Ghosts in the Machines: The Devices and Daring Mediums That Spoke for the Dead

You’ve read about mediums, seances, and Ouija boards here at Neatorama. What do all these things have in common? The Spiritualist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And in the wake of the new movie Ouija, people are interested in the devices, gimmicks, and gadgets Spiritualists used to contact the dead. Collectors Weekly takes a look at Spiritualism and the devices used in a talk with Brandon Hodge of Mysterious Planchette.  

Hodge says that most spirit-communication concepts started out with serious religious intentions, but eventually got co-opted by popular culture as playthings or curiosities. “The Spiritualists come up with these devices and use them to communicate with the dead. Then, pop culture comes along and goes, ‘Oh, look what they’re doing over here.’ And entrepreneurs with vision and foresight take these devices, market them, and suddenly, they become a huge parlor hit.”

As laypeople experimented with these devices at home, others turned to Spiritualist mediums, a job that eventually gave young women—who were thought to be so receptive to the divine they would come to embody the spirits themselves—power they couldn’t have dreamed of before. These mediums were able to flagrantly violate strict Victorian social taboos and speak unpopular or radical opinions.

They also talked to Jill Tracy, who has a show called The Musical Seance which recreates Victorian seances for modern audiences. In addition to a history of Spiritualism, you’ll learn about automatic writing, spirit guides, spirit photos, spirit trumpets, ectoplasm, planchettes, and other spirit communication devices at Collectors Weekly.

(Image credit: Mysterious Planchette)


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