Bullwinkle "Eenie meenie chili beanie, the spirits are about to speak!"
Rocky "Are they friendly sprits?"
"Friendly? Just listen."
A sťance is an attempt to communicate with the spirits of the dead, usually involving a gathering of individuals who sit down around a table and led by a medium
Sťances were popular forms of entertainment around the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century, during which time many people became interested in spiritualism and the occult. Usually the medium would attempt to contact the spirits while asking everyone else in the room to concentrate on summoning and welcoming them. Real sťances did not require a dark room, just a pleasantly peaceful atmosphere. The darkened room came into vogue when people started trying to produce materialized "phenomena" — most of which you could buy from theatrical supply companies.
The lights may flicker
or the room suddenly grow colder
, and the medium would either become possessed
by the spirit that was summoned or merely speak with it. Objects might start being thrown about the room
to show that the ghost is present and active. Once for Yes, Twice for No
is another common element (and it's Truth in Television
). After that there's usually a lot of dramatic screaming and fainting
Sometimes the sťance is revealed to be a hoax
created by a Phony Psychic
, although it still may turn out to be Real After All
If it's a murder mystery, expect someone to take advantage of the lights being out
to kill their target. "But we were all holding hands!"
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- Ghost: Whoopi Goldberg plays a Phony Psychic conducting fake sťances for money, who, to her surprise, actually does manage to communicate with the dead.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) Dr. Mortimer's wife performs one.
- In Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, after Bill and Ted get killed, they find somebody they know holding a sťance and try to get a message through. They're mistaken for evil spirits, and dismissed.
- Happens in the 1940 Kay Kyser musical, You'll Find Out. Bela Lugosi is the medium, Prince Saliano. Various weird effects include the use of the Sonovox for spirit voices.
- Night of the Demon features a sťance where the medium channels the spirit of a researcher killed in the beginning of the movie, who provides some crucial information to his niece and his co-worker (who dismisses the sťance as prearranged bunk).
- Night of the Demons: Demons are released after the partying teens hold a sťance.
- The Changeling: (1980) has a particularly spooky sťance scene where the medium attempts to contact the ghost in the house, is put in a trance and draws the ghost's answers to her questions on paper. It is absolutely terrifying.
- Subverted in the opening of Amityville 3-D, when it turns out to be a laughable hoax.
- The Others has one. The protagonists are being contacted by the very much alive new residents of their house.
- The Mystery Science Theater 3000 favorite, The Wild World of Batwoman, features a sťance scene for, quite frankly, no real reason at all. The ethnic slurs incurred make it a scene best not discussed in polite company.
- In And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird!, teens perform a sťance and accidentally summon the late father of one of the participants.
- In The Uninvited (1944), Rick stages a phony sťance to convince Stella that her dead mom wants her to leave the house, only to have Mom ( her real mom, that is!) actually show up and explain that she's trying to protect the girl. We see in this picture the old-time spelling glass, a homemade device which was eventually replaced by the Ouija board.
- Played for laughs, then chills in Paranormal Activity 2, in which Ali and her boyfriend use a Ouija board to try to contact the spirit haunting Ali's family and her little brother Hunter. When asked what the spirit wants, the planchette first spells out "PUSSY" (the result of the boyfriend being mischievous), and then spells out "HUNT" before Ali calls it off. The implication that the demon was spelling out "Hunter" is clear.
- ''Seance On A Wet Afternoon" (1964) revolves round one.
- A very typical phony seance is shown toward the end of Tony Curtis' 1953 Houdini. Harry Houdini really did expose fake mediums for many years.
Live Action TV
- This was, of course, a staple of Dark Shadows. Resulted in Victoria being sent to the past, having been swapped with a person from that time. Odd result of a sťance, but hey.
- George Furth conducts one for Ruth Buzzi on The Monkees episode "A Coffin Too Frequent".
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Unquiet Dead", they hold a sťance to find out what's going on. It turns out to be Energy Beings rather than actual ghosts.
- A sťance (the "Argelian empathic contact") occurs in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Wolf in the Fold".
- Subverted in Angel when the Wolfram & Hart psychic is called in to clear their Haunted Headquarters. She turns out to be a pretty blonde griping about missing her pilates class, who says she's going to "mutter a few calming words" to set the mood. When Fred asks if they should be Holding Hands she replies, "Only if you're lonely. Now, zip it and let me do my sweet funky." Then it gets creepy when she starts bleeding from the nose and her head explodes.
- There is one in the third episode of Ravenswood. It doesn't go well.
- One occurs in the second episode of Penny Dreadful. Somewhat surprisingly, given that it's being put on at a party, the medium turns out to be quite genuine, although she still ends up terrified when it turns serious. Expecting to simply be indulging a few silly Victorian socialites, she's rather overshadowed when Vanessa channels three or four different entities, not all human, none of whom are very happy with the man sitting across from her, and who let that fact be known without regard for the language or content usually expected at a society party.
- There is one in The X-Files episode "Closure" in which Mulder finds out what happened to his sister. In the middle of searching for a missing little girl (not Samantha), Mulder encounters a self-professed psychic, who claims that the little girl and Mulder's sister were taken by "walk-ins" (read: killed) to save them from a horrible fate on earth. He begins to have visions of Samantha as Mulder is tracing her whereabouts after her abduction, and calls the seance to help Mulder find resolution with what happened to her. The seance is successful, leading to a touching scene between Mulder and Samantha, who is revealed to be dead. However, being Mulder and Scully, the scene could not escape the show's habitual deadpan snark:
Scully: Oh, yay. A seance. I haven't done that since high school.
Mulder: Maybe afterwards we can play "postman" and "spin the bottle".
- In Sword of Truth, the Mud People have the power to call a gathering of ancestors. With a firm grasp on the Idiot Ball, Richard decides to become a Mud Person so he can perform such a ceremony, despite being the son of the first book's villain.
- Good Omens has Madame Tracy, fake medium, and a scene where a sťance unexpectedly produces real spirits.
- "Angel Down, Sussex" by Kim Newman begins with the heroine, Catriona Kaye, at a fake sťance, which she proceeds to mercilessly deconstruct. (Arthur Conan Doyle makes a guest appearance in the story.)
- In Newman's novel Jago, Catriona is present at a sťance that attracts a genuine spirit — not a ghost, however, but an Astral Projection with an Ominous Message from the Future.
- The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones has a scene where the Ghost tries to get through to her sisters while they're messing around with a ouija board. She has trouble making the board say what she wants, partly because one of the living participants is surreptitiously steering it to say something else.
- A fancy sťance is very prominent in Rim Of The Pit.
- "Proper" sťance techniques are discussed in the "How to Contact the Dead" chapter of The Action Heros Handbook.
- In a Noodle Incident from Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates, a sťance was being conducted at the site of one of the gaps in time. As these gaps cause magic to start working in their vicinity, this sťance presumably got results; just what result, no one knows, as the participants were all found dead the next day, sitting around their ouija board with horrified looks on their faces.
- In The Wizard of London the heroes debunk a Phony Psychic, then a real ghost appears at the end of the sťance.
- A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz, revolves around sťances conducted by the Hawthorne sisters.
- The Bible: King Saul, after God ignores his inquiries as to how to defeat the Philistines, turns in desperation to a medium (or "witch") in Endor and asks her to raise Samuel's spirit. (The irony was that Saul had previously cracked down on all necromancy within the Kingdom of Israel.) The medium, though recognizing Saul despite his disguise and suspecting entrapment, complies, and Samuel's spirit appears as an elderly man in a robe, none too pleased to be woken from his eternal rest. He curtly tells Saul that the next day he and his sons will die in battle, and sure enough, guess what happens.
- Zilpha Keatley Snyder has the children hold a sťance in The Headless Cupid. Amanda has been teaching her step-siblings the basics of Psychic Powers, witchcraft and ceremonial Ritual Magic. She really attempts to contact the dead, but in case they don't show up, she has a few tricks planned to satisfy the others.
- Willie Connolly in J.R. Lowell's Daughter Of Darkness is being violently haunted by her own mother after casting a Ritual Magic spell that caused her to kill herself (not Willie's intention). She attends a sťance to try to apologize, although she's pretty sure the mediums are phonies. They are, but Mom actually shows up and wrecks the place. She later apologizes, repeatedly communicating "Don't hurt Willie".
- A.S. Byatt's Possession has a kind of sub-subplot devoted to sťances and exposure of phonies.
- In The Exorcist (novel), a Jeane Dixon Expy at Chris' party reveals a little-known story (sans names) about a phony medium who had studied to be a Jesuit priest. A French empress at a sťance felt what she thought was a spirit child's hand touching her, and someone turned on the lights to reveal the medium "with his naked foot on the empress' arm." It's Truth in Television: the empress was Eugťnie Montijonote , and the medium was D.D. Home. This story was buried for over a century; the fact that Blatty found it is testimony to his intense research.
- The "Seance" mode in The Addams Family, complete with the Power disrupting the movement of the pinball.
- Call of Cthulhu.
- Campaign The Fungi from Yuggoth. The investigators can have Paul LeMond perform a sťance to bring forth the spirit of Nophru-Ka.
- Adventure Pursuit to Kadath. In the Back Story, the PCs participate in a sťance that releases a spirit of great evil.
- NoŽl Coward's play Blithe Spirit (no relation) begins with a sťance, which causes Charles's first wife to appear. Hilarity Ensues.
- In the opera The Medium by Gian Carlo Menotti, Baba (aka Madame Flora) is a Phony Psychic and alcoholic, who fakes sťances with the help of her daughter and a mute boy she took in. During one of her sťances, she feels an icy hand grab her throat. It is never revealed whether it was supernatural in nature, or just her imagination.
- She subsequently confesses to her clients that she was faking everything — and they refuse to believe her. They think she believes she was faking but actually did contact spirits — which is exactly what she's terrified of.
- The play The Thirteenth Chair by Bayard Veiller uses this as a murder mystery setup.
- In Disney's Robin Hood, Robin, disguised as a Gypsy fortune-teller, stages a fake sťance as a distraction while he and Little John rob Prince John.
- On a "Treehouse of Horror" opening of The Simpsons, the titular family is conducting a sťance, with Ned Flanders present, summoning the spirit of the late Maude Flanders.
- On Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko and Heffer attend a sťance where the fortune-teller summons Mortimer Khan (Ghengis's lesser-known brother), who recognizes Heffer as the reincarnation of someone who betrayed him through incompetence and haunts him as revenge.
- Spiritualism began as a couple of kids talking to a ghost in their house, and quickly evolved into a political movement allied with the Quakers, advocating the emancipation of women, and strongly abolitionist.
- Harry Houdini (in Real Life and in the Bio Pic Houdini) went to many Fortune Tellers and whatnot trying to communicate with his mother on The Other Side, but all were bunk and he became a semi-professional debunker.
- Conversely Arthur Conan Doyle was a great believer in spiritualism, including sťances.
- Mary Todd Lincoln consulted mediums to talk with her dead children. Abe went along out of curiosity. Contrary to popular myth, Abe did not claim that spirits wrote, or persuaded him to write, the Emancipation Proclamation.
- Teenage trance medium Nettie Colburn Maynard, however, had a sitting with Lincoln in December 1862 concerning when he should sign the Proclamation into law, as advisers were pressuring him to wait. The impressively worded answer, possibly from Daniel Webster, was that Lincoln should stand by his own convictions.
- Other serious investigations of Spiritualism were made by Queen Victoria, Horace "Go west, young man" Greeley, Booth Tarkington (author of Alice Adams), Beethoven, Marie and Pierre Curie and Pierre's brother Jacques, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
- Her husband Robert Browning was less than impressed, having caught a couple of phonies. He wrote a poem about "Mr. Sludge", a thinly disguised portrait of D.D. Home, a "rock star" medium.
- Dan Aykroyd's family had several spiritualists, including his father and grandfather.