The sťance grips the imagination, lays hold of
emotions, causes blood to tingle and hair to rise... all these combine
to play upon our sensibilities creating an effect which no utterance of
prophecy, no reading of minds, stars, crystal balls or tea leaves, can
Robert Somerlott from Here, Mr. Splitfoot (1971)
sťance was the most effective way, according to Spiritualist mediums, of
communicating with the dead. In this manner, messages from the departed
could be passed on to the living and the spirits could announce their
presence by manifesting displays of the supernatural.
Sťances were usually held in the home of the medium or that of one of the
sitters. To begin, the lights were normally turned down very low or
extinguished altogether. The reason for this, Spiritualists believed, was
that spirit forms were more easily seen in the darkness. Often they
manifested as luminous apparitions or would cause things to move about in
ways that would only be done if it could remain unseen. Debunkers and
skeptics, of course, offered other reasons for this -- that darkened
conditions would hide the deceptive practice of fraud.
An 1870 photograph
taken after a sťance
sitters were normally divided equally by gender and those who were skeptical
were generally excluded. A circular arrangement of chairs worked best,
normally around a large table. Their hands were placed flat on the table,
sometimes clasped together or merely with their fingers touching.
There were a number of
unwritten rules for sťances as well. Usually, no more than two or three
sťances were held in a week and they were to last for no more than two hours
unless the spirits asked for an extension. Sitters were not allowed to touch
the mediums or any of the manifested spirits, unless the spirits touched
them first. It was believed that to come into contact with the medium, one
of the manifested forms or the
might be generated by the medium during her trance, could severely injure
the medium or perhaps the sitter. In addition, a sudden return to
consciousness caused by interfering with the medium could cause illness,
insanity or even death.
Another vital ingredient
for a successful sťance was appropriate music. Most sittings opened with
hymns or prayers and on many reported occasions, the spirits chimed in with
ghostly music and the creation of melodies though instruments like trumpets,
horns and tambourines.
furnishings of the sťance room were normally simple and made of wood. Small
tables were often needed for
tilting and tapping by
the spirits and sitters were normally provided with basic wooden chairs.
Many physical mediums also made use of what were called
spirit cabinets, an enclosure where the medium
could be segregated while entering the trance state. Many of the cabinets
were actual wood enclosures, although it was more common for a corner of the
room to be hung with a curtain and closed off from view.
A 1903 photograph taken
during a sťance conducted by medium Eusapia Palladino. Apparently, the
table where the sitters are gathered is levitating by power channeled
through the medium.
phenomena reported at the sťances varied greatly. Sitters often recognized
the "arrival" of the spirits by a rush of cold air in the room, followed by
rapping and tapping, knocking and perhaps strange lights, sounds and voices.
The phenomena would often intensify as the evening progressed. Simple noises
and lights were often followed by elaborate messages from the beyond,
usually coming directly through the medium. The spirits would make
themselves known by the manifestation of ectoplasm, by levitating tables or
writing on "spirit slates", which were ordinary chalkboards upon which
unexplained writing would appear.
In the most dramatic
cases, some mediums, who claimed to be adept at act spirit summoning, were
able to cause ghosts to appear in the midst of the sitters. In some of the
most famous cases, like that of medium
spirits materialized who could touch, shake hands and even embrace the
the heyday of Spiritualism, scientists and psychical researchers
investigated hundreds of sťances and unfortunately, the majority of the
physical mediums were caught hoaxing phenomena at some point in their
career. Very few of them came away unscathed by the early investigators of
the Spiritualist movement and the few who did remain as mysterious now as
they were then.
Visit this section of
the site to see how Fraudulent Mediums worked and created phony sťances!
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Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
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