From its earliest beginnings to contemporary times, mediumship practices have had many instances of fraud and trickery. Séances take place in darkness so the poor lighting conditions can become an easy opportunity for fraud. Physical mediumship that has been investigated by scientists has been discovered to be the result of deception and trickery. Ectoplasm, a supposed paranormal substance, was revealed to have been made from cheesecloth, butter, muslin, and cloth. Mediums would also stick cut-out faces from magazines and newspapers onto cloth or on other props and use plastic dolls in their séances to pretend to their audiences spirits were contacting them. Lewis Spence in his book An Encyclopaedia of Occultism (1960) wrote:
A widely known channeler of this variety is J. Z. Knight, who claims to channel the spirit of Ramtha, a 30 thousand-year-old man. Others purport to channel spirits from "future dimensions", ascended masters, or, in the case of the trance mediums of the Brahma Kumaris, God. Other notable channels are Jane Roberts for Seth, Esther Hicks for Abraham, and Carla L. Rueckert for Ra.
The magician Samri Baldwin exposed the tricks of the Davenport brothers in his book The Secrets of Mahatma Land Explained (1895). The medium Swami Laura Horos was convicted of fraud several times and was tried for rape and fraud in London in 1901. She was described by the magician Harry Houdini as "one of the most extraordinary fake mediums and mystery swindlers the world has ever known".
I was 13 when my mom dragged my brother and me to a "psychic." We were visiting family in Malaysia and somewhere amongst a few palm oil plantations was the house of an old woman who claimed to be able to channel Buddha. My mother was enthralled during the hour-long ordeal, during which the woman basically rolled her eyes often so the whites were showing, dropped her voice a few octaves, and made astonishingly mundane statements that could've applied to anyone (examples: our house had ants out front; my grandma was old and having some health problems). Combined with my love of Harry Houdini (who spent the last few years of his life debunking psychics and mediums) and teen angst that made me hate everything my parents liked, the experience left me convinced that psychics were con artists who separated vulnerable and desperate people from their cash in exchange for poor acting.
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In 1988, the magician Bob Couttie criticized the paranormal author Brian Inglis for deliberately ignoring evidence of fraud in mediumship. Couttie wrote Inglis had not familiarized himself with magician techniques. In 1990 the researcher Gordon Stein discovered that the levitation photograph of the medium Carmine Mirabelli was fraudulent. The photograph was a trick as there were signs of chemical retouching under Mirabelli's feet. The retouching showed that Mirabelli was not levitating but was standing on a ladder which was erased from the photograph.
In 1880 the American stage mentalist Washington Irving Bishop published a book revealing how mediums would use secret codes as the trick for their clairvoyant readings. The Seybert Commission was a group of faculty at the University of Pennsylvania who in 1884–1887 exposed fraudulent mediums such as Pierre L. O. A. Keeler and Henry Slade. The Fox sisters confessed to fraud in 1888. Margaret Fox revealed that she and her sister had produced the "spirit" rappings by cracking their toe joints.