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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

GUEST POST: Messages From Beyond by Jaime Lee Moyer

Trances, séances, mediums and channeling messages from the dead. Ghosts and spirits. 

What do many of us think of when we look at those words? Halloween, scary movies, séances at parties, or the fortuneteller in the little house at the edge of town. We don't take them all that seriously. After all, none of those things are real. You can't communicate with your dearly departed while sitting around a table in the dark. Right?

That's the attitude today, in the opening years of the 21st century. We're up to our necks in modern wonders and technology, instant communications that can reach around the world, and solar powered rovers that send back photos of Mars. Ghosts, mediums, and yes, witches, can be seen as throwbacks to a past we left behind long ago. A hundred years ago attitudes were much different. People believed in ghosts and spirits, in mediums being able to pierce the veil between worlds to communicate with the dead. Receiving messages from the great beyond wasn't out of the realm of possibility for most people. In fact, they counted on it.

One of the more interesting facts I uncovered while researching Delia's Shadow and A Barricade In Hell, was that people saw going to see a medium on stage was a popular form of entertainment. Looking for something to occupy an evening or an afternoon, spiritualists would browse through listings of which mediums were in town preforming, and decide where to spend their time. It was a lot like choosing what movie to see on Saturday night. 

Séances, while still often held in small private spaces, also became a form of public entertainment. Large lecture halls and theaters that held hundreds of people, because popular venues for mediums to demonstrate their ability to communicate with the dead. Audiences left these public séances convinced that what they'd seen was real. That instance after instance of fraudulent mediums bilking gullible people were exposed, and their fraud publicized, didn't stop people from believing the next medium they went to see was real. 

We've all seen séances on TV or in movies where the ghost communicates by sound, often rapping on the bottom of the table or from inside a wall. The Fox sisters "discovered" spirit communication back in the mid-1800s. News of ghosts tapping out messages for the two sisters spread, as did the number of people who believed in them. The spirits sending them messages weren't shy of large audiences either. People paid admission fees to see the Fox sisters in theaters all over the country and listen to the ghostly sounds they summoned. While the Fox sisters were the first to draw crowds, they were far from the last.

An extremely popular and successful form of public performance by mediums was "trance lecturing". A medium would take the stage and offer himself, or more often herself, as a channel for a spirit control to deliver a message. Trance lectures were some of the first instances were women were allowed to speak in public, something they'd been prohibited from doing before. The spirit was in control, not the woman acting as medium, and these spirit driven talks often touched on social issues such as marriage or the treatment of women in society.

Some spirit controls became well known in their own right. Kings or Queens who ruled ancient kingdoms centuries before, wise men from distant lands; spirit controls came in all forms. The apparent change in persona between the medium before entering the trance state and after, changes in posture, voice and facial expressions, helped cement in an audience's mind that the change they saw was real.

Every medium communicated with spirits in different ways. Aside from the unexplained tapping that started the craze for séances, or the trance lectures, spirits might play musical instruments, or exhibit some other dramatic spiritual manifestation. Not everyone believed. Some skeptics publicly equated mediums with stage magicians, saying that at least the magicians were honest about their trickery and bilking people out of their money. 

All this research showed me that having Isadora Bobet make her living as a society medium, holding séances in drawing rooms, or giving tarot card readings at dinner parties, was completely in keeping with the times.

The major difference was that Isadora wasn't putting on a show. Her abilities were real.

Official Author Website
Order A Barricade In Hell HERE
Read The Nocturnal Library's review of Delia's Shadow

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jaime Lee Moyer’s Delia’s Shadow won the 2009 Columbus Literary Award for Fiction. Moyer has sold short fiction to Lone Star Stories, Daily Science Fiction, and to the Triangulations: End of the Rainbow, and Triangulations: Last Contact anthologies, and edited the 2010 Rhysling Award Anthology for the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Moyer lives in San Antonio with writer Marshall Payne, three cats, three guitars, and a growing collection of books and music.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of Chuck Sambuchino & Writer's Digest. The Fox sisters picture courtesy of  Donna Davies & Hudson Valley Halloween magazine.


jenclair said...

I read and enjoyed Delia's Shadow last year. I loved Theodora and recommended that she have her own series, but I will happily read Delia's next adventure.

After reading Dan Simmon's novel The Terror, I read two nonfiction books about the Fox sisters: Exploring Other Worlds and Talking to the Dead. Fascinating.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Considering the incredible amount of TV shows involving real-life mediums like DEAD FILES, LONG ISLAND MEDIUM, THE HAUNTING OF..., I can't say that I agree on your assessment on the current lack of interest in contacting the dead.

Then there's an even larger number of paranormal, mystery, and urban fantasy novels with mediums as main characters.

I've been calling mediums the new vampire since they seem to be taking over fiction.

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