Friday, December 4, 2015   9:33 PM

History of Parapsychology VI. Early Examples of Psi from the Living Explanations of Mediumship

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsycholgy Foundation

One of my last published articles, written with colleagues Michael Nahm and Andreas Sommer, is a historical note about early nineteenth-century examples of explanations of mediumistic phenomena via the psychic powers of the living medium.

Here is the reference and abstract:

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Alvarado, C.S., Nahm, M., & Sommer, A. (2012). Notes on early interpretations of mediumship. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 26, 855-865.


The purpose of this note is to dispel the notion that ideas of human agency to account for the veridical mental phenomena of mediums began with persons associated with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in England, or with certain later individuals. In fact, the appearance of these ideas preceded the founding of the Society in 1882. Examples of earlier writers who discussed these ideas include Carl Gustav Carus, Edward W. Cox, Justinus Kerner, Asa Mahan, André-Saturnin Morin, Maximilian Perty, B.W. Richmond, and Edward C. Rogers. In contrast to the speculation by later SPR authors and others, the concepts that appeared in the old literature often involved belief in physical forces.

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Here is an example of the ideas mentioned in the paper: “The well-known American clairvoyant Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910) believed in different agencies . . . In his book The Present Age and Inner Life (1853) Davis wrote that ‘owing to the extraordinary attributes of man’s mind, many experiences are by some individuals regarded as spiritually originated; which in truth, are only caused by the natural laws of our being . . . .’ Davis believed that 40% of the phenomena were due to discarnate spirits. The remaining possibilities included a variety of medical explanations, with 18% being accounted for by what would later be referred to as the psychic powers of the living.”

Another example: “The German zoologist Maximilian Perty (1804-1884) was another critic of belief in spirit communication in mediumship . . . Perty argued that the “guides” of somnambulistic mediums, often assuming the appearance of deceased loved ones, were usually dramatized personifications from the somnambulist’s own psyche . . . Rather than suggesting evidence of spirit identity, Perty held that supernormal knowledge emerging in “spirit guides” was due to the somnambulist’s own unconscious clairvoyance or “magic excitation.”

We concluded:

“The material discussed in this note could be extended. It shows that explanations of veridical elements arising from the living medium rather than from discarnate influence preceded the founding of the SPR. . . Nonetheless, the early ideas were often not exactly equivalent to those held by SPR workers and later writers engaged in controversies . . . and discussions of the so-called hypothetical construct referred to as super ESP . . . Instead early ideas were frequently associated with unorthodox concepts of force not discussed by the SPR workers who wrote about mental mediumship . . . In addition, although earlier writers knew about such processes as those akin to unconscious cerebration, the SPR (and later) workers laid more emphasis on less physiological conceptions of subconscious processes that had a wider scope.”

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