Ethics of Mediumship
Eileen J. Garrett, Renowned Medium and
From Tomorrow Magazine: Volume 8, Number 4, Autumn 1960.
Permission to reprint this article has been granted
by the Parapsychology Foundation.
"I am often asked what is the state of mind in
which one is most able to function as a sensitive. I believe that
the beginnings of this state lie in the development of an inner
calm which is free from distraction or desire. The slightest effort
to consciously produce evidence will inhibit this condition . .
. In mediumship the goal is not only to be at one with oneself,
but with all else in the universe."
C. G. Jung lectured before the Society for Psychical Research in
London on July 4, 1919, he chose as his subject "The Psychological
Foundations of Belief in Spirits." During the more than four
decades that have passed, Jung whom Aldous Huxley has called the
"Sage of Zurich" has given much additional thought to the psychodynamics
of spiritualism and mediumship. It was also the subject of a discussion
that I was privileged to have with Prof. Jung at Ascona, a few years
ago; it gave him the opportunity to check his impressions and ideas
with someone whose lifework has centered around mediumship -- and
it gave me a chance to put many, many questions to Jung, most of
which proved as puzzling to him as they were to me.
men seem to become more set in their ways, and more conservative
in their views as the years go by, Jung has happily remained ever-searching,
ever-questioning. Thus, while he told his London audience in 1919
that he considered psychic phenomena purely as "exteriorized effects
of unconscious complexes," he is much less dogmatic today. In that
early address to the S.P.R. Jung said that he saw "no proof whatever
of the existence of real spirits, and until such proof is forthcoming
I must regard this whole territory as an appendix to psychology."
Today, however, as his London lecture is republished in The Structure
and Dynamics of the Psyche (New York: Pantheon Books. 1960)
Jung adds the following comments:
collecting psychological experiences from many people and many countries
for fifty years, I no longer feel as certain as I did in 1919, when
I wrote this sentence. To put it bluntly, I doubt whether an exclusively
psychological approach can do justice to the phenomena in question.
Not only the findings of parapsychology, but my own theoretical
reflections, outlined in "On the Nature of the Psyche," have
led me to certain postulates which touch on the realm of nuclear
physics and the conception of the space-time continuum. This opens
up the whole question of the transpsychic reality immediately underlying
states the dilemma of modern science as it confronts apparent evidence
of paranormal happenings. In all the intervening years, the possibility
of man's survival of bodily death has failed to arouse widespread
scientific curiosity. A set of dogmatic materialistically oriented
explanations of the human condition remains the bible of physical
and psychological sciences. Whatever research takes place -- and
the Parapsychology Foundation,
Inc., of which I am the President, seeks to throw some light
in this direction -- is of necessity on a scale that is exceedingly
small, compared with the magnitude of studies devoted to missiles,
and the machines of war and destruction.
intellectual evolution, from youthful skepticism to serene uncertainty,
sets a worthwhile example for all of us. Glancing over my own earlier
writings, I note that in the conclusion of "Adventures in the
Supernormal," originally published about a quarter of a century
ago, I wrote as follows: "If I say that I know that the dead survive,
that communication with those who have gone beyond is possible and
does occur, and that the human consciousness is capable of perception
in other levels of experience, I know these things out of my own
knowledge and experience." Would I state this concept in the same
manner today? Well, not exactly. I have seen and heard a good deal
since I first put these words on paper. I would now be inclined
to say that I have "been in receipt of communications that would
suggest human survival and mediumistic contact between the living
and the dead."
caution in speaking of life after death is directly linked with
a heightened appreciation of the responsibility which a sensitive,
like myself, has to all those who ponder the great question of survival.
This responsibility is two-fold: it concerns those who are bereaved,
and who seek refuge or sustenance in communication with those who
have died; and those who are sincerely concerned with the significance
of mediumistic phenomena as a key to a fuller understanding of man's
mind and world, his philosophy, religion and science.
I am not one
who assumes that the gift of mediumship necessarily brings with
it greater insight into the phenomena of that mediumship. For some
ten years, in the 1920's, I underwent rigorous training as a sensitive,
under the guidance of Hewat McKenzie, who maintained the British
College of Psychic Science. He was a strict disciplinarian and discouraged
excessive curiosity on the part of mediums. McKenzie did not discourage
social contact between mediums and sitters; he tried to screen out
all information that might, through the medium's conscious or unconscious
knowledge, seep into trance communications. I remember how McKenzie,
as well as Sir Oliver Lodge, the Nobel Prize winning physicist and
pioneer psychic researcher, cautioned me against devoting myself
to any study of their writings. Although they were firmly convinced
of the reality of the phenomena, as scientists they instinctively
understood the danger to the medium whose "homework" might include
the study of spiritualist concepts. Such a medium might well give
back to the inquirer his own beliefs in an unconscious effort to
be obliging. This is what psychologists now call "doctrinal compliance,"
when they refer to a patient's efforts to please the therapist by
a too willing acceptance of specific psychological dogma. While
I used to rebel on occasion, against McKenzie's restrictive regimen,
I nevertheless recognized, even then, that mediumship requires special
attitudes and codes of behavior.
I speak of the ethics of mediumship, I do so with a high regard
for the principles that McKenzie and other researchers expressed
and translated into action. There is no question, and I feel sure
that advanced psychologists will bear me out, that the death of
a friend or a close relative leaves a person particularly wide open
to a variety of impressions and reactions. For weeks and months,
this great personal loss throws its shadow over the individual's
existence: he may teeter between psychological withdrawal and escape;
he may suffer spiritual damage or achieve a higher level of understanding
of the relationship between life and death.
He may then
seek the comfort and encouragement he used to get from this person's
presence and advice. But such seance room encounters are charged
with psychological elements that are simply not present in everyday
meetings. For a living person to speak to the departed is, no matter
what, quite different from a ordinary conversation. We know that
even things said over the telephone, and even more so in letters,
may carry weight that they would not have in a face-to-face conversation.
everything that the medium apparently communicates from a discarnate
entity is given pseudo-omnipotent qualities by the person who receives
it. Add to this the fact that the sitter has most likely suffered
a loss which has created a great emotional void, a fierce hunger
for reassurance, and you have a constellation that calls for extreme
responsibility. Of this, the medium must be conscious. Yet, she
must remain detached, she must resist being caught up in a whirlpool
of sentiment, she must not let herself be pressured into "producing"
phenomena, if only "for the good" of the bereaved person. That way
Too many inquirers
are unable to control their desire to impose their will upon the
medium, and it is here that the medium must also know strength.
Surely, the role which spiritualism willingly assigns to the medium,
as the "high priestess" of a body of truth, has sorely tempted many
sensitives who have become tired of the open hostility of the scientific
world. The need for approval is common to all mankind, whether sensitive
or not. To insist that the medium exhibit a strength of character
which the non-sensitive is not required to demonstrate, might seem
too strict an injunction. Yet, this must be the case, if the medium
wishes to develop his or her abilities to the fullest.
Much of the
fraudulent production of phenomena is due to the excessive demands
of inquirers and to the essential passivity of mediums. While we
know very little about the psychodynamics of mediumship, we do know
that the trance state, especially, is a passive one; the medium
in trance is subject to influences akin to those of a person in
an hypnotic state. It is therefore easy to understand that a person
or group of persons almost ruthlessly eager for "something," for
a "good piece of evidence," or simply for just another chat with
"Mother," will create pressures that a medium may well be unable
to resist -- and thus, consciously or unconsciously creates phenomena,
custom-made, as it were.
is disastrous for everyone concerned. Particularly where money changes
hands, where a medium may be financially dependent upon the "success,"
so called, of her sittings, upon the satisfaction of the "customers,"
greed and fear are likely to take over. At the British College of
Psychic Science, there was no financial contact between mediums
and sitters; there was no need for a medium to "sing for her supper."
Today, much of the flummery that goes on inside seance rooms is
due to the fact that money changes hands, whether it be called a
fee or a "love offering."
There is no
question whatever that gifted mediums are capable of setting up
psychological defenses that will prevent them from providing "evidence:
where none exists. But it is necessary, I think, to point out without
equivocation that public pressure for "results" is probably the
singly most destructive factor in mediumistic phenomena. We hear,
over and over again, of seances that are clearly rigged, that smack
of cheap stage magic, collusion, and fakery. But who ever stops
to think just where the guilt lies? I feel that the public must
finally bear the greater part of this burden.
We have, in
recent years, experienced an avalanche of books that cater to selfishness
in religious observances. Books with such titles as "Pray Your
Way to Success", are indications of a spiritual illness from
which this era suffers. When a man or woman comes to a medium, wishing
to speak to an entity, only too often there are questions that refer
to the purchase or sale of property, to inheritances and other material
matters. Thus the greed which the sitter brings with him to the
sitting may in turn infect the medium, creating an atmosphere which
results in false phenomena.
But as long
as the public does not change its attitude, it is up to the mediums
themselves to adhere to an ethical code, such as Hewat McKenzie
preached and practiced.
will do well to withdraw herself from the ideas thrown out by the
inquirer; she must regard herself as a mechanism, clear and simple,
through which ideas flow. This will happen only when she takes little
notice of the inquirer, but puts herself into a receptive mood.
This is a mood that does not seek to prove things but accepts the
flow of events and ideas to be perceived and known.
If the medium
allows herself to be thus used, things will happen of themselves
-- a technique old as wisdom itself, modern as Zen. One allows the
feminine or perceptive principle of the unconscious to emerge and
thus one is not swamped by the demanding consciousness of the self
or the inquirer. This instructive feminine element is, according
to Jung, the common property of all mankind. It cannot be coerced,
it must be respected and nurtured.
Thus, if the
medium respects herself, she does not hurry this process, the unconscious
will of itself converges to produce an insight valuable in all shades
of one's own life experience, and of a necessity it provides the
mirror in which the spiritual sustenance reveals itself to bring
release from self-consciousness, to strengthen the inner will of
the being, and to finally aid others to sustain themselves.
that mediumship need not be a breaking-down of the personality,
but a state of wholeness. Thus does the secret of the integrated
personality become at once an alertness that permits the self to
be in step with the world of events. But it must also be passive
enough to allow things to happen from within and at the same time
to be capable of feeling, thought and action. One must learn to
achieve passivity and calm. One represses nothing but permits the
self to reveal itself in wholeness. One accepts the positive and
negative sides of one's own nature to distinguish them and so set
free within the self the permanent essence of personality.
I am often
asked what is the state of mind in which one is most able to function
as a sensitive. I believe that the beginnings of this state lie
in the development of an inner calm which is free from distraction
or desire. The slightest effort to consciously produce evidence
will inhibit this condition. What is needed is a unique contemplation,
one in which a perfect union of the senses occurs, creating an inner
freedom in which the mind is alive to its inner promptings as well
as the outer scene which confronts it. It is quite the opposite
of the Eastern view of contemplation which demands the withdrawal
and isolation of the mind from all objects and persons. In mediumship
the goal is not only to be at one with oneself, but with all else
in the universe.
It may seem
paradoxical that on one hand we call for a development of passivity
in the sensitive, and on the other, we ask for the exercising of
all her willpower and drive. But the passivity we speak of is the
product of this drive; an experience and alertness which can only
result from an effort of will. A medium without this strength endangers
all that is precious in her sensitivity. In mediumship, metaphysics
and ethics must work in total harmony. A medium who is no longer
the custodian of her gift may soon find herself both the exploiter
and the exploited. To experience the mediumistic state, feeling
being fused into a means whereby veridical messages are relayed,
is no simple matter. The medium has been rightly called an "instrument"
through which communication flows. Like any other rare instrument,
from the opera singer's voice to the athlete's body, it must be
kept in excellent repair, guarded vigilantly against those uses
and abuses which might impair its true performance.
I would like to stress the one ethical problem of interpersonal
relations which I regard as the major danger area in mediumistic
activities. That is the tendency of enthusiastic sitters to regard
the medium as "priest" or "priestess." This of course has happened
in primitive societies throughout history, but our highly complicated
modern world and the nature of contemporary mediumship, which is
not incorporated into our major religious beliefs, forbids such
an attitude towards mediumship. The tendency to do so remains, however,
based on the feeling that the medium has somehow absorbed, and represents,
the wisdom -- whether real or imagined -- of the "other world."
But, quite often, in daily life, the medium is a quite ordinary
person -- sometimes bewildered and overwhelmed by the enthusiasms
of the would-be followers.
are personally attractive men or women, and these human qualities
help to compound the confusion. A bereaved widower, who believes
that his deceased and beloved wife speaks through a female medium,
may find himself in a tragic dilemma, unable to separate the personalities
that he appears to confront. Mediums who combine pseudo-religious
pomp and circumstance with their messages are, in fact, encouraging
a cult of personal followers.
Such a relationship
can do damage in both directions: toward the self evaluation of
the medium, and with regard to the attitude of the inquirers or
followers. In any event, extremes of attachment are likely to result.
Above all, the over dependence of sitters on mediums and communicators
which often occurs, must be avoided at all costs. Communication
with the "other world" may well become a substitute for living in
this world. Understanding that this world, in which we live, has
priority in this existence, is at the core of mediumistic ethics.
2001 First Spiritual Temple. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or reuse of any pages without written permission is strictly prohibited.
First Spiritual Temple
The Ayer Institute
16 Monmouth Street, Brookline, MA, 02446-5605 USA
Telephone 617 566-7639
E-mail to the FST