Seance

21/9/19

A seance is a meeting held with the specific intention of contacting "spirits" of the dead. Although people have performed rituals and believed that ghosts or spirits can be contacted, the idea of a seance or sitting (the word seance comes from the Old French 'seoir' - sitting) specifically to achieve this was popularised in the late Victorian era when the Spiritual Church rose in popularity (see 15th Jan Fact). The medium conducting it would draw on the power of the dead to move furniture by itself, create 'ectoplasm', cause bangs and noises from across the room or even levitate themselves over the amazed audience.

Usually practitioners would be seated around a table or open space in a darkened room. The Spiritualist, medium or leader would try to call on the ghost they wish to or expect to contact. Meanwhile the group usually performed some rituals such as holding hands, praying or other incantations. Often seances would involve props such as Ouija or Spirit boards rather than 'channeling' the spirit directly. Many of the techniques used to set the atmosphere and distract the participants were found in stage magic of the period and are still be being used today. Techniques such as making sure the room is dark, using heavy drapes and tablecloths to mask sounds, heightening the tension; or using simple magic, secret props and sleight of hand tricks. Even hiding co-conspiritors in secret hidy-holes somewhere in the room.

In experiments done by Richard Wiseman, during a seance, an actor controlling the action strongly suggested to believers and nonbelievers that a table was levitating when, in fact, it remained completely still. After the seance, about one third of the participants reported that they thought the table had moved, though the results showed a greater percentage of believers over non-believers thought this. Similar experiments strongly supported the notion that in the seance room, believers are more suggestible than disbelievers for suggestions that are consistent with their belief in paranormal phenomena.

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