat that information back to them. You can also say something like "Yes, I
sensed that" when you really never sensed anything at all. The sitter is the
one providing all of the information but by playing it back to them, they will
come to believe that the information is really coming from you.
Here are the main points to
watch for in this method (whether experimenting with it yourself or when
investigating a reading by a medium):
1. The medium will use phrases
like "I think" or "I don't think". This is a way of doing what magicians call
"trying on" a guess for acceptance by the sitter.
2. The medium will often
directly ask for information (which the sitter usually provides) and this will
"help along" the process and provide more information for the cold read.
3. The sitters are often asked
not to take the statements literally but to use their imagination and try to
make them fit into something they already know. The excuse is that the spirits
can't always differentiate between the past and the present and will sometimes
be vague in their messages.
4. You should also look for
(and if you are experimenting with this, try to encourage) a cooperation
between the sitter and the medium. The sitters come to mediums because they
want to believe and will go out of their way to do so. They only need to be
Proficiency at this method is
usually obtained by watching those who are skilled at it or by trial and
error. There are many clever ways to get this to work such as using different
methods to probe for information, laughing away mistakes, getting around long
pauses when the sitter fails to volunteer information and even blaming errors
on "poor reception from the spirit world". It takes practice to make it work
-- and to understand how easy it is to accomplish by popular mediums.
As a warning though, I don't
encourage readers to try and deceive the gullible with these methods. They are
provided here for educational purposes only. Even tricking people for the
purpose of debunking the fraudulent methods is frowned upon. This was often a
method used by Harry Houdini when he wanted to show how alleged "spirit
activities" could be duplicated by stage magic. During his career, he was
accused of having supernatural powers of his own, which enabled him to escape
from some of the traps that he prepared for himself. In order to debunk this
notion, he put on a display of what seemed to be unearthly power but it
backfired on him. Instead of convincing those in attendance that it was mere
trickery, they became more convinced that he was a medium himself. Keep that
in mind should you decide to teach yourself the methods of "cold reading"!
© Copyright 2003
-2008 by Troy
Taylor. All Rights Reserved.