Talking with the dead: spirit mediumship, affect and embodiment in Stoke-on-Trent

Pile, Steve; Bartolini, Nadia and MacKian, Sara (2018). Talking with the dead: spirit mediumship, affect and embodiment in Stoke-on-Trent. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 43(2) pp. 170–183.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12207

Abstract

While Spiritualism has attracted much attention in other disciplines, geographers have largely ignored it. However, we agree with Holloway (2006 Enchanted spaces: the seance, affect, and geographies of religion Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96 182–7) that Spiritualism presents conceptual challenges that make it worthy of more attention. As Holloway suggests, the themes of affect, embodiment and materiality are particularly helpful in exploring religious experiences. The focus of this paper is on the practice and experience of spirit mediumship in a Spiritualist setting. In mediumship, a specific challenge is to materialise and embody spirit such that spirit communication feels personal and rings true. For us, this suggests that mediumship is routinely successful both because it can produce accurate messages, which are judged empirically, and also because it produces what we call affectual truths, which are judged tacitly on whether they feel right or not. To account for this, we introduce the idea of intermediumship to describe interactions in the space in-between the medium and the congregation. It is through this space in-between that the affects associated with mediumship emerge, are experienced and are verified. Rather than seeing spirit communication as somehow enchanted or extraordinary, we assert that talking with the dead is predicated on the ordinariness of the experience: that is, that talking with the dead is emblematic of affect and embodiment in everyday life.

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