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Wow. Ugh.

Okay.... Off topic a bit. Something I just posted on Skeptiko.

"I have a problem with the science stance. The near death experience with lucid thinking not only occurs when flat-lined, it occurs similarly across cultures, across ages, with concurrent drug administration, oxygen, or without. Children similarly untainted by belief or having an adults analytical understanding, also have the same experiences. The fact that this experience occurs regardless of physical state and mental thinking at the time, should in itself be alerting scientists that consciousness seems to be able to survive irrespective of possible confounding causal factors."

I think this appears to be the problem. Science is not very open minded or adept at asking open ended questions. They seem to be caught up in dogma and old styled stereotypical ways of thinking. i.e. that that which has been characterized as spiritual has no basis in scientific reality. Or understand that spiritual ideas are vastly changed and vary significantly between individuals.

This posturing with "We have the answer, its hypoxia" etc. Instead of looking at the overall picture which shows in fact that regardless of variables, e.g. if medicated, or unmedicated, hypoxic or not, this has no impact on lucidity or near death experience.

So great story Michael, which unfortunately perpetuate skeptical ideas of spiritualism. Cheers Lyn.

When a criminal pretends to be a doctor no one blames the medical profession. When exposed, a charlatan who pretends to be a doctor is not thought of as a doctor he is thought of as a charlatan.

But when a criminal pretends to be a medium it is considered to be the fault of Spiritualists and Spiritualism and the charlatan is thought of as a shady medium when in reality they are not any kind of medium, they are a charlatan.

I hope you will recognize this double standard for the bigotry it is and try to be fair to mediums and Spiritualists in the future.


Never heard of them either. Thanks, Michael. This might be the basis for the horror spec some are asking for.


Very good points.

Well said.

Interestingly, the Benders are predicted to reincarnate and live on in the next millenium.


The story of the Benders reads like a Stephen King novel, maybe even better considering the open opportunity to jazz it up a little by inserting possession by malevolent spirits.


Did they have a theft motive? Were they ripping off their victims?

I watched a special on Lewis and Clark a little while ago. Lewis was said to have committed suicide at an inn while jouneying back to Washington DC.

However, new evidence suggests that he was murdered. The show then went on to describe how in the 1800s it was common for inn keepers to murder their guests in order to rob them.

I have to say, the Bender's trap door continues to strike me as exceedingly fiendish. It's really bothering me for some reason.

Matt, I don't know their motive. Theft may have been part of it. But reportedly the bodies were mutilated (details not specified), so I assume the deeper motive was psychopathological.

"When a criminal pretends to be a doctor no one blames the medical profession."

A better analogy wold be a quack doctor. I think quacks do reflect badly on the medical profession.

To the extent that Spiritualists were (and are) taken in by fake mediums, it reflects badly on the movement. It suggests a lack of quality control and an excess of gullibility.

"I hope you will recognize this double standard for the bigotry it is and try to be fair to mediums and Spiritualists in the future."

Sorry, but I intend to keep callin' 'em as I see 'em.

There was an odd Kevin Smith movie that came out a few years ago about these christian religious fanatics who kidnapped "sinners" and subjected them to torture in front of the congregation and eventually they were murdered and sent down a trap door to die. Very disturbing...

"A better analogy would be a quack doctor. I think quacks do reflect badly on the medical profession."

But are they criminals as the original analogy stated?

In the UK many have been prosecuted for pretending to be doctors. Is it the same in the USA?

Actual fake mediums have been very rare.

There are mediums who are deluded but that doesn't make them fake or fraudulent.

Those that were exposed (usually by Spiritualists) have been prosecuted.

The most notorious was William Roy who died in 1977 at Hastings, Sussex, suffering from cancer, leaving three children, three widows and a bigamous bride.

Today his apparatus for fake mediumship is in the care of Scotland Yard and can be viewed at the Metropolitan Police Detective Training School.


Your prejudice against Spiritualists is, like most prejudice, based on ignorance. Why don't you go to a few Spiritualist churches attend a few services and meet some real Spiritualists? Then, when you know what you are talking about you can express views informed by facts.

Spiritualists are not gullible fools. They have been preserving knowledge and methods for over a century that during the same time, science has done all it can to eradicate.

What is your opinion of scientists and the people who are fooled by the materialist lies propagated by scientists? Do you hold Science in the same contempt you seem to hold Spiritualism? In Science it is the legitimate scientist who spread materialism. With Spiritualism is not mediums who are fakes, it is charlatans who pretend to be mediums.


I'm not prejudiced against Spiritualists. It's simply a fact that *some* Spiritualists have been taken in by fake mediums. The book The Psychic Mafia describes one such case in detail, while also discussing a Spiritualist camp that was rife with fraud. Many fakes were exposed by Houdini and other investigators (and yes, I know there are questions about some of those exposures, but many are clearcut).

Skeptics like to play down the evidence for mediumship. Some believers take the opposite tack and play down any evidence against it. There are still people who defend Helen Duncan, Mina Crandon, and Arthur Ford, among others. I think we should look at all the facts and let the chips fall where they may. That's not prejudice; it's just choosing not to engage in propaganda.

Sometimes having a more sophisticated understanding of a phenomenon makes you more susceptible to being hoaxed. A materialist will never be fooled by a charlatan pretending to be a medium. But he will never believe a real medium is genuine. A materialist has a much poorer understanding of the truth about the universe than a Spiritualist.

A Spiritualist who knows some mediumship is genuine is susceptible to being hoaxed by a charlatan pretending to be a medium. However, Spiritualists who have experienced genuine mediumship are probably less susceptible to being hoaxed than the average non-materialist.

Therefore Spiritualists are probably less less gullible than the most other people, materialist or not, when it comes to mediumship.

Would you use the word gullible to describe Caltholics who take communion? I doubt you would because even though you (probably) don't believe in that rite, you show common curtesy and respect for a person's religion. Unless that religion is Spiritualism. When Spiritualists are defrauded by charlatans who pretend to be mediums it is the Spiritualists who are the vicitms and the charlatans who are committing fraud are not mediums. However you don't show Spiritualists the same respect you would show members of other religions. Instead of respecting a person's religion, with Spiritualists you blame the victims and call them gullible. That is obviously a double standard and looks suspiciously like prejudice against Spiritualists.

Yes, but sadly, when you look at the details of certain fraudulent cases, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that *some* of the Spiritualists involved were gullible. This is not a reflection on *all* Spiritualists or on the movement as such.

For instance, anyone who has seen the photos of Helen Duncan with a "materialized spirit," which is self-evidently a poorly constructed puppet, and who still thinks Duncan was a genuine materialization medium, qualifies as gullible, in my opinion. (I know there are people who disagree vehemently about this.)

That's not to say that anyone victimized by fraud is necessarily gullible. It depends on the circumstances. Arthur Ford, for instance, was discovered after his death to have researched his sitters' family trees in order to tell them things about their deceased relatives. But he was apparently a very smooth operator, and I don't think people who were taken in by him were being overly credulous, especially since he did manage some remarkable hits that can't be explained this way.

I also don't think people who were impressed with Mina Crandon's early seances were necessarily gullible. But after she was discredited in the thumbprint episode (in which the impression of a thumb, supposedly made by a materialized spirit entity, turned out to be the thumbprint of Mina's very much alive dentist), anyone who continued to defend her could reasonably be accused of being unduly credulous.

It's not a blanket attack on the whole movement, just a recognition of the foibles of some of its members.

The communion rite is a very different matter. It's symbolic and therefore not open to empirical tests. Few people in the modern world believe they are literally consuming Christ's body and blood. OTOH, people in the Middle Ages did believe this. Were they gullible and naive? Yes, I'd say so, though most of them had a good excuse, being almost totally uneducated.

For those who haven't seen it, here's a pic of Mrs. Duncan with a "spirit."

The accusations against Helen Duncan came from suspect sources while there were many, many reputable sources who attested that she was a genuine medium.

Some of the accusations against Helen Duncan came from the British government which was upset because Duncan revealed information about a ship sunk in WWII before the admiralty was ready to make the announcement. They were afraid she would also reveal the date of D Day invasion so they held her without bail and then locked her up for six months for a crime that usually was punished by a small fine. The reason Helen Duncan was given such oppressive treatment was because she was considered a threat to national security not because she was a fraud but because she was a genuine medium.

Harry Price who also made accusations against Helen Duncan was not a reliable investigator. He was shown to have misused photographs to smear a medium, and he faked poltergeist phenomena during an investigation of a haunting. Price accused Duncan of swallowing cheese cloth and regurgitating it to produce materializations. This is absurd because the seance room would reek of vomit and stomach acid if that was what was really happening.

During Helen Duncan's trial many, many reputable people attested to the genuineness of her mediumship.

Here is an excerpt from Zerdini's World. It is contains an article written by a journalist who sat with Helen Duncan. Click on the link above for the full article.

Roy Brandon, a Fleet Street journalist, sat with Helen Duncan many times. This is his story. It has been said that occasionally Mrs Duncan resorted to fraud. Brandon replied that she always insisted on test conditions — and accepted any condition imposed. ‘All I can say is that if she ever attempted to cheat the result would have been utterly ludicrous, and the fraud palpable to the meanest intellect. I knew Mrs Duncan well. I was aware of all her little frailties. But I revere her memory, as I do that of Albert, the perfect guide. For through her wonderful gift, and with Albert’s aid, she brought comfort to thousands of mourners.’

THE SÉANCE WAS HELD under strict test conditions. Six female sitters accompanied Mrs Duncan to another room, where the medium completely undressed, donning light séance garments which had been inspected previously by the other sitters.

Brandon’s wife was a witness to this operation.

For those who haven't seen it, here's a pic of Mrs. Duncan with a "spirit."

What is the provenance of that photograph?


A good number of mediums were both "real" and "fake" at various times.

There are a good number of photos of Helen Duncan like that--clearly showing stuff that is fake.

I have yet to find anyone who said that the photos were forged. You can also find cites for where they came from. Several are from people who were investigating the phenomena, etc.

I think Michael's logic is solid here; he's only stating the obvious. Nothing in life is perfect. Wherever there is human activity, you will have people not playing by the rules. You will have those defrauding others and those who are being defrauded.

I was raised Catholic, and our own beloved parish priest confessed in the 90s to molesting a little girl in the late 60s. She came forward after nearly 30 years, and I will give the guy credit, he accepted responsibility at that point. He had held this dark secret the whole time we knew him. Was he a totally bad guy in every dimension? No way.

That's human life for you: a mix of dark and light. This is going to be true among Spiritualists too.

Zerdini, you cannot seriously defend these photos. Faked are they? Where is the evidence that they are faked?

I'm not saying that Duncan didnt have some genuine ability, she may well have been a genuine medium who also engaged in occasional trickery to aid her through dry spells and the constant demands for repated demonstrations.

I think this is a cmommon trap that many mediums in the past have fallen into. It's unfortunate, as the exposed fraud then discredits all their other genuine work.

The evidence for this practice is there. Michael has already discussed cases in a previous article where mediums, who clearly were capable of genuine mediumship, would also on occasion resort to trickery to meet the demand.

We can only speculate on the psychology of this, but it must have a lot to do with the constant demand for repeatable mediumship phenomena, and we all know that psi/paranormal phenomena do not suit this 'on-demand' approach; this makes the area difficult to quantify. We can only imagine the pressures are immense.

It's a shame this has to happen, but sticking your head in the sand and pretending it never happens is not the way forward.

When I defended Helen Duncan I gave very specific information and links to more detailed information to support my points. Those who disagree with me are only repeating vague assertions, opinions, hearsay, generalizations, using emphatic question marks, and innuendo instead of providing facts.

I hope the difference is clear to other readers.


There is a long and sordid history of skeptics providing misleading information about paranormal phenomnena.

Because of this you have to use the same rigorous standards for proof for claims of fraud as you do for claims of paranormal phenomena. People demand highly controlled conditions under which mediums must be tested but they believe any accusation of fraud without considering if the accusation itself might be fraudulent or due to ignorance of the phenomena.

I agree with both Matt and Douglas that many of these cases are mixed - the medium may have had some genuine abilities combined with trickery. In Duncan's case, I have sometimes wondered if she started off as a legitimate mental medium but was pushed into faking materializations by her ambitious husband. Or perhaps she could manage materializations in some instances, but resorted to fakery when being photographed - though this seems like a stretch.

The old canard about the impracticality of regurgitating cheesecloth has been refuted many times. Cheesecloth is a gauzy material, yards of which can be wadded up into a small pellet, ingested, and later regurgitated with minimal effort. See The Psychic Mafia by Lamar Keen. Some of Harry Price's photos of Duncan clearly show that the material she described as ecotoplasm was cheesecloth; the hemmed edges and frayed fabric are visible. Price was not always a reliable investigator, but the photos speak for themselves.

The Duncan case has been debated extensively in this blog in the past, so I'm not going to rehash it in detail. The search box on the left side of the page allows anyone who's interested to easily search the blog archives for the keywords "Helen Duncan." The same arguments come up again and again.

I don't necessarily dismiss a medium outright for having cheated, if there is really good evidence of genuine abilities. For instance, Eusapia Palladino unquestionably cheated (she even bragged about it), yet some of her phenomena, observed in good light by trained investigators, seem impossible to explain away. (See the book Sittings with Eusapia Palladino, by Everard Feilding, or The Limits of Influence, by Stephen Braude.) The Fox sisters very probably cheated during their long careers as professional mediums, yet the accounts of their early years make it very difficult to accept cheating as the full explanation of their abilities. (For a good discussion of the Fox sisters, see the recent book Randi's Prize by Robert McLuhan.)

Hi Michael,

I agree with you. The problem is that Zerdini wants to convince us that it's a simple case of either/or: that a medium is either 100% genuine or 100% fake.

The evidence suggests otherwise - something both skeptics and believers need to take on board.

"Zerdini, you cannot seriously defend these photos. Faked are they? Where is the evidence that they are faked?"


Kindly point me to my post where I 'seriously defend these photos'.

"The problem is that Zerdini wants to convince us that it's a simple case of either/or: that a medium is either 100% genuine or 100% fake."

I never made that claim either. If you persist in making these false allegations you simply destroy any point you are trying to make.

I do not seek to convince anyone about anything.

Each person must investigate for themelves, as I have done, and present the evidence for or against.

Also, if someone wishes to claim the photos of Duncan--which are all over the Web--are faked, then that is a claim in its own right that needs to be substantiated.

Defending the indefensible just makes us proponents seem stupid.

I apologise Zerdini.

I thought you had posted the above, but actually this comes from 'chs4o8pt', however this individual was using information from your blog.

The fact remains, however, that you have defended Helen Duncan in the past, and it is clear that you think she was a genuine medium, so I would like to hear your views on the validity of these photographs - do you think they represent genuine mediumship, or are they evidence of fraud? On the other hand, is it your opinion that these photos were faked in order to set up Helen Duncan?

Apology accepted, Douglas :)

There is no doubt she was a genuine medium but that doesn't mean (like Eusapia Palladino) that she always was.

It's not a blanket endorsement.

I have no idea who took the photographs or under what circumstances.

I will add that, as others have commented, they certainly don't look genuine.

I do know people who sat with Helen Duncan and whose judgement I trust.

My friends used to run a Spiritualist boarding house in Blackpool where many mediums used to stay while touring that area.

Jack and Betty had recently married when Helen Duncan came to stay with them.

She said she couldn't afford a wedding present but offered them a private seance instead which they gladly accepted.

A corner of the room had a curtain pulled across it to make a 'cabinet'.

Helen Duncan sat on a wooden chair behind the curtain and went into trance.

Within a few moments a man and a woman walked out arm in arm and spoke to Betty and Jack congratulating them on their marriage

It was Betty's parents who had passed on some time before and who Jack had never met.

Needless to say, Betty and Jack were delighted.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. It can be a little bit of both. Sort of like using soy extenders in hamburger to make it go further... A little bit of spirit information with some padding from the Medium to make the reading last longer. I'm thinking that's what happens a lot of times. Otherwise readings would entail a lot of "dead" air times when the medium wasn't saying anything. So they get "hits" in their mind, they then fill in the dead air time with fluff. If I was trying to make a living as a Medium I'd do the same thing. Like my mom used to say when I was a kid "You just got to live in this world kiddo!"

So Helen Duncan, instead of filling in the dead air time with fluff she'd put on a puppet show! Good for her! Quite the entertainer. That doesn't mean none of the stuff that came through her was all lies, sort of like the way I feel about the Bible, some of it can be true and some of it hooey. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

Hello, Michael

Off topic re: your blog 'The Totally Normal'... Could you set up a comment section on it like this site uses? I don't/won't register for the comment protocol used on the totally normal. Selfish request, I know, but I'd comment on your stuff there, FWIW. Especially the Kael essay.
I think the comments here are most excellent; the ease of use facilitates conversation. Peace.

Thsnks for the suggestion, Richard. I just changed the settings on my other blog to allow anonymous comments and also comments with a screen name but no social media sign-in. As long as this doesn't result in a lot of spam, I'll keep it that way.

I don't need another project. However, I smell an etymological "rat" here. Could someone chime in on the idea of one "going on a bender" with this thread. I do not have the time to research this. But there are many other examples of English words; "boycott", etc, having their origin in the namesake of their wild, crazy orgins. One could easily define ones actions of hammering, throat slashing, etc as "going on a bender"!

From the little bit of Googling I just did, it appears most likely that the expression is derived from "bending one's elbow," i.e., drinking. No one seems to know for sure, though.

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