A control is a spirit of the dead that acts as a medium’s primary interface with the spirit world. The control allegedly takes over a medium’s body for extended periods during altered states of consciousness. The control communicates through the Medium, either through mental impressions or through using the medium’s vocal cords. In rare instances, controls allegedly communicate by direct voice, that is, speaking in a voice independent of the medium but in the same proximity. The role of the control is to look after the medium’s interests, answer questions posed by the sitters, provide information from the Other Side, and orchestrate other spirits of the dead who wish to speak to the living and deliver messages.
Controls assert that they are autonomous beings who are separate entities from the medium. They say they have bodies of a very subtle substance and that they can change shape and size, and can transport themselves through time and space. They explain that in order to communicate they must enter the “light” that surrounds the medium. This involves an energy transfer which controls do not explain exactly; but, they say that the transfer enables them to use the medium’s sensory organisms to become aware of the physical surroundings. While the control has taken over the medium’s consciousness and body, the medium’s consciousness is either transported to the spirit world or is displaced out-of-body, according to various controls that have been questioned by psychical researchers.
Controls have distinct personalities. Generally, they are childlike; some are mischievous and have a sense of humor. They may offer a great deal of information about themselves and their past and who they were in life, or they may say very little about themselves. In some cases they say they are ancestors of the medium. Their speech may be very fluid with the appropriate accents and intonations. Some, however, sound stilted and stylized, so that their personalities seem to be obviously fictitious.
The prevailing view among psychical researchers and parapsychologists who have studied mediums is that controls are secondary personalities of the medium which are drawn from the subconscious. Most controls do refl ect some personality traits, interests and knowledge of the mediums they allege to serve. However, if controls are secondary personalities, they manage to stay out of a medium’s normal waking life. Apart from the controlled circumstances of trance, controls do not intrude and disrupt as do secondary personalities in cases of schizophrenia and multiple personality.
Controls are capable of providing evidential information at Séances, that is, information that the medium would be unlikely to know. Curiously, controls that are confronted with inaccurate information that they have given seldom own up to their errors but instead make excuses, usually blaming the complicated process of communicating through the medium’s physical being.
Evidential information is taken by many as proof of Survival After Death, or at least as evidence in support of it. Some researchers argue that information that seems evidential actually can be obtained by the medium through Super-PSI, a hypothesis that holds that clairvoyance and telepathy enable a medium to retrieve “un known” information from sitters or an existing published source. Another hypothesis proposes that information does indeed come from spirits of the dead, but that in order to be conveyed from a nonphysical realm to a physical realm, it must go through the construct of a secondary personality of the medium, which then becomes the control.
Many prominent mediums have accepted their controls as spirits of the dead. Others, such as Eileen J. Garrett, have believed that controls are constructs from their own unconscious. Arthur Ford said he did not care what others thought about his control, Fletcher.
A medium may have more than one control. Controls may stay with the medium throughout a career, or come and go. Gladys Osborne Leonard had one primary control, Feda, throughout her entire career. Leonora Piper had a number of controls, but only had one center stage at a time. William Stainton Moses had a bevy of controls who called themselves the Imperator Band. Many of the Imperator Band claimed to be famous personages from history. The ubiquitous pirate control, John King, served a number of mediums.
Controls were accorded a great deal of attention and importance during the early days of Spiritualism and the early years of psychical research. They are less prominent in modern mediumship. Most modern mediums do not use the term “control” but prefer terms such as “spirit helpers,” “helpers,” “friends” and “spirit friends.”
- Gauld, Alan. Mediumship and Survival: A Century of Investigations. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1982.
- Grattan-Guinness, Ivor. Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles and Practices. Wellingborough, England: The Aquarian Press, 1982.