Recently on the Righteous Indignation Podcast we released an interview we conducted with Steven Upton who is a medium, as well as a Minister for the Spiritualist’s National Union and the SNU’s communications director. It was released in two parts and you can find part one here and part two here.
One question that was asked during the interview was whether it was possible to safeguard or regulate who is able to practice as a medium. Steven answered that is was very much a case of “buyer beware” when it came to employing the services of self-proclaimed mediums, but that bodies such as the SNU self-regulated the field as much as they were able to. He pointed out that the SNU has been training mediums for over 100 years, issuing certificates and diplomas to mediums since around 1916 . He said there are roughly 100 trained or SNU accredited mediums who often have letters after their name, such as CSNU or DSNU. If a member of the public is choosing a medium to have a reading from and they choose a medium who has a diploma or certificate from the SNU and they’re not happy with the reading or they think they’ve been misled, they can issue a complaint to the SNU. All mediums accredited by the SNU have to follow a code of practice and if a complaint is made about an accredited medium, they’d be investigated – awards can be removed, the medium may be unregistered or the SNU might reassess them if a complaint held up.
Steven likened this to buying a kettle with a kite mark, or choosing a plumber who was registered with a regulatory body – like CORGI or similar. This is a point that I very much disagree with and although I voiced this disagreement in the interview it wasn’t really the place to elaborate as much as I would have liked.
I think that the attempt to regulate a field such as mediumship and to implement a code of conduct shows that people involved in said field recognise that there is a chance for abuse and they’re trying to control it, which is admirable. However, I do not believe that self-regulation can work for claims that have not been proven to exist under testing in scientific conditions. That is essentially what this boils down to – people regulating people who claim to have unproven abilities.
When you buy a service from a plumber you are paying them to do plumbing, so we asked Steven to define exactly what service it is a customer would be buying from a medium. His response was that the service a medium gives is providing the customer with proof of existence after life/death. I vocally doubted that many mediums would say this was the service they offered, or that people who go to mediums for readings would know that was what they were paying for.
I have seen mediums – who indeed call themselves mediums – claiming to see the future, or reading cards or stones or crystals. In fact, just this week I spoke to a medium who had a very different definition for what a mediums role is (which you can hear on a future episode of the Righteous Indignation podcast.) I do not believe that paying a medium for a service (i.e. to provide evidence of existence) is akin to paying a plumber for plumbing services simply because there is no clear-cut definition for what a medium is or does. If you asked a selection of people who might visit a medium for a reading or session what service they were paying the medium for , I am sure that there would be many different answers to your question which isn’t comparable with a service such as plumbing or carpentry. With this in mind, I think it’s pretty unlikely that a paying customer would always be aware that they were being misled or potentially tricked out of their money, thus they wouldn’t know they had a valid complaint.
This is why I do not believe that self-regulation is effective for practices such as mediumship.
Steven was quick to point out that the same could be said for plumbing – if a plumber hasn’t repaired a boiler correctly you might not be aware of the fault until it’s too late, and such a fault could kill you. However, such a fault is defined and can be proven by other experts or people. When it comes to mediumship the only experts we have are those who themselves claim to be mediums or believe in mediumship (an ability that is unproven, remember), which I don’t see as impartial regulation whatsoever.
Another point that Steven raised in the interview was that the term ‘psychic medium’ didn’t make sense as somebody was either psychic or a medium. Later, when I pointed out that there were mediums who made all sorts of claims, not just that they could provide evidence of existence, Steven pointed out that predicting the future, the reading of palms and similar was actually illegal under the ‘Vagrancy Act of 1824‘. This was true until 1989 when the law was repealed [read F2 of the act] under the ‘Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1989 (c. 43)‘. Until then it had stated that the act included:
“every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes, or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise, to deceive and impose on any of his Majesty’s subjects”
I was rather surprised that somebody involved in a regulatory body dealing with similar trades would so confidently refer to out of date legislation that, quite frankly, deals with little more than superstitious nonsense.
Many will claim I’m being closed-minded, but I’m afraid I will only take self-regulation of mediumship as seriously as I take mediumship, which is not very seriously at all. By all means prove me wrong, and bring evidence to the table that proves such abilities exist, but until then trying to regulate people who claim to have these abilities is in my mind similar to pissing in the wind. Just a messy battle with hardly any good progress being made.