Terrifying Séances

Contacting the spirit world can be a surprising, hazardous experience

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Wagner, Stephen. "Terrifying Séances." ThoughtCo, Nov. 13, 2015, thoughtco.com/terrifying-seance-stories-2594506. Wagner, Stephen. (2015, November 13). Terrifying Séances. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/terrifying-seance-stories-2594506 Wagner, Stephen. "Terrifying Séances." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/terrifying-seance-stories-2594506 (accessed October 22, 2017).
Seance
Seance.

LONG BEFORE ghost boxes, EVP, and the popularity of ghost hunting, the method of choice for communicating with the spirit world was the séance. In the traditional séance, a small group of people would sit around a table and join hands. They were usually led by a spirit medium, who would channel the spirits and relay their messages to the living. In the heyday of the Spiritualist movement at the end of the 19th century, séances were all the rage, complete with ectoplasm, floating trumpets, table tilting, and other special effects.

Séances were even conducted in the White House by Mary Todd Lincoln, who longed to contact her dead son.

It’s questionable how many of these séances actually succeeded in contacting the spirit world. Many mediums were exposed as frauds. Séances are held rarely these days; the closest we get to them, perhaps, are sessions with the Ouija board (which also produce questionable results).

Occasionally, people still do conduct séances. Usually, the Halloween season gets them in the mood. And many have reported extraordinary, sometimes terrifying experiences. For example....

GROSS POINT SÉANCE

“It's hard to believe that it has been over 50 years since that night in Grosse Point, Michigan that so changed my life,” says Bradford A. At the time he was a young college student, just out of the army, and studying psychology under the G.I. Bill at a college in Detroit, Michigan.

“I had mastered the art of hypnotism and, in fact, was considered one of the leading men in the field,” Bradford says.

“Working part-time in an Abbotts Magic store and putting on magic shows was a form of income that was not only fun, but allowed me to meet a wide range of personalities. One person, who at his request will remain nameless, was a magician of note and a close personal friend. We had fun trying out new magic tricks and routines on each other.

Because of our knowledge of the so called ‘black arts,’ we were aware of all the tricks used by magicians and mediums to ply their art on the unknowing: two-way transmitters to feed information, pat routines such as ‘The Devil’s Own Method’ of mind reading, astral projection units, and, of course, the table raising gimmicks.

“The two of us, noticing the rise of fake mediums in the area, decided that it would be fun if we did ‘spook debunking’ – that is to say, we would attend a séance or medium's performance and expose their fakery to the members present. It was a riot. We slipped into homes at the request of a person's mate that felt their partner was being taken for a ride. For this we had the satisfaction of setting things right, but no money.

“Then one day, after a magic show at the old Schubert Theatre in downtown Detroit, I was approached by a very nice elderly lady who asked if we would put on a show for a few of her friends at her home in swank Grosse Point Farms, a wealthy suburb of Detroit. She said that we could use any gimmicks or tricks we wanted and she would pay us $100. (That was a lot of money to a college student in the 1940s.) I asked my partner and he said sure, let's go for it.

We rounded up as much paraphernalia as we could from the magic store and planned a really scary show for them. Our plan included getting as much information as the host lady could gather about the persons who would be in attendance. (No self-respecting medium would go in without it.)

“Finally, the night arrived. We had agreed that my partner would handle the mechanical and voice parts and I would take the part of the medium at the table with the guests. My partner planned to wait in his car down the block until all of the guests were in the house and ready for the séance. He would then enter the kitchen by the back door and connect his microphone and recorders into the speaker system I had installed and concealed in the room and set up a projector. I was introduced as ‘Sregna, The Gifted’ (my last name spelled backward), and we all took our places at the table.

The table had been previously rigged to emit a hanging cloud of "magic" smoke that would hover over the table for several minutes. This cloud was used as a sort of projection screen to receive images of light from a projector controlled by my partner – in short, a sort of astral vision effect.

“We all joined hands and I began my mumbo jumbo. I could feel a slight tremble in the hand I was holding. This was just what I needed. I became quite confident. I called upon the spirits to come forth and make themselves known. A few eerie sounds preceded a voice saying that he was the departed husband of one of the guests. A mist formed, as planned, over the table and a likeness of the person was seen. There were a few shudders and oohs and ahhs. She asked her husband questions and he answered. (Very well, I thought, considering the information we were given.) This scene was repeated for several of the ladies. It was an eerie success.

“When the séance came to a close, the ladies left, each with their memories. They had been treated to quite a show. The lady who hired us wrote me a check and thanked me for a wonderful evening. I then went into the kitchen to help my partner disconnect his equipment and pack up.

“When I reached the kitchen, I was unable to locate my partner or his equipment. Then I heard a pounding on the kitchen door. It was my partner. He said when he tried to get in, someone had apparently locked the door. He said he was sorry and asked if he missed anything. I may never know what really happened that night, but I can assure you, I have not played with the supernatural since!”

Next page: The Walking Table

WALKING SÉANCE TABLE

Amber H. lived in a house and neighborhood that dates back to the 18th century. “It's a two-story house, and some friends and I used to have séances every Friday,” she tells us. “One Friday night, my friends were busy with work and I had the day off, so I started the séance by myself. I encountered a few strange people, who got a bit angry, but nothing too serious.”

At 1:00 a.m., Amber went up to bed on the top floor of the house.

“Once I got into bed, I couldn't get to sleep,” she says. “Then I heard it... the noise downstairs. It was as though someone was thumping on the wall. I got up and walked out of my bedroom door. When I was at the edge of the top step, I saw the weirdest thing: it was the table – the table I performed the séance on – trying to get up the stairs! I freaked and ran downstairs and started hitting the table, telling it to leave me alone. After five minutes it was all over. The table was as still as the air in the room.”

SÉANCES AND STRANGE PHENOMENA

Jeff F. was 18 years old when he lived in the "boondocks" of upstate New York. One afternoon when he and his best friend were hanging out, a neighbor came by and asked if Jeff could give him a ride to his girlfriend's house. The boys agreed, and the neighbor directed them even further out into the middle of nowhere. When they arrived, the boys waited to be sure that his neighbor’s girlfriend was there, and after a little while the neighbor came back to the car and said, "They're having a séance in there.

Do you wanna come in?" Being adventurous and bored teens, they accepted the invitation.

“The farmhouse was large, old, and run-down,” says Jeff. “Blankets had been put over the windows to block the afternoon daylight. Upon entering, we were introduced to the family members performing the séance: an old lady and man; a younger man; the parents; and an older brother of my friend's girlfriend.

“They were seated around an old Formica and chrome kitchen table with one leg removed. A candle burned at the center of the table. They communicated with the spirits by lightly resting their fingertips on the table and inviting the spirits to come and ‘nod the table’ by tilting it at the corner that had the missing leg. In this way, the spirits could answer ‘yes’ with a quick nod of the table, ‘no’ by holding it suspended down for a moment. It could also spell out words or count numbers by repeatedly nodding the table.”

During the session, the spirits answered some questions correctly and some incorrectly, but the experience had left such an impression on Jeff and his friends that they decided they had to try it themselves a few days later.

“We used an old card table with one leg left folded up and a lit candle in the center,” Jeff recalls. “We sat with our fingertips just touching the table surface and took turns saying, ‘If there is a witch in the house, nod the table,’ just as the farmers had demonstrated. After ten minutes or so of no success, my friend Eric, a comedian, cackled like a witch to be funny, but as we all started laughing, the table abruptly nodded. We were suddenly very serious, and after asking for confirmation, realized that there was a presence moving the table.

“Feeling like car-chasing dogs that had finally caught something, we didn't know what to do with our spirit. We each asked dopey questions and received various answers. The memorable part of the session is that my friend Bernie asked the spirit if he would have trouble with his beloved truck. The spirit answered yes. Bernie asked if the trouble would be serious. The spirit answered no. We continued for a short while and closed our session.

“When Bernie went to leave a few minutes later, he came back in saying, ‘You won't believe this, but I've got a flat tire.’ Sure enough, Bernie's truck's tire had gone flat during our séance, and we proceeded to help him put on the spare.”

About a week later, three of the boys who participated in the séance were riding in Bernie's truck, coming back from another friend's house.

They started discussing the séance of the previous week. As soon as they began recounting their experiences, Bernie interrupted, "Guys, you won't believe this, but I've got another flat." There was no spare this time, however, and they boys had to hike the nine miles or so into town.

“We had several séances over a three to four month timeframe,” says Jeff, “and each has its own strange story. We communicated with entities that identified themselves as dead family members, demons, and angels. I have vivid memories of the experiences and the table saying and doing things that were unbelievable. Eventually, my friends refused to participate any more after one particularly frightening session when an entity identified itself as the Devil. This entity knew Bernie's middle name, even though the rest of us did not. It said that it had a message for Bernie. That's when we blew out the candle and never tried again. The house that we held all of these séances in has continued to exhibit regular episodes of strange paranormal phenomena for the past 25 years.”

Next page: The Lizzie Borden Séance

EMMY BORDEN'S GHOST

On Friday, June 13, 1997, Alfred T. was invited to the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum by Martha McGinn, owner of the inn, located in Fall River, Massachusetts. On that night, a psychic was going to be filming a documentary and at the same time conducting a séance. A reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper was going to be there to cover the exclusive event. Alfred worked for a local radio station and had covered the opening of the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum before, so the owners invited him to cover this event as well.

For those who don’t know, Lizzie was the Fall River girl who was acquitted of murdering her father, Andrew J. Borden, and her stepmother, Abby with an ax. (Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.)

Besides covering the event, Alfred and friend Terrie were spending the night there as well. “When we started,” Alfred recalls, “there were thirteen of us joined hand-in-hand, eyes closed, and seated in a séance circle. It was a weird, cool feeling and the lady hosting it – Jane Doherty of South Plainfield, New Jersey – sat right across from me and asked me if I had lost a family member recently. I told her yes and she said that my mom wants me to stop paying money for repairs on my car and to put it toward a new truck! Which is what my mom and I always use to talk about. Well, by now you could tell how I felt.”

When the séance was over, the invited guests stayed to chat.

Alfred noticed that they all stayed pretty close to one another; no one wanted to be left alone. When it was time for bed, Alfred and Terrie were given the bedroom once occupied by Emma Borden, Lizzie's sister. “I had taken my portable audiocassette recorder and placed it on the nightstand to the right of the bed between the bed and the wall,” Alfred says.

“I remember Terrie and me lying down about 5:00 a.m., when it was starting to get light out. I pressed record on my recorder and tried to get some sleep.

“In the morning, we had breakfast and went off to the cemetery to see the graves. What happened the next day was unexplainable! I listened to the audio tape that I recorded the morning before on my way to and from work. At first I could hear Terrie and me talking, then silence. Then the silence turned to me snoring. I heard plenty of that. Then, about 35 minutes into the 45-minute tape, I heard what gave me the creeps and made me rewind it over and over again to make sure I heard what I heard!

“I heard my snoring, then as I'm snoring I could hear a female voice giggling. I played that audio tape on the air at two different radio stations and it definitely gave everyone the creeps. I called Jane Doherty at home and told her what I recorded that night. She told me that what I had heard and what I recorded was the laugh of Emma Borden.”

SÉANCE REACHES MOTHER

“A family I know lived happily until they came to know that the mother of the family had cancer,” says Erica. She died on October 14, 1999. Erica was very good friends with her daughter, so she went to her house that night to comfort her.

A few weeks later, Erica and her friend Danielle slept over the daughter's house. Her father wasn't home and neither was her brother, so the girls decided to have a séance. “We sat on her bed with candles, which were the color lavender – her mother's favorite color,” Erica says. “We put the candles in front of pictures of her mom. There was one picture with the mother and daughter.”

When the daughter started trying to contact her mother, the candle started to flicker excitedly. All of a sudden, the flame rose about five inches high and started to flicker even more frantically. Then her dog stared barking while looking at the candle. “We were so astonished,” Erica says. “Then out of nowhere we saw an image. It was a female-shaped body. We figured it was her mom. I got up and blew out the candle and we just sat there in awe.”

Next page: The Violent Séance

THE VIOLENT SÉANCE

In 1974, Tom was in college and I living alone in an old apartment building in Queens, New York. He attended school during the week and held a job on the weekends. It was a stressful time, he recalls, filled with loneliness and sadness. Then one night he had a strange experience.

“I was asleep, and my eyes suddenly snapped open,” Tom says. “There, at the side of my bed, was the translucent figure of a man.

One of his shoulders was lower than the other, his legs slightly bent. He appeared to be trying to break down a door with his shoulder, but instead, his thrust was aimed at a window. Instinctively, I jumped out of bed and took a swing at the figure, my heart pumping loudly in my chest. But the figure was gone, and I stood alone in the center of the room.”

Tom told this experience to a friend at school. The friend said that he knew a psychic who might be able to help. They arranged to come to Tom’s apartment for a séance of sorts. Tom also invited his cousin to attend. When the psychic arrived, he covered the round kitchen table with brown wrapping paper, upon which he drew a star in a circle, surrounded by magical symbols. He explained that the circle was for protection and that no one must let go of the table once the rite began.

The lights were switched off. The psychic began to breathe deeply, and soon he began to speak.

Tom’s friend asked questions of the psychic, who spoke in what sounded like odd accents and foreign words. It was chilling. Then the psychic's voice rose in anger, and the table, which they lightly touched with their fingertips rose off the floor and swayed back and forth. In the dark there was a noise that sounded like pebbles being poured from a jar.

“My cousin and I were amazed but frightened,” Tom says.

As the psychic continued to scream, the thick brown wrapping paper on the table began to tear with loud rending sounds. Remembering the psychic’s warning, the participants desperately clung to the paper that was under their fingers as they felt it being pulled off the table. “In the background, I could hear furniture moving on the wooden floors,” Tom remembers. “In concert with the psychic, my college friend began to shout, ‘Disperse, disperse!’ At these words the table sank to the floor in a fluttery motion and landed on the floor with a low thud.”

As all breathed heavily, Tom’s friend snapped on the lights. They were astonished to see that all the living room furniture was piled in the center of the room. But Tom was convinced that the spirit he had seen in his room was still present. “It was weeks later,” he says, “after several more séances where things flew through the air, furniture lifted off the floor, and my bedroom door held shut by rope because something in the room pulled with unbelievable strength was trying to get out (and do God knows what) that finally the psychic managed to expel the presence from my apartment.

I'll never forget the fright that I experienced.”

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Your Citation
Wagner, Stephen. "Terrifying Séances." ThoughtCo, Nov. 13, 2015, thoughtco.com/terrifying-seance-stories-2594506. Wagner, Stephen. (2015, November 13). Terrifying Séances. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/terrifying-seance-stories-2594506 Wagner, Stephen. "Terrifying Séances." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/terrifying-seance-stories-2594506 (accessed October 22, 2017).