Is Fake Mediumship Really Fake News?
Posted on 08 May 2023, 22:24
It is almost routine for researchers and writers to preface their remarks leading to the endorsement of a medium or of mediumship in general by commenting that there were no doubt many tricksters pretending to be mediums in the early years of mediumship and psychical research. I’m guilty of having made such unsubstantiated comments in my books and articles, and I apologize. It’s a defensive measure, as if the author is attempting to block the skeptic’s first counter-punch by admitting that there was fraud in the field. Such an admission was repeated so often and carried down by other authors over the years that at some point that defensive remark – that there were many frauds – seems to have become historical fact. Moreover, many genuine mediums were written off as frauds because the observers didn’t grasp the spiritual aspect of the various phenomena. Indications are that there were a few frauds, not many.
“While recognizing that both varieties of fraud exist, I am confident that they have been much overrated,” Dr. William J. Crawford, an Irish engineer and researcher (top left photo), wrote in his 1919 book, Experiments in Psychical Science, referring to both conscious and unconscious fraud, the latter involving movements by the medium while in a trance state. “Even at séances, such as the Golighers’, where everything is above suspicion, where all phenomena can be demonstrated with the greatest ease to be genuine to the last detail, things happen which to a superficial observer might appear fraudulent. For instance, sometimes the medium’s body, or portions of her body, make spasmodic kinds of movements when heavy raps or impacts are being experienced far out in the circle.”
The “spasmodic” movements mentioned by Crawford were frequently observed by many researchers with Eusapia Paladino and were discussed in my blog here of April 10 having to do with kissing motions by Paladino. It was referred to as “synchrony,” and would usually involve Paladino’s arms or legs moving at the same time as activity taking place across the room from her. “In hundreds of seances at which persons worthy of credence have been present, [Eusapia] has produced phenomena which made it impossible to doubt the reality of the phenomena or her honesty,” wrote Professor Philippe Bottazzi, director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Naples. He went on to say that in some seances, the phenomena had been both scarce and weak and led some “to suppose that what others had seen were similar in character and force, and that they were subsequently exaggerated by human folly and credulity.”
Bottazzi observed that Paladino was both insulted and amused by the claims of fraud. She would sometimes react by deliberately playing a little trick with one of her hairs, seemingly to make fun of someone who was not sympathetic toward her. It was not, he believed, with an intent to deceive or with the hope of making the trick pass for a genuine phenomenon. It was her way of amusing herself, as if to say, “You want to see a trick, then I’ll show you a trick.” He added that in seven seances, neither he nor his fellow researchers carrying out experiments with Paladino, ever observed any such tricks. “Eusapia never used any kind of expedients to deceive us; on the contrary, she always warned us every time she moved the table or the curtain with her visible hands.” (Or John King, her spirit control speaking through her, warned them.)
Professor Charles Richet, the 1913 Nobel Prize winner in medicine (top right photo), had more than 200 sittings with Paladino, and said that her manifestations established scientifically the reality of telekinesis and ectoplasmic forms (emphasis added). “I am very well aware that they are extraordinary, even so monstrously extraordinary that at first sight the hypothesis of immeasurable, repeated, and continual fraud seem the more probably explanation,” he wrote. “But is such fraud possible? I cannot think so. When I recall the precautions that all of have taken, not once, but twenty, a hundred, or even a thousand times, it is inconceivable that we should have been deceived on all these occasions.”
Dr. Gustave Geley, a French physician who collaborated with Richet in many experiments, fully agreed. “The experimenters should be very cautious in alleging or suspecting conscious fraud,” he wrote, “but the levity with which accusations of this kind are made passes all reasonable bounds… Ill-will and ineptitude have free course, and an honest medium is disgraced without scruple on the slightest suspicion. Mere suspicion stands in place of proof.” Geley added that nine-tenths of the accusations against mediums fall in this category and this was a major reason why genuine mediums of his day refused to be tested by researchers.
The famous French astronomer Camille Flammarion, who also collaborated with Richet and Geley at times, admitted that the phenomena produced by Paladino were rather vulgar, altogether banal, and gave no clues as to the nature of the spirit world. “On the other hand, however, it is impossible not to recognize the existence of unknown forces,” he added. “The simple fact, for example, of the levitation of a table to a height of six and one-half, eight, sixteen inches from the floor is not banal at all. It seems to me, speaking for myself, so extraordinary that my opinion is very well expressed when I say that I do not dare to admit it without having seen it myself, with my own eyes: I meant that which is called seeing, in full light and under such conditions that it would be impossible to suspect…I am absolutely certain that the medium did not lift that weight of fifteen pounds either by her hands or by her legs, or by her feet, and furthermore, no one of the company was able to do it. The table was lifted by the upper surface. We are, therefore, certainly in the presence of an unknown force here which emanates from the persons present, and above all from the medium”
Flammarion said that a man could wager ninety-nine to one hundred that the phenomena he had observed were true. “I was absolutely sure of them during the séance. But the vividness of the impressions grows weak, and we have a tendency to listen only to the voice of plain common sense,—the most reasonable and the most deceptive of our faculties.”
Sir Oliver Lodge, a renowned British physicist (bottom left photo), wrote that Paladino resented the charges of fraud and that he was willing to give her the benefit or the doubt, so far as morals of deception were concerned, referring to her as a kindly soul with many of the instincts of a peasant. He recalled that on more than one occasion, she took a boat to a mainland village and came back without her coat. When asked what happened to it, she explained that she gave it to a beggar who needed it more than she did. “She wanted us to understand that it was not conscious deception, but that her control (John King) took whatever means available, and if he found an easy way of doing things, thus would it be done,” Lodge explained.
Although Sir William Barrett, another renowned British physicist, never observed Paladino, he studied a number of other mediums and commented on the conflicting reports about Paladino. “We may even conceive that when this psychic force is restricted or not externalized, it may create movements of the limbs of the psychic which will cause her to perform by normal actions (in perhaps a semiconscious state) what under good psychical conditions would be done supernormally,” he offered. “This would produce the impression of intentional fraud. Everyone who has had much experience in these perplexing investigations knows that what seems purposeless and stupid fraud often intrudes itself, after the most conclusive evidence of genuine phenomena has been obtained. It is this which renders the whole enquiry wholly unfitted for the hasty and unskilled investigator.”
Horace Greely, founder, publisher, and editor of the New York Tribune (bottom right photo), was one of the earliest investigators of mediumship. “The jugglery hypothesis utterly fails to account for occurrences which I have personally witnessed, to say nothing of others,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Nor can I unreservedly accept the hypothesis which ascribes the so-called ‘spiritual’ to a demonic origin.” He added that some of the phenomena he had witnessed would require highly skilled magicians such as Houdini, Blitz, or the Fakir of Ava, and yet they were often produced by children of tender years, who were otherwise awkward and clumsy.
Blank Sitting Common
Greely further mentioned that he had many sterile sittings. “I have known this to occur when they were particularly anxious – and for obviously good reasons – to astound and convince those who were present and expectant; yet not even the faintest ‘rap’ could they scare up. Had they been jugglers, they could not have failed so utterly, ignominiously.” In fact, Greely had so many sterile sittings that he gave up further investigation. “To sit for two dreary, mortal hours in a darkened room, in a mixed company, waiting for some one’s disembodied grandfather or aunt to tip a table or rap on a door, is dull music at best, but so to sit in vain is disgusting.”
Back to Professor Bottazzi: “Those who have observed badly, a few times and under unfavourable conditions, or, worse still, who have entered upon their investigations with the idea that they are going to witness charlatanism, that is to say with a preconceived opinion, or if (worse still) they have entered the séance room with the arrogant intention of afterwards claim to consider as fools all who do not think they have been deceived, hoping thus to show their superior powers of observation and criticism; these and others who are impelled to deny by even less noble motives cannot nullify the force of the opposite affirmations, which are now numerous, affirmations by such men as Crookes, Ramsay, Lodge, Lombroso, Richet, Flammarion, Luciani, Morselli, that is to say honest savants, whose fame cannot be upset by the denunciations of a few men who seem to think that the act of denial proves their mental superiority. Therefore, to those who deny without having seen, affirming a priori the impossibility of these phenomena, one must reply: First see, then you may argue.”
One is left to wonder how much of recorded history we can actually accept as factual, how much of it has been distorted by historians, biographers and other authors based on their acceptance of hearsay and rumor, their biases, their faulty research, their misinterpretations of what others have said or written, their choices of verbiage, their needs for sensationalism that will appeal to publishers and readers, and their need to appear informed and intelligent.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.
Next blog post: May 22
Thanks for the questions. By “collective,” I assume you mean a “group soul.” As I recall, Swedenborg supposedly communicated through Andrew Jackson Davis, George Dexter, and Stainton Moses, among others, while William Stead communicated through a number of mediums after the Titanic went down. Feda, Gladys Osborne Leonard’s control, came through several mediums. There are probably others, but I can’t think of them right now and have kept no records relative to that concern. As some of the messages suggest, few spirits are interested in communicating through mediums, or they realize the human for whom the message is intended won’t believe it anyway, or earthbound spirits interfere with the communication, or even the spirits don’t believe in mediumship, or don’t even know they are “dead.” Apparently, some don’t even know that we exist in the material world.
Michael Tymn, Tue 23 May, 05:27
I ask myself, do the different spirits and collectives know what the others are saying and doing? Most spirits are communicating in a certain time frame and don’t come back after a medium has passed.Exceptions are some saints and Jezus etc.
Chris De Cat, Mon 22 May, 07:21
What can be the reason for that? And are there spirits or angels who are part of more than one collective?
Amos and Michael,
The book was Paingod and Other Delusions by American writer Harlan Ellison. It was originally published in paperback in 1965. My brother who is a romance writer remembered as we both read it.
ChatGPT has strengths in website design where coding is predictable. The trouble will be those students trusting the answers for ChatGPT. I had an assignment where it was a cybersecurity risk management approach to critical infrastructure. The student looked up Google and downloaded a WHS/OHS risk report. Completely different but similar words. Having taught that area I saw his problem with trusting the search engine to give the answer.
With AI I expect it to develop swarm intelligence capability (drone warfare) but it is at the two year old human stage of stringing concepts.
Amos - Do you see any parallels of punctuated equilibrium to spirit communications? My view is that they are evolving different mechanisms for communication.
Good to see you giving ChatGPT a serve.
Bruce Williams, Sun 21 May, 01:28
I have been playing with CHATGPT asking it for information about the evolution of humans as a littoral mammal specifically regarding human large flat soft feet, multitudinous oil glands and large fatty floating breasts, lack of body hair as evidenced in other aquatic mammals as well as the evolution of the bat wing and convergent evolution of the human eye and the eye of the octopus.
The responses were so laughable, and flat-out wrong that it was a waste of time to engage with CHATGPT. As expected, the responses were all the result of plucking main-stream belief systems from across the internet. And when challenged, CHATGPT blithely apologizes and goes on to provide another inconsequential response. If anything, CHATGPT just highlights how wrong some main-stream belief systems are!
AI has a long way to go before it is a reliable and viable aid for people who research information. As it is now, AI is totally useless, in that it confuses more than it enlightens. As before, we truly live in an “Age of Misinformation”! - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Fri 19 May, 20:38
You raised an interesting point. I have experience where the spirit assistance will only go to a certain point. It would seem that they also need to follow rules of contact.
When I was teaching the organisation required students to pass to be paid by the government. I set up a template and each week we completed 10% of the template. At 60% I stopped giving the students any hand holding. If they wanted higher than a pass it would be solely their effort. I watched to see if the smarter would help those less smart. Sometimes they did, most times they did not.
Adversity is often the best teacher. The pain you feel drives you to search for answers. If I was going to assist mediums from spirit I would not be a easy teacher/control.
Bruce Williams, Wed 17 May, 10:45
There was a science fiction story about God going on a holiday and a nice guy took over. Reduced pain all around. No progress happened so he then became a Pain God to help people progress.
I believe there are differing approaches in the spirit world of how to progress people. My view now is if ChatGPT gives the answer, ChatGPT gets the marks. Good thing I am no longer teaching.
Thanks, Bruce, for the additional comments. one additional point, somewhat related, just came to mind. That is, Judge John Edmonds wrote that he had “good reason to believe that there is in the spirit world much opposition to this intercourse with us, and that a combination has been formed to intercept, and, if possible, to overthrow, and one mode is by visiting circles and individuals, exciting their suspicions of spirits, and [prompting] bad thoughts as to their good faith and purity of purpose.” (pg. 455-456 of Edmonds’s 1953 book, Spiritualism). Edmonds didn’t explain the opposition, but I infer from the comment that it is not necessarily low-level spirits in opposition to it. Why would low-level spirits oppose it? They might have fun interfering with it and playing games with it, but opposing it would take away the fun. The question then becomes: why would more-advanced spirits oppose it? The answer to this might be that life is about learning by overcoming adversity. The more adversity, the more we learn and advance. So why mitigate the adversity by giving people hope that they will survive death or that their loved ones had survived? As the spirit of Martin Luther told Victor Hugo, “doubt is the instrument which forges the human spirit.”
Michael Tymn, Wed 17 May, 04:55
I thought I would push ChatGPT to see if it made errors in information. I pushed back on two of its answers. I gave ChatGPT its answer back in a more detailed question - first answer was general my second question then said can you provide details in a list. General to specific technique commonly used to hammer a witness. I was an expert witness, the type to reply “I base my answer on page 150 of the report which says ....”.
ChatGPT replies I apologize for any confusion, but there seems to be a misunderstanding regarding the ...there are no details.
I think that the first answer is close to fraudulent in suggesting that it is based on details/facts when in fact there were no facts.
Bruce Williams, Mon 15 May, 10:14
Bot bashing Bruce
My friend Garth (I have previously mentioned him) thought I might enjoy Desmond Shaw’s book Pilgrim to paradise: An autobiography. He then asked me what I thought of this book.
It was a slow, boring book which I did not enjoy. My estimate of Desmond has gone up with your recent comment.
Kipling: I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
In my management days I would use Why What and How to assess high technology companies for Government assistance. These questions sometimes revealed fraud. My nickname was Columbo (just one more thing) mainly from my unironed shirts.
It was the fraud detection methods used by SPR and others which fascinated me. Sir Oliver Lodge was very good at measurements. To present these people as gullible in the Wiki world articles makes no sense.
Bruce Williams, Sat 13 May, 01:50
Great article with great research,
Here is another quote that I didn’t have space for above. It is by Shaw Desmond, founder of the International Institute for Psychical Research, from his 1941 book, “You can speak with the dead.”
“I have come across cases of deliberate fraud on the part of mediums, but never so far as I remember, of any medium of standing. And I am now more chary than ever of accepting the charge of fraud, if only for the reason that many things we once thought deliberate deception we now know to have been nothing of the kind. We should have to know much more than we do about ‘communication’ before we level some of these charges.”
Michael Tymn, Thu 11 May, 21:20
Nice summary comment in your last paragraph, Michael.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 10 May, 18:14
I think that some mediums, especially before modern technology, may be like a singer who lip-synchs a song they have recorded. They have the talent to sing but for one reason or another lip-synching is their best choice to entertain their audience at the moment perhaps, especially if the audience has high expectations or has paid a high price for a ticket. - AOD
The mention of Fraud by mediums and Richet and Lodge reminds me of the chapter FRAUD AND ERROR page 365 METAPSYCHICALPHENOMENA METHODS AND OBSERVATIONS BY J. MAXWELL Doctor of Medicine
Deputy-Attorney-General at the Court of Appeal, Bordeaux, France WITH A PREFACE BY CHARLES RICHET
Member of the Academy of Medicine
Professor of Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine, Paris AND AN INTRODUCTION BY SIR OLIVER LODGE
The chapter starts with,
This work would be incomplete, if I did not carefully examine fraud and errors of observation. The first should always be considered as possible. Errors of observation are even more numerous than fraud, and their sources are manifold. We should study them, learn their causes, and suspect them until the contrary has been proved.
Fraud can be conscious, unconscious, or mixed. I have no need to say how frequent the first is, especially with paid mediums. Spiritistic reviews, notably the Revue Spirite, Revue Morale et Scientifique du Spiritisme, Light, Psychische Studien, give many examples of fraud discovered by spiritists themselves. Unconscious fraud is no less common than conscious fraud ; as for the
third, mixed fraud, this is also very often observed.
When there is a medium (working in the light) on a platform giving someone proof of survival there follows the fraud explanations by their friends who were not there. Starting with cold reading, inside knowledge, lucky guesses, NLP or a paid assistant asking them questions prior to the message. Fraud is usually obtaining payment/advantage by deception and if no payment has been made, it is very hard to see fraud.
Bruce Williams, Wed 10 May, 12:49
Newton, Dr. William Crawford, mentioned above, was asked about the “tomfoolery” involved with the physical manifestations. His reply:
“I admit that it is very difficult for the ordinary person to bring home to his consciousness the fact that these unseen beings can possibly be like himself in their make-up. There is an ingrained feeling in humanity that the beings inhabiting the after-death world must be far removed from us in mental qualities and characteristics – we feel that they should a great advance in intellectual equipment over what they possessed here; that they should be, if not quite angels, at any rate not far removed from them. Of course this instinctive feeling we all possess is due to centuries of religious instruction behind us; we feel that the next state must of necessity be either heaven or hell. Hence it is rather a shock to us when we find the inhabitants of that other state not to be angels by any manner of means, not to exceed us appreciably in intelligence, but to be, in fact, only good-natured beings of much the same capacity as our familiar selves.”
It was explained in other places that the physical phenomena were to attract attention before providing mental phenomena. It seems to have done so. Even the renowned scientist Sir William Crookes was more impressed by the physical phenomena of D. D. Home and admitted that he neglected to give proper attention to the mental phenomena coming through Home, including making proper record of it. Indications are that there are still many brilliant minds today that are more impressed by the physical than the mental.
Michael Tymn, Wed 10 May, 00:12
Thanks to all for the interesting comments so far. Here is a quote by Maurice Maeterlinck, a Belgian who won the 1911 Nobel Prize in literature and who was also a psychical researcher:
“Of all the explanations conceivable, that one which attributes everything to imposture and trickery is unquestionably the most extraordinary and the least probable.”
Michael Tymn, Tue 9 May, 22:12
What can physical mediumship be expected to accomplish, other than to shock us, if we so allow it, out of a reductionist, know-it-all attitude? Hyslop, among others, was aware of this limited impact and thus insisted that physical “signs and wonders” be left to science, if and when it summoned the integrity and courage to explore them. Attributing these phenomena, at face value, to the actions of departed spirits would only serve to further dampen scientific interest in such exploration.
Contrast this situation with the increasing scientific attention paid to NDEs, precisely because the existence of such experiences (that they occur), rather than their interpretation (what they signify), was put front and center from the outset. The last way to attract scientific attention to the phenomena of physical mediumship—unfortunately, the way spiritualism chose—was to portray them ab initio as evidence of postmortem survival. Didn’t Myers himself observe that it was no advance, scientifically speaking, to attribute a levitated table to a deceased grandfather rather than to a yet-to-be-discovered power of the living?
Newton Finn, Tue 9 May, 16:45
I’m satisfied that Silver Birch is the real deal, considering the eloquence of his comments. And Geraldine Cummins strikes me as accurate and in contact with the spirit world.
Andrew Minjiras, Tue 9 May, 15:37
With physical phenomena in a group context, where the possibility of trickery, conscious or unconscious by one or more individuals concerned is always an acute risk. Deception in the past was aided by the fact that so many séances took place in dark or near-dark conditions and were sold to the credulous; notably some of the most impressive effects seem to have dwindled with the arrival of infra-red photography. Daniel Home himself warned against ‘dark séances, puppet shows, and third rate jugglery’. Indeed, the list of tricks could be almost endless, with examples of frauds that could be perpetrated including props in the clothing, concealment of objects within every bodily orifice and within items of clothing and jewellery; by the late 19th century and early 20th century scientific investigators were having to taking every precaution in searching mediums including initmate examinations. Saying that, as in a debate about the Palladino seances that took place years ago in the pages of the Journal of the SPR and whether effects in seances held at Naples in 1908 had been accomplished via use of a trapdoor, I noticed how neither side took the obvious forensic step of attempting to establish, so far as it might have been possible at this distance, to establish if the premises concerned actually possessed a trap door (not a common feature in a hotel suite in my experience). In the polarised views over spirits, neither side wants to have its faith position undermined; rather I conclude that most human minds can only contend with binary choices -the possibility that a medium can be both fraudulent and genuine is a possibility that many cannot cope with.Such problems emerge even more luminously when one suggests that physical phenomena may still be taking place.
Alan Murdie, Tue 9 May, 14:52
Wonderful research Michael.
For the last five years spirit teams working with Professor Eckhard Kruse have been demonstrating some of the anomalies of physical mediumship that are important in the understanding of consciousness.
One is the way that control of the phenomena can move from being under the direction of the spirit team to falling back to the collective influence of the sitters (psychokinesis), the unconscious mind of the medium, or even the thoughts of just one sitter.
Perhaps this is what Eusapia Palladino meant when she famously said “If you let me, I will cheat” not meaning that she would intentionally cheat but that if conditions were not controlled she would involuntarily be taken over by other forces.
Psychic historian Nandor Fodor cites Gustav Geley, French physician, psychical researcher, and director of the Institute Metapsychique International from 1919 to 1924, who declared “When a medium tricks, the experimenters are responsible”.
He also cites Polish researcher Julian Ochorowitz who declared:
When it is understood that the medium is but a mirror for reflecting and directing the nervous energies of the sitters to an ideo-plastic purpose, it will not be found surprising that suggestion should play an important part. With controllers imbued with the notion of fraud, the medium will be dominated by the suggestion of fraud. (Fodor, 1934)
Another anomaly of mediumship which is poorly understood is the way that the spirit team can move matter through matter, moving the medium out of physical restraints and restoring them at will, moving the medium’s body like a puppet, dematerialising part of the medium’s body and even working with the medium’s etheric body.
Wendy Zammit, Tue 9 May, 13:29
This essay brings out of the closet a point of view I always felt but never dared to express. It emboldens me to counter the inevitable charges made against all mediums by the ignorant. Thank you.
Stafford, Tue 9 May, 13:23
Apologies I meant Fox sisters in the last sentence of my previous post and not Knox.
Dave Harrison, Tue 9 May, 12:16
That’s an interesting proposition Michael after all we are only human and therefore open to all kinds of temptation usually in regard to some sort of financial gain. Even I admit to cheating at Monopoly in order to get more hotels on Mayfair and so beat my brother to the ultimate prize then being accused of cheating which I of course denied but it’s only a game. I think some mediums under pressure to perform and produce results particularly if researchers and sceptics are present will sometimes fall foul of committing fraud even if they have genuine powers. Gordon Higginson comes to mind who I think suffered from performance anxiety and unfortunately got caught out on one occasion trying to uphold his reputation as a very gifted medium which no doubt he was but one cross against your name is enough to tarnish the golden cup.
Dave Harrison, Tue 9 May, 12:11
I think some mediums would have fail safes on hand in case of ‘no shows’ of phenomena. Also if there is any kind of disharmony present which I think would be the case if certain sceptics or potential debunkers were involved then this would also have a negative effect as a whole.
I think what is noticeable today is how many times the Fox sisters comes up when researching mediumship in general. Primarily I think this is used to put a blemish on spiritualism right from it’s very roots. If the whole thing grew from the Fox sisters and they denounced themselves as frauds then the foundations of Spiritualism collapse as the first brick is laid. Although the story of the Fox sisters seems to be misrepresented from what I can work out at the best of times. The main gist is that they produced the knocks and raps by cracking their toe joints and later admitted this. I have come across an account that the original knocks and raps were indeed genuine and from the spirit of a man that was supposedly buried under the house. It was later found that a body was discovered buried under the house. This account doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the usually predictable regurgitated piffle about the history of Spiritualism that you get online these days written by people who have not done more than five minutes of research on the subject (editorial fast food brigade). The Knox sisters seem to have become quite an anthemic meme for the materialists, the reliable joker in the pack but the last laugh will hopefully be with the Spiritualists.
How many so called science articles are been written that after some time were proven false. I think you can find them in any discipline. I got a smile reading this article and thinking on the past one about AI. Well, AI can not lift tables! So there is still hope for the spiritworld, is it not😁.
Chris, Tue 9 May, 09:55
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