Exploring the meaning of mental mediumship from the mediums' perspective

Elizabeth C Roxburgh, Chris A Roe

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


The Society for Psychical Research was established in 1882 to “investigate without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis”. Among the committees formed by the fledgling society to undertake this task, one was devoted to mediumship and led to the generation of a wealth of information describing various investigations of notable mediums, including Leonora Piper, Gladys Osborne Leonard and Eusapia Palladino. With some exceptions, this work was primarily concerned with establishing the authenticity of post-mortem communications and paid less attention to understanding the experience of mediumship from the perspective of the medium. This focus on a proof-oriented approach has persisted through to the present day, with most studies being intended to demonstrate whether or not an explanation of mediumship in terms of discarnate survival is tenable. However, such work neglects important process-oriented questions regarding mediumship such as how individuals come to identify with the mediumship role and how they characterize the experience by which mediumistic communication occurs. In this chapter we will take a process-oriented approach by focusing on the pathways to mediumship as practiced within Spiritualism, and the context within which mediums define themselves as a medium, as well as exploring the phenomenology of mediumship in terms of how communication with the deceased is experienced. Having outlined why qualitative approaches are well suited to the study of mediumship and how good quality research might be conducted, we then illustrate this perspective with reference to our own work on the phenomenology of Spiritualist mediumship in the UK. In doing so, we will compare accounts from practicing mediums who took part in our research with those from other qualitative studies, as well as with biographical accounts from prominent mediums
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Spiritualist Movement: Speaking with the Dead in America and Around the World: Vol. 2: Evidence and Beliefs
EditorsChristopher Moreman
Place of PublicationCalifornia
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780313399480
ISBN (Print)9780313399473
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2013


  • Mental medium
  • psychic medium


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