On Becoming a Spirit Medium in a "Rational Society"



The recruitment and socialization (enculturation) of spirit mediums in the United States is investigated through ethnographic interviews, participant observation and library biographies in Lily Dale, New York. Spirit mediumship, alleged transfer of information from departed souls to the living through another living human (the medium) is a deviant way of knowing in this society. Most children with signs of mediumistic ability are discouraged by family and community. Moving into the role requires positive definitions and social support, such as in Spiritualist Church classes. Given general scepticism about intuition in Western society, even mediums themselves look for "confirmations" to validate their nonrational communications. Thus, the dominance of scientific rationality is accepted to an important degree even by this group that practices an alternate way of knowing.