University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
The Medium and Her Message
Psychic Marthe Béraud in 1912. Photo by Albert von Schrenck-Notzing

The Medium and Her Message

Investigating attempts to communicate with the dead

A little more than a century ago, western society became fascinated by the possibility that spirits of the dead could communicate with the living. Young women calling themselves mediums promised to summon ghosts of lost relatives via séances, during which spirits would demonstrate their presence by shaking a table or ringing a bell. Many people became convinced that the mediums’ powers were real.

Meredith Reddy (PhD 2015) thinks of those mediums as artists, or performers. Her doctoral research in art history looked at old photographs, such as the one at left, to investigate how mediums were able to baffle even the scientists who tried to document the séances. She speculates that the women used a variety of tricks, including secret assistants. The mediums also required séances to be conducted in total darkness, which made it difficult for cameras to record what was occurring. “The scientists would use flashlights, but it was a game of cat and mouse,” says Reddy.

Recent Posts

Jialiang Zhu standing next to a sunflower patch

Come From Away

These seven international students and alumni are among the thousands who contribute to scholarly and cultural life at U of T

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *