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Mediumship and the Séance

Thursday, March 10, 2022 | Piercing the Veil


The practice of spirit communication is as old as time, and why not? As humans, we long to hold onto our dearly departed, seeking to reach beyond the veil to hear a few last words of comfort from our loved ones. One more ‘I love you.’ A reassuring word to ease fear or regret. And more importantly, to know that those lost aren’t truly lost, but are at peace. Happy. Whole, once again.

We also fervently seek proof that there is, indeed, life after death. That this isn’t the end. That truly, we have nothing to fear as our eyes shut for the last time and the black descends. That we live on, somehow. Somewhere.

The Spiritualist movement took hold in the 19th century, and with it, a most popular parlour activity – the séance. French for ‘seat’ or ‘session,’ curious seekers gathered in dimly lit rooms, framed in candlelight and roaring fireplaces, seated around tables, hands joined, a trance medium leading the sessions. Forlorn family and friends look on as the medium becomes a channel, inviting spirit into their vessel to convey messages from the other side.

The allure is clear; the scenery, both inviting and mesmerizing. The possibilities – irresistible. And not to just common citizens, as Mary Todd Lincoln and President Abraham Lincoln consistently demonstrated. During the winter of 1862, when the Lincoln’s suffered the tragic loss of their youngest son, Willie, Mary Todd turned to spiritualism to retain the connection with her beloved child. She was also rumoured to attend seances led by one of the (in)famous Fox sisters, Margaret, on Washington Street in Boston. Seances in the ‘Crimson Room’ in the White House became regular occurrences, with rumours of President Lincoln himself seeking counsel on matters of such gravity as the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation by way of a trance medium.

Grief, curiosity, and seeking answers to the impossible permeate cinema as well. Peter Medak’s 1980 supernatural horror masterpiece, THE CHANGELING, offers a bone chilling account of a trance medium, incorporating automatic writing into a séance channeling session; the spirit of a young boy desperately tries to convey the circumstances of his own brutal murder in the home, now occupied by a newly widowed father who lost both his wife and child in a horrific vehicular accident. Mike Flanagan’s 2016, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, focuses on a recently widowed mother and her two children, performing fake seances as a way to support themselves in the aftermath of her husband’s death. It is only after the mother purchases a Ouija board, a tool frequently employed in spirit communication, that a genuine encounter begins; an evil spirit, posing as the girl’s lost father, takes hold of the youngest daughter after, curious, she sits down to explore the planchette and board. Believing she’s communicating with her father, the girl begins giving intensely accurate readings, allowing the spirit to deepen its grip on the family, with devastating results. Similarly, Paco Plaza’s 2017 film, VERONICA, is based on the true accounts of a girl’s mysterious death in Madrid in 1992, after she purportedly engaged with a Ouija board.

In most depictions, interactions with the spirit world are portrayed as dangerous, usually fatal, and not to be trifled with, and yet, our curiosity persists. Rob Savage’s lockdown breakthrough, 2020’s HOST, uses the very real, very new experience of global isolation and the human need for connection as the inspiration for six friends taking part in a virtual séance. Employing technology as a supernatural planchette, the viewer hovers back and forth, moving over different Zoom windows as each participant suffers a brutal demise at the whims of a murderous spirit.

Through these cautionary tales, we are warned time and time again to not answer the call of the spirit world, to not concede to our curiosity, to not seek answers to the unanswerable. Yet, the magnetism of the beyond pulls so strong, urging us to explore the mysteries of the unknown. To be human is to question, to experiment, to reach out and connect with something outside of ourselves, maybe in the hopes of connecting to something within ourselves, some parts we feel we’ve lost; pieces that were stripped away, essential shards of spirit that have left us feeling hollow, incomplete. The idea that something lies beyond the pale, just behind the thin veil that separates what we deem as reality and all that exists on the other side of that perception, seems to fill those empty spaces, no matter the consequences. And perhaps, on even a molecular level, engaging in these ‘dangerous’ activities helps us remember there is so much more – that we are so much more than the sorrows, stresses, and limitations of our day to day lives.

These practices provide possibility and opportunity in a time of overwhelming doom and despair, opening roads and byways that remained shrouded in shadow. The séance is a window, and the medium opens that window, channeling a world of possibilities with the power to uplift us, transform us, and maybe even empower us. Heal us. Because if nothing else, just like with horror, the realm of the supernatural and the unknown offer us a very real tool: Hope.

To learn more about Jillian and her love of horror, tarot, and different forms of divination and spirit communication, you can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and