THIS TERM "medium," which signifies an intermediary between this world of the
living and the world of the dead, is execrable, but too firmly fixed to be
abandoned. In the course of this book many details will be found which have not
found a place in this chapter which is necessarily abbreviated to avoid
repetition elsewhere. The history of mediums covers nearly all metapsychics.
There is a great difference between powerful mediums such as
Stainton Moses, and
Florence Cook, who manifest surprising objective and energetic phenomena,
and those who show only subjective phenomena. It is therefore necessary to place
physical mediums who show telekinesis and materializations in a class by
Such mediums are very rare; even those who can give raps without contact are not
Their psycho-physiology does not tell us much; it is not possible to say whether
they are more or less intelligent than average persons. Nothing distinguishes
them from others, except their strange power of producing materializations
(hands and shapes of persons), and movements of matter (noises, raps, voices,
and scents) in spiritist séances.
The extreme rarity of telekinetic powers is not a matter for suspicion; we must
perforce admit that all men are not alike. Some children show at a very early
age astounding powers of memory and calculation. It is easy to admit that in the
mass of humanity there must be exceptional individuals.
Cryptesthetic are much more common than the telekinetic faculties. Cryptesthesia
of all degrees is so widespread, and telekinesis is so rare, that the persons
showing the latter powers cannot be classed along with those showing the former.
We shall therefore class mediums in two distinct groups:
1. Mediums showing physical phenomena.
2. Mediums showing psychical phenomena.
Telekinesis is sharply defined; materialization still more so, but the
elementary form of telekinesis, rapping, which is a sonorous vibration (without
contact) in the wood of a table or, a chair, without the power of raising
objects or producing materializations, is not infrequent; but even here it is
difficult to draw a precise line dividing those mediums who can and those who
cannot produce raps, for very slight noises are often heard when a medium is
scarcely touching the table, noises so slight that one can hardly be sure of
It would be desirable here to touch on the biography of the great mediums noted
for materializations and telekinesis, but we must defer this to the
chapter on materializations.
To mention Home, Florence Cook, Stainton Moses, Eusapia Palladino,
Henry Slade, Marthe Béraud,
Miss Goligher, and
Stanislawa Tomczyk is to name nearly all; it is obvious that they
are but few. The number of those who give raps is very much larger, but I have
no statistics regarding them.
Unfortunately physical mediums often misuse their powers; they think to enrich
themselves and give public séances for profit. The
Fox sisters, the
Davenport brothers, Eglinton, and Henry Slade
all did this, and from thence to fraud is but a step that has often been taken,
so that professional mediums of this class are always to be looked upon with
suspicion and the most rigid precautions must always be taken against trickery.
Indeed this is always necessary, even when there is no possible suspicion of
There are, however, excellent reasons for not refusing to experiment with
leading professional mediums.
1. At the outset of their careers the phenomena produced must certainly have
been genuine. Leah, Margaret, and Kate Fox would not of set purpose have
invented the Hydesville rappings had they not originally had genuine ones.
2. Mediums like Mme. d'Espérance, Florence Cook, Linda Gazzera, Eusapia
Palladino, and Marthe Béraud had never had a lesson in legerdemain or
illusionism. They experienced some strange phenomena and almost in spite of
themselves followed the path opened before them. Only in order to discredit the
facts has extraordinary skill been attributed to them, a skill greater than that
of expert conjurers like Robert Houdin, Hamilton, and Maskelyne, sufficient to
deceive the most alert men of science in a way that Houdin, Hamilton, or
Maskelyne have not been able to imitate.
As to mediums producing psychical effects only, every shade between them and
normal persons is observable. It would even seem that quite normal persons once
in their lives may have some passing lucidity; but not to depart overmuch from
usual language we will provisionally apply the term "medium" only to those
persons who consider themselves to be in relations with extraneous
Conformably to this we have defined metapsychics as the science whose
subject-matter is phenomena which seem to arise from an intelligence other than
the human intelligence. Mediums are therefore those persons who, in partial or
total unconsciousness, speak words, perform actions, and make gestures that seem
not to be under control of their will and to be independent of their
intelligence. Nevertheless these unconscious phenomena show intelligence and
system, and are sometimes most aptly co-ordinated. Therefore the first thing to
be discovered is whether they are due to a human or to a super-human
To take a well-known and concrete example:
Helen Smith writes automatically long messages that
she attributes to Marie Antoinette. Is this done by Helen Smith's own
intelligence, or by another? Is it Marie Antoinette or some other that governs
Helen Smith's words, gestures, and writing?
We shall discuss these two hypotheses later on. For the present we shall show
that there are gradual, almost indescribable gradations between these so-called
mediums and normal persons. It is not only difficult, but impossible, to draw a
line of demarcation; whereas between physical mediums and normal persons there
is the chasm of an essential difference.
The grades of subjective mediumship may be classified as follows:
(A) The first departure from the normal consists in slight, almost
imperceptible, muscular movements, sufficient, however, to enable an experienced
person to recognize unconscious sensation and will in the subject under
observation. There are certainly more than fifty percent of normal persons who
reveal their thoughts by slight muscular tremors of which they are unconscious,
as in the "willing game," which sometimes gives surprising results. These
involuntary movements are so frequently and clearly observable that they belong
to normal physiology and not to metapsychics.
(B) The second degree consists in the creation of a new personality by
hypnotism. The normal personality reappears on awaking, but under hypnotism and
hypnotic suggestion a new personality appears which is evidently factitious,
since the magnetizer imposes it at will and can maintain it by verbal
suggestion. This artificial and transitory personality also belongs to normal
(C) The third degree is a mediumistic state, i.e., a new personality is created
by auto-suggestion. Hypnotism acts through hetero-suggestion; mediumship by
auto-suggestion. There is very little difference between the personality of
Marie Antoinette as assumed by Helen Smith of her own accord, and the same
personality as aroused by suggestion of a hypnotizer.
Automatic writings belong to this group and there is no ground for giving this
important psychological manifestation a place in metapsychics, at least in
regard to the mere fact of writing, for in most of these cases the need for the
hypothesis of an extraneous non-human intelligence does not arise. Since I can
suggest to Alice that she is Marie Antoinette and she enacts admirably the part
of the unhappy queen, why should I suppose that the Queen of France is incarnate
in Helen Smith when she assumes that character of her own motion and plays it
equally well? The supposition is gratuitous and infantile.
(D) The fourth step is when the new personality shows cryptesthesia and really
seems to know things unknown to the medium, and even things that the secondary
personality alone could be aware of, as in the case of
Mrs. Piper incarnating Phinuit
or George Pelham.
The "guide" of the medium (i.e., the new personality that appears) then seems to
be a genuinely extraneous intelligence. These phenomena can rightly be called
metapsychic because, taking them all in all, the normal intelligence of the
sensitive is quite insufficient to explain the strange and potent cryptesthesia.
I need scarcely remark that the notion that an extraneous force is in play is
only a hypothesis.
(E) Perhaps it would be as well to reserve the name "medium" for those who
produce mechanical movement without contact and materializations. This is the
fifth degree; in which levitations, telekinesis, hallucinations pertaining to
the spiritist trance (akin to the hypnotic trance) and materializations appear
side by side with cryptesthesia.
There is still nothing to prove that the secondary personalities may not be
exclusively human and due to modalities of human intelligence; whereas the
physical phenomena show something really new and metapsychic, transcending
normal psychology, and by no means explicable without the intervention of
unknown powers that appear to be intelligent.
As this book claims to be a working treatise, I shall, in order to give clear
ideas, instance some examples of transition from the normal to the mediumistic
First degree. Antoinette is not hypnotizable; but if I take her hand and
ask her to think of some object that she has hidden in a corner of the room, she
is much astonished when I discover that object, guided by her unconscious
Second degree. Alice is hypnotized. If I suggest that she is an old
general, she caricatures an old general - coughs, spits, speaks roughly, swears,
calls for a drink, etc. She will play this simple farce for an hour at a time.
Third degree. Helen Smith has become Marie Antoinette by auto-suggestion.
She moves with dignity, speaks the language, and reproduces nearly the writing
and spelling of the queen. In perfect good faith she plays this rôle for weeks
Mme. Camus puts her hand on the table and feverishly writes long phrases
automatically; she does not know what she writes and talks of other things while
writing. A certain Vincent is supposed to be the spirit-guide of these
commonplace philosophical and theosophical dissertations.
Fourth degree. Mrs. Piper gradually loses her normal consciousness; then
Phinuit, or George Pelham,
Frederic Myers, or
Richard Hodgson speak through her. But these personalities, though probably
imaginary and arising from auto-suggestion, have astonishing cryptesthetic
powers. The words spoken by them through the voice of Mrs. Piper, show
telepathy, monitions, premonitions, and all kinds of lucidity, so that
rationalism (which is itself perhaps an error), finds the greatest difficulty
not to ascribe the almost superhuman intelligence displayed to some extraneous
Osborne-Leonard, Mme. Briffaut,
and the Seeress of Prevorst are all mediums of this kind.
Fifth degree. Eusapia falls into a trance without being hypnotized. Then
by the agency of
King, as she says, she moves objects without touching them; she materializes
the hands, and sometimes the head of John King. Other phantoms sometimes appear.
Home, Mme. d'Espérance, Florence Cook, Stainton Moses,
Stanislawa Tomczyk, Miss
Kathleen Goligher, and Marthe Béraud are mediums of the same order.
Frequently cryptesthesia of divers kinds appears side by side with the physical
and mechanical results. The domination by an extraneous intelligence seems
complete, alike by the cognition of things unknown to the medium herself and by
the abnormal powers over matter.
Indeed true mediums (of the physical order) are often sensitives also; they have
remarkable cryptesthetic faculties. Stainton Moses and Home showed this. Eusapia
showed only mechanical and physical phenomena, Mrs. Piper only psychological.
Without drawing any inference, it must be admitted as a fact that powerful
mediums attribute their powers to a "guide," whether those powers be mechanical,
objective, or subjective; and in order to carry out successful experiments, it
is necessary to act as though this guide were really existent and incarnated in
the medium. This is a working hypothesis in the strictest sense, nearly always
essential to the production of the phenomena.
Science, it has been said, is only accuracy of language. Therefore we ought not
to use the same word to describe persons so different as Eusapia and Mrs. Piper.
We might call those who give physical effects, mediums; those who show
cryptesthetic effects which they attribute to extraneous forces, sensitives; and
those who (without cryptesthesia), present, by automatic writing, secondary
personalities that seem spontaneous, but are doubtless created by
This classification, like all others, is arbitrary. Sensitives are always
automatists also, though the converse is not true. Hundreds of cases might be
cited of automatic writing which are but moderately interesting examples of
released subconsciousness, destitute of cryptesthesia and lucidity, and in no
way noteworthy except for the extraordinary powers of the subconscious.
In spite of my strong desire to refer metapsychic phenomena as far as possible
to the domain of normal psychology, I do not wish to curtail or misrepresent
them on rationalist grounds. The dominance of a single idea and the state of
automatism induced by trance, whether hypnotic or spiritist, creates such
extraordinary aptitudes for cryptesthesia that one is really tempted to believe
in an extraneous intelligence in such cases as those of Mrs. Piper, Mrs.
Mrs. Verrall. This question will not be discussed here; later on I shall
treat it fearlessly.
Neither sensitives, nor automatists, nor even mediums show any special signs;
they are like other people. Age, sex, and nationality do not seem to influence
Hysteria has often been invoked; but unless we assign an unwarrantable extension
to this morbid state, it does not seem favourable to the phenomena. Hysterics
are often hypnotizable, but so are most people. Mediums are more or less
neuropaths, liable to headaches, insomnia, or dyspepsia; but this signifies very
little. I entirely refuse to consider them morbid persons as P. Janet is too
disposed to do. Certainly they show some dissociations of consciousness; but
such analogous dissociations with partial automatism are common enough among
artists, men of science, and many ordinary individuals.
J. Maxwell has insisted on a certain mark in the iris of most mediums, and it
might be worth while to make some statistical research on this; but there will
always be the difficulty of knowing where to stop, for there is no line of
demarcation possible between sensitives and automatists on the one hand and
normal persons on the other. One automatist does nothing but trace circles;
another writes incoherent words; a third will write connected sentences; a
fourth composes short poems; while a fifth will write a book or a novel. There
are all possible degrees in automatism. The talents of the unconscious show even
more variety than those of consciousness.
Cryptesthesia also admits of many gradations. A person who has been perfectly
normal during the whole of a long life may one day see a veridical apparition or
hear a premonitory voice. He cannot be called "a sensitive," though he has been
such for a few minutes or seconds. Persons apparently normal look into the
crystal and after a short time perceive dramatic scenes in the little glass
sphere. One cannot say that they are sensitives, or that they are not; but here
also there is no need to invoke an external agency, even to explain the fact.
Even great sensitives like Mrs. Piper or Stainton Moses have no distinguishing
physiological characteristics. These privileged persons who, according to
spiritualist ideas, enter into communication with the dead, do not show any
other physical or mental superiority. The facility with which their
consciousness suffers dissociation indicates a certain mental instability, and
their responsibility while in a state of trance is somewhat diminished; but
these are only shades of character, and I infer that apart from their visions,
trances, and other manifestations they are much as other people.
Their sensitiveness has usually been discovered by chance. It would be very
interesting to work out the details of the origins of mediumship. Every
prominent case would, no doubt, show very different points of departure, but
never that they have become mediums of set purpose. The power develops
It is curious, and discouraging, to find that their powers do not increase. They
arise spontaneously, no one knows how or why. If the fancy takes them, so to
speak, they simply disappear; no effort can retain them. "Katie
King" left Florence Cook and Sir
William Crookes, merely stating that she must leave them. My regretted and
learned friend, Dr. Ségard, told me that his young daughter of twelve showed
remarkable telekinetic phenomena (levitation of a heavy table, raps, movements
of objects without contact) for three days only, after which the whole power
vanished. This was twenty-five years ago and the lady has never had any such
later experiences. Training seems inoperative; I am even inclined to think that
our efforts to regularize the phenomena bring more disadvantages than
advantages. Hence in my own experiments I have entirely given up all attempts to
indicate how the sensitive or the medium should act. A medium must be left to
take his own way; our influence, if we have any, would probably be
unsatisfactory. A powerful medium is a very delicate instrument of whose secret
springs we know nothing, and clumsy handling may easily disorganize its working.
It is best to allow the phenomena to develop in their own way without any
attempts at guidance. It is probably a great mistake to try to educate
Why is this? It does not seem to me that we can necessarily infer the
intervention of an external intelligence. Even with normal children and youths
the power of education is, perhaps fortunately, very limited.
Mediums have not hitherto been treated with justice; they have been slandered,
ridiculed, and vilified. They have been treated as animæ viles for
experiment. When their faculties faded away they have been left to die in
obscurity and want; when rewarded it has been with a niggardly hand, giving them
to understand that they are only instruments. It is time that this inhuman
treatment should cease.
If by any chance a powerful physical medium or sensitive were discovered,
instead of leaving such a one to the curiosity of the ignorant, to journalists,
and to ladies who consult them on a lost dog or a faithless lover, they should
be assured of liberal board and lodging, or perhaps more, in order to prevent
their mediumship being degraded by base necessities. Mme. Bisson has done this
for Marthe Béraud; Lord Dunraven did the same for Home, and E. Imoda for Linda.
In short, mediums should be claimed for science - severe, just, and generous
science - instead of allowing their wonderful faculties to be prostituted by
childish credulity or damaging contempt.
At the same time there should be no relaxation of scientific strictness, without
demanding astounding experiments, or excursions into the beyond. We must resign
ourselves to earth-conditions. Metapsychic phenomena should be treated as
problems of pure physiology. Let us experiment with these rare, privileged, and
wonderful persons and remember that they deserve to be treated with all respect,
but also that they must never be trusted.
The above article was taken from Charles Richet's "Thirty Years of Psychical
Research" (London: W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1923).