From Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers
Many clients seek to reestablish communication with loved ones on the other side, and a gifted medium can help reforge this broken link. In addition to general communication, some clients may wish to ask yes or no questions of the spirits of the dead, or they may simply wish to convey their love and support to those who have gone before, or to ask for forgiveness for transgressions or omissions of conduct. Likewise, the dead may desire to transmit messages to the living, bringing words of hope and comfort, conveying information that may benefit the client, or speaking works of truth about issues left unresolved in life.
Some mediums are members of Spiritualist churches of various denominations, because Spiritualism is a religion founded upon a belief in communion with spirits. Others may be psychic readers who have developed their gifts for mediumship within African American ancestral traditions but outside the cultural framework of Spiritualism or any religious organization.
Trance mediumship is a classical form of mediumship wherein the medium is possessed by another spirit, who then moves and talks through the body of the one being possessed, sometimes to such a degree that the medium is unconscious, while his or her physical and mental processes are under the control of the spirit communicator. The medium may speak in the voice or with the vocabulary of the possessing spirit, and may act in other ways that he or she does not normally manifest in daily life, including singing, dancing, or making oracular pronouncements "from spirit." Upon regaining consciousness, the trance medium is generally unaware of the communications with the world of spirit that took place while he or she was in the trance state.
Mediumistic work may be done, by those who are sensitive to such things, without possession taking place. The dead, angels, or other spirit entities may be consulted, but rather than being taken over by another spirit, the medium in this case retains control and possession of his or her body and mind while in communication with the discarnate spirit. This type of spiritual divination, sometimes called "channelling," is more common than full trance mediumship. A channeling medium may be able to ask questions of the spirit on behalf of the client, and then repeat the answers given by the spirit to the client.
Spirit Guides in the Spiritualist Tradition
Within the Spiritual Church Movement and Spiritualist churches in general, it is common for mediums to form relationships with discarnate entities called spirit guides, Spirit Messengers, or Spirit Teachers. These guides and message-bearers help mediums contact other spirits, such as the spirits of the dead, or provide helpful messages for the mediums to pass along to clients.
A spirit guide may be the spirit of one now dead, an ancestor, one who never lived on Earth as we know it, an Ascended Master, an archangel or angel, or even a deity. Some spirit guides, especially the angels, work as allies to many mediums. Other spirits, especially Native American spirit guides, childhood friends, those who died young, or those who lived long ago, only appear to one medium at a time, and are known as personal spirit guides or messenger spirits.
Some mediums see and work with many spirit guides, some may have two (generally one a teacher and the other a messenger), and some work with a single spirit guide. Some mediums keep images or statues of their spirit guides on their altars.
Sometimes, upon the death of a medium who has long received messages from a particular spirit guide, that guide may commence to assist and work with the medium's family members or descendants, or may embark upon a more general career as the tutelary spirit or message-bearer for a particular Spiritualist temple or church. Such was the case with E. R. Dyar Clough's spirit guide Christal, who went on, after her medium's death, to work with a long succession of mediums at one church, in association with a group of spirit guides known collectively as "The Temple Band."
Occasionally, after the death of his or her initial medium contact, a personal spirit guide may become a widely acknowledged spirit who is accessible to many people, both within and outside the Spiritualist religion. This is what happened with the spirit of Black Hawk, originally a spiritual guide to Mother Leafy Anderson, the early 20th century founder of the Spiritual Church Movement, who has, since the early 21st century, been petitioned for aid by many non-churched hoodoo rootwork practitioners and psychic readers who have never been members of any denomination of the Spiritualism. There are also a number of people at the current time claiming to be in personal contact with the spirit of Marie Laveau, a 19th century spiritual practitioner from New Orleans.
It must be noted that there is a distinct difference between mediumship that has developed and is demonstrated within a Spiritualist church community, where is it presented for the benefit of parishioners and congregants, and the modern non-churched concept of spirit mediumship as a form of personal gnosis, by which the medium elevates his or her own secret spiritual contacts to the status of an individualistic cultic religion. Especially in the case of a well-known historical personage like Black Hawk, with whom contact originated through the mediumship of Leafy Anderson in the Christian Spiritual Church Movement, and for whom church services based in the Biblical Book of Isaiah have long been a feature of community worship, one should treat with wariness any claims to "personal" mediumship contact by those who present widely deviant or novel interpretations of how to approach or receive messages from this familiar and well-loved community spirit guide.
Mediums as Message-Bearers in Spiritualist Churches
Although mediumistic contact with the dead and with ancestors is a spiritual gift and not a religious ritual per se, there are religious organizations in which the delivery of messages from the world of spirit are encouraged and welcomed within the context of religious services. This is particularly true in the various denominations of Spiritualism, a religion distinguished by its doctrinal emphasis on the continuity of contact between the dead and the living. During Spiritualist church services, it is quite common for a trained spirit medium to deliver messages to parishioners from deceased family members and departed friends.
Techniques and practices of mediumship vary within the different Spiritualist organizations, and reflect in part their historical, social, and cultural linkages to the concepts, beliefs, and customary practices of Protestant Christianity, Pentecostal Christianity, Catholic Christianity, the New Thought Movement, African and African-Diasporic religions, Buddhism, Theosophy, and Neo-Paganism. Within some Spiritualist churches, only the leaders display mediumistic gifts. In other Spiritualist churches, the gift of mediumship does not carry with it any special hierarchical significance, and although the pastors are mediums who work with Spirit Guides, regular congregants may also bear witness to spirit contact. Some Spiritualist organizations hold regular training sessions for the development of mediumship among their parishioners and the public.
Speaking in Tongues, Gifts of the Spirit, and Spirit Possession
A number of Christian religion denominations recognize the Gifts of the Spirit, which include speaking in the tongues of angels and experiencing the form of ecstasy commonly called being "slain in the spirit" or "falling out."
A similar state of grace, sometimes called "spirit possession," is also characteristic of many African Traditional Religions. During services in these religions, a god or nature spirit, such as one of the orishas or mpungos, will come down and speak through the body of the one who is thus contacted. Religious traditions that utilize spirit possession include Santeria Lucumi, Palo, Vodou, Spiritualism, Espiritismo Cruzado and many Pagan and Neo-Pagan Traditions.
Another gift of the spirit, often encountered in a non-religious context among hoodoo psychic readers, is automatic writing. In this mediumistic form of spirit communication, the medium goes into a light or deep trance and covers pages of paper with spirit-writing, often with the eyes closed. Such writing may include messages from the beyond to loved ones on Earth.
Automatic Writing and Planchettes
It is not uncommon for gifted mediums to be able to write out messages while in a trance state or while channeling spirits. They may do this in addition to speaking for or with spirits, or as form of spirit communication in its own right. The spirits contacted through the technique of automatic writing may be those of the dead, of angels, or any of a number of other spirit entities.
One peculiar characteristic of automatic writing is the speed with which it is commonly produced; the medium's hands may transcribe the words from the realm of Spirit far more rapidly than the medium would write under normal waking conditions.
In centuries past, automatic writing was produced as handwriting, either with pen and ink on paper or with a stylus in a tray of sand.
In the 19th century, a tool called the planchette (French for "little table") became popular with trance mediums. A planchette is a small table-shaped board into which a pencil can be fixed. Some mediums find a planchette useful when engaging in automatic writing, as it frees and supports their quickly moving hands.
Since the invention of typewriter and computer keyboards, automatic writing has made the transition to modern methods; certain accomplished trance mediums are capable of typing spirit messages and sending them to clients via text message or email.
Spirit Boards, Talking Boards, and Ouija Boards
A spirit board or talking board is a painted or laminated wooden or masonite board on which are printed letters of the alphabet, numerals, simple words, and symbols or pictures. Like a planchette, the spirit board facilitates rapid spirit communication, as the words can be spelled out. With the addition of a rolling or sliding planchette which contains a small window that centers over each letter in turn, the mediumistic message may become more clear to those assembled as part of their contact session or séance.
Spirit boards come in many forms and styles, from the hand-made to the mass-produced. Since the late 1800s, a very popular spirit board and planchette combination has been made and marketed by William Fuld and his successors, the Parker Brothers company, under the trade name Ouija Board.
The word "Ouija" is a combination of the French and German words for "yes," which should logically be pronounced "Wee-Yah", but in America it is generally sounded as "Wee-Jah" or "Wee-Jee." Although the term "Ouija" is not generic, many people call all types of talking boards "wee-jee boards" due to the popularity of this particular brand.
A spirit board may be used by a solo practitioner, but it is common for two or more people to use it together in order to contact spirits. When just two people use a spirit board, they may sit facing one another with the board resting on their knees and their fingers lightly touching the planchette. If three or more people wish to touch the planchette, the board may be set on a table, and one person may act as a recording secretary, writing down the letters as they appear under the planchette. Questions are asked by the medium or psychic reader, either aloud or by spelling them out with the planchette. If a spirit is successfully contacted, the spirit will use the bodies of those present to communicate by moving the planchette to point out letter-by-letter replies.
Other Forms of Mediumistic Contact
In addition to the methods described above, there are other techniques used to contact the spirit world and receive messages. Among these lesser-known methods are contact by means of a pendulum and psychometry with an object, such as a piece of clothing or jewelry that once belonged to, and was handled by, a person who is deceased.
Outside of the Spiritualist Church communities, private practitioners also may conduct Ancestral investigations and message-bearing séances. These may include direct psychic channeling or trance work, or they may be conducted by means of divination tools such as water scryping, crystal ball scrying, or bone-reading.
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- Divination, Fortune Telling, and Oracles
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- Working with Spirits
- Divination and Fortune Telling by Mediumship and Contact with the Dead