I crashed through an interesting book the other day, The Psychic Mafia by M. Lamar Keene. Keene was a popular medium in his day, famed in spiritualist circles for his clairvoyance and ability to summon spirits into the seance room.
He was a fake.
His “clairvoyance” depended on filching information from subject’s purses and pockets, secretly listening to conversations, and reading notes on the subjects from other mediums. This is called hot reading. The “spirits” were produced by basic magic tricks: hidden rods, balls of fabric, ventriloquism, and so forth.
He was never caught faking and quit the business when his conscience got the better of him. But that was after he’d raked in huge sums of cash and all sorts of gifts from those who availed themselves of his “psychic” skills.
It was all a business. A very lucrative business. One taking advantage of human weakness. He writes,
One of the most alarming things about the mediumistic racket is how completely some people put their lives into the hands of ill-educated, emotionally unbalanced individuals who claim a hot line to heaven. As a medium I was routinely asked about business decisions, marital problems, whether to have an abortion, how to improve sexual performance, and similar intimate and important subjects. That people who ask such questions of a medium are risking their mental, moral, and monetary health is a shocking but quite accurate description of the matter. [page 22]
To me, of course, sex in the seance room is merely a logical, though particularly nasty, extension of the basic premise of fraudulent mediumship: give the customer what he (or she) wants. What it is doesn’t matter; what it pays does.
Another reaction, of course, is pity for those who are so lonely and alienated from normal human companionship that they have to cohabit with a ghost. Here, as in other areas of life, the services of the phony medium do not help the sitter–they hinder him or her in developing the inner resources to face life realistically. [page 140]
Lamar Keene held out hope that some mediums really could summon spirits and communicate with the dead, even though he never met one of these.
No one has.