The process of allowing oneself to serve as a medium of expression, action or phenomena of a non-physical entity. This often refers specifically to people who claim to be able to transmit messages from dead people by allowing their bodies to be used as a conduit.
The word has been used in a wide variety of senses. Its most popular meaning is linked with Spiritualism, where people who are called mediums would go into a state of trance and then speak or perform phenomena while in that state (see SPIRITUALISM AND THEOSOPHY). Often the medium does not remember what transpired during the trance state. In the case of physical mediums, they sometimes are able to produce a wide range of phenomena, such as production of ectoplasmic material, telekinesis and even levitation. Some claim to be able to perform healing, including physical removal of internal body parts, often without leaving any scars, such as those performed by Arigo of Brazil and the psychic surgeons in the Philippines.
Mediumship should be distinguished from individuals who claim to be able to transmit messages from invisible entities with full consciousness. The latter may be clairvoyants or clairaudients whose faculties to see the non-physical worlds have been awakened (see MEDIATORSHIP).
Spiritualistic phenomena in modern times started in the United States in 1848 when the Fox sisters heard unusual phenomena in their homes and eventually found ways of communicating with the invisible entities producing the phenomena. Since that time, mediumistic seances have been reported in various parts of the world. Various scientific organizations have sprung up to investigate the claimed phenomena. One such pioneer research group was the British Society of Psychical Research.
Theosophists affirm the reality of mediumship but give different explanations of the phenomena compared to the explanations of the mediums themselves. While spiritualists believe that the entities contacted by mediums are real people who have just died, (and some also claim contact with archangels and God), theosophists state that the entities contacted are often merely astral shells of departed people. The source of their apparent knowledgeableness comes from either the memories of the shells or of the sitters themselves. Helena P. Blavatsky wrote, “This ‘spook,’ or the Kāma-rūpa, may be compared with the jelly-fish, which has an ethereal gelatinous appearance so long as it is in its own element, or water (the medium’s specific AURA), but which, no sooner is it thrown out of it, than it dissolves in the hand or on the sand, especially in sunlight. In the medium’s aura, it lives a kind of vicarious life and reasons and speaks either through the medium’s brain or those of other persons present” (Key, Sec. 9).
In Isis Unveiled, H. P. Blavatsky states that mediumistic phenomena are due to either of three things: (a) interaction with astral shells or departed souls, (2) elementals, or (3) the action of the medium’s own linga-śarīra or etheric double (IU II:597). At times, the materials used in such phenomena may also be drawn from the sitters in the room. As a result, they and the medium often feel exhausted after a seance.
Blavatsky wrote that mediumship is the opposite of Adeptship (see ADEPTS). “The medium is the passive instrument of foreign influences, the adept actively controls himself and all inferior potencies” (IU II:588). “The body, soul, and spirit of the adept are all conscious and working in harmony, and the body of the medium is an inert clod, and even his soul may be away in a dream while its habitation is occupied by another” (ibid., p. 596). She goes to the extent of stating that “No entirely healthy person on the physiological and psychic planes can ever be a medium” (Key, “Glossary”).
The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett describe the harmfulness of mediumship on those who went through premature death, such as suicide, murder or accident. Mediumship awakens in these earth-bound souls the desire for sentient existence, and thus engender new skāndhas or seeds of future karma (ML, p. 200).
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