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Why the Vanishing Phenomena?

Posted on 22 May 2017, 8:11

“So why don’t we hear about that type of mediumship today?”  That question has been put to me many times over the years by people who have read my books, journal essays, magazine articles, or this blog.  The reference is to various types of mediumship that seem to have been more prevalent a hundred and more years ago than they are today – the direct voice of Etta Wriedt and Sophia Williams, the trance voice of Leonora Piper and Gladys Osborne Leonard, the materializations of D. D. Home (below) and Minnie Harrison, and many others.  About all we hear of today is the clairvoyant type of mediumship that we see on television.  While much of it is impressive and evidential, it is not nearly as dynamic or convincing as that of yesteryear. 


The debunker has an easy answer for the question:  It was all fraud and people today are not as easily duped as people once were.  However, anyone who has really studied the subject knows that such is not the case.  Many esteemed scientists and scholars offered overwhelming evidence – evidence that went well beyond the reasonable doubt standard of our court system – that such people as Wriedt, Piper, Home and countless others were genuine mediums.  Yes, there were charlatans who clouded the picture, but there is no doubt among those with open minds who have studied the subject that genuine mediums existed then and now. 

In my blog post of November 21, 2016 I set forth 15 reasons why the psychical research carried out between 1850 and 1930 by those scientists and scholars has not been widely accepted.  Those reasons include religious fundamentalism, scientific fundamentalism, media bias and ignorance, fear, machismo, real fraud, semantics, and other explanations which all involve assumptions that the various phenomena should be easily understood and subject to scientific methodology.  While many of the reasons are overlapping, I should have listed a sixteenth reason – “vanishing phenomena.” 

Although there are still some physical, trance-voice, and direct-voice mediums here and there around the world, it does not appear that they are developed to the extent some of the old timers were.  Either that, or we don’t hear about them because modern day researchers are discouraged from studying them.  There is no real funding for such research and for the 15 aforementioned reasons there is a high risk of damaging one’s professional reputation by venturing into such a controversial area.
I suspect, however, that the phenomena of today are not as rich as they were a century ago because today’s fast-paced lifestyle simply does not lend itself to mediumship development.  In her 1946 book, Sophia Williams, (below) one of the best direct-voice mediums of the early twentieth century, wrote that she sat quietly each day for four years to learn the art of relaxation and complete detachment before her own mediumship began to really develop.  Gladys Osborne Leonard, one of the best trance-voice mediums of the last century, wrote that she experienced 26 failures before finally receiving something from the spirit world.  Then it took another 18 months of development after that before she became a proficient medium.  It took 11 months of experimenting and receiving mostly gibberish before Pearl Curran began receiving coherent messages from the spirit entity calling herself Patience Worth.


Hamlin Garland, one of the leading researchers of the early years of the twentieth century, reported that he sat silently in the dark for four hours waiting for some phenomenon to be produced by a medium. With another medium, Mary Curryer Smith, he witnessed some amazing phenomena and arranged for her to travel from Los Angeles to Boston to be observed by a group of scientists.  But in two sittings with the group, she was unable to produce any significant phenomenon and was dismissed as a charlatan.  Garland concluded that she was “trying too hard” and then arranged a sitting with one of the scientists from that group, Professor Amos Dolbear, head of the department of astronomy and physics at Tufts College.  In Dolbear’s home with only Dolbear, his wife, and Garland present, Smith produced some mind-boggling phenomena, or more accurately, the spirits produced it through her.  According to Garland, Dolbear was “dumbfounded” and convinced there was no trickery of any kind, but he declined to discuss it with his peers in science as he knew they would say he had somehow been tricked. 

Who today has the patience of Williams, Leonard, Curran or Garland?  All that was at a time when there were few distractions in life – mostly before radio, telephones, and movies, and definitely before television, cell phones, computers, mall shopping, fitness centers, and other activities occupying our time during the evenings in these modern days. People of that era didn’t have much more to do at home beyond sitting in front of a fireplace and knitting or whittling, or sitting on the front porch and staring off into the stars. There was little “noise” in those days, making it more conducive to achieving the passive state that seems to be required for mediumship, and then developing it. And there was more socializing among the believers in mediumship, so that circles were formed and more people witnessed it and were able to spread the word to others. 

Another possible reason for the vanishing phenomena is electrical interference.  It was observed by a number of researchers that mediums were ineffective during stormy conditions, especially during lightning storms.  Of course, electricity was either non-existent or in its infancy in those early days.  As to how electrical waves interfere is not known but it appears to have some relationship to the fact that light interferes with physical phenomena.  Only the strongest mediums could produce phenomena in subdued light or under red light, while the majority required complete darkness.  This goes to another misunderstanding, the belief by skeptics that all mediums are of equal ability.  As the researchers came to understand, there are many degrees of mediumship and even the best of mediums have their off days.   

Then again, it may be that the decline in mediumship has to do with the spirit world seeing no reason to keep “reinventing the wheel.” Some early communication suggested such frustration.  They gave us all they could over some 80 years and didn’t believe it worthwhile to keep repeating themselves over and over again.

It is clear from some of the communication of 80-160 years ago that spirits of the dead have as difficult a time getting through to us as we do in getting through to them.  Many of them pointed out that they were experimenting on their side of the veil as much as we were on our side.  Seeing that their constant efforts in communicating with us were rejected by both mainstream science and orthodox religion, they may have decided that there was no further point in continuing with meaningful messages. At the same time, many genuine mediums were being disparaged because ignorant observers didn’t understand what was going on and assumed it was all fraudulent.  The spirit world may have to some extent withdrawn so that such genuine mediums would not be further disparaged, but perhaps the genuine mediums gradually withdrew because they were tired of being disparaged. 

There are other possible reasons, one of them being the moral atmosphere.  Consider the mediumship of Daniel Dunglas Home, perhaps the most famous physical medium ever.  Sir William Crookes, one of the world’s leading scientists, had some 29 meetings with Home with varying degrees of phenomena produced at all of them.  However, the least phenomena were produced on May 28, 1873, Derby Day in England.  According to Home, or the spirits communicating through him during the trance state, the gambling and drunkenness associated with Derby Day resulted in a negative moral atmosphere, one that prevented the higher spirits from communicating.  Could the moral atmosphere in London in 1873 be any lower than it is worldwide now?  Is it possible that today’s materialistic, even hedonistic, world has created an atmosphere which the good spirits cannot penetrate?

In an interview about 12 years ago with Dr. Jon Klimo, then a San Francisco professor of parapsychology, I asked for his opinion as to why there has been such a decline in quality mediumship.  As he saw it, we operate within a politics of consciousness involving conscious and unconscious contending of forces vying for the ongoing vote of our reality-created souls. “We all co-constitute the reality we are experiencing, and there is a lot of conditioning, propaganda, suppression, manipulation, and mind control involved,” he explained.  “The homeostasis-maintaining mechanism of the consensus reality and its locally severing mechanism seek to keep most of us on Earth at present from accessing the larger reality so the truth could set us free to ever more consciously move with and as part of God.”

If I am interpreting that statement and others made by Klimo in that interview correctly, he is saying that there is a gradual “awakening” of consciousness taking place today – an awakening that is being influenced by both positive and negative forces.  He calls it a “war on the inner planes.”  The ability to accept the positive and reject the negative, thereby awakening to one’s God consciousness, is an individual thing and is part of the challenge we face in our struggle to regain true consciousness, i.e., spiritual consciousness, something we somehow lost in what is symbolically depicted for us in the Garden of Eden story and called original sin.

But there is still another possible answer to the initial question, one that seems to be related to Klimo’s theory.  When the renowned author Victor Hugo asked a spirit claiming to be the discarnate Martin Luther why God doesn’t better reveal himself, he might just as well have asked why we don’t get absolute certainty relative to the afterlife issue.  The reply from spirit was: “Because doubt is the instrument which forges the human spirit.  If the day were to come when the human spirit no longer doubted, the human soul would fly off and leave the plough behind, for it would have acquired wings. The earth would lie fallow.  Now, God is the sower and man is the harvester.  The celestial seed demands that the human ploughshare remain in the furrow of life.”

What it all seems to add up to, as I see it, is that we are not supposed to have absolute certainty with regard to survival as it would curb free will and thereby thwart the divine plan.  When the spiritualism (or mediumship) epidemic took hold in 1850, it was during the Ages of Reason and Enlightenment and, a decade later, the era of Darwinism, when religion was being impeached. Many people, having been nurtured in the religious ideal of this life being part of a larger life, despaired. The period from around 1860 to 1890 has been called the “age of melancholy,” when people saw themselves drifting aimlessly toward an abyss of nothingness. The “death of God,” as decreed by Friedrich Nietzsche in 1882 added to the hopelessness for many, especially the educated classes of the civilized world. The spiritualism epidemic seems to have countered the materialism scourge just enough to maintain some balance, extending to the end of the Great War and winding down during the “Roaring Twenties,” when materialism was restored to the Western world and turned to hedonism. It was apparently time for our free will to be put to the test again, and the spirit world began pulling back.

When the balance tipped back to the nihilistic/materialistic side in subsequent decades, we were given research in past-life studies, near-death experiences, clairvoyance, induced after-death communication, and electronic voice phenomena to counter the negative influences and maintain some balance. 

Absolute certainty may not be desirable, but the old and the new psychical research can help us move from blind faith to conviction, thereby avoiding the despair of the nihilist.  In my opinion, the old research is the best and most neglected, and so I continue to write about it.  That’s my long answer to the short question that started this post.

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.


Next blog post:  June 5



I neglected to mention one very important likely cause for the vanishing phenomena.  Most of the top mediums discovered their abilities after suffering from a serious illness or disease—one   apparently involving a high fever and perhaps bringing them near death.  This was at a time before vaccines and antibiotics.  The high fever apparently triggered something in the brain, just as a trauma from an accident triggers it in people who have had NDEs.

Michael Tymn, Mon 12 Feb, 23:14

C. M.,

Thank you for the information on the book.  My two years of high school Spanish 65 years ago will not help me get through it, but there may be other Spanish -speaking readers who will want to read it.

Michael Tymn, Thu 1 Jun, 19:34

Hi Mike, Apropos of evidential mediumship I thought you might like to know about the book UNA VENTANA AL MUNDO INVISIBLE (in English that would be A Window to the Invisible World) published in 1960 in Mexico City. I posted on my blog about this—

A brief quote from that post:

“Una ventana al mundo invisible is… the official, meticulously documented records of the dozens and dozens of research-séances of the Instituto Mexicano de Investigaciones Síquicas or IMIS (Mexican Institute of Psychic Research) from April 10, 1940 to April 12, 1952, members of which included—the book lists their names and their signatures—several medical doctors and National University (UNAM) professors; an ex-Rector of the UNAM, the medical doctor and historian Dr. Fernando Ocaranza; several generals; ambassadors; bankers; artists and writers, including José Juan Tablada; a supreme court justice; an ex-Minister of Foreign relations; an ex-director of Banco de México, Carlos Novoa; Ambassador Ramón Beteta, ex Minister of Finance; and… drumroll… both Miguel Alemán and Plutarco Elías Calles. “

The latter two were presidents of Mexico (at the time of the seances, Calles was ex-president, having served 1924-28, although he would dominate Mexican politics for some years thereafter; and Alemán 1946-1952.)

There is quite a lot of physical phenomena documented in that book… very interesting reading. Alas there is not an English translation.

C.M. Mayo, Thu 1 Jun, 18:43

I would add to my last comment that another factor leading to the demise of psychical research was the death of James Hyslop in 1920.  Hyslop took over when Richard Hodgson died in 1905 and kept things going.  Both Hodgson and Hyslop worked for very small salaries and there was no funding for such research in academia.  The field of parapsychology, by divorcing itself from spirits and survival, found some such funding. 

The smug media also contributed to it by sensationalizing the debunking by Houdini and others, thereby leading people to believe that one black crow means all crows are black.

Michael Tymn, Thu 25 May, 08:30


I agree that the move from psychical research to parapsychology during the 1930s was the knockout blow for research involving mediums.  The “Margery” case of the late 1920s along with the George Valiantine mediumship of that same time caused researchers to throw up their hands in frustration and despair.  Parapsychologists avoided the survival issue and focused on ESP, often concluding that subconscious factors rather than spirits of the dead were the cause of it all. That was a more acceptable explanation for science and academia.

Michael Tymn, Wed 24 May, 19:55


My impression is that while books and scientific studies concerning mediumship continued to proliferate through the ‘20s, its widespread practice—home circles and such—was beginning to decline about the time of the war. Rhine’s ESP experiments publicized in the ‘30s struck another blow, as psychical research yielded to the more scientific-sounding “parapsychology.”

While Rhine and his colleagues’ work was valuable in a limited area, I think it did more harm than good to the whole field by encouraging the idea that only what could be statistically validated in the lab was worth studying.

Rick Darby, Wed 24 May, 18:22

Thanks to all for the comments to date.  They are much appreciated.

I am curious as to why Rick picks 1914 as the last year of the heyday of mediumship, since that is when the Great War started and there was clearly much going on in the mediumship arena during the war years.  I think there was a decline between around 1900 and 1914, but then it picked up again in 1914.  However, it is difficult to get numbers that even remotely reflect the interest in mediumship during those years.  There have been estimates as to the number of Spiritualists in the country at certain times, but they vary significantly.  The peak decade seems to have been 1870-79, but I’m not sure about that.

Also, I wonder if Tom, considering his many years of research and engineering background, has any thoughts as to the effects of electrical waves on mediumship.

Michael Tymn, Wed 24 May, 08:45

Good essay Mike. Why there is so little physical phenomena these days is an important, often asked question. After Lisa and I worked with others in a darkroom circle for over four years with little results, I must agree with your point that our modern lifestyles do not lend themselves well to traditional, Spiritualist mediumship development.

Spiritualists demonstrate healing intention and mental mediumship to show that we do not die. While the demonstrations might provide ample evidence, witnesses too often remain unconvinced. Even those who claim to be convinced, virtually never demonstrate that conviction by their future actions.

After many years of talking with people about these concepts with little success, my current efforts are toward … let’s call it, spiritual reductionism in the form of mindfulness.

Emerging science is showing that we seldom change our mind with one experience, or even many. We change our mind in small increments as habitual patterns of thinking reluctantly give way to new paradigms, a little with each experience.

Understanding these mechanisms in terms of our conscious self’s relationship with mostly unconscious mind, our core intelligence and our body’s intelligence, can give us the tools necessary to not only realize we are immortal, but also to understand what we can do to manage that immortality. The trick is to change our point of view from body-centric to spirit-centric.

To me, the fact that we know enough from psi research, instrumental and personal mediumship and mainstream science for me to say these things with some degree of confidence, is evidence of our friends in spirit trying a more contemporary approach to revelation.

The pragmatic view is that “For those who have eyes to see” remains the rule for progression. Many people will cling to the old ways in dark rooms and before mental mediums. Others will decide to do the work by becoming self-educated about emerging understanding and learning to apply what they are learning to guide their progression.

So, it seems we need to find a new yardstick to measure spiritual truths.

Tom Butler, Wed 24 May, 00:38

Yes to all your points. Two seem especially striking: (1) Our busy lives, full of distractions; and (2) electrical interference.

The first needs no further comment. As to the second, the electromagnetic spectrum drenches our surroundings today in a way that it did not in what might be called the golden age of mediumship, which I’d date roughly from 1850 to 1914. In its early years electrical communication was limited to telegraph wires and cables. Later electricity was introduced as a power source, but in nothing like the quantity we have today, and I think at a much lower voltage than the main power distribution lines in our “grid.”

Add to that all the radio waves (more than 1,000 communications satellites in orbit, weather radar), TV broadcasts, lasers, and whatnot. If spirits are sensitive to such things, it must be for them like trying to explore under the surface of very muddy water.

Rick Darby, Tue 23 May, 18:23

Hi Mike,

What a fascinating subject, and what perception - for you to have brought it to our attention. Unlike most scientists today Mike - it seems in today’s world, you have not lost the capability (once that apparently of primitive man) - to use “observational science” to benefit us all by using it to better understand the world around us. Unlike most scientists today! In this respect I love particularly too, your “15 reasons” for the usually sneering rejection “of psychical research, carried out between 1850 and 1930, by scientists and scholars” wedded to a materialistic paradigm, your list above (repeated here) is:  religious fundamentalism, scientific fundamentalism, media bias and ignorance, fear, machismo, real fraud, semantics, and other explanations”. Detailed like this, they are very illuminating, but in summary I would consider them due to “entrenched beliefs”.

Since I consider myself a victim once, I would blame Darwin - just essentially an 18th Century pigeon fancier who couldn’t possibly know about DNA. Sadly therefore due to no fault of his, his documented largely simplistic views of the time, allowed the dawn of the age of Darwinism which included the false dogma of “natural selection” (essentially survival of the fittest). Sadly this and it’s sequel of Neo -Darwinism led for many to dispense with their earlier belief of a creator/God. His contribution of subspecies adaption to one’s environment nevertheless can be shown scientifically to be valid (epigenetics) and a useful concept. Since then, mankind seems not to have recovered belief in God, and churches attendences have fallen ever since. Lately as you say there are too many competing idle interests for young and old alike, such that most would be unmoved to hear of the amazing psychic, Home, and his feats of levitation - as they would consider it fake news. I feel though with the advent of depicting mediums on television that a renaissance is emerging of belief spreading around the world of the truth of survival, simply, by something as simple as channelling discarnates - scarcely spectacular compared with Home, but pretty convincing none the less. Plus cases where psychics shown on television have solved murders.Lesser, in this case, is perhaps more?

Also, I have been delighted and shocked at the proliferation of websites such as here, which provide an opportunity to read erudite articles such as yours Mike, and other’s websites growing daily, where they are actively promoting afterlife “teachings” sourced from those “upstairs”, who obviously know more about true reality than us guys experiencing yet another physical experience down here struggling on amongst so many afterlife deniers.

Bruce Scott-Hill, Tue 23 May, 05:43

Appreciate your insight & thought provoking information.reached19

H Stan Jones, Mon 22 May, 21:43

Mike, This is one of your most profound and believable articles that I’ve read in some while! Your articles on your blog,going back years, are all collected or archived on my computer.

Boyce Batey, Mon 22 May, 21:02

Another wonderful article Michael.

Wendy Zammit, Mon 22 May, 11:18

What an interesting rumination. Thanks, Mike.
There is more stuff here than I had thought of myself.

Keith P from England, Mon 22 May, 09:54

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