Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Some days I get lazy. This is one of those days.

Howdy folks. I'm busy today (hell, all week) so rather than produce anything "new" or "interesting" or "marginally amusing" myself, I'm going to shamelessly piggyback on someone else's hard work. It's a little like how some people get tenure, but without all the recriminations.

In any case, my victim honored guest today is a post from over on the fantastic Skepchick Blog. If you've never been over there, it's a blog associated with the magazine of the same name that has become a renowned home for skeptical women, as well as a publisher of nudie calendars. The post in question is an oldie, published in October of last year, but probably nonetheless is one few of you have seen since I think I'm the only person from this part of the blogosphere who reads Skepchick. This post takes as its focus the subject of spirit communication. Now, you've all probably heard of the idea of communing with spirits. Popularized back during the nineteenth century in the west, spiritualism involves communing with the spirits of the departed, usually by way of a medium. Many spiritualists have been shown to be frauds and all of their feats have been replicated in one form or another by skilled debunkers, including (believe it or not) Harry Houdini.*

More recently spiritualism has been on an upswing with great interest in supposed mediums like Sylvia Browne, Allison DuBois, and John Edward; supposed spirit communicators who have been popularized on television.** Of course, it's rather unlikely that they are communicating with the dead as techniques like cold reading are much easier to accomplish.*** To save us from this supposed tide of after death communication comes Rebecca with an account of spirit communication that just can't be beat. When we see or listen to a spirit "chat" we only see two parts of it: what the caller/subject says, and what the spiritualist says. Rebecca adds in- speculatively of course- what the spritis must also be saying. It is, in a word, hysterical:

EDWARD: However, I don’t know if you have your mom who’s passed or if there’s another parental figure, like an older female who had crossed, who had congestive heart failure or who had problems with her chest. Do you know who that is?

CALLER: It could be my gran. My gran.

SPIRIT #1: I might be related to her dad, but maybe not!

EDWARD: Would that be on your dad’s side of the family, as well?

CALLER: I have two grans that have passed away, both mom and dad’s side.

SPIRIT #1: Let’s go with Dad, why not?

EDWARD: OK. I think I’m connected to the one that would be on your dad’s side of the family. And your dad would have…

CALLER: Yes, she passed away from a heart attack.

SPIRIT #1: Just like heart failure, whatever, ha ha! Hey, this is very important: my son’s brother is here. Paul!

SPIRIT #2: Hey.

EDWARD: OK. Your dad would be with also another male.

SPIRIT #1: I’m not the dad, I’m the grandmother, I thought. Wait, am I the dad now? Is dad like, the same as a grandmother? I forget.

EDWARD: So I don’t know if he has a brother figure, as well. Where’s the name Paul come in?

CALLER: We don’t have a Paul in the family, as far as I know.

SPIRIT #1: Shit, hold on . . . who is this guy, then?


So, head on over and read the rest. It's worth it and maybe, just maybe, you'll develop an appreciation for the blog as a whole.

And if not, shit, at least buy a calendar.


* Little known fact: Houdini was an arch skeptic and, when not performing magic, spent a great deal of time unmasking supposed mediums for the frauds they were. In order to defeat mediums who would claim to contact him after his death, he even established a code with his wife so that she could confirm, or falsify, any supposed messages from him. It goes without saying that no confirmed spirit message from Houdini has ever been received.

** i.e. Larry King Live, Medium, and Crossing Over. Don't even get me started on The Ghost Whisperer.

*** Easier in that, you know, there are no confirmed cases of the living communicating with the dead. Ever. In that light, yes, cold reading could certainly be said to be "easier."

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2 Comments:

Blogger lulu said...

There seems to be some huge confusion in this post regarding Spiritualists and mediums. Not all Spiritualists are Mediums, just as not all Pschics are Mediums.

"Many spiritualists have been shown to be frauds and all of their feats have been replicated in one form or another by skilled debunkers, including (believe it or not) Harry Houdini.*"

A Spiritualist can never be a fraud as Spiritualism is a religion. I don't believe houdini was a Spiritualist. There certainly can be fake mediums and psychics though.

"More recently spiritualism has been on an upswing with great interest in supposed mediums like Sylvia Browne, Allison DuBois, and John Edward; supposed spirit communicators who have been popularized on television."

Spiritualism in not on the upswing do to these types of Psychic or medium readings. These readings are popular because people like the unknown, need answers, etc., but that usually does not involve the spiritualist religion. I know Sylvia Brown is not a Spiritualist. True Mediumship is both inborn and a trained learned ability. Certified Mediums study and practice for years and are then tested before they can be certified. Not all Pychics are Mediums, not all Spiritualists are mediums either.

Friday, March 16, 2007 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Hey Lulu,

I'm pleased to have your feedback, but I think you've misunderstood a few things.

You commented:

"There seems to be some huge confusion in this post regarding Spiritualists and mediums. Not all Spiritualists are Mediums, just as not all Pschics are Mediums."

But I never argued that all spiritualists are mediums nor than all "psychics" are mediums. Spiritualism does, however, prominently include mediums much as Catholicism includes priests. If I criticize Catholicism it is legitimate for me to comment on the Pope even though most Catholics are not Popes. Likewise, if I wish to criticize spiritualism...

You say:

"A Spiritualist can never be a fraud as Spiritualism is a religion. I don't believe houdini was a Spiritualist. There certainly can be fake mediums and psychics though."

Which is patently absurd. A fraud is simply someone who misrepresents his or herself or seeks to deceive others. There is nothing inherent to any religion that makes fraudulent behavior impossible- and some of them may encourage it!

As for your concerns about Sylvia Browne not being a "spiritualist," the wikipedia link I included in my original post defines "spiritualism" as:

"...a religious movement that began in the United States and was prominent in the 1840s – 1920s, especially in English-speaking countries. The movement's distinguishing feature is the belief that the spirits of the dead can be contacted by mediums. These spirits are believed to lie on a higher plane of existence than humans, and are therefore capable of providing guidance in both worldly and spiritual matters."

Given this, Sylvia Browne could reasonably be claimed as a spiritualist. You are correct, however, that Houdini was not a spiritualist he was, as I point out, a skeptical debunker of spiritualists. Regarding your claims about the "certification" and "training" of psychics and mediums: if their skills are so well-developed, why does James Randi's fabulous prize go uncollected?

If anything I think your comments lead to an interesting consideration of the difference between "spiritualism" and the category "spiritual but not religious."

Friday, March 16, 2007 5:11:00 PM  

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