Mediumship, Psychical Research, Dissociation, and the Powers of the Subconscious Mind/ Medialitat, Psychische Forschung, Dissoziation Und Die Krafte der Unterbewussten Psyche/ Mediumnidad, Investigacion Psiquica, Disociacion, Y Poderes De la Mente Subconsciente/ Mediumnite, Recherche Psychique, Dissociation, et Les Pouvoirs De L'esprit Subconscient

By Alvarado, Carlos S. | The Journal of Parapsychology, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Mediumship, Psychical Research, Dissociation, and the Powers of the Subconscious Mind/ Medialitat, Psychische Forschung, Dissoziation Und Die Krafte der Unterbewussten Psyche/ Mediumnidad, Investigacion Psiquica, Disociacion, Y Poderes De la Mente Subconsciente/ Mediumnite, Recherche Psychique, Dissociation, et Les Pouvoirs De L'esprit Subconscient


Alvarado, Carlos S., The Journal of Parapsychology


In his book The Discovery of the Unconscious Ellenberger (1970, pp. 317-318) argued that by 1900 four main functions of the unconscious mind had been established. These functions were conservative (the repositoiy of memories and perceptions), dissolutive (automatic and dissociative aspects that may interfere with normal functions), creative, and mythopoetic (or fictional fabrications of all sorts). In this paper I will focus on one function not included by Ellenberger, what we would refer to today as "parapsychological." These phenomena were also referred to as psychic, metapsychic, and supernormal. My discussion will focus on theoretical ideas about mediumship and the subconscious mind that include the supernormal, ideas prevalent from the late 19th century to late in the 20th century. The purpose of the paper is to reacquaint contemporary students of dissociation and of mediumship with this nearly forgotten past, a past that at the time interacted with and affected contemporary psychological and psychiatric work toward constructing the concept of dissociation and the idea of hidden powers of the subconscious mind.

To this day the term dissociation has different meanings and conceptualizations (Nijenhuis & Van der Hart, 2011; Spitzer, Barnow, Freyberger, & Joergen, 2006), but it is frequently used to refer to a misunderstood process underlying disruption or separation of memory, identity and sensations from consciousness. The term was not used by the authors discussed in this paper but they evidently believed in such hypothetical process to refer not only to the equally ill-defined mediumistic trance, but to the various manifestations of hypnosis, and hysteria, the latter which some postulated included fugues, amnesia, and so-called "secondary" (or more than two) personalities.

Although I (Alvarado, 2002,2010a) and several others (e.g., Crabtree, 1993; Ellenberger, 1970; Pias, 2000; Shamdasani, 1994) have argued for contributions to the study of psychic phenomena or the supernormal, to psychology and psychiatry, and particularly to ideas about dissociation and concepts about nonconscious levels of the mind, here I focus on ideas that have not received much attention.

Mediumship in Context: Spiritualism, Psychical Research, and Psychiatry

The psychical researchers of the 19th century inherited from previous movements the idea that human beings had powers that could transcend physical limitations (for overviews see Alvarado, 2012; Crabtree, 1993; Inglis, 1992; Meheust, 1999a; Podmore, 1902a, 1902b). The work of the mesmerists--as seen in books such as Natural and Mesmeric Clairvoyance (Esdaile, 1852)--promoted the view that some people could influence others at a distance to produce phenomena such as cures and thought transference. In addition to publicizing psychic

phenomena, thus creating an intellectual and experiential context for the unorthodox, mesmerism was important for the development of Spiritualism and mediumship in various ways. Among them were the various discussions in the mesmeric literature on nonphysical ideas (Alvarado, 2012, pp. 39-40) and the "mediumistic-like" phenomena reported by some mesmerized individuals (Crabtree, 1993, pp. 196-212).

As social reformer Robert Dale Owen (1860), who lived from 1801-1877, discussed in Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, Spiritualists assumed that some individuals had the ability to perceive and to channel phenomena caused by spirits of the dead. Psychical research emerged as an attempt to continue and systematize the work of the mesmerists and the Spiritualists by exploring hidden dimensions of human functioning and the possibility of spirit agency (Gauld, 1968; Lachapelle, 2011; Moore, 1977; Wolffram, 2009).

While most contemporary scientists seemed to accept a closed model of the mind in which the workings of the subconscious and the phenomena of dissociation were explained by intrapsychic psychological, physiological, and medical factors (including outside influences such as suggestion and trauma), some of the psychical researchers (like the Spiritualists) argued for a model in which the mind was an open system not bound by the limitations of the nervous system and the senses (Gauld, 1968). …

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Mediumship, Psychical Research, Dissociation, and the Powers of the Subconscious Mind/ Medialitat, Psychische Forschung, Dissoziation Und Die Krafte der Unterbewussten Psyche/ Mediumnidad, Investigacion Psiquica, Disociacion, Y Poderes De la Mente Subconsciente/ Mediumnite, Recherche Psychique, Dissociation, et Les Pouvoirs De L'esprit Subconscient
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