The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Séances remain a popular modern form of necromancy. Séance literally indicates a “session” or “seating.” Traditionally at least one of the participants possesses some mediumistic skill. Professional mediums sometimes hold séances attended by people who are otherwise strangers. The purpose of the séance is generally to establish communication with dead souls for various reasons, however some people also conduct séances for fun, sensationalism or just to see what will transpire. Purposeless séances are to be discouraged as they tend to invite the presence of malevolent or low-level spirits.
Ironically perhaps, those who play with necromancy, treating it as a joke, tend to have worse experiences than those who treat it seriously. Proper magical and spiritual safeguards should be taken to ward off malevolent entities who might attempt to use a séance as a portal. (See CREATIVE ARTS: Comics: Black Widow.) A proper séance takes spiritual precautions to ensure that only invited guests show up.
References to rituals similar to séances have been recorded as far back as the third century. In 1848, however, the Fox Sisters of upstate New York inaugurated the modern phenomenon of spiritualism. It became a craze. Although séances are traditionally conducted to contact the dead, eventually many stopped treating it as necromancy and considered séances as venues for experiencing paranormal phenomena.
Séances became increasingly dramatic. Outsiders or those new to the occult expecting sensational results are frequently disappointed: real psychic phenomena are rarely as physically dramatic as the fantasy magic of television, literature or fairy tales.
Mediums began displaying ectoplasm, a subtle substance that allegedly exudes from the bodies of some mediums. Spectral photographs were produced as well as the sound of trumpets or other discarnate noises. Dramatic expectations led to abuse and fraud. Sensational effects are easier to fake then genuine psychic ability. (And, truth be told, sensation seekers desired dramatic effects often more than they wanted genuine psychic experience.)
The phenomenon known as table turning was apparently first recorded in Europe. When two or more people sat at the séance table, holding their hands and legs in certain ways, the table began to tilt, turn or even levitate. By 1854, the practice of table turning was widespread. This evolved into table tapping. Once the table began to tip, signaling the appearance of the spirit, participants ask the spirit questions. The spirit answers by tapping, one tap indicating “yes” for instance, with two taps for “no.”
Modern séances still exist and are an important feature of the Spiritualist movement. Special effects are no longer as emphasized; spiritual aspects of the séance are considered most crucial. Séances are usually conducted by sitting around a round table. Some traditions initiate the séance by singing hymns or other songs to set the mood.