We spoke to Minister Steven Upton of the Spiritualists’ National Union to find out about mediumship, healing and the religion more generally.

Minister Steven Upton
Minister Steven Upton (SNU)

What is a spiritualist?

“A spiritualist is someone who accepts the seven principles as the basis of their religious philosophy,” Minister Steven Upton told us. The first of these principles is the acceptance of a “Divine Energy”, a force which they believe created everything and sustains its existence.

The second is the acceptance of “The Brotherhood of Man”, which essentially asks you to be considerate and help others.

You wouldn’t necessarily associate being spiritual with a rule-book?

“People seem to interchange those two words, spiritual and spiritualism, but they don’t mean the same thing. There are spiritual Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. ‘Spiritual’ is the state of an individual’s life, spiritual is not a religion. Spiritualism is a religion, and there are un-spiritual spiritualists, as well as spiritual spiritualists.”

What do you think appeals to people about the religion?

The Arthur Findlay College trains spiritualists in healing and mediumship
The Arthur Findlay College, a training college for healing and mediumship (SNU)

“We actually know the answer to that, because Warwick University’s sociology department did a study a few years ago. One: people become curious. Two: as you get older, people you know start dying – when people around you start dying, you start asking questions. In most places you go you don’t get much of an answer, whereas with spiritualism we can give them some good answers.

“We can provide evidence as well to support the answers. So there’s a general curiosity but there’s also been a popularisation of mediumship on television over the last decade or so, and that’s got people curious.

“Then, there’s a smaller group of people who are starting to have personal experiences – psychic or mediumistic – and they don’t understand it and want some help with it.”

Can you talk me through being a medium, the different types and how the process works?

Contact healing performed by two spiritualists
Contact healing like that carried out by Minister Upton (SNU)

“Firstly, we can’t contact people on the other side – they contact you. If you turn your radio on and the radio transmitters aren’t transmitting, what can you do about it? Nothing, your radio is useless.

“Our mind is like a radio receiver. We can open our minds up, we can turn them on, but if there’s nobody transmitting you’re not gonna get anything. So it’s when the spirit world contacts us.

“With a communicative medium, they’re in a very active state. They’ve very much part of the process in that they perceive subliminal information and have to assemble it into a coherent understandable statement. That’s where they often go wrong.

“As a healing medium I’m entirely passive. I have no active part to play in the process, I’m a conduit between two states. I’m used, rather than using the process, as a means to link the power that comes predominantly from high sources.”

So, how would you heal me?

Contact healing performed by spritualists

“Firstly I’d tell you I don’t want to know what’s wrong with you before we start. I’m going to sit next to you, slightly behind, and rest my hand roughly between your shoulder blades.

“I’m going to get very quiet for probably 20/25 minutes out of the 30-minute sitting. It will look like I’ve gone to sleep, but I’ve not. I go into an altered state of consciousness where my normal conscious mind becomes quite suppressed, ranging from a light altered state of consciousness, where I’m aware of what’s going on around me, right through to being totally unconscious, where I have no awareness.

“As I come back into normal consciousness I’m a bit bewildered. For the last five to 10 minutes of the sitting I’ll talk to you about what you experienced, what you felt – if anything – because some people don’t, and explain to you briefly that it’s not about what I’ve just done but about what happens over the next few days.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in black and white
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist (Occult World/Flickr)

“Also I might start to be aware of some of your symptoms, and I might use that information, but then I’ll ask why you’ve come and explain briefly what may happen. We make no promises and there are no guarantees.

“Statistically, 66% claimed to receive either a major beneficial change or a complete fix of their problem from a single sitting. The other third report either no apparent change or a temporary one that then relapsed.

“Spiritual healing we don’t in a sense do, we call it healing mediumship. In our opinion, that’s exactly what Jesus was doing. Jesus never said ‘I’m the only guy that can do this’ because he actually said to people ‘You can do everything I can do and better’ and somewhere else he said ‘Go forth and preach my gospel and heal the sick’.”

Do you think it matters if the person is a sceptic? Does it have an effect on your ‘healing’?

The Spiritualist Church in North London
(Sludge G/Flickr)

“No, it makes no difference. I’ve got strong evidence to show it makes no difference whatsoever. People in comas have no idea you’re doing it, babies, dogs, horses, cats – they don’t know what you’re doing.

“The best evidence I’ve got to show that what you think makes no difference is a woman in Switzerland. A young woman about 30. She got Aids and decided to give up and die. So this is something which is measurable and potentially fatal. She wasn’t seeing doctors, she was on no medication, she wouldn’t accept anything. It was ‘Leave me alone, I’m dying’. That was her attitude.

“A friend of hers heard I was going to be in the area and booked an appointment for her. When her friend told her about it, she was very annoyed. She said it was a total waste of time, she didn’t believe in it. So her friend said that’s up to you then, I’m not gonna cancel it – go or don’t.

“She decided to keep the appointment and prove to her friend it was a waste of time. She had a blood test two days before, and a second one two days after. I knew nothing about this until 10 days after the sitting.

“She came along and the only thing I remember of her was that she was a bit obnoxious. When she walked into the room, she just said hurry up and do what you’re gonna do cos I know it’s a waste of time.

“From my perspective she was no different to any other patient that day, other than I forgot to ask why she’d come because she left so quickly.

“Anyway, she went for a second blood test and there’d been a change in the level of virus in her system. It had dropped by 97%, and that absolutely shocked her.

Healing hands

“Ten days later I received an email with all this information. Now then, if we think about this rationally and logically, if there was a change in her medical condition, what could we put it down to? Her belief? Definitely not. A placebo effect? Well, that’s based on belief. We can’t put it down to traditional medical intervention because she wasn’t having any.

“The only thing I can rationally put it down to is that, whatever we’re doing, we’re accessing a power that is real. Because it’s real it makes no difference whether you believe in it. That’s irrelevant. If you believed there was no oxygen in the room you’re in now, it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference.

“When I was in that town six months later she came for a sitting. We’re not claiming here that this person was cured of Aids, because as far as I’m aware she’s still got it. What we’re saying is she was cured of waiting to die. When I saw her six months later she had a life, was seeing doctors, was on medication, had a boyfriend – she was living an almost normal life.

“This is how I know whether you believe it or not it makes no difference.”

Is there a common message that comes through from the other side?

“Yes. Love yourself. Love God. Commit random acts of kindness. There is no death.

“These are the common messages. They’re messages of hope for the future and encouragement for now.”

So you believe the soul is eternal – do spiritualists believe in reincarnation?

A soul being born into a new body
(Keoni Cabral/Flickr)

“I’m gonna give you two answers. One is the corporate answer, the other is the personal answer. The corporate answer is – we don’t have an opinion on it. It’s called an open issue. We do not believe the case for reincarnation is significantly proven for us to incorporate it within our religious philosophy. So therefore we leave it to the individual to determine for themselves whether they believe in it or not.

“When it comes down to a personal answer, I think it depends what version of reincarnation. If it’s the Western version where people like astrologers start talking about ‘Everyone’s going to be reborn 84 times’ or whatever, then, no, I don’t believe in it. If we go to the other extreme and nobody comes back to this world, I don’t believe that either.

“I believe there are cases where certain souls come back into this world for very specific reason – but that doesn’t mean everybody comes or people come back over and over again.

“I tend to lean towards the philosophy of Andrew Jackson Davis and Emma Hardinge Britten, who were two early spiritualist philosophers, where we believe we’re in a state of refinement. As our soul progresses through different levels of life, and this physical incarnation’s only one of those levels, we are continually refining, moving on into a more refined state, onwards and upwards back to God. Nowhere in that philosophy does it say we recycle, and go backwards or downwards or into a lesser state.

A reincarnation stall at a festival
(Guilhem Vellut/Flickr)

“But I think there’s some evidence to show that some souls come back specifically, and it’s the only reason I can find to some things. Like why has God created a universe where children get cancer and die when they’re two years old? What’s the point in that, what’s the purpose in that? It’s one answer I’ve got to it.

“So if you ask what’s the point in a life for a child to suffer cancer for two years and die? The answer actually is, because I’ve come across this personally, is that child gave – in the one case I know of – 86 people the opportunity to try and help and bring out the best in people.”

What’s the main difference between spiritualism and other religions?

A man whose third eye is activated
(Surian Soosay/Flickr)

“Spiritualism claims to have a three-fold aspect. It’s like a three-legged stool. If you take away any of them it will fall over – we’re a religion, we’re a philosophy and we’re a science. We’re the only religion that claims to be a science and that’s because we attempt to provide evidence to support the philosophy. And that’s where mediumship comes in. In our divine services all three elements of that are there. We pray, sing songs and hymns, we talk upon the philosophy, and the science element is where we use mediumship to communicate with people that are known to have died to provide the evidence that life is eternal.”

So if I’d been a horrible person throughout my life, and done lots of bad things, what would be the difference between my life after death and someone who’d lived the opposite kind of life?

The sky with light orbs and clouds
(Sunlight Soul/Flickr)

“Think of it like this – on the day you were born, your soul was vibrating at a certain frequency. As you go through your life, everything you do, good and bad, changes the frequency, the vibration of your soul. All the good things quicken it, increasing the vibration, and all the bad things slow it down.

“So when you come to die your soul will be vibrating hopefully at a different rate to when you were born, and hopefully at a quicker one. Because the balance of the subtotal of all the good and bad hopefully means your soul has quickened.

“When we die, our soul will naturally gravitate to a state or place with other souls of a similar vibrational state. There’s no getting away from it, it’s purely automatic – it’s spiritual law. This is where you’ve got total and complete justice within the universe.

“We’ll all find ourselves in a place that’s a creation of our soul’s vibrational state. And I’m over-simplifying now so it’s easier to understand – all the kind, loving people will be together, and all the selfish, horrible people will be together. So if you want to be around the nice souls when you die, I can say well, that’s easy! You’ve got to become one, now.

“This is what spiritualism does when you understand its philosophy -it encourages you to want to be kind and considerate and loving because the ultimate truth is that’s what shapes where we’re going.

“It encourages people to live a spiritually more fulfilling life here and now, rather than waiting until you die.”

Anything to say to whoever’s reading this?

A sign welcoming people to a spiritualist church
(Matt MacGillavray/Flickr)

“Spiritualism is open to investigation by any individual who wishes to look at it. Don’t just go to one medium, or one church. It took me six years of study to become convinced of the reality of it. It takes time. It’s an accumulation of evidence that becomes overwhelmingly convincing.

“Everything leads me to one rational logical conclusion – we all survive death. It’s as simple as that.

“If you open your mind and look far and wide, the evidence will be presented for you to draw your own conclusions.”