Peoples lives can be elevated and enriched by entertainment, by theater, and performance. However when people began to believe in the "reality" of the illusion, by embracing pseudo science they leave their lives subject to the wills of others. Usually these "others" are unethical and at best deluded.
It is a dark and stormy night, the clouds are full overhead and the world has turned gray and black. You are in the front room of an ancient manor house deep within the moor. No neighbors within walking distance. The fire flickers on the hearth, casting shadows of demons and devils upon the walls and kissing the air with a warm violence.
The table you sit at is filled with several strangers from far and near. To your left is an anthropologist, to your right is a spiritualist and you are all patiently, dare I say eagerly awaiting the famous medium Talis Thravorn who will help you find a connection to the past and allow you to touch, even for just an instant, the divine.
A lightning flash, the chill, a Bat living in the attic feeding it's young can be heard echoing through the dank stomach of the house.
Do you believe in ghosts? They believe in you. Albert Einstein was once asked if he believed in ghosts, he said "No, but I'm frightened of them." For the super natural is no more than the natural we are yet to understand.
The belief that what we call "death" is not the end , not the last word of human experience, is older then written history. In 1929, for example, when the royal death pits of the land of Ur, near the Persian gulf, were uncovered by archaeologists, the remains of queen Shubad were discovered. The queen had been buried 4,500 years earlier. With her were buried sixty - eight attendants who, since there was no signs of struggle, seem to have gone to their deaths voluntarily. Why? We assume that the attendants expected to serve their queen after death as much as they served her in life. Five hundred years ago the Incas also buried their leaders with servants -- though these attendants seem not to have been volunteers, but, rather, the victims of ritual murder!
Even the Neanderthal man of 50,000 years ago buried his dead with food and tools. We can look at every major religion, every culture, the Egyptians , the Greeks and Romans, the Vikings, followers of Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrians, Hindu and north American Indians and they all believe in life after death, in places further / other then this world. Human kind has a tendency to refuse to see mankind as Shakespeare hamlet puts it "To be eaten by a worm." Most prefer a line from another one of the bards dramas, "There is more between heaven and earth...."
When I was very young I was afraid of ghosts, The fact that I was on only child being raised in a big old empty house didn't help either. On top of that my mother loved to watch late night scary movies. At about 12:00 or 1 am she would become frightened and call me down to watch them with her. I was seven or eight years old, with school the next morning - watching poltergeist and the haunting of hill house. Don't laugh. That explains a great deal about who I am , and my love for magic. Everyone walks down scary roads and sees cemeteries. The world if full of creaks and noises and everyone at some point in there lives looses a loved one.
Our minds are wonderful at piecing together information. From "Reality" we make "reality". The world I live in has black cats and mirrors I shouldn't break and ladder's I shouldn't walk under. Our minds find reality. We love "lucky Items" and "unlucky names". We piece together bits of reality to form our world view. It's normal, it's natural. I assure you, as the famous fox TV special boasts, "the truth is out there."
My name is Paul W. Draper. I have been performing magic now for over 13 years. In almost everyone of my shows I ask the audience to raise their hands and show me who believes in ghosts. Usually over half of he population "admits" it. Recently I realized the money making opportunity I was missing. I could be a medium. Bring back spirits from the dead! What a better way to gain fame and fortune then to capitalize on peoples instincts. The love for salts sugars and oils has been met, The need for bigger and better has been fulfilled. Everywhere I look capitalism is focusing upon giving everyone who wants one of the "seven deadly sins" everything she or he needs.
However as an anthropologist I find, few are "capitalizing" on the need for proof of life and the beyond (except for the churches, but who wants to go that route?). Off an old dusty bookshelf in the basement of my mothers, mother's home I found a Tome "The History of spiritualism" by Arthur Conan Doyle. After reading it, it seems that one of my Idols, the author of the Sherlock Homes stories, was religiously an avid Spiritualist. What is a spiritualist you might ask? One who believes in the ability of mediums to bring forth the dead. Spiritualism was a movement that ripped through America and Europe in the late 1800's throughout the early twenties. It made many millionaires. After researching the information further I feel that I have found a way to bring this dead religion back to life!
But first a brief history: So the past can repeat itself.
The golden age of spiritualism:
The official beginning of the nineteenth century spiritualist movement was March 31, 1848 when Kate and Margaret Fox, both young girls at the time, began to communicate with mysterious rapping noises which had troubled their family for some time. They claimed that the noises had come from a man that had been murdered in their house. How could their story have been any better ?
It all started when on the pre mentioned date, Kate Fox (the youngest of the Fox sisters) was playing and then the noises began. she innocently looked around the room and started snapping her fingers saying ""Here, Mr. Split foot, do as I do." An equal number of raps were heard as Kate had snapped. Her mother who was in the room at the time wondered if it was the devil himself. Then Kate said "look mother" and made the snapping motions without snapping. This was followed by an equal number of cracks as were mimed. Kate then continued " Mother, It can see as well as hear."
Hundreds of people from surrounding towns and villages filled the Fox's home to hear the rapping's and clicking and creaking of ghosts. One click for yes, two clicks for no. The girls would sit in plain view in a chair ,surrounded.
Now the Fox sisters didn't originate mediums. Ohhh no. There were oracles at Delphi who purportedly could speak to the dead, Shamans all over Africa and Asia have had spirits enter their bodies, take possession of their bodies and have communicated through them and their previous counterparts for thousands of years. However, the Fox sisters brought the spirits to the dinner tables and parlors of homes throughout Europe and America. Made ghosts and haunting a conversation piece.
The Fox sisters and spiritualism started in a small town named Hydesville, a small city just a few miles east of Palmyra where just a few years previously Joseph Smith, after years of waiting, was finally given the possession of the mysterious tablets which would eventually be translated as the book of Mormon. In 1848 when the Fox sisters came into public notice Smith and his followers were living just a short nine miles away. Like spiritualism, Mormonism also insisted upon otherworldly intervention in this life. For Smith, of course, it was the intervention not of spirits but rather angels, who were specifically appointed by God himself to usher in the new revelation.
The Fox home was small and rustic, but the center of spirits. In 1915 after years of acclaim and wonder the Fox home was moved to Lily , New York where it was re-erected in the middle of a spiritualist camp.
On September 24, 1888, Margaret Fox gave a sensational interview to the NEW YORK HERALD wherein she stated that "Spiritualism started from just nothing" and "I knew then, of course, that every effect produced by us was absolute fraud."
A fuller confession was published in the NEW YORK WORLD on October 21, 1888, in which she states:
"My sister Katie and l were very young children when this horrible deception began. l was only eight, just a
year and a half older than she. We were very mischievous children and .sought merely to terrify our dear mother, who was a very good woman and very easily frightened.
"When we went to bed at night we used to tie an apple to a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor...
"And that is the way we began. First, as a mere trick to frighten mother, and then, when so many people came to see us children, we were ourselves frightened, and for self-preservation forced to keep it up. No one suspected us of any trick because we were such young children. We were led by my sister purposely and by mother unintentionally...
"My sister Katie was the first to observe that by swishing her fingers she could produce certain noises with her knuckles and joints, and that the same effect could be made with the toes...
''As far as Spirits were concerned, neither my sister nor I thought about it. l know that there is no such thing as the departed returning to this life. Many people have said to me that such a thing was possible and seemed to believe so firmly in it that l tried to see, and l have tried in every form and know that it cannot be done...
"l have asked her (Leah) time and again: "Now that you are rich why don't you .save your soul?"
"But at my words she would fly into a passion. She wanted to establish a new religion and she told me that she received messages from .spirits. She knew that we were tricking people but she tried to make us believe spirits existed...
"l loathe the thing l have been. l used to .say to those who wanted me to give a seance: "You are driving me into Hell."
"Spiritualism is a fraud of the worst description. I have had a life of sorrow, I have been poor and ill, but I consider it my duty, a sacred thing, a holy mission to expose it. I want to see the day when it is entirely done away with. After my sister Katie and I expose it I hope spiritualism will be given a death blow...
"At least I hope to reduce the ranks of the eight million Spiritualists in the country. I go into it as into a holy war. I am waiting anxiously and fearlessly for the moment when I can show the world by personal demonstration that all Spiritualism is a fraud and a deception. It is a branch of legerdemain, but it has to be closely studied to gain perfection...
"I trust that this statement, coming solemnly from me, the first and the most successful in this deception, will break the rapid growth of Spiritualism and prove that it is all a fraud, hypocrisy, and delusion."
But few believers believed the confession. "Why tell them (the audience) its a lie? The people who don't want to believe, will never believe - you can't convince them. The people who do want to believe, won't believe you if you tell them it's not true." -Lee Earl modern day Spirit Entertainer (medium)
After a few years the populous started to become bored with rapping's, and you could only ask yes or no questions. So within a short time came the Ouji board. Full words and sentences could be spelled out with this device . "The oldest board of this type ( a ouji board) seems to come from ancient china. A version appears also to have been used by the Greek philosopher Pythagorean and his school in the sixth century B.C." (Eugene Burger, Spirit Theater). The Ouji board was fine but with all the new mediums popping up across the US and Europe (following in the footsteps of the Fox sisters) the populus wanted detailed answers from spirits, detailed answers that could be made faster than the jerky movements of the board. to fill the void in popped Henry Slade.
In his book, Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena, William E. Obertson states that no phenomenon which mediums produced in the nineteenth century converted more persons to belief in spirits than the supposed writing by spirits on school slates. Entire paragraphs would instantly appear. Answers to difficult questions would appear on blank slates that were held under a cloth, pushed under the table, or held high over ones head in a dark room. Henry Slade brought about believers like Professor Zollner , Sir William Crookes and many say President Lincoln and his wife.
Other notable mediums and individuals who could be possessed ,and allow the spirits to hold entire conversations through them, include: Florence Cook, Mrs. Guppy and D.D. Home.
Daniel Dunglas Home, (pronounced "Hume") it is important to note, was very popular among the aristocrats and elite. He never charged for his seances nor did he expect favors - his stick, one might say , was going into peoples homes and for his abilities they would feed, clothe and house him. Also many elderly women would shower him with lavish gifts and gems. Home could create spirit rapping's, spirit bells, things moving at a distance, slate writing and his specialty "spirit playing an accordion". He said that his spirit powers were first known to him when he was a child and knew that his mother was going to die, three days prior to the event. Home was also famous for his ability to take hot coals directly from a fire (the spirits would protect him) and his Ashley place levitation
"You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time." - P.T. Barnum*
One man that couldn't be fooled was Harry Houdini. In his various travels in many lands, Houdini constantly observed the methods employed by fraudulent mediums, and during the last few years of his American performances he publicly launched an attack upon fraudulent mediums from the stages upon which he performed.
He made spiritual debunking a substantial part of his act. There were a lot of mediums who would pose next to their manifestation for a photo taken by a newspaper reporter (who seemed amazed and excited). Then wake up the next morning to find their picture with a side note by Houdini describing how their miracles were accomplished.
"This fearless investigator was even known to disguise himself, and thus enter the haunt of some ghost worker to obtain evidence against them. Taking a flashlight to the spiritual proceedings would often give Houdini authentic evidence of the methods. Many wonder workers and so called students of the psychic, were examined by Houdini, but none were exposed unless they claimed to be aided by supernatural power." (Magic and Mystery the Psychic investigations of Houdini and Dunninger)
"There's a sucker born every minute"- P.T. Barnum*
1: get a rep/have a rep
How to form your reputation: You don't need to form a reputation, you already have one. Tell people that you are an ousted member of the Hungarian royal family. Tell them of how Mikel Gorbochouf used to come to you for advice, talk of the time you presented your feats for the princes of England and how princess Diana used to share her most intimate secrets with the third Normandy kind of England. Remember the press wants a good story. Give them one. Give them four! Houdini used to write to the papers telling them of the impossible illusions he performed on his trip to Europe, he would send headlines and eye witness reports, that he wrote himself.
People will believe you, if you believe you.
There was a magician who was in listed in WWII. While in Germany he sent away for addresses to as many newspapers in the United states and Europe as he could find. Every week he would write to one of these papers stating that "I make the prediction that the war will end in the coming week." Eventually the war did end. So he looked up the last paper he wrote to ad sent an additional letter stating "See I told you." He lived off of that front page headline for the rest of his career! Choose 100 unlikely predictions, send them to 100 different papers, one of them will probably come true! and those that don't will be thrown in the trash and forgotten.
2: choose a location.
A skilled, experienced performer should be able to perform anywhere but, for best effect you need to create a seance room. Within your personal room never forget it is always easier if you have an accomplice (the spirits aren't really going to come and help you.) Preparation is the key. Have a hidden space in the wall from which your unseen accomplice can hand you things in the dark. A place where you can see him and no one else knows he's there.
Give the location a story. Did someone die there? Were they murdered? Is the house placed on a pet cemetery ? If there is local folklore about the location capitalize upon it, if not create it - Someone has to.
3: Understand your audience.
Talk to your audience before the performance and find out which of five major categories they fit into.1) Those that already believe: These people will seek you out. Sit them next to you at the seance table so others will enjoy the ripple effect of their heightened belief. Even if these people do not posses anything you desire, their conviction will help you make others believers as well.
2) Those that want to believe: This represents your greatest audience, filled with far more people than you might expect. These people are your ally, they want you to succeed. That's why they came. Many of the people who claim to be in the category of "the unbeliever" or "Unsure" in reality, belong here.
3) Those that are unsure: This group is by far the smallest, claiming that they are unsure when in fact they are just embarrassed that they want to believe. This group can be converted if you show them something miraculous, and you can.
4) Those that don't believe: These individuals are usually brought by others. They don't believe but they wouldn't mind being entertained. Don't argue with them, give them room for their beliefs with statements that could go either way. If they become combative they really belong in our next group.
5) Those that wish to expose you: These people can usually be weeded out in your quick conversation before the show. Never loose your confidence or your cool. Tell them that the spirits will not perform when that individual is around and send them on their way. Or that you are simply not feeling the powers / ability at the moment. Admit nothing, remain friendly. If you are unable to weed them out and catastrophe happens, you irrefutably caught in one of your illusions, simply keep your head, hold the power in the conversation, let them know that from time to time if you don't feel the spirits presence, you perform some trickery until the spirits return. Another option is to let the person know that you knew what they were up to when they walked in , so you did a simple magicians parlor trick to prove them the fool.
4: Set the ambiance
When your audience walks into your seance room, they should leave reality and enter your world. Make sure the room is "clean" before and after your performance so that nothing can be discovered. Use props, antiques. It is in your best interest for all things to be as authentic as possible - many of your guests will know the difference between a real antique and a fake.
Have a hidden compartment built into your solid wood table, so that when a remote control is pushed by your hidden assistant, eerie music will play.
Appeal to the five senses. At some point make the room completely dark. Remember after time the eyes will adjust, any peek of light in the room will become like a beacon. Prepare for the dark Seance! Control the air flow into the room through the vents, at a high point allow the audience to feel the chill rush in, as is alluded to in so many horror stories. Control where the spectators sit. Don't let them sit next to friends and loved ones, isolate them in a room full of people. Touch the spectators with strings, let them hold bones and antiquities. Use incense and sage, spray perfume or cigar smoke. Create a ritual in which they need to eat chocolate followed by horse radish.
When people look at you, they should see how much you believe. Palm a small sponge and wipe it across your forehead so you sweat. Make it look difficult. Leave making it look easy for the magicians. After you have proved your powers show how exhausted you are and then leave, let them wallow in the mystery and make your performance larger than it was in the "fish stories" within their minds.
There is so much more I could say about this topic. Books to read, web pages and magazines to subscribe to, illusions to perfect and create. Once people are convinced in your powers, for the unethical, there are many ways in which money can be extracted or their behavior can be controlled but alas, that is for another paper.
Paul W. Draper
*"You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time." - P.T. Barnum. This quote was actually from Abraham Lincoln
*"There's a sucker born every minute"- P.T. Barnum. This quote was actually from George Hull, of Binghamton, New York
The quotes were attributed to Mr. Barnum at the request of his spirit and with the permission of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Hull.