The following is an article I wrote on my blog, but thought to include it as you may find it interesting and/or amusing.
As someone who regularly stands up on stage and tells people what they are thinking of and things I couldn’t possible know about them, I decided to pop along to a local venue that was holding a “spiritualist evening” and see how the real life mediums do it.
Firstly, what struck me was balance of the sexes. The main medium that evening was male, there were two other males doing private readings, and a woman on the door. In the audience it was only myself and another chap, and about forty woman ranging in ages. To try and blend in a little (and for those that know me this is easier said than done) I acted the part of the driver who’s been dragged along by his wife – who also attended.
Once the room was filled our medium introduced himself and within minutes he was speaking to the spirits. His method for choosing how he communicated was to select someone from the audience then give them names and information. This was contrary to the method I was suspecting he would use, which is to give a name (or piece of information), then find someone whom it matched directly. Though this method was used on occasion, and I will mention that in a minute.
This immediately leads me to think that the medium isn’t out to con and deliberately deceive the audience as a whole; though whether his powers are real is debatable, I was certain he at least thinks he has a contact with the spirit world. He also wasn’t putting it on just to entertain.
Why did I come to this conclusion? Well, by choosing one person and asking if the name “John” means anything to them is likely to get a positive reaction, but still leaves options for a negative response. If I, as a magician/performer/entertainer, were to do this, I would ask all 40 people if any of them knew “John” – and out of 40 people you are a lot more likely to get someone giving the positive response, usually backing it up with more information.
For example, they may call out, “Yes! My father was called John. Do you have him with you?” The medium now knows this person’s father was called John, and more importantly has died.
course, he never actually asked if people knew “John” as I have just
illustrated, but pretty much any question could be inserted to get similar
positive responses. For example, “Does the 8th of August mean anything?”, “I
have a young man who died in an accident with me now. Anyone? Possibly in a
car. Anyone…?”, “I have an elderly man who liked gardening, does that make
By selecting the person he was reading first and then giving the information he naturally hit quite a few negatives, though this didn’t stop him. Some of his methods of digging himself out of these holes was genius, practically doing U-turns then claiming the audience member was in the wrong for misunderstanding him in the first place.
However, once something did hit he quickly (especially in the first handful of readings when needing to gain the confidence of the audience) made use of a technique known amongst salesmen as the “yes set”. Basically, a salesman asks his potential buyer a series of questions that they will likely say yes to, get them used to agreeing to him. When he asks if they want to make the purchase it is less likely they will say no. This also ensures that the audience as a whole can see that the medium is hitting home with each point.
A typical reading would be:
“You madam, does the name John mean anything to you, yes?”
“Yes, it was my father’s name.”
“And he’s in the spirit world now, yes?”
“It was quite recent, yes?”
“Um, not that recent.”
“I mean about 5 years or so ago, yes?”
“And it was something to do with his heart, yes?”
“Umm, not really. It was lung cancer.”
“But yes, it was the chest region, yes?”
“Anyway, no matter what the cause, we all die because out heart stops beating!”
I use this little dialogue to illustrate how the audience will remember this as a sequence of statements that all get a “yes” response – even though the medium is posing the statements as questions and it is him that is answering with the positive assumption. However, the last jokey line was something he said, talk about the perfect “get-out-of-jail-free” card!
You can also see that each statement was actually a question, designed to get the person to say “yes”.
As I mentioned earlier, I genuinely think he was not trying to deceive. He was obviously very good at picking up signals and was quite intuitive.
If he was out to con he was have put on more of a show. Although he was comfortable standing and talking in front of a room full of people with no props or scripts to hide behind, he didn’t understand staging. He wasn’t aware that some people were losing interest (something an entertainer or comedian would notice) or if he was aware, he didn’t feel like he needed to pick the pace up to win their interest back.
Similarly, there was no grand finish. Bands save their big hits to end, magicians save the big trick and comedians finish with that killer punch line that ties up their routine. This medium just said the spirits weren’t coming through and fizzled out. If I was directing his show I would suggest most interesting spirit/story/revelation would be left to the end. He would act as so it were a struggle, but the climax would be impressive and the audience left stunned.
to this point I must admit I felt sorry for the medium. As a whole the audience
were appreciative and he was getting a lot of yeses. I felt that he is someone
who himself hears the yeses and goes home forgetting about the nos. He really
thinks he has a Native American spirit guide, and the crystals around his neck
focus the energies.
And why knock him? It would be easy. However, I think it best to let him, and those believers in the audience go along with it. As a person they are fine, they pay their bills and contribute to society. To knock someone for their beliefs is wrong, especially as it doesn’t do anyone any harm; and if anything helps someone get “closure” by giving them an opportunity to say good-bye to a family member then surely that’s a positive?
I also had a reading from the medium (and could easily pick it apart now) I
played my part as the dragged along partner who was mildly sceptical but still
said yes on the hits, and didn’t put up too much of a barrier to the misses.
there was one part that did sicken me, and this I believe was something the
medium deliberately used to get a yes, and at the same time create an emotional
hook that pulled the audience back onto his side.
He had been having a run of misses and a few objections to some of the information he had been giving; and I could feel the audience were starting to lose interest and confidence in him, and this time he did pick up on this.
Now, remember, up to this point he had been choosing the audience member, then giving the information directly to them. Suddenly, this time he asked the audience as a whole. He claimed he had the spirit of a child with him, but a child that went straight to the spirit world.
Now, to a room containing forty women there statistically is a very good chance that one of them has had a miscarriage, still birth or abortion. And, if one of them didn’t, it’s very likely one of those forty women knows someone (friend or family) who has.
it turned out there was a lady who answered (through her tears) and although
the medium didn’t give any further information, he said the child was now at
piece and was happy.
It was this point in the show that I grated on me the most. Whether the medium got his information by the spirits, intuition or just plain guessing; the use of the child spirit was a device he deliberately used to pull the audience back on his side.
The show has made me think about how I perform such feats in my show, and how to present them. I firmly believe that I could have taken that audience and given them all a show that would have got a lot more yeses, and been more entertaining. However, the difference is I would acknowledge that I am not in tune with the spirits, but used a variety of techniques to make it appear as such.
I have tried to keep a degree of open-mindedness to this account, though my sceptical nature has no doubt come through the most. It has not been my intention to deliberately knock anyone and their beliefs, nor to offend those beliefs. I think it is too easy for believers (and sceptics) on either side of the fence to loudly voice their opinions, and be deaf to the opinions of others.