psychics, mediums

Mind Power - An Introduction to Psychics & Mediums

Most people are familiar with individuals who claim to possess special powers of the mind, though fewer understand the distinction between a 'psychic' and a 'medium'.  The rather general term 'psychic' is used to refer to those people allegedly possessed of unusual mental powers such as telepathy and psychokenesis (also known as 'telekinesis' - the movement of objects by the mind alone).  A 'medium', on the other hand, acts basically as a human intermediary for messages between 'spirits' and the physical world. The study of the effect of these unusual powers and abilities is nowadays generally known by the scientifically-sounding label 'parapsychology'. 

Powers of the Mind and ESP

One confusing point on the subject of psychics and mediums is that the mental powers of both may overlap considerably. For example, they may claim various abilities which come under the general heading of Extra Sensory Perception, or ESP. 

The term ESP was coined by noted psychical researcher J.B. Rhine (1895-1980), who carried out ground-breaking research into unexplained human abilities such as clairvoyance, telepathy and precognition at Duke University, North Carolina. A person with ESP, a power of the mind often referred to as a 'sixth sense', can allegedly acquire or transmit information by means other than the five ordinary senses. Controversial (and probably fraudulent) Russian psychic Nina Kulagina displayed a range of apparently psychic abilities, while the English 'medium' Stella C claimed to possess both psychic and mediumistic powers, including precognition (prior knowledge of an event or situation before it occurs), psychokinesis and telepathy. It must be stated that Kulagina and many other 'psychics' remain controversial and have been accused of trickery on more than one occasion.

Another curious 'psychic ability' is automatic writing, where material is recorded that does not originate in the conscious mind of the writer. Both Pearl Curran (Patience Worth) and Matthew Manning made extensive use of automatic writing, ostensibly as a communication device between themselves and apparently discarnate entities, though an origin in the subconscious of the writer is the most favoured explanation for this phenomenon.

Some researchers, including Colin Wilson, have remarked on the similarities between the mental abilities displayed by many psychics and mediums and the effects of a poltergeist. Indeed, Wilson went as far as to theorize that many phenomena witnessed in the presence of psychics and mediums - objects moving around the room of their own accord, knocks, raps, changes in room temperature, were in effect controlled poltergeist phenomena, that is, consciously controlled by the medium or psychic rather than occurring randomly, as in poltergeist cases.


The heyday of mediums coincided for the most part with the spread of Spiritualism in the US and Europe during the mid to late 19th century. Of the thousands of those practicing the art, or more often than not, the deception of mediumship, only a few stand out as noteable and unusual individuals. One of these is Daniel Dunglas Home, a Scottish-born medium who displayed an apparently  startling array of strange talents including levitation, psychokinesis and the playing of musical instruments when nowhere near them. Controversial (she was caught cheating on a number of occasions) Italian medium Eusapia Palladino is alleged to have sent heavy tables and sofas flying into the air, caused sudden drops in temperature, materialised human-like limbs and attracted distant objects towards her. The story of Florence Cook , allegedly the first British medium to produce full form materialisations in front of witnesses, and her 'spirit control' Katie King, is one which remains controversial to this day, and though likely a fraud she still remains worthy of study. 

It must be noted that the majority of the mystifying and sometimes alarming psychic phenomena associated with Home and Palladino and a few other 19th century mediums, have been claimed by sceptical researchers to be confined entirely  to the the Victorian era, and are consequently seen as highly questionable. However, much of the phenomena produced by these mediums has also been demonstrated well into the 20th century by individuals like Stella C, and Matthew Manning among others. Though of course this can often be explained in terms of simple fraud on the part of the 'psychics' and gullibility on the part of the investigators.

Sources and Further Reading

Braude, S. E. The Limits of Influence. Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1986.

Fodor, N. Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science. University Books. 1966.

Gauld, A. Mediumship and Survival. Paladin Books. 1983.

Inglis, Brian. The Paranormal ? An Encyclopedia of Psychic Phenomena. Granada publishing. 1985.

Myers, F.W.H. Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, University Books, 1961 (1903).

North, Anthony. The Supernatural, London, Blandford, 1998.

Podmore. F. Mediums of the 19th Century. University Books. 1963 (1902).

Tyrrell, G.N.M. The Personality of Man. Pelican Books. 1946.

Copyright 2006 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.


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