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Physical mediumship is defined as manipulation of energies and energy systems by spirits. This type of mediumship is claimed to involve perceptible manifestations, such as loud raps and noises, voices, materialized objects, apports, materialized spirit bodies, or body parts such as hands, legs and feet. The medium is used as a source of power for such spirit manifestations. By some accounts, this was achieved by using the energy or ectoplasm released by a medium, see spirit photography. The last physical medium to be tested by a committee from Scientific American was Mina Crandon in 1924.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s there were around one quarter of a million practising Spiritualists and some two thousand Spiritualist societies in the UK in addition to flourishing microcultures of platform mediumship and 'home circles'. Spiritualism continues to be practised, primarily through various denominational Spiritualist churches in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, over 340 Spiritualist churches and centres open their doors to the public and free demonstrations of mediumship are regularly performed.
In the 1920s the British medium Charles Albert Beare duped the Spiritualist organization the Temple of Light into believing he had genuine mediumship powers. In 1931 Beare published a confession in the newspaper Daily Express. In the confession he stated "I have deceived hundreds of people…. I have been guilty of fraud and deception in spiritualistic practices by pretending that I was controlled by a spirit guide…. I am frankly and whole-heartedly sorry that I have allowed myself to deceive people." Due to the exposure of William Hope and other fraudulent spiritualists, Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1920s led a mass resignation of eighty-four members of the Society for Psychical Research, as they believed the Society was opposed to spiritualism.
In September 1878 the British medium Charles Williams and his fellow-medium at the time, A. Rita, were detected in trickery at Amsterdam. During the séance a materialized spirit was seized and found to be Rita and a bottle of phosphorus oil, muslin and a false beard were found amongst the two mediums. In 1882 C. E. Wood was exposed in a séance in Peterborough. Her Indian spirit control "Pocka" was found to be the medium on her knees, covered in muslin.
"Trance mediumship" is often seen as a form of mental mediumship. Most trance mediums remain conscious during a communication period, wherein a spirit uses the medium's mind to communicate. The spirit or spirits using the medium's mind influences the mind with the thoughts being conveyed. The medium allows the ego to step aside for the message to be delivered. At the same time, one has awareness of the thoughts coming through and may even influence the message with one's own bias. Such a trance is not to be confused with sleepwalking, as the patterns are entirely different. Castillo (1995) states,
According to James Randi, a skeptic who has debunked many claims of psychic ability and uncovered fraudulent practices, mediums who do cold readings "fish, suggest possibilities, make educated guesses and give options." Randi has a standing offer of $1 million US dollars for anyone who can demonstrate psychic ability under controlled conditions. Most prominent psychics and mediums have not taken up his offer.
Spiritualists believe that phenomena produced by mediums (both mental and physical mediumship) are the result of external spirit agencies. The psychical researcher Thomson Jay Hudson in The Law of Psychic Phenomena (1892) and Théodore Flournoy in his book Spiritism and Psychology (1911) wrote that all kinds of mediumship could be explained by suggestion and telepathy from the medium and that there was no evidence for the spirit hypothesis. The idea of mediumship being explained by telepathy was later merged into the "super-ESP" hypothesis of mediumship which is currently advocated by some parapsychologists.