The medium on the stage: trance and performance in nineteenth-century spiritualism
journal contributionposted on 12.11.2015, 13:50 by Simone Natale
While historians of spiritualism have been eager to focus on its political and social implications, less attention has been given to the fact that spirit communication was also a matter of visual spectacle. This article aims to analyse spiritualist séances as a form of spectacular entertainment. Relying on a wide array of spiritualist sources, it argues that séances were meant not only as moments of religious and scientific inquiry, but also as a brilliant amusement where theatrical effects embellished an exciting shared experience. The intermingling of religion and entertainment can thus be seen as one of the defining characteristics of the spiritualist experience. After sketching the history of the presence of spiritualist mediums on the stage and discussing the involvement of professionalism in mediumship, the article will then focus on the trance as a specific performance strategy. It will examine how the trance combined issues of automatism, theatricality and absorption, and contributed to the coexistence in spirit seances of spectacular features and claims of authenticity.
- Social Sciences
- Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies