A séance is a spiritual or psychic event involving many people and hosted by a psychic leader for the "benefit" of the participants. The aim is usually to contact the dead through the medium that is hosting the event. Séances can be sedate affairs with the medium putting on a funny accent and talking to the dead, or it can be a more intense affair with naughty spirits manipulating objects in the room. On several occasions, even naughtier skeptics have turned on the lights during a séance and shown these spirits to be the medium's assistants moving things with long sticks. These sticks can also be used to assault the spirits if the séance gets out of hand.

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Fails from the crypt
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Tools and toys

Séances often are far more than just talking to the dead and often come complete with magical happenings. In early séances of the 1900s, the audience could go home covered in ectoplasm and could often be shocked by flying objects that were picked up and moved about the room. One particular toy was a ball that would rise up from a table and move about the room; this was used to effect on Derren Brown's televised Séance. On casual inspection, the ball is not solid, but actually a light wicker-type object with plenty of holes for a stage hand to insert a dark stick, picking it up by perfectly natural means. The relatively light-coloured ball creates the illusion that it's flying much like Japanese Kuroko (黒子) but with the lights turned out for an even better effect. Musical instruments are also used, ranging from bells to keyboards. These are a popular choice as the audience do not need to see them as clearly to know they are being manipulated. Medium Colin Fry, while working under the stage name 'Lincoln', was once caught playing a séance trumpet himself after the lights were accidentally switched on for a few seconds.[1]


One of the most commonly cited pieces of "research" on séances is the Scole experiment. This was conducted in Scole, England in the late 1990s and involved numerous séances masquerading as a scientific study. Because the experiment failed to find any sources of trickery or fraud, it is often taken as proof of supernatural occurrences. However, the Scole experiment failed to impose any scientific controls, being performed in complete darkness with the mediums in control of the experiment rather than the investigators imposing their own controls. For example, many of the objects used in the séances were provided by the mediums and not subject to any rigorous testing before or after. The investigators repeatedly stated that they could not find evidence of fraud in the mediums, but having their investigative powers restrained by the mediums themselves severely limits the validity of that statement. Brian Dunning of Skeptoid explains[2] the problem with the experimental parameters by analogy to analysing stage magic:

If I go to Penn and Teller's magic show to look for evidence of deception, but I impose the rule that I have to stay in my seat and watch the show as presented, and I'm not allowed to go onstage and examine the performers or the equipment, or watch from behind, or observe the preparations, I guarantee you that I also will find no evidence of deception.

So the fact that the investigators were severely limited in their ability to examine the mediums would have made it impossible to determine any fraud in the séances. Indeed, the laws of misdirection may have made fraud easier to get away with in this case.

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