Part 2 of this series explores the female medium as a profession. It’s easy to forget in nineteenth century America, women could not be public speakers, and were denied most basic rights accepted today.
In 1848 when news of the Fox sisters began to travel, the first women’s rights convention was also being held also in Upstate New York. The two currents converged. While not all feminist were Spiritualist, all Spiritualists were feminist. By combining the two, female trance mediums found a public arena from which they could deliver trance messages to a mixed audience of receptive men and women. There were several types of nineteenth century mediums:
Medical Medium: These mediums would see inside a patient’s body and prescribe non-evasive healing.
Mental Medium: These mediums use their own spirit eyes and spirit ears to see and hear things clairvoyantly.
Normal Medium: During the 1850s and 1860s, male mediums traveled the lecture circuit addressing their audiences in a “normal” state outside the trance state.
Physical Medium: These mediums demonstrated in phenomenon such as spirit rappings, table tipping, slate writings (on chalk boards) also called independent writing, direct voice sounds, flashes or balls of light, the materialization and dematerialization of objects, levitation, transfiguration, spirit photography, spirit painting, spirit cabinets, spirit music, and the materialization of a spirit being.
Trance Medium: The trance mediums enter an alternate state of consciousness wherein there is access to the knowledge of the spirits. They functioned as oracles of spiritual truth.
Test Medium: In physical mediumship, tests were often implemented to assure that the medium was not creating the phenomenon. These test mediums could be blindfolded, gagged, tied up or locked in cabinets while the spirit manifestation occurred around them.
In the 1870s physical mediums began to replace trance medium. As the profession became more entertainment than religious; it lost its empowerment for women. The American Society for Psychical Research: www.aspr.com investigated the claims of mediums and publicly exposed frauds. The newly formed Theosophical Society and Christian Science began catching the waves of dissatisfied Spiritualists who no longer saw mediumship as embodying their vision for a better world and social reform.
For more information on the role of mediums and Spiritualism in general, I would recommend some locally published or reprinted books authored by Spiritualists. One such bookshop is at the Morris Pratt Institute: www.morrispratt.org
B. F. Austin, The A. B. C. of Spiritualism (1920); Mark A. Barwise, A Preface to Spiritualism (1937); Peggy Barnes, Psychic Facts (2002); A. Campbell Holms, The Fundamental Facts of Spiritualism (1927); Rev. Lena Barnes Jeffs, The Laws of Spirit Mediumship (1999); Margaret L. King, Mediumship and Its Phases (2002); Hudson Tuttle, Mediumship and Its Laws: Its Conditions and Cultivation (1904, 1969).