Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society by wuzhenguang


									                                   Chapter 1

                  Psychic Practitioners in
                  Contemporary Society

Every week in the United Kingdom, hundreds of people, perhaps thousands,
consult men and women with ostensibly extraordinary cognitive abilities: people
who claim to communicate with the dead; or to be able to acquire information by
psychic powers; or the ability to gain personal or intimate knowledge of people and
events from the arrangement of Tarot cards, or the lines on the hand, or simply by
holding personal belongings, and so on. People with extraordinary powers can be
consulted individually, in private one-to-one sittings, or collectively, as part of an
audience to a public demonstration of psychic or mediumistic powers. Psychics may
even be consulted electronically: for example, telephone based psychic readings
are advertised in numerous tabloid newspapers, and there are websites that offer
online psychic readings. Undoubtedly the popularity and consumption of these kinds
of psychic practices is not restricted to the UK, but is common to other European
countries and North America, and reflects a more general popular interest in mystical,
supernatural or paranormal phenomena.
    This book is about the language used in consultations between mediums and
psychic practitioners such as Tarot readers, astrologers and clairvoyants, and their
sitters and audiences. It focuses specifically on the use of language in successful
demonstrations of ostensibly paranormal forms of cognition. But it also examines
the discursive properties of apparently unsuccessful demonstrations of psychic
powers. In this sense, the book is about the ways in which psychic practitioners and
their clients collaboratively work to establish and sustain the authenticity of claims
to paranormal sources of knowledge.
    In this chapter I will outline some of the main themes of this book, and begin to
flesh out the rationale for the empirical approach adopted in subsequent chapters.
First of all, then, terminology: why psychic practitioners?

Psychic Practitioners, Psychic Claimants and Pseudo-Psychics

There are several reasons why we will refer to people who profess special cognitive
powers as psychic practitioners. Given the range of paranormal skills on offer in the
occult market place, it would be clumsy to list them all every time a general analytic
claim is made. Furthermore, the goal of the book is to describe generic communicative
competencies which inform demonstrations of all psychic practitioners, regardless
                       The Language of Mediums and Psychics
of the distinctive kind of special cognitive ability they profess. Moreover, some
practitioners can not be identified in relation to a specific parapsychological talent,
as they offer a range of different services. Of course, mediums are different, in that
claims to be able to communicate with the dead invite distinctive lines of empirical
inquiry. Consequently, in later chapters, when the analysis focuses exclusively on
mediums, we shall dispense with the use of the all-encompassing term, psychic
practitioners. On all other occasions, though, this term should be taken to include
    Parapsychologists have occasionally conducted investigations of people with
ostensible paranormal cognitive powers. Within this literature, it is common to
find the term psychic claimant employed to refer to mediums, psychics and so on
(for example, Wiseman and Morris, 1994, 1995). Equally, it is common to find
the term pseudo psychics used to refer to people who claim some form of special
powers while actually employing trickery (for example, Roe, 1995; Smith and
Wiseman, 1992/1993). This reflects the concern of parapsychologists and sceptics
alike to assess the evidence for claims to have some kinds of parapsychological
cognition. However, I am not interested in trying to discover if psychic practitioners
really have special powers, nor to endorse practitioners’ claims that they have
access to paranormally derived knowledge; neither does this book try to debunk
those claims. This is partly because such a task is beyond the scope of this study,
and there have already been numerous attempts to investigate psychic practitioners’
claims over the past one hundred and fifty years, some of which we will discuss
shortly. While – for some – it is undoubtedly important to assess whether or not
parapsychological abilities exist, the perspective adopted here is agnostic as to
the existence of the paranormal powers claimed by psychic practitioners in their
    Instead, this study takes as its point of departure a growing concern within a
range of social science disciplines to investigate reports of anomalous human
experiences or paranormal powers and agencies, such as those claimed by psychic
practitioners and supported by many who consult them. Within this emerging
tradition, the analytic goal is not to prove or ‘explain away’ participants’ claims or
experiences, but to understand in more detail their significance as cultural, social
and psychological events. This is because it is believed that the serious study of
anomalous or paranormal experiences can cast light on issues such as consciousness,
self, spirituality and human communication (for example, Braud and Anderson, 1998;
Cardeña et al., 2000; Tart, 1997; Wooffitt, 1994). Consequently, instead of trying to
identify a set of objective criteria by which scientists or academic researchers can
arbitrate on the validity of claims of paranormal powers, or the objective existence
of the spirits, we can begin to investigate the sense-making practices through which
psychic practitioners and their clients themselves negotiate, ratify, clarify, question
or reject the status of paranormal knowledge claims as they manage the routine
discursive activities of the consultation or demonstration.
    In this, we can make a distinctive methodological and substantive contribution to
parapsychological and sceptical investigation of people who claim psychic powers.
                     Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                  
So, as an alternative to the overriding focus on the ultimate objective existence
of psychic powers, we can examine those practices through which such claims
are managed by participants in the settings in which they are exhibited. And to
complement the testing of psychics in the artificial environment of the laboratory, we
can try to understand the social organization of demonstrations of psychic powers in
real-life, everyday settings.
    The term ‘psychic practitioner’ also reflects the perspective on language and
communication adopted in this study. In the past forty years there has been a
sustained critical assessment of two hitherto dominant perspectives on language use:
the communication model of language, in which words and utterances are treated
as essentially inert vehicles for the transmission of information from one head to
another; and the assumption that language somehow corresponds to, or can be taken
as ‘standing for’ states of affairs in the world. For example, in his later writings
Wittgenstein rejected the theory that language is merely a logical system of symbols
with which we can represent the world ‘out there’, or the realm of inner psychological
events. Instead, he emphasized the importance of studying the conceptual and
logical frameworks which underpin how language is used in particular social and
cultural contexts (Wittgenstein, 195; see also Pitkin, 197; and Waismann, 1965).
Austin’s (196) work also emphasized the social and dynamic character of language.
Through the development of his theory of speech acts, he argued that all utterances
exhibited an action orientation: they performed some activity. For Austin, then, any
use of language, regardless of what else it might be doing, was a series of practical
    Within the social sciences, investigation of the action orientation of language is
now more conventionally associated with conversation analysis (CA) in sociology,
and critical approaches within social psychology, such as discursive psychology.
Conversation analysis examines the communicative competencies which inform
ordinary, everyday talk-in-interaction. The goal of CA is to describe the actions
which are accomplished through the design of utterances, and it examines how these
actions are produced with respect to the sequences of exchanges in which those
actions are performed (Atkinson and Heritage, 1984; Hutchby and Wooffitt, 1998;
Sacks, 199; ten Have, 1999). Discursive psychologists investigate the ways in which
psychological themes – memory, identity, attitudes – are managed discursively in
everyday interactional contexts, and many studies draw from or mirror CA’s focus
on the activities accomplished through language (Edwards, 1991, 1997; Edwards
and Potter, 199; Potter and Edwards, 00). The empirical analyses presented later
in the book reflect the concerns of conversation analysis and discursive psychology,
in that they examine some properties of communicative activities through which
claims of parapsychological cognition are advanced and received.
                       The Language of Mediums and Psychics
A Brief History of Psychic Practitioners

Evidence of belief in contact with spirits and higher beings, as well as the efficacy
of divination, can be traced back to Greek and Roman civilisations. But accounts
of miracles, prophecy, knowledge of events at great distance can be found in most
of the ancient religious texts (Broughton, 000). Many of the skills and practices
associated with present-day psychic practitioners have long histories. For example,
the deck of Tarot cards used in most contemporary readings is the Rider-Waite deck,
originally produced in 1896. But some believe that Tarot cards were used in Europe
as long ago as the 100s. Similarly, there is evidence that astrology emerged from
Egypt in approximately 600BC (Truzzi, 1975).
    In this section we will concentrate primarily on the history of mediumship
and spiritualism (although it is important to bear in mind that the two are not
synonymous). This is because it would be impractical to attempt a similar history
of all kinds of psychic practices currently available. Furthermore, mediums and
mediumship seem to enjoy an elevated status compared to other kinds of psychic
practices and practitioners. While there are numerous books about mediums, and
television programmes dedicated to demonstrations of their abilities, there are
noticeably fewer which focus on people who, for example, can read auras, or who
interpret the significance of lines on the hand. It is also important to recognize that
mediumship, and the spiritualist philosophy which is conventionally associated with
claims of communication with the spirits, are supported by established institutional
practices and ideological foundations. Other kinds of psychic practice, such as the
interpretation of Tarot cards, palms or astrological charts, while sharing a long
tradition, have not generated a similar set of formal procedures or conventionally
accepted beliefs.
    The emergence of what we would recognize as contemporary forms of
mediumship can be traced back to the 18th century when a Swedish scientist,
Emmanuel Swedenborg, claimed that spirit teachers had assisted him in his
philosophical writings. And after his death in 177, his spirit continued to produce
scientific and metaphysical texts through the American medium, Andrew Jackson
Davis. Modern spiritualism, though, is generally considered to have begun in 188,
in Hydesville, New York State, in the United States. Two young sisters, Margaret
and Kate Fox, seemed to be able to communicate via a series of raps and knockings
with a spirit in their home. (There is some confusion in the academic and popular
literature about the names of the Fox sisters. In some accounts, Margaret is referred
to as Maggie, for example, Irwin, 1999, or Margaretta, for example, Berkowitz and
Romaine, 00, and Gauld, 198. Kate is occasionally referred to as Catherine, for
example, Berkowitz and Romaine, 00.)
    Margaret and Kate were able to demonstrate their abilities to others, both in
their home and in public exhibitions to large audiences, and their success generated
considerable publicity and inspired others to attempt communication with the spirits
of the deceased. Other people discovered that they, too, had the ability to act as a
link between the world of the living and the dead. In a short time, numerous informal
                      Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                          5
groups emerged whose goal was to continue the dialogue with the spirit world which
the Fox sisters had initiated, and to explore the religious implications of post-mortem
survival such communication seemed to suggest. (An account of the history of
spiritualism can be found in Moore, 1977. Lesiberg, 00, provides a more detailed
analysis of the lives of the Fox sisters. The web pages of the Spiritualist National
Union offer an account which focuses on the religious implications of the evidence
of survival.)
    Shortly after, mediumship spread to the United Kingdom and then to mainland
Europe. Mediums travelled to England to demonstrate the phenomena, and amazed
the public and aroused the interest of intellectuals, as they had done in the United
States. Many were observed and investigated by leading scientists and intellectuals of
the day. During this period the first Spiritualist Church was established in Yorkshire in
the United Kingdom, as were many of the core beliefs and principles of spiritualism.
(Detailed accounts of the impact of mediums and spiritualism on Victorian society
can be found in Nelson, 1969, Oppenheim, 1985, and Owen, 1989.)
    There are a number of features characteristic of mediums’ demonstrations during
the late 19th and early 0th centuries. Although there were larger demonstrations,
most people’s encounters with mediumship would have come in seances, small
group meetings involving one medium and some sitters. So, a typical seance would
take place in the medium’s home, or the home of one of the sitters. The hosts and the
other sitters would be from the middle or upper classes of society. All participants
would be seated around a table in a quiet, often dimly-lit room. What was remarkable,
though, was that proof of the medium’s paranormal powers was often demonstrated
physically: the spirits offered visible, audible and sometimes tangible evidence of
their presence. This is known as physical mediumship, and it constituted the most
dramatic and occasionally theatrical evidence of the existence for the afterlife and
the ability of the spirits to interact with people and objects in this world. Oppenheim
summarizes the kind of extraordinary phenomena which would occur at seances
with physical mediums.

   Some [mediums] specialized in particular effects, whereas others offered a broad repertoire
   of manifestations. That repertoire might include the materialization of entire spirit bodies
   – ‘full form materialization’ – in addition to the more commonplace rapping, table tilting,
   and the emergence of spirit hands. Reports of seances also told of furniture cavorting
   around the room, objects floating in the air, mediums levitating, musical instruments
   playing tunes by themselves, bells ringing, tambourines jangling, strange breezes
   blowing, weird lights glowing, alluring fragrances and ethereal music wafting through the
   air. From the bodies of some mediums a strange foamy, frothy or filmy substance, dubbed
   ectoplasm, might be seen to condense. (Oppenheim, 1985: 8)

    Ectoplasm was of particular interest as it was regarded as the physical substance
from which spirit entities could physically materialize during the seances: as
disembodied hands, as mentioned by Oppenheim, which could float around the
room, ruffle the sitters’ hair or shake their hands; or as the faces of the spirits; or as
an entire spirit entity which could interact with participants at the seance.
6                        The Language of Mediums and Psychics
    Florence Cook was famous for the full-form materialization of the spirit Katie
King. During a seance, Cook would be hidden in a cabinet in the seance room, often
with her hands and feet tied. From this cabinet the spirit form Katie King would
appear. Occasionally, only parts of the spirit were visible, but on some occasions she
was seen to walk around the seance room. The sceptical interpretation is that Katie
King was none other that Cook in different clothes, and certainly no one was allowed
to peek inside the cabinet during the seance lest it broke the medium’s trance, thereby
causing some kind of psychological damage. And Cook and King were never seen
together at the same time. Some investigators who attended Cook’s seances and
witnessed the materializations of Katie King, however, were convinced that the two
were separate entities. It was claimed that one was taller than the other; that only one
had pierced ears; that each had different shaped hands, and so on.
    Daniel Dunglas Home was an American medium of Scottish descent. He claimed
an extraordinary repertoire of physical mediumship phenomena, including levitation
(on one famous occasion, apparently being observed to float outside a building
between two windows several floors above the ground), the ability to handle hot
coals without injury or pain, and the curious talent of being able to stretch his body,
thus increasing his height substantially. He could also manifest the more common
phenomena of mediumship at the time, including the appearance of spirit body parts,
formed from ectoplasm, and knocks and rappings which seemed to indicate spirit
agency (Hall, 198; Lamont, 005).
    A feature of physical mediumship was the production of apports: objects which
appeared during the seance conveyed by spirits. These would drop, apparently out of
thin air, on to the table around which the participants were sitting. Irwin (1987, 1999)
discusses the case of the Australian medium, Charles Bailey, who was renowned for
apportation phenomena. During his seances the following objects were said to have
appeared: exotic birds, live fish, seaweed, a live turtle, ivory, a human skull, a leopard
skin, and clay tablets which were ‘said to bear ancient Babylonian inscriptions’
(Irwin, 1999: 1).
    Mental mediumship, on the other hand, merely required that the medium
establish some form of (para)psychological connection with the spirit realm. The
medium would often attain an altered state of consciousness. It was common for
mediums to lapse into a trance state prior to contact with the spirit world. Contact
was made via the medium’s spirit guide or control, who would act as an intermediary
between the medium and the spirit world. Often the mannerisms and speech of the
medium changed during the trance as the personality of the control spirit took over.
The control spirit would then relay messages to the sitters from their loved ones in
the spirit world. On occasions, the voice of some mediums changed and took on the
inflections and accent of the spirit from which messages were being received. In
some cases, mediums would produce automatic writing during their trance states:
texts from the spirit world produced via the spirits’ manipulation of the medium’s
    Perhaps the most famous mental medium of the early history of mediumship
was the American Leonora Piper. Piper was a trance medium whose control – the
                      Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                     7
spirit who acted as intermediary between the medium and the spirits – claimed to
be a French physician called Phinuit. According to Irwin’s (1999) account, Piper’s
case is a mass of contradictions. Certainly her French spirit guide seemed to have
little knowledge of French, supposedly his native language, and was on numerous
occasions observed to offer highly generalized claims which could be applicable to
almost anyone; and in other cases he clearly tried to elicit information from the sitters.
Consequently, some sceptics claim that the apparent success of Piper’s mediumship
could be explained by ‘cold reading’, the careful analysis of a person’s appearance
and behaviour to acquire detailed knowledge about them.
     Although the authenticity of Phinuit seemed questionable, there is some evidence
that, on some occasions, Piper did seem to be able to produce factual claims about
the sitters which suggested some paranormal form of information acquisition, such
as extra sensory perception or telepathy. For example, Piper was investigated by
Richard Hodgson, a well-known sceptic. In his first sitting with Piper, attended
anonymously in Boston, 1887, she/Phinuit revealed fairly detailed knowledge about
Hodgson’s friends and relatives in his native country, Australia. Hodgson (among
others) investigated Piper for many years, both in the US and in the UK, where
she demonstrated her talents at the invitation of the Society for Psychical Research.
Eventually, even the sceptical Hodgson became converted to the spirit hypothesis
when Piper began to manifest a new spirit control, George Pellow. Pellow had died
in a riding accident, and in life, Hodgson knew him. Hodgson was impressed by the
knowledge of Pellow’s life Piper was able to demonstrate, often through automatic
writing. But what proved really convincing was that Piper/Pellow seemed able to
recognize acquaintances of Pellow from his earthly life when they anonymously
attended Piper’s seances (Irwin, 1999).

The Contemporary Consumption of and Popular Appeal of Psychic

There is, undoubtedly, enormous contemporary popular interest in psychic
practitioners. It is possible to speculate why this may be. Certainly, in recent years,
several high-profile individuals have endorsed the work of psychic practitioners.
For example, Nancy Reagan, wife of then President Ronald Reagan, was known
to consult astrologers during her time as First Lady; and Diana, Princess of Wales
visited mediums. And during the summer of 1998 there was considerable media
discussion of the extent to which Glen Hoddle, then the manager of the England
football team, encouraged his players to consult a spiritual healer to hasten recovery
from injury and to enhance their performances. Some psychic practitioners have
established successful television careers thereby publicising the kind of services
offered by psychics. For example, John Edward’s Crossing Over is a very popular
programme on cable channels in the United States and the United Kingdom. Indeed,
the UK channel LivingTV, which broadcasts Edward’s show, has a number of
programmes related to psychic practitioners, and the paranormal more generally,
8                          The Language of Mediums and Psychics
on its current schedules. Finally, some psychic practitioners have attained celebrity
status. The British medium Doris Stokes was internationally renowned, and able
to draw huge audiences to her public demonstrations all over the world. Since her
death in 1987, other mediums have been able to develop a large public following.
For example, this extract comes from a recent newspaper interview with the Irish
medium, Sharon Neill:

    … Neill is a celebrity psychic in Ireland, with the ability to draw audiences of ,000 to
    her live shows, numerous radio and television appearances on her CV and a list of private
    clients that includes Van Morrison, Ash and Coldplay. In Belfast, people stop her in the
    street – ‘It’s like being a doctor, everyone wants to tell you about their problems,’ she says,
    laughing – and this summer she will become the first spiritualist in 12 years to perform to
    audiences at the Edinburgh Festival.’ (The Observer, 20th July, 2003.)

In this section we will review the main ways in which members of the public can
consult psychics or witness the demonstrations of their abilities.

Stage demonstrations

The careers of mediums like Stokes and Neill suggest that there is a significant
market for large-scale public demonstrations of psychic talents. It is worth examining
this a little more closely. To do this we will briefly consider the British clairvoyant
medium, Stephen Holbrook. Holbrook tours extensively, offering demonstrations
of the spirit’s post-mortem existence in larger venues, halls or theatres (hence the
term ‘stage’ demonstrations). Details of his appearances are regularly posted on his
website ( I have accessed this site to obtain details
of his appearances on two occasions: February 00 and September 00. In
00, between February 10th and April 0th, Holbrook advertised 6 appearances
at different venues around England and Wales. In 00, his website listed 69
appearance between 10th September and 6th December, and this time included
venues in Scotland. Moreover, during a stage demonstration of his mediumship in
December, 005, Holbrook claimed that he performed 6 demonstrations a month
for nine months of the year. This degree of intensive touring suggests a significant
market for his demonstrations.
    This is confirmed if we consider his audience. I have attended Holbrook’s
demonstrations on three occasions: in 00 and 005 at a community centre in Selby,
a town about approximately 0 miles south of York, in the north-east of the UK, and
in 00, at a city centre hotel in York. At each demonstration the audience exceeded
0 people. If these numbers are reproduced around the country, then there is a
large audience for his demonstrations. (In fact, during one demonstration I attended,
Holbrook claimed that 00 people was one of his smallest audiences.) And Holbrook
is not the only psychic practitioner on tour in the UK. At the time of writing, I know
of two other psychics demonstrating at large venues nationally and locally.
                        Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society               9
Psychic fairs

The emergence, frequency and apparent popularity of ‘psychic fairs’ also seems to
indicate that contemporary interest in psychic practitioners is booming. Psychic fairs
are meetings in specially booked rooms in pubs or hotels lasting a short period of
time, such as one evening, at which a small number of psychic practitioners are
available for consultation for a fee, usually around £5–£50 for a sitting that lasts
around 0–5 minutes. Usually, the psychic provides a reading for one person at a
time. When I started research on the language of psychic practitioners, I was working
at the University of Surrey, in Guildford, a small town approximately 0 miles to the
south-west of London. Between October and December, 1998, there were three fairs
in pubs and hotels in the Guildford area. Although some events are advertised in the
local press, many are advertised by word of mouth or flyers. It is likely, then, that
there were other events in the area at that time which did not come to my attention.
During this period, there was also a four-day exhibition of new age philosophies
and alternative lifestyles held at the Olympia Exhibition Centre, London, at which
at least 0 mediums, psychics, clairvoyants and astrologers had stalls at which
members of the public could obtain one-to-one consultations, for roughly the same
fee as charged at psychic fairs.

Private one-to-one sittings

Although individual readings are available at psychic fairs and in larger exhibitions,
most one-to-one consultations take place in the home of the sitter or the psychic.
These will last for about 5–60 minutes, and cost about the same as a consultation
at a psychic fair. Some psychics can be booked for an entire evening to provide
individual readings for members of a group; such meetings are usually hosted by
one of the sitters.

Spiritualist services

Contemporary spiritualist church services combine traditional Christian activities,
such as prayer and the singing of hymns, with demonstrations from local or national
mediums of spirit communication. The Spiritualist National Union claims to have
over 000 individual subscribing members, and estimates that approximately 0,000
people regularly attend weekly spiritualist services conducted in over 00 venues
around Great Britain (Spiritualist National Union website,

Telephone psychics

Telephone consultations with psychics is a growing industry. In the UK, telephone
psychics and mediums advertise in women’s magazines, and in most of the tabloid
newspapers (a service often promoted by the newspapers’ own resident astrologer).
10                       The Language of Mediums and Psychics
Calls cost between 60 pence and £1.50 per minute. In the United States, the telephone
psychic industry is enormous. According to the website of the Watchman Fellowship
(a Christian organization dedicated to monitoring the activities of cults, the occult
and new age movements), the most successful US telephone psychic company
employs 1500 psychics who, on average, log  million minutes per month at about $
per minute. The second and third largest US companies offering telephone psychic
services take in approximately $50 million and $35–40 million annually (J.K. Walker,
Watchman Fellowship Website,

The psychic as subject

Publishing books for popular market audiences is a highly competitive business
with small margins of profit. Another useful indicator of the degree of interest in
psychic practitioners, then, is the number of publications by or about mediums and
psychics. In the Mind, Body, Spirit section, or equivalent, of any large national chain
of bookshops, it is possible to find books by or about famous mediums such as Derek
Acorah (00), Rosemary Altea (1995), George Anderson (Martin and Romanowski,
1988), Mia Dolan (2003), John Edward (1998, 2001, 2003), Stephen Holbrook
(Christie, 000, 00); Stephen O’Brien (1988, 1991, 199), Rita Rogers (1998,
2001), James van Praagh (1998, 1999), Betty Shine (1996, 1998), Gordon Smith
(00), and Doris Stokes (1998, 000). Although not available on high street book
shops, it is still very easy to acquire books by or about less well known mediums
such as James Byrne (Byrne and Sutton, 1993), Jean Cull (1988), Muriel Renard
(1998) and Gordon Arthur Smith (Smith and Towers, 00).
    This is by no means an exhaustive list of titles on these and related topics, and
reflects the interests of the UK consumers in British psychics, or those foreign
practitioners who have come to the attention of the UK market via the Internet or
television. And it is likely that there are numerous other English language titles
published in North America and elsewhere, which are not available in the UK.
Moreover, it is noticeable that many of these books have been published or reprinted
very recently, which suggests that contemporary interest in psychic practitioners is
robust, if not growing.
    How do these contemporary encounters with psychic practitioners differ from
those which characterize the period in which mediumship and spiritualism first
    First, during the latter part of the 0th century, demonstrations of physical
mediumship declined, and evidence for spirit existence increasingly came from
mental mediums. The majority of contemporary demonstrations of mediumship
are primarily discursive occasions, and it is through the mediums’ words that we
are exposed to the spirits. There are two competing explanations for the decline
of physical mediumship. The explanation sympathetic to the spiritualists’ claims
is that precisely because post-mortem survival and spirit communication had been
established through physical mediumship, there was no need to offer further evidence
of that kind. The sceptical account is that increasingly careful investigation had
                      Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                        11
established the various tricks through which the phenomena of physical mediumship
had been produced. Thus it was simply getting harder and harder to stage convincing
demonstrations. Certainly it was true that many people working as mediums had
been exposed by vigilant investigators. Hyman reports that

   With the possible exception of Daniel Dunglas Home, all of the alleged psychics who
   supplied phenomena upon which the scientists based their endorsements were at some
   point in their histories caught in outright fraud or accused of fraud under conditions that
   at least raise strong suspicions. Just about all of the more than dozen mediums that Alfred
   Russel Wallace publicly endorsed were caught cheating at least once, and often several
   times, during their career ... (Hyman, 1981a: 15)

As well as the decline of physical mediumship, there has been a significant change
in the nature of mental mediumship. Trance phenomena by contemporary mediums
are rare, especially those who offer stage demonstrations and one-to-one sittings,
like those are available at psychic fairs. Consequently, phenomena such as automatic
writing are extremely infrequent. There is a related trance phenomenon, channelling,
which is associated with new age philosophies. Broadly, in new age literature,
channelling is taken to be a method by which important philosophical and spiritual
texts are communicated to human beings via a person in a trance state – the channel –
from superior but benign cosmic intelligences. In this sense, channelling is markedly
different to the kind of trance mediumship associated with early mental mediums. In
contemporary mediumship, though, mediums mainly claim to be able to see, hear,
or sense the spirits. Through these means, the medium conveys information from the
spirit world as evidence of post-mortem survival.
     Second, the contemporary consumption of the psychic’s skills has become
much more of an explicit business transaction. It must be acknowledged that not all
psychic practitioners charge a fee. There are those who treat their talents as a gift to
be used without financial reward. However, the vast majority of people who witness
demonstrations of psychic practitioners have paid for them. In one-to-one sittings,
either privately conducted, or in psychic fairs or larger exhibitions, it is understood
that psychics are entitled to charge a fee for their services.
     This is not to say that the early mediums did not benefit financially from their
demonstrations. For example. D.D. Home was able to live as a house guest of
the various wealthy people for whom he provided seances (Irwin, 1999: 0). But
contemporary psychic practitioners do not have to rely on the generosity of their
hosts or benefactors. At a new age exhibition held in London in 1998, for example,
a number of practitioners offered basic psychic readings, past life regressions,
consultations based on astrological details, and spirit contact (among other services),
all for different fees. Contact with the dead was always the most expensive, suggesting
an informal ranking of the value of psychic talents (or perhaps reflecting varying
degrees of difficulty).
     Psychics who perform in larger venues can charge high prices for their skills. For
example, depending on the venue, tickets for Stephen Holbrook’s demonstrations
cost (at the time of writing) between £8 and £9.50, occasionally rising to £10.50
1                       The Language of Mediums and Psychics
or £11. If we assume that the average ticket price is £9, and that at least 00 people
attend each demonstration, and that in a three month period Holbrook makes 60+
appearances, it is clear that the public interest in psychic practitioners is not only
extensive, but lucrative.
     Third, it is apparent that there is a democratization of psychic powers, both in terms
of its consumers and practitioners. So, whereas the audiences for demonstrations of
physical mediumship tended to come from higher strata of Victorian society, the
audience for contemporary displays of psychic talents is much more diverse. Anyone
can attend spiritualist church services; and anyone who can afford the fee (or the cost
of the telephone call) can engage the personal services of a psychic.
     How does one become a psychic practitioner? Their biographies and auto-
biographies routinely report unusual childhood experiences culminating in some
kind of revelation that they are destined to be (usually) a medium, followed by the
subsequent appearance of a spirit guide and a gradual increase in the number of
sittings and demonstrations they are asked to perform. In this, the psychics who are
the subjects of these books share something with the earliest mediums in that they
can point to some specific ability which sets them apart from the less psychically
gifted. For example, Leonora Piper discovered her own mediumship skills after
involuntarily going into a trance while herself having a sitting with a medium (Irwin,
1999: 5).
     However, there is a curious phenomenon which would suggest that psychic skills
may not be the preserve of a privileged few. There is a range of books which claim
to be able to show how ordinary people can develop their own latent psychic and
mediumistic skills. For example, there is The Beginner’s Guide to Mediumship and
Secrets of a Medium: How to Prepare Yourself Mentally, Physically and Spiritually
to be a Medium (Dreller, 1997 and 00 respectively), How to Communicate with
Spirits (Owens, 00) and even The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Communicating with
Spirits (Berkowitz and Romaine, 00). Some authors offer an ‘essential guide to
developing hidden powers’ (Acorah and Sutton, 1999), while the title of another
text promises Psychic Development For Beginners (Hewitt, 00), and yet another
proclaims a ‘10 step psychic development program’ (Roberts, 00).
     Finally, and most important: the early mediums offered evidence for something
quite miraculous – the survival of consciousness and human personality after
physical death. This extraordinary claim captured the imagination of the public and
intellectuals alike. Newspapers reported the activities of mediums; learned societies
were formed to consider the evidence of survival they offered; and even sceptics,
of the day and now, would acknowledge that the mediums’ demonstrations of spirit
communication resonated with intellectual and spiritual debates of the day.
     But now, it seems that the presentation of these miraculous events has become a
mundane, routinized affair. Access to psychic practitioners is simple: we can arrange
sittings with mediums and psychics who advertise in local and national newspapers,
we can attend a psychic fair, or sit amidst an audience of hundreds, or pick up the
phone, and be offered evidence of life eternal, or the possibility of parapsychological
means of knowledge acquisition. If we were to attend every stage demonstration by
                     Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                  1
mediums around the country, it is likely we could be witness to spirit communication
on an almost daily basis, between 7.0 and 9.0 in the evening.
    Getting messages from the hereafter is no longer a notable event. For the
sitter and audiences, it is a purchased commodity. For some, it is a life-affirming
experience, therapeutic even; for others, almost certainly, entertainment. For the
psychic practitioners, it is a form of work.

Psychical Research, Parapsychology and Psychic Practitioners

The earliest mediums were investigated by some of the most eminent scholars and
intellectuals of the day. Hyman (1981a: 11) lists just some of the authorities who
investigated mediums and their activities: Alfred Russel Wallace (who, independently
of Darwin, arrived at the theory of evolution); William Crookes, a prominent English
physicist who went on to receive a knighthood; Sir William Barratt, Sir Oliver Lodge
and the Nobel Prize winner Lord Rayleigh. In the United States, William James,
often cited as one of the founders of academic psychology, investigated the trance
mediumship of the notable mental medium Leonora Piper. Similarly distinguished
figures in Italy and France also investigated claims of spirit contact.
    It is impossible to review this vast body of work. Gauld (198) offers the most
comprehensive overview. Haynes (198) reviews the investigation of mediums by
members of the Society for Psychical Research. Irwin (1999) provides a succinct
review of investigations of some notable early mediums in the context of the
emergence of the discipline of parapsychology.
    It is often assumed that parapsychology is the same as psychical research; and
that parapsychologists have extensively studied the work of psychic practitioners.
This is not the case. Although there are intellectual overlaps, and, as we shall see,
historical links, studies in psychical research and parapsychology differ substantively
and methodologically.
    In 188 the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded ‘to examine
without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man,
real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognized
hypothesis’, a statement still printed in every edition of the Journal of the Society
for Psychical Research. Prominent in this new society were many academics
from Cambridge University: the first President, Henry Sidgwick, was a Fellow
of Trinity College, as were other notable members, such as Edmund Gurney and
F.W.H. Myers. Despite the link with such a prestigious university, however, initial
research in Britain was mainly conducted privately by individuals who possessed
sufficient personal resources to fund their activities. The study of the paranormal or
anomalous phenomena was undoubtedly stimulated by the emergence of spiritualism
and mediums’ startling demonstrations of afterlife existence and the possibility of
communication between this world and the spirit realm. But amongst academics
and intellectuals there was also increasing awareness of reports of a wide variety
of anomalous experiences, such as apparitional manifestations, precognition and
1                       The Language of Mediums and Psychics
telepathy. It was felt that these spontaneous experiences merited serious study
because they might reveal important insight about the nature of human beings and
their physical and spiritual universe. Many of the founder members of the Society
were motivated by these kinds of ‘quasi-metaphysical’ interests (Blackmore 1988;
Haynes, 198).
     It is clear that spiritualism, and the mediumistic phenomena associated with it,
were of central interest to the early members of the Society. Henry Sidgwick, its
first President, had his first sitting with a medium in 1860, some 22 years before the
founding of the Society; and later as President, set up a committee to investigate
professional mediums. Frederic Myers (President in 1900), first sat with a medium
in 187. Sir William Crookes (President in 1896–7), investigated the mediumship
of Florence Cook, and Professor Balfour Stewart (President in 1885–7), went on
to appoint a further committee to investigate ‘alleged spiritualist phenomena’.
Members of the Society were also encouraged to collect evidence of spirit contact by
attending the demonstrations of amateur mediums working in home circles, regular
gatherings of a small group of individuals in private residences. At the root of all this
activity was the issue of human survival of death. If this was not the reason for the
formation of the Society, it certainly constituted one of the principal themes of its
early activities (Haynes, 198).
     The American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) was founded in Boston in
1885. Its members, in common with the members of the SPR, were also interested in
spiritualism and mediumistic phenomena. William James, who during his life held
the Presidency of both the SPR and the ASPR, investigated various mediums, and is
particularly known for his work on Leonora Piper. But perhaps more than their British
colleagues, the Americans were keen to explore the extent to which the principles
of laboratory-based, scientific method, such as the use of statistical analysis and
controlled experiments, could be used in the study of psychic experiences (McVaugh
and Mauskopf, 1976; Palfreman, 1979). This more formal approach was later to
dominate research on anomalous phenomena. But between the founding of the SPR
and the mid-190s, it would be fair to state that psychical researchers’ activities
focused on the collection and study of reports of spontaneous phenomena as a
means by which to establish that psychic phenomena were real and merited serious
scientific investigation. (For a detailed history of the study of psychical phenomena,
see Gauld, 1968; Gratton-Guiness, 198; Haynes, 198; Mauskopf and McVaugh,
     The emergence of what we now recognize as the discipline of parapsychology,
however, can be traced back to 1927 when J.B. Rhine was appointed to a position in
the Department of Psychology at Duke University, North Carolina. Rhine’s work is
of central importance in the history of the study of the paranormal insofar as it had a
paradigmatic influence on future research. Broadly, he wished to make the study of
anomalous mental phenomena an accepted academic discipline, and another branch
of the psychological sciences. To this end he established techniques and research
programmes which became the template for subsequent research, and which
marked a clear departure from the earlier studies of mediums. Rhine was primarily
                     Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                 15
interested in evidence suggestive of extrasensorimotor communication: mind-to-
mind contact, or the interaction of mind with the physical environment. So, whereas
one of the key tasks of psychical research was the investigation of spontaneous
experiences, Rhine’s research was laboratory based, and he devised easy to run
experiments which could be replicated at later dates and in other laboratories.
Instead of investigating notable mediums who claimed to manifest striking physical
phenomena as evidence of discarnate survival, the subjects for most of Rhine’s
experiments were ordinary people. Experimental results were analysed using
sophisticated statistical techniques These analyses suggested that some weak forms
of psychic ability were distributed throughout the population to a greater degree
than had been previously suspected. He designed experiments to assess if psychic
powers were related to variables such as personality, drug ingestion or distance,
thereby raising a variety of issues which subsequently became the focus for further
research. He popularized the use of formal terminology to describe different aspects
of psychic phenomena, such as ESP (extra-sensory perception), and psychokinesis
(the influence of mind on physical matter). Moreover, Rhine adopted the word
‘parapsychology’ to describe the field of research he was developing. This term has
strong scientific connotations, and marked a clear distinction between the laboratory-
based studies undertaken at Duke, and the earlier field investigations of psychical
researchers. Rhine also founded the Journal of Parapsychology, which quickly
became the pre-eminent forum for the publication of empirical and theoretical papers
in parapsychology. Rhine’s pioneering research in parapsychology had a powerful
influence on the discipline. Perhaps the primary consequence of Rhine’s efforts
was that the investigation of paranormal phenomena became synonymous with
laboratory-based experimental studies. (General introductions to parapsychology
can be found in Beloff, 199; Edge et al., 1986; Mauskopf and McVaugh, 1980.
Overviews of findings from parapsychological research can be found in Broughton,
1991; Irwin, 1999; Radin, 1997. Rhine’s own accounts of his work can be found in
Rhine 19, 197, 195; Rhine et al., 190.)
    The subjects in most parapsychological research are ordinary people, but there
have been occasions when parapsychologists have investigated people who claim
to have exceptional psychic abilities. Perhaps the most famous ‘psychic superstar’
was Uri Geller. Geller came to public attention in 197 when he appeared on a
BBC late night, topical events discussion programme, and demonstrated some of his
extraordinary skills. He seemed to be able to make metal bend simply by the power of
his mind: as he gently stroked them, keys and items of household cutlery would wilt
and snap. Geller also started broken watches merely by touching them. Curiously,
many people who watched the show claimed that at the time of the broadcast, their
own keys and household cutlery began to bend, and previously dead watches sprang
mysteriously to life. Young children, who came to be known as ‘mini-Gellers’, began
to report that they, too, could paranormally bend spoons and forks (Hasted, 198l; see
also Collins and Pinch, 198).
    Although generally unwilling to submit himself to rigorous, laboratory-based
testing, Geller did some experimental tests with scientists Russell Targ and Harold
16                      The Language of Mediums and Psychics
Puthoff. They believed that Geller’s performance in their experiments provided
evidence of some form of paranormal ability (Targ and Puthoff, 197). However,
critics have been able to identify numerous problems in Targ and Puthoff’s
experimental methodology which could have allowed Geller to cheat (Hanlon, 197;
Marks, 000), and others have questioned their competence to investigate psychics
(Hyman 1981a). Professional magicians have also claimed that they can reproduce
all of Geller’s ostensibly paranormal phenomena by using techniques of stage
magic (Randi, 1975). Other famous psychics studied by parapsychologists and other
scientists include Ted Serios, who claimed mentally to be able to effect unexposed
photographic film, resulting in images of varying clarity and definition (Eisenbud,
1967, 1977), Pavel Stepanek, who seemed to have extraordinary ESP skills, albeit
in limited range of tasks (Pratt, 197), and Ingo Swann, who excelled at remote
viewing: using psychic powers to glean information about distant locations (Targ
and Puthoff, 1978). As with Geller, though, sceptics have offered re-evaluations of
these studies which cast doubt on their value as evidence for psychic abilities (for
example, Gardner, 1989; Marks, 000).
    Work with psychic superstars such as Geller, though, is a marginal feature
of parapsychological research. Parapsychologists’ efforts are predominantly
directed towards establishing evidence of psi, the term given to those at presently
unknown mental facilities which facilitate extra-sensory perception, psychokinesis,
precognition, and so on. In this sense, then, there is a clear difference between the
investigations of psychical research and parapsychology.
    However, these differences are nothing compared to the tension between
parapsychology and spiritualism and its associated mediumistic phenomena. Irwin
argues that a ‘sense of mutual antipathy between spiritualists and parapsychologists
has persisted to this day’ and that parapsychologists ’are intent on disassociating
parapsychology from anything to do with occultism. They are a little embarrassed by
the fact that parapsychology had its roots in spiritualism’ (Irwin, 1999: ).
    It is easy to find evidence of this antipathy. For example, in his assessment of the
future of parapsychology Morris (005) argues that the status of the discipline has
been damaged by its perceived association with occult phenomena like spiritualism
and mediumship. This is supported by Collins and Pinch’s (1979) analysis of the
rhetorical strategies used in the debate about parapsychology’s scientific status. They
found that critics often focused on its ‘occult’ heritage as a way of questioning its
credibility as a science. Although there are signs that some parapsychologists are
beginning to re-evaluate the relationship between their discipline and mediumship
(Alvarado 00, 00; Pilkington, 00), it is still fair to say that the investigation
of psychic practitioners, be they mediums or metal benders, is not a core activity of
parapsychological research.
    What contemporary research there is has been conducted largely by academics
and researchers who work outside academic parapsychology. For example, Gary
Schwartz is a professor in a range of psychological and medical disciplines. Recently
he and his colleagues in the United States have been engaged in a series of controlled
laboratory experiments to assess the accuracy of information provided by five well-
                     Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                   17
known mediums. Schwartz claims that these studies offer evidence for post-mortem
survival and spirit communication through mediums (Schwartz, 00; Schwartz
and Russek, 001; Schwartz et al., 001; Schwartz et al., 00; Schwartz et al.,
2003). However, critics have argued his methodology is not sufficiently rigorous
to rule out the possibility that the mediums taking part in the study could have
acquired information, ostensibly from the spirits, through normal sensory channels
(Wiseman and O’Keeffe, 001, 00). Similarly, Archie Roy, who is an emeritus
professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow,
in collaboration with colleague T.J. Robertson, have published a series of papers
in which they outline a methodology for error-free and fraud-proof tests of the
accuracy of mediums’ statements (Roy and Robertson, 001; Robertson and Roy,
001, 00).
    Finally, it is important to mention the work of the Scole group. This is a small
group of mediums and interested lay people who have met regularly over a number
of years to communicate with spirits. What is interesting about this group is that
the spirit communicators informed the group that they wanted the sittings to stand
as experimental proof for the afterlife. Consequently, some senior members of the
Society for Psychical Research were invited to attend the sittings, interact with the
spirit communicators through the mediums and observe unusual phenomena, many
of which were similar to those associated with physical mediumship of the late
1800s and early 1900s. They published a report of their experiences, and argued that
the Scole group were able to produce genuinely paranormal events (Keen, Ellison
and Fontana, 1999; but see Cornell, 1999; Gauld, 1999 and West, 1999, for more
sceptical assessments).
    There are several themes which emerge from this discussion. The first is that
the ‘high tide’ of investigation of psychic practitioners, specifically mediums, was
approximately a century ago. The second is that parapsychologists, by and large,
have not concerned themselves with investigation of psychic practitioners. Their
main task has been the attempt to find the kind of evidence for parapsychological
phenomena which would convince the (largely sceptical) academic establishment.
Consequently, they have been wary of acknowledging their historical links with
unscientific occult movements. Finally, and most important, there is a consistent
feature to the vast majority of research on psychic practitioners undertaken by
psychical researchers, parapsychologists (little that there is), sceptics and interested
outsiders, such as Schwartz. It is this: they are all trying to establish whether or
not the psychics’ demonstrations stand as good evidence for, or as proof of, the
existence of psychic phenomena. All parties who study psychics are concerned with
the authenticity of their powers.
    But a concern to establish proof and authenticity is also central to the culture of
psychic practitioners themselves.
    If we are to accept the claims of psychic practitioners, we have to take on
board some highly contentious assumptions. A medium’s authenticity rests on the
acceptance that some aspect of the human personality survives death; and that he
or she can communicate with the dead and relay information to the living, either
18                       The Language of Mediums and Psychics
through direct communication with the spirits of the dead, or via an intermediary
spirit guide. And other kinds of psychic practitioners require that we accept that
a person can interact with or acquire information about the world or other people
through means other than the normal five senses. It is no surprise, then, that the need
to establish the authenticity of their claims is a recurring theme in the discourse
of psychics and mediums. Mediums will often begin public demonstrations with
claims that tonight they are going to offer proof of the existence of the afterlife.
And proof of survival and the spirits’ abilities to return to provide messages for their
living friends and family is a constant theme in mediums’ autobiographies, and in the
Psychic News, the weekly newspaper for psychics and mediums.
    To illustrate the extent to which the issue of proof and authenticity is intrinsic to
the psychics’ culture, in the next section we will examine the rhetoric of advertising
material designed to promote the services of range of psychic practitioners.

‘Contact with the Dearly Departed. It is Possible; I can Prove it to you.’
Authority and Authenticity in Psychic Practitioners’ Advertising Flyers

The data for this analysis is a corpus of 25 advertising flyers, each promoting a
different psychic practitioner. I collected six separate flyers each produced by
another psychic; each of these contained roughly the same information; in some
cases, they were partial duplications of each other. This corpus was mainly collected
from psychic fairs and new age exhibitions during the late 1990s in London and the
south east of England. One flyer, advertising the services of a medium working in
the north of England, was acquired in 2005. Some were collected specifically for this
study, and others were donated by people who had had consultations with psychic
practitioners independently of this research. All flyers appear to be home produced,
photocopied on to (usually) coloured A5 or A4 sized paper. Some flyers clearly had
been produced on a computer, and employed a range of colours, images, and font
styles and sizes. Others merely offered hand written text accompanied by drawings
of mystical symbols. In some cases, larger A4 flyers had been folded in such a way
as to appear like a small brochure.
    These flyers are designed ostensibly to advertise the services of the psychic
practitioners. The following range of psychic skills are offered in the corpus:
mediumship, clairvoyance, Tarot readings, aura readings, palmistry, healing,
psychic readings, Reiki, past life regression, crystal readings, graphology, palmistry,
progression (future life forecasts), astrological readings, numerology, pendulumism,
photo readings, water scrying, exorcism (by appointment only), reflexology, sand
reading, psychometry, wax reading and flower clairsentience. The flyers also provide
contact details and some brief information about the psychic. In this sense, the flyers
seem to be merely factual documents.
    The accompanying text, however, is overwhelmingly oriented to establishing the
authenticity of the psychic. The title of this section, for example, comes from one of
the flyers, and starkly captures the persuasive orientation of these kinds of documents
(Clarke, Wooffitt and Orton-Johnson, 1995). Reproduced below is the text from four
                      Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                    19
flyers, collected from different psychic fairs and new age exhibitions. These are
provided to illustrate the kind of claims made in these flyers, and to provide some
instances of the range of discursive strategies through which the credentials of the
psychic are established. (I have not tried to duplicate the layout of the flyers, with the
exception that any text in bold or larger font on the flyer has been reproduced in bold
below. Telephone numbers and addresses have been omitted. As these flyers were
produced to advertise the services of the practitioners, all names as used on the flyer
have been retained. Punctuation, spelling, letter cases, etc., are from the originals.)
Francesca has been clairvoyant all her life, and for a number of years has been using
her gifts professionally in order to help others.
As well as giving messages from those known to you in the spirit world, she also
gives an accurate insight into your past, present and future.
Francesa works with spirit to give specific guidance on any concerns you may have
in your life, such as relationships, careers, legal or health matters.
Available for private sittings
Peter Richards
International Medium, Clairvoyant, Numerologist
Peter is a natural medium who has trained and used his gift for the benefit of others
since 1977.
He accurately shows your past, present and future.
Peter will open the door to spirit, so that your loved ones who have gone on before,
can communicate to you.
Peter has lived all over the world and worked in many countries as a Medium,
Peter has a compassionate style which shows in his readings, which are taped.
Party bookings undertaken
Josephine has been using her gifts professionally for the past 20 years. Her lifelong
gift was developed by an internationally known medium.
Further training was undertaken at The College of Psychic Studies.
0                       The Language of Mediums and Psychics
She gives an accurate insight into your past, present and future and is able to help
and advise on any current problems you may have.
She has appeared on Sky T.V. and works at ‘The Mind Body & Spirit Festival’ every
year with B.A.P.S.
Available for private sittings
Tarot Reader & Palmist
Roger is a natural Clairvoyant/Psychic whose gift has been handed down from his
ancestors. He also has been blessed with the gift of mediumship.
Working with his Spirit Guides for many years, Roger has developed his natural
talents to help many people from all walks of life, including royalty both here and
abroad. Roger can also give guidance through use of Tarot cards, and mediumship.
He is also adept in the art of hand analysis and past life readings.
Discover how Roger can help you find your true destiny
An amazing talent to help you on the right pathway
For consultations
Private, party bookings, telephone:
To establish the persuasive orientation of these texts, we will examine the following
features: the status of the psychic’s abilities; the length of time the psychic has been
working as a practitioner; the psychic heritage; training; and evidence of esteem.

The status of the psychic’s abilities

In all four sample flyers, the psychics’ skills are described as a gift or gifts. This is
quite common. From other flyers in the corpus: Richard has ‘natural psychic gifts’,
Agnes Freeman is a ‘gifted clairvoyant’, Marion Denny has ‘psychic gifts’, Julia’s
gift is that she is a ‘psychic and clairvoyant’, Suzanne is a ‘gifted Faith healer’, and
so on. Not only are psychic skills reported as gifts, some are described as God given.
Bruna Dame’s skills are ‘God-given’, as are those described by Betty Palko.
    To characterize psychic skills as gifts marks their status as rare or unusual
blessings bestowed upon few people. To describe the gifts as God-given further
portrays the psychic as chosen and highly privileged. These are inferentially
powerful descriptions in that they work to ensure that the psychic is portrayed as
distinct from, and different to, those of us not equally blessed or privileged. This
clearly substantiates the implicit claim that the psychic practitioner has a special
ability or talent.
    But there may be commercial reasons why the practitioners’ abilities are
described as gifts. Members of the public consult psychic practitioners, and pay the
fees they charge, on the basis of the special skills they offer. The economic value of
                     Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                   1
the psychic would be diminished if the skills they advertised were considered to be
widely distributed throughout the population.

Length of service

All four sample flyers establish that the psychic has been working for a substantial
period of time: thus Josephine ‘has been using her gifts professionally for the past
20 years’, and Peter Richards has used his psychic abilities ‘for the benefit of others
since 1977’. Establishing long service as a psychic practitioner suggests authenticity
and expertise as it appeals to a common sense or ‘lay’ logic: if the powers were not
genuine, or the service offered was unsatisfactory, it is unlikely that the psychic
would have been in demand and able to work for so long. It is not surprising, then,
to find that reports of the length of service appear regularly throughout the corpus.
For example: Crystal Clear ‘discovered that I was a psychic at the age of 1’; Khym
has ‘over thirty years’ of experience; John Turner is ‘a psychic medium of long
standing’; Betty Nugent ‘entered the field of Spiritualism and the psychic world
over 0 years ago’; Richard has ‘8 years’ experience’; Tom Kajo has been using his
skills ‘since boyhood’, and Margarita ‘has used her abilities for many years’ having
‘studied the Tarot for some 0 years’.

The psychic heritage

In their flyers, many psychic practitioners claim that their gifts are inherited from
ancestors, or are in some way connected to their heritage. Invariably, the lineages
cited trade on stereotypes about the spiritual sensitivities or mystical practices of
particular national or ethnic groups. So we find that Patricia’s psychic abilities ‘are
inherited from the original Romany clairvoyants which have been traced back to
the 15th century, of which she is a direct descendent’, as is Suzanne, who comes
from ‘a long line of true Romany Gypsies which goes back many generations’. Tom
Kajo’s gifts were passed down from ‘celtic Ancestors’; Clare ‘inherited her rare
gift of clairvoyance from her Russian Grandmother’. Marion Denny, on the other
hand, ‘attributes her gifts to the ancestry of a Jewish Grandfather of the tribe of
“Asher” and a Grandmother descended of the Seminole Indians of Florida’. A similar
combination of genealogical influences is claimed by Julia, whose gift as a psychic
and clairvoyant ‘is believed to have derived from her French and Irish forefathers’,
and Alex, who is ‘of European and native American ancestry’.


One way in which the psychics can establish their expertise and authority is to point
to evidence of formal or informal instruction. The flyers cite a range of qualifications
which reflect the psychic’s formal training in the development of his or her abilities,
and membership of psychic or spiritual groups and organizations. Agnes Freemon’s
flyers report that she is a member of ‘the N.F.S.H., the W.F.H., B.A.P.S. (the British
                       The Language of Mediums and Psychics
Astrological and Psychics Society) and I.S.M (the Institute of Spiritual Mediums).
She is also reported as having studied at the College of Psychic Studies, as has
Josephine. Alex is a member of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, and
has undergone many years of ‘study, meditation and apprenticeship’. Marion Denny
reports that she is the holder of a ‘current Spiritualist National Union certificate’ and
that she was awarded a ‘Greater World Diploma’.
    Claims to more informal study can be found in flyers by Ron Zarubica, who
cites his extensive training in America with the ‘renowned American psychic Norma
Majundar’, and Josephine, whose gift ‘was developed by an internationally known
medium’, who remains unnamed on her flyer.

Evidence of esteem

There are numerous ways in which the flyers promote the esteem or reputation of
the psychic. First, they can name their celebrity clients. Thus Crystal Clear has
read for ‘Omar Sherif, Liam Neeson, Shakira Caine, Jeremy Beadle and Patrick
Mower’. Richard’s clients have included Joan Collins, Bonnie Langford, Jeremy
Beadle (again), Omar Sharif (again, providing this is the same person referred to as
Omar Sherif on Crystal Clear’s flyer), and Dr Who (presumably one of the actors
who has played the character). John Turner claims many well known people as his
clients, among them ‘actors from the radio show The Archers’. Other flyers refer to
high status categories of people served by the psychic. Thus Roger proclaims that
he has used his talents to help people from ‘all walks of life, including royalty, here
and abroad’. Ron Zarubica has also provided readings for VIPs: ‘I hold HEADS OF
“well known” and regular Clients’. Like Roger, Clare also assists people ‘from all
walks of life’ including ‘company directors, lawyers, doctors and scientists’. Patricia
‘has many clients ranging from celebrities to sports stars.’ Suzanne is ‘sought after
by many business & professional people for help and guidance in their lives’. And
‘many famous people’ consult Tom Kajo ‘on a regular basis’. Finally, Marj reports
that she has used her psychic talents to assist the police in criminal investigations.
    (On a related theme: the cover of American medium Kenny Kingston’s [00]
book I Still Talk To... boasts Diana, Princess of Wales, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe,
James Dean, Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, the Duchess of Windsor, Bette Davis and
Mae West as his on-going spirit co-conversationalists.)
    Second, the flyers routinely report that the psychic has travelled extensively
on account of his or her talents, thereby implying international demand for their
services. For example, Betty Palko ‘travels extensively to Germany, Hong Kong,
Beverley Hills, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Israel and Ireland’. Agnes Freeman has
‘been in many Countries including Cassadaga, near Orlando, Florida’. Betty Nugent
‘has been on a tour of the United States’. Other flyers are more vague about the
precise destinations of the psychic’s travels: Suzanne, for example, has been ‘abroad
regularly’; Richard ‘is an international clairvoyant who has given demonstrations
in many countries’; Rose has ‘travelled widely’; Ron Zarubica has ‘travelled and
                      Psychic Practitioners in Contemporary Society                    
worked throughout the world’; Clare has ‘achieved national and international fame
from travelling extensively world wide’; Alex is an ‘international psychic’, and Peter
Richards has ‘worked in many countries as a Medium, Clairvoyant’.
    Third, it is also quite common for psychic practitioners to refer to the publicity
they have received by virtue of their talents. Josephine, for example, claims that
she has been on Sky TV. Agnes Freeman reveals that she has been on television
and radio programmes, here in the UK and in the United States, and has featured in
magazines such as Bella and Time Out. Patricia has been the subject of ‘numerous
articles ... in such publications as Psychic News’. Marj has ‘appeared in Local and
National T.V. and Radio’. Suzanne, on the other hand, ‘has been sought after by the
News of the World for her amazing insight and predictions’ and has ‘been seen on
TV on many occasions’. Khym has also made ‘several appearances on T.V.’. Tom
Kajo is also ‘well known on TV and Radio’, while the predictions of John Turner
‘have been featured in newspapers and on radio with amazing and regular accuracy’,
and Pete Green’s astrological predictions have been ‘commented on in the national
    Finally, it is worth noting that Marion Denny ‘is the clairvoyant other psychics
consult when they want advice’; as too, apparently, is Agnes Freeman: ‘A Clairvoyant/
Medium/Healer other Mediums consult’.
    It is easy to think of mediums and psychics as extraordinary and special people.
Claiming to be blessed with powers and abilities, they seem set apart from the rest of
us. Yet analysis of the rhetoric of their advertising flyers suggests they are preoccupied
with the kind of everyday vocational concerns which inform presentational and
advertising materials associated with more earthly occupations and activities. So, the
stress on authenticity is shared with professions that may lack the authority bestowed
by recognized professional bodies. Practitioners of alternative, complementary or
new age medicine, for example, need to emphasise their authenticity in the absence
of publicly or scientifically recognized legitimating organizations. Musicians and
artists trade on their possession of innate talents and gifts. High street shops proclaim
their heritage by proudly displaying the date of their establishment. By considering
the rhetoric of advertising materials, then, we gain insight to the extent to which
issues of proof and authenticity, relevant to a wide variety of vocations, also inform
the culture of psychic practitioners. This further emphasizes the mundane, almost
routinized nature of the work of contemporary psychic practitioners
    In the next chapter we turn our attention to the central importance of language in
the everyday activities of psychic practitioners.

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