After a vaguely Christian prayer, the evening's guest medium launched into her patter and delivered various messages to random people in the audience (neither I nor my friend being on the receiving end of any Words from Beyond).
My friend had been several times before, but this was my first visit and I was there as an observer more than anything. It's an interesting thing to watch in so many ways, and brings many questions to mind. Even the most devout believer must accept that there is an element of performance involved in any public display, and there were certainly times when it felt as if we were watching a comedy act. The process of reassuring the audience, at least for this particular medium, seemed to involve making them laugh with a deadpan act that might have come straight out of a working man's club.
I suspect there is a thesis in the interaction between spirituality and social class. Modern paganism has a fairly high preponderance of middle class, reasonably educated people. I've posted on my private blog about this before, and might repost it here as well.
I was struck by the quotidian nature of many of the messages passed on. Clearly if a medium wants to convince someone that they really are talking to the spectre of Great Aunt Agatha then they have to offer pertinent details which (when all is said and done) going to be fairly humdrum allusions to appearance, habits, and the nature of Agatha's demise etc. None of that struck me as misplaced... though the inevitability of the budgie was far too well placed. What I found strange was the nature of the messages which the dead had come back to offer. A little of it was in the form of reassurance that people were happy in the Afterlife, recovered from whatever physical distress had carried them off. Had anyone asked me ahead of time, I would have guessed that more of the messages would have been of this nature. In Britain the only time we really seem to bother talking to the dead is to assuage initial worries about how unhappy lost loved ones might be. Quite a number of other cultures regularly interact with the deceased, updating them with family news etc. A lot of the people there appeared to be repeat attenders, so perhaps most of them had already gained whatever assurances they needed.
By and large what the dead had to say was humdrum. One wanted to tell her surviving relative to tidy up her linen cupboard, others mostly just dispensed "keep calm and carry on" messages. No revelations about the nature of what lies beyond the grave, no vital warnings on how to avoid impending disaster, no profound spiritual revelations. If we allow that some sapient force survives death (which I do, though many readers of this post may not) then communicating with the living is probably not easy. Of all the people round the world who claim to be able to contact the dead, I strongly suspect that only a minuscule number have any discernible talent at all, so finding one must be like hunting for the proverbial needle. The rest are a combination of well-meaning but overblown people and the outright fraudulent. Having succeeded in finding one, to then just bleat about the state of someone's sheets seems an utter waste of an opportunity.
As wise people have said, merely being dead need not make any significant change to a person's character. A fool in life may well be as daft in death, so the eulogising tendency to see the ancestors as transcendently sagacious and trustworthy may well be misguided. It was interesting that one of the presences that made itself known was (from the recipient's reaction) a cantankerous old trout in life. It inspired an idea for a short story, which will get written before much longer, but also raises the interesting prospect that there are a sadly large number of malicious swine in the world. Is it reasonable or even probable that only loving souls would want to communicate with the living? Of course, some religions argue that the wicked are prevented from returning and for all I know that may be the case. However, if they are as free to roam as the well-intentioned, then one wonders why more mediums do not find themselves being contacted by horrible spirits ~ whether to apologise for their misdeeds (as was the case here) or to gloat and cause more mischief.
The world of spiritualism is a fascinating one, and I may well take some more exploratory trips into it in future.