Physical Mediumship and The Survival of Consciousness

August 31, 2022
Science Team

This award-winning essay by IONS examined the strongest scientific evidence for the survival of consciousness. One of the most notable phenomena, after mental mediumship, was physical mediumship. 

What is physical mediumship?

Mediumship is communication with deceased people. Physical mediumship refers to a medium seance where the presence of spirits somehow manifests in physical form. It can be in the form of: 

  • Ectoplasm, an energetic material said to be used by spirits to manifest themselves or interact with the physical world
  • Objects shaped by melted wax that’s present during a seance
  • Objects spontaneously moving and levitating
  • Appearance of sounds such as knocking, tapping, and rapping

The famous game of getting answers from an Ouija board would count as physical mediumship. 

Independent Voice Phenomena

Another evidence of physical mediumship is independent voice phenomena, IVP. During IVP, a trumpet-like instrument is present during the seances – and a purported deceased person can communicate through it. 

The difference from mental mediumship is that the voice does not come from the vocal cords of the medium. The medium’s only role is to hold an energetic container for the voice to manifest. 

How physical mediumship works

Seances are often conducted in complete darkness with a physical medium and a group of sitters. The sitters are people wanting to connect with loved ones on the other side.

The medium is often secured to their chair to ensure they are not cheating – and in the case of independent voice phenomena, has their mouth taped.

The vibration in the room must be high. This is because physical mediumship requires the spirit world, which has a higher vibrational frequency, to meet our denser, physical dimension. 

If we can omit other explanations, physical mediumship is proof of manifesting – energy creating physical reality. 

Less common than mental mediumship

Compared to mental mediumship, physical mediumship is rare. The phenomenon has gotten a bad reputation since it was often revealed as a fraud, especially since most physical mediums need to host the seances in total darkness for the manifestations to occur. 

Physical mediumship can take 10-20 years to develop. Since it’s fairly unknown in our society, many people may be unaware of their gifts or afraid of using them. 

Famous physical mediums

Daniel Dunglas Home may be the world’s most famous physical medium. He could reportedly levitate! He could also make heavy dining tables move. 

What was remarkable, and set him apart from most other physical mediums, was that he performed his seances in daylight. He performed thousands of seances – several of them in front of skeptics and notable scientists. He was also rigorously tested, and no instances of fraud were ever revealed.

Some other reputed physical mediums:

  • Etta Wriedt (1859-1942). In contrast to other mediums, she didn’t enter a trance state during the seances. Wriedt used an IVP and could be seen talking to sitters as the voice spoke through the funnel. Her seances were remarkable since, just like Home, she didn’t require darkness. Her language skills were limited to English, but the voices heard were in languages unknown to her. 
  • Leslie Flint (1911-1994) had a rare gift of having voices speaking through him – without the need of a trumpet. In his own words: “The voices of the dead speak directly to their friends or relatives and are located in a space a little above my head and slightly to one side of me. They are objective voices which my sitters can record on their own tape recorders to play later in the privacy of their own home.” He commented on his gift: “…I have learned more about life, people and human problems and emotions, by sitting in the dark, than I could possibly have learned in any other way – and those who have taught me the most, are people dead to this world, but who are living in the next…” Flint did not enter a trance state. He was one of the most tested mediums throughout history, and no fraud was ever detected. 
  • John Sloan (1869-1951) used a number of gifts in his mediumship. Some of them were direct voice (see above) and materializations. The author J. Arthur Findlay attended a seance with Sloan. At first, he was skeptical – but when the independent voice told things about his deceased father that only Findlay knew, he was hooked. Findlay followed Sloan closely for five years and wrote two books on his experiences, An Investigation of Psychic Phenomena and On the Edge of the Etheric. In the latter, he comments on some recordings: “An eminent mathematician on calculating the chances of correctly guessing all the facts recorded, answers that to have reached such accuracy, represented the equivalent of 1 to 5,000,000,000,000, in other words the odds were 5,000,000,000,000 to 1 against chance being the explanation.”

Where to go next

How do we know that the messages from physical mediums come from deceased people and not just any kind of spirits? Just like with mental mediumship, the messages that come through are somehow related to the deceased person. They can convey facts that only the sitter knows, making it hard to write off as fake. 

The above question highlights the need to develop a standardized protocol enabling researchers to gather data and evaluate the results. Over four hundred and twenty academics were asked what type of experiment with a positive outcome would convince them of the survival of consciousness the most. Physical mediumship ended in the 4th place out of 10, after mental mediumship, reincarnation, and out-of-body experiences during near-death experiences. 

If those results can be extrapolated to the general public, rigorously done scientific studies on physical mediumship would strengthen the beliefs in the survival of consciousness after physical death.


To learn more about Physical Mediumship, view the ConnectIONS Live webinar, Physical Mediumship: Research Beyond the Taboo, available anytime for IONS Members. 

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