Traditionally, Theosophists have been opposed to this practice. In fact, in one of his letters to A. P. Sinnett, Mahatma K. H. defined Spiritualism as "the most insane and fatal of superstitions". This Master regarded the practice of mediumship as "abnormal", view that is reflected in the following definition by H. P. Blavatsky:
Mediumship. A word now accepted to indicate that abnormal psycho-physiological state which leads a person to take the fancies of his imagination, his hallucinations, real or artificial, for realities. No entirely healthy person on the physiological and psychic planes can ever be a medium. That which mediums see, hear, and sense, is "real" but untrue; it is either gathered from the astral plane, so deceptive in its vibrations and suggestions, or from pure hallucinations, which have no actual existence, but for him who perceives them. "Mediumship" is a kind of vulgarised mediatorship in which one afflicted with this faculty is supposed to become an agent of communication between a living man and a departed "Spirit." There exist regular methods of training for the development of this undesirable acquirement.
In many occasions, psychic perceptions that have not been developed through careful training are the result of nervous disorders that open the door to normally unseen worlds:
If we are asked how it is that none but sensitive hysterical natures, neuro- and psycho-pathic persons see and occasionally talk with “Spirits,” we answer the question by several other queries. We ask: “Do you know the nature of hallucination, and can you define its psychic process? How can you tell that all such visions are due merely to physical hallucinations? What makes you feel so sure that mental and nervous diseases, while drawing a veil over our normal senses (so-called) do not reveal at the same time vistas unknown to the healthy man, by throwing open doors usually closed against your scientific perceptions? or that a psycho-spiritual faculty does not forthwith replace the loss, or the temporary atrophy, of a purely physical sense? It is disease, or the exuberance of nervous fluid which produces mediumship and visions—hallucinations, as you call them. But what does Science know even of mediumship?”
Mme. Blavatsky also considered that "on the whole, mediumship is most dangerous". She wrote:
The medium’s moral state determines the kind of spirits that come; and the spirits that come reciprocally influence the medium, intellectually, physically, and morally. The perfection of his mediumship is in ratio to his passivity, and the danger he incurs is in equal degree. When he is fully “developed” — perfectly passive — his own astral spirit may be benumbed, and even crowded out of his body, which is then occupied by an elemental, or, what is worse, by a human fiend of the eighth sphere, who proceeds to use it as his own. But too often the cause of the most celebrated crime is to be sought in such possessions.
Besides its dangers, the development a medium has to go through is regarded as the opposite to the one promoted by the Mahatmas:
Mediumship is the opposite of adeptship; the medium is the passive instrument of foreign influences, the adept actively controls himself and all inferior potencies.
Mediums' "spirit guides", also called "controls", are entities thought to remain as disincarnate spirits, acting as a teacher or protector of the living medium. In this view, spirit guides can include dead people, saints or other enlightened individuals, gods, angels, nature spirits, and even animals.
Often [the "control"] is but a shell in its preliminary stage of dissolution, when most of the physical intelligence and faculties are yet fresh and have not begun to disintegrate, or fade out. A “spirit,” or the spiritual Ego, cannot descend to the medium, but it can attract the spirit of the latter to itself, and it can do this only during the two intervals—before and after its “gestation period.”
The shell of a highly intelligent, learned, but utterly unspiritual man who died natural death, will last longer and the shadow of his own memory helping — that shadow which is the refuse of the sixth principle left in the fifth — he may deliver discourses through trance speakers and repeat parrot-like that which he knew of and thought much over it, during his life-time.
However, sometimes the communications may be with real death people who are stuck in Kāmaloka for different reasons. They are frequently called elementaries, and communication with the physical plane through mediums is harmful both for the soul still bound to the atmosphere of the earth as for the medium:
The “shells” may well not care, since they have nothing to lose, anyhow. But there is another kind of “Spirits,” we have lost sight of, the suicides and those killed by accident. Both kinds can communicate, and both have to pay dearly for such visits . . . But it is a sin and cruelty to revive their memory and intensify their suffering by giving them a chance of living an artificial life; a chance to overload their Karma, by tempting them into opened doors, viz., mediums and sensitives, for they will have to pay roundly for every such pleasure. I will explain. The suicides, who, foolishly hoping to escape life, found themselves still alive, — have suffering enough in store for them from that very life. Their punishment is in the intensity of the latter. Having lost by the rash act their seventh and sixth principles, though not for ever, as they can regain both — instead of accepting their punishment, and taking their chances of redemption, they are often made to regret life and tempted to regain a hold upon it by sinful means. In the Kama-Loka, the land of intense desires, they can gratify their earthly yearnings but through a living proxy; and by so doing, at the expiration of the natural term, they generally lose their monad for ever.
And woe to those whose Trishna will attract them to mediums, and woe to the latter, who tempt them with such an easy Upadana. For in grasping them, and satisfying their thirst for life, the medium helps to develop in them — is in fact the cause of — a new set of Skandhas, a new body, with far worse tendencies and passions than was the one they lost. All the future of this new body will be determined thus, not only by the Karma of demerit of the previous set or group but also by that of the new set of the future being. Were the mediums and Spiritualists but to know, as I said, that with every new "angel guide" they welcome with rapture, they entice the latter into an Upadana which will be productive of a series of untold evils for the new Ego that will be born under its nefarious shadow, and that with every seance — especially for materialization — they multiply the causes for misery, causes that will make the unfortunate Ego fail in his spiritual birth, or be reborn into a worse existence than ever — they would, perhaps, be less lavishing their hospitality. And now, you may understand why we oppose so strongly Spiritualism and mediumship.
If the medium is of a spiritual nature there can be some rare cases where he can get in touch with a spiritual entity, by raising his consciousness to that realm:
A pure medium’s Ego can be drawn to and made, for an instant, to unite in a magnetic (?) relation with a real disembodied spirit, whereas the soul of an impure medium can only confabulate with the astral soul, or “shell,” of the deceased. The former possibility explains those extremely rare cases of direct writing in recognized autographs, and of messages from the higher class of disembodied intelligences. We should say then that the personal morality of the medium would be a fair test of the genuineness of the manifestation.
Mme. Blavatsky and her Masters were opposed to blindly offering oneself as a channel of communication to non-physical entities. She wrote:
In the hands of an experienced medium, Spiritualism becomes UNCONSCIOUS SORCERY; for, by allowing himself to become the helpless tool of a variety of spirits, of whom he knows nothing save what the latter permit him to know, he opens, unknown to himself, a door of communication between the two worlds, through which emerge the blind forces of Nature lurking in the astral light, as well as good and bad spirits.
In fact, the entities more likely to communicate with a sensitive are the lower ones, since they are "closer" to the physical plane:
Among the numberless hosts of spirits—men that were, and those who will be men—there are those immeasurably superior to the human race, higher and holier than the highest Saint on Earth, and wiser than any mortal without exception. And there are those again who are no better than we are, as some are far worse and inferior to the lowest savage. It is the latter classes that command the readiest communication with our earth, who perceive and sense us, as the clairvoyants perceive and sense them. The close proximity of our respective abodes and planes of perception are in favour of such inter-communication unfortunately, as they are ever ready to interfere with our affairs for weal or woe.
The Astral Light is full of entities that are happy to impersonate people, gods, angels, Masters, etc., and the untrained seer cannot discern the true nature of the entity he is in touch with. As Mme. Blavatsky wrote:
Even a clairvoyant possessed of such faculties, if not an Adept, no matter how honest and sincere he may be, will, through his ignorance of the truths of Occult Science, be led by the visions he sees in the Astral Light only to mistake for God or Angels the denizens of those spheres of which he may occasionally catch a glimpse––as witness Swedenborg and others.
Mahatma M. also referred to this as follows:
We do not find it either necessary or profitable to lose our time waging war to the unprogressed Planetaries who delight in personating gods and sometimes well known characters who have lived on earth.
In modern times the practice of mediumship is frequently called "channeling". The "spirit-guides" are not said to be the departed anymore, but "Masters" and "Gods" of different degrees. This had already started by the end of the 1880's. Mme. Blavatsky wrote:
Before the appearance of modern Theosophical literature it was “Spirits” and “Controls” that were ever in the mouths of these folk; now the living “adepts” are served up with every sauce. It is ever and always Adepts here, Hierophants there. And this only since the revival of Theosophy and its spread in America in 1884, note well; after the great soap-bubble conspiracy between Madras and Cambridge against the Theosophical Society had given a new impetus to the movement. Up to that year, Spiritualists, and professional mediums especially, with their “controls” and “guides,” could hardly find words of vituperation strong enough to brand the “adepts” and deride their “supposed powers.” But since the Herodic “slaughter of the Innocents,” when the S.P.R. turned from the Theosophical to the Spiritualistic phenomena, most of the “dear departed” ones took to their heels. The angels from the “Summer Land” are going out of fashion just now, for Spiritualists begin to know better and to discriminate. But because the “adept” idea, or rather their philosophy, begins to gain ground, this is no reason why pretenders of every description should travesty in their ungrammatical productions the teachings, phraseology, and Sanskrit terms out of theosophical books; or why, again, they should turn round and make people believe that these were given them by other “Hierophants,” in their opinion, far higher, nobler and grander than our teachers. . . . Though false coin is the best proof of the existence of genuine gold, yet, the false deceives the unwary. Were the “pretensions” of the T.S. in this direction founded on mere hypothesis and sentimental gush, like the identification of many a materialized spirit, the theosophical “Mahatmas” and their society would have dissolved long ago like smoke in space. . .
C. W. Leadbeater wrote:
There are those who turn to pseudo-occultism for the attainment of magical powers in order to gratify personal ambition. That path is full of the most serious dangers. Sometimes such people sit in a passive condition and invite unknown entities of the astral world to work upon their auras and organisms and to adapt them to their purposes; sometimes they practise various forms of Hatha-Yoga, consisting mainly of peculiar kinds of breathing, which have unfortunately been widely taught in the Western world during the last thirty years or so. As a result of such proceedings mental and bodily disorders of a serious character often arise, while at best the contact which is gained with the inner worlds seldom extends beyond the lower astral levels, from which nothing can come that is uplifting to mankind.
- Mediumship at Theosopedia
- Spiritualism and Occult Truth by H. P. Blavatsky
- Spiritualism and Spiritualists by H. P. Blavatsky
- Thoughts of the Dead by H. P. Blavatsky
- About "Spirit" Materializations by William Q. Judge
- Before American Spiritualism by William Q. Judge
- Communications from "Spirits" by William Q. Judge
- Spiritualism. A "Spirit" Testifies by William Q. Judge
- Spiritualism and Theosophy by C. W. Leadbeater
- Messages from the Unseen by C. W. Leadbeater
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 20 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 74.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 18 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 61.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, "The Key to Theosophy" Glossary (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1972), 350.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 370, fn.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 373.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 490.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 588.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 120.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 93b (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 328.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 68 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 197.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 68 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 200-201.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 121.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. I (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 137.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 370, fn.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 528.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 30 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 282-283.
- Annie Besant and Charles Webster Leadbeater, Talks on the Path of Occultism Volume 2, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), ???.