Séances – Talking with the Dead – plus a Friday the 13th Ghostly Giveaway!


Everyone knows what a séance is – if you haven't participated in one as a nervous teenager, then you've at least seen one in a TV show or movie. But do you know how séances began?  

The term séance comes to the English language from an Old French word meaning “a sitting” or “session”, and usually applied to the legislature. In the mid-1800s, however, the word séance began to be used to describe a gathering where people sought messages and advice from the unseen world. The concept of contacting the dead, however, is far, far older than the words we use to describe it now.

Greeks sought advice from ghosts
In ancient Greece and Italy, the practice of necromancy – summoning the dead and asking them questions about the future – was called nekyia. There were a number of Greek and Roman temples devoted to this rite, although the ceremony could be performed in other places such as grave sites outside the city walls. And the Greeks weren't the first to seek advice from the netherworld. Humanity has done this since the beginning of recorded history and probably before that.

The séance became extremely popular during the Victorian era on both sides of the Atlantic, with the emergence of the Spiritualist movement. Some séances at the time were frivolous, of course, and entered into purely for entertainment. Some were fraudulent, with fake mediums determined to capitalize on the trend by implementing what we would now call special effects.

Actor Dan Aykroyd
But there were many séance holders who were sincere in their purpose, seeking some sort of harmony between religion and rationality. Séances are also called “sittings” and “demonstrations of mediumship”, and still form a regular part of church services for many practicing Spiritualists today. They believe that existence and personal identity continues after the change called death. To them, contact with those who have moved on to the next life is not only possible, but desirable in order to gain knowledge.

Actor Dan Aykroyd’s grandfather was a Spiritualist, who practiced regular communications with ghosts in his home. Aykroyd's father, Peter, had many childhood experiences with this which he shared with his sons. Not only did Dan and his brother become lifelong paranormal enthusiasts, it helped inspire Dan to write the movie Ghostbusters! (You can read about this unusual family life in A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters by Peter Aykroyd - See details on how to win a copy at the end of this blog!)



To Medium or Not to Medium

Table Tipping
When spiritualism first came to America in the 1840s, the most common method for connecting with the spirit world was "table tipping". A group of people would seat themselves around a round table, with their fingertips resting on the surface. No medium or psychically-gifted person was required for this procedure. The participants would usually ask a specific question, then call out the letters of the alphabet until the table moved, twitched or tilted. Yes or no questions that could be answered with only one or two movements were the most useful.

Many accounts exist of the table sliding around, standing on two or even one of its legs. Levitations were reportedly witnessed. Some concluded that the phenomena were caused by subconscious movements of the participants. However, that doesn't explain the cold breezes that were sometimes felt, and floating lights said to have been witnessed.

Modern séances often utilize someone with psychic ability or sensitivity to act as a medium, “facilitating” the proceedings. A medium may gain impressions of the spirit in question, see the spirit in their mind or with their eyes, hear the spirit’s words or channel the spirit’s words through the psychic’s own mouth, or channel their ideas through automatic writing.

Two Way Street 

Dean Winchester
played by Jensen Ackles
How successful a séance is may not depend on the breathing participants, or even the medium, if there is one. It's thought that spirits may have to work just as hard to develop their abilities to communicate with the living, as the living must do to connect with the dead. What kind of effort would it take for a spirit to learn to manifest itself to the living, to speak or become visible? Modern thought compares it to bridging dimensions. The 1990 Patrick Swayze movie, "Ghost", may have right on the money when it showed the hero struggling to affect the physical world. Early spiritualism taught that a spirit might only be able to create subtle effects such as tapping or knocking. 

Spirits may have to make use of a wide variety of communication methods in order to be detected. Sometimes that communication has to be deciphered as well. In an episode of Supernatural titled "The Usual Suspects", character Dean Winchester brought up this concept: “Communicating across the vale, it ain't easy. You know, sometimes the spirits, they, they get things jumbled... You know, it's, uh, maybe word fragments... other times, it's anagrams.”    

Séances in the White House?

Abraham Lincoln with young medium
Nettie Colburn Maynard at a séance
Many notable individuals made use of séances. It’s well documented that Mary Todd Lincoln held several séances at the White House after the death of her son, Willie. Some of these events were attended by her husband Abraham Lincoln, as well as high-ranking members of Washington society. 

Many known Spiritualists spent time at the White House, leading to the rumor that Lincoln was a Spiritualist also and received counsel about government policy as well as the war from spirit presences.

Ulysses S. Grant's household are said to have conversed with the ghost of Willie Lincoln during a seance held in the room in which he died. Calvin Coolidge and his wife were rumored to have held seances, although they denied it when the press got hold of it.

Author Charles Dickens, poet W.B. Yeats and physicist Sir Oliver Lodge attended séances regularly as members of The Ghost Club – a British organization devoted to paranormal investigation.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attended his first séance in 1887, the same year his first Sherlock Holmes novel was published. He viewed spiritualism as a natural extension of rapidly-emerging science.

Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison believed that science would eventually play a definitive role when it came to communicating with the dead. In 1920, he said:

“If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical and scientific to assume that it retains memory, intellect, and other faculties and knowledge that we acquire on earth...

“...I am inclined to believe that our personality hereafter will be able to affect matter. If this reasoning be correct, then, if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected, moved, or manipulated...by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.”

Edison would no doubt have approved of today's technological efforts to connect with the dead. EMF meters, full spectrum video, laser grids and countless other "delicate" instruments have largely replaced tipping wooden tables.

At least on TV....

***********************************************************

Friday the 13th - GHOSTLY GIVEAWAY

GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

Congrats to Pamela K!  

Her name was drawn at random as the winner of the giveaway. Pamela will receive a new hardcover copy of Peter Aykroyd's book:
 A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters  

http://readaholicsanonymous-mustread.blogspot.com/p/hallows-madness-2012.html

50 comments:

  1. Ghosts totally exist. I have seen the same one multiple times, and I know others who have seem him.
    GFC - rickimc
    rickimc[at]aol[dot]com

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    1. I moved from open-minded to believer when we discovered a ghost in our house. Several members of the family had experiences with him, including the dog.

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  2. I know ghosts exist but have never done a seance. I think it's wild that I'm reading this as the movie Ghostbusters is coming on cable.

    vanliz1@aol.com

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    1. Insert Twilight Zone theme here...... LOL

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  3. I have been at a seance. I do believe in ghosts.
    autumnflower6ATaolDOTcom

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    1. Depending which poll you look at, 37 to 42 percent of Americans believe in ghosts.

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  4. Very interesting post. I haven't been to a seance. I think ghosts exist.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

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    1. I think the number of people who believe in ghosts is actually much higher than the polls indicate.

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  5. I`ve never been to a Seance, but I do believe ghosts exist. Thx 4 the chance!!

    ctymice at gmail dot com

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  6. I believe in ghosts though I've never seen one I've felt the presence of one once, I believe my grandfather came to say a last goodnight to me and my cousin the day of his funeral cause when we were visiting he would always come into our room at night to check we'd said our prayers and were ok before going to bed, on the evening after his funeral we were talking in the room we were staying in and then we heard the bag by the side of the bed crinkle, we looked over the side and saw that a footprint shaped depression had appeared in the bag! I recently found out that my other cousins who were staying in other rooms in the house had similar experiences that night!

    suzi1811 (at) fsmail (dot) net

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    1. He was still checking on you! That's really neat!

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  7. An interesting post. I have never been to a seance but know quite a few people who have. I do believe in Ghosts though.
    Carol L.
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I think more people have been to a seance than we're aware of -- and I think a lot of the ghosthunter tv shows boil down to a type of seance too.

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  8. I would never attend a seance. I'd be too worried about what might happen. I do believe in ghosts. My Mother has seen one & this is NOT a woman given to flights of fancy.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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    1. My dad has too - and he's one of the most grounded people I know!

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  9. I would LOVE to attend a seance however I never have. And I do believe in ghosts.

    Liz Kolodziej
    www.vampyrekisses.com

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    1. My friends and I scared ourselves silly with a seance as teens, so I'm probably too chicken to do it now.

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  10. Very interesting post! I have never attended a seance and I do believe in ghosts.

    Joella Elbert
    joellaelbert@gmail.com

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you came by and read it. :)

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  11. Yes I think ghost are real, or exist. Snfrog7@aol.com

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  12. Yes I believe they are real. Had a few things happen that at times I believe is my mom and grandmother watching over me.

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    1. forgot email sorry its kydirtgirl68 AT gmail DOT com

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    2. I had an encounter with my deceased great gramma once. So I totally believe those that are dear to us are often nearby.

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  13. That was a great post, thanks so much for this generous giveaway!
    Yes I believe that ghosts exist, its a feeling I get when I walk into an old house, or a cemetery, I get that feeling that I'm being watched, not a bad feeling just a hairs sticking up on the back of my neck, you know somethings there that you can't quite explain.
    My great aunt has an old farm house, and I have a content feeling that comes over me when I get there, the dogs stare down the hall at seemingly nothing, but I know my great grandmother is there watching over me.
    I have never done a seance, but I think I would enjoy it!
    Tammy
    tlhale1980@gmail.com

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    1. I believe that places have energy, and the people who have lived or are living there influence it.

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  14. Cool I definitively believe in it! All my life I wanted to be a ghost-hunter. I guess that I just Dont know the right people to get started, but I never knew that Dan did.

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    1. He's a fascinating person. We're used to seeing him as a comedian, not suspecting how extremely intelligent he is or his interests in the unexplained.

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  15. What a great post! I had no idea that Dan Ackroyd's family was involved in paranormal investigations! How cool!
    Yes, I believe in ghosts or spirits. There is too much evidence that some remain with us or visit us.
    Thank you for another great post and awesome giveaway! I'd love to read that book!
    PhoenixCarvelli at gmail dot com

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    1. I think there's a lot of evidence but it tends to be dismissed. I'm glad to see the avalanche of paranormal TV programs. I don't like them all, but their presence shows that more people are willing to believe.

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  16. I have to believe there is more out there than my puny mind can fathom. I have not participated in a seance, but did (prior to watching the Exorcist) participate in Ouija once. My friend's mother was doing it with us and I have to say that she told me things there was no way she could know and I found out later they were true:) BTW I did not turn green and my head has not rotated yet and I really love pea soup ;=D Thank you for the fun post and giveaway opportunity.
    dz59001[at]gmail[dot]com

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    1. Glad to see you Denise! I believe the truth is out there too -- and that the older I get, the more I realize I don't know.

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  17. I've never participated, no. Would I ever? Maybe, but I'd still be scared crapless!!
    I totally believe, as I saw a man in my first house. Not to mention all the weird sounds and things. In my 2nd home where I currently live, I've seen/heard some pretty weird things, as have my children. But NOTHING compares to my little encounter many years ago. Remember like it happened yesterday. My husband (bf back in those days) hated that house w/ a passion. Hated being there by himself. Poor guy!
    Thank you for the invite and the chance.
    Sebrina_Cassiy at yahoo dot com

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    1. I'm really glad that it's become socially acceptable to talk about the paranormal -- I think many more people have had experiences than we suspect.

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  18. I do believe and have seen and heard ghosts before.
    pamblakekenlilly@yahoo.com

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    1. Someone once said to me that once you've had one of these experiences, you KNOW. And that you can't go back and un-know.

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  19. Never participated in a seance but would love to.I do beleive in ghosts I grew up in a house with one I saw an heard him on multiple occasions as did my sisters .
    flanagan@mebtel.net

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    1. Spirits often seem to attach themselves to specific places.

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  20. Yes, I definately believe ghosts exist.When my grandson was very young(2 yrs. old), we all lived in a house that had a ghost. Thankfully, the spirit was kind and he liked my grandson - he would spend a lot of time with him, talking. The adults in the house saw his shadow quite often, but he spoke only to my grandson.

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  21. I forgot to add email!
    mom1248(at)att(dot)net

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  22. I've never participated in a seance by I wouldn't be opposed to it......and there have been times after loved ones have passed where out of the corner of my eye I think I've seen them.......so do I believe in ghosts.....I'm open to the possibly that we aren't always alone......

    email: raaven@att.net

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  23. Yes, I have, every Tuesday back in late 70s. It was also a learning expierence for the participants and no, we didn't have to pay. The psychic who led it was a famous one in all the paper back then--at her huse in San Diego. Yes, I believe--have way before that, due to exerpiences. I have even seen solids of ghosts--first time I can say I saw one was at the Whaley House in San Deigo--didnt know until the docents asked me to describe the women in the cotume walking through the courtroom and told me I'd seen Mrs. Whaley's ghost. My father after passed away haunted our place for three days, then when buried everything went back to normal. I do investigating with couple local groups so I can tell you more things. Not every investigation gets a riveted it's haunted, but when catch something evp-wise or even in a photo (ghost dog fsce in mist outside of Edgewood Plantation B&B New Year's Eve 2011), then that is cool.

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    1. Congrats Pamela! You're the winner of my giveaway. I'll be emailing you in a few minutes. :)

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  24. Oops, forgot the email-pamelakkinney@yahoo.com

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  25. Have you ever participated in a séance?

    Yes I have, though I would not do it anymore, it is a dangerous thing to mess with the veil. Ever since I started studying 20+ years ago for my ordination I learned that you do not mess with the dead unless you HAVE TOO!

    Do you think that ghosts exist?

    GODDESS YES! Especially in this day and age, it is something we probably are more aware than we realize with all the horrible things that happen around us, another reason I would not mess with them!

    BTW GRAND GRAND Blogger site!

    kristine.morton@gmail.com

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  26. No I have never been a part of a seance but I do believe that there are other beings around. Elizabethkeckler@Yahoo.com

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  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  28. I have not been part of one no. I believe they exist yes because someone who I trust implicitly like the sun isn't going to rise tomorrow and I'd believe them had two ghost encounters so yes I do. frellathon(at)gmail(dot)com

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  29. Not a seance but I have use a Ouja board when i was younger and that was a weird experience. I do believe in ghosts. How can I not when I have stayed in a couple of haunted houses. I remember last year in our previous house I woke up to find a shadow man standing in my room. It scared the sh*** out of me. We moved shortly after but for other reasons. So yeah I am a believer. Thanks for the giveaway
    amysbookworld(at)gmail(dot)com

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