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Historical Terms Glossary
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An experience usually visual but sometimes in other sense-modalities in which there appears to be present a person or animal (deceased or living) and even inanimate objects such as carriages and other things, who/which is in fact out of the sensory range of the experient; often associated with spontaneous extrasensory perception, for example, in connection with an agent who is dying or undergoing some other crisis (in which case, it is likely to be termed a "crisis apparition," or in connection with haunting (in which case, it is likely to be referred to in non-technical contexts as a "ghost")   Back to top of page

A physical object which has been paranormally transported into a closed space or container, suggesting the passage of “matter through matter,” that is, through intervening solid material objects. [From the Latin apportare, “to carry to (a place)”]   Back to top of page

An entity said to be an exact, quasi-physical replica or “double” of the individual physical body, which can separate itself from the physical body, either temporarily, as in dreaming or in the out-of-the-body experience, or permanently, at the moment of death. Also known as the “etheric” body. [From the Latin astralis, derived from astrum, “star,” derived from the Greek astron]   Back to top of page

See Astral Projection under Out-of-[the]-Body Experience.   Back to top of page

A motor automatism in which a person’s hand writes meaningful statements, but without the writer consciously premeditating the content of what is produced.   Back to top of page

Any complex sensory or motor activity the details of which are carried out by a person without their conscious awareness or volition, thus constituting instances of dissociation; examples of sensory automatisms are certain visual and auditory hallucinations; examples of motor automatisms are sleep-walking, trance-utterances and automatic writing.   Back to top of page

The phenomenon in which a person’s body is seen in two different geographical locations at the same time; also, according to Myers (1903), the sensation of being in two different places at once, namely, where one’s organism is, and a place distant from it, involving some degree of perception (whether veridical or not) of the distant scene.   Back to top of page

A test for survival sometimes conducted during a sitting in an attempt to exclude telepathy between medium and sitter as an explanation for the information paranormally acquired by the medium: the communicator is requested to transmit a message referring to topics on specified pages of a book that the medium could not have normally seen. (As a noun), the overt response made by the percipient in guessing the target; in a test of extrasensory perception; (as a verb), to make a response or call.   Back to top of page

A test for precognition, associated especially with the Dutch sensitive Gerard Croiset but first demonstrated by Pascal Forthuny, a French psychic, in which a chair is randomly selected from all those set up for a later public meeting, and the percipient describes the appearance, characteristics and events in the life of a person, unknown to them, who will later attend that meeting and occupy that chair.   Back to top of page

A phenomenon in which, according to Arthur Hastings (1990, p. 99), “a person purports to transmit information or messages directly from a personality or consciousness other than his or her own, usually through automatic writing or trance speaking; this other personality usually claims to be a nonphysical spirit or being.”   Back to top of page

Paranormal information expressed as an auditory experience; it is generally considered to be a form or mode of clairvoyance. [From the French clair, “clear,” + audience, “hearing,” ultimately derived from the Latin clarus, “clear,” + audientia, derived from audire, “to hear”]   Back to top of page

Paranormal information expressed as a sensation or feeling; generally considered to be a form of clairvoyance. [From the French clair, “clear,” + sentience, “feeling,” ultimately derived from the Latin clarus, “clear,” + sentiens, derived from sentire, “to feel”]   Back to top of page

Paranormal acquisition of information concerning an object or contempory physical event; in contrast to telepathy, the information is assumed to derive directly from an external physical source (such as a concealed photograph), and not from the mind of another person; one particular form of extrasensory perception, it is not to be confused with the vulgar interpretation of “clairvoyance” as meaning “knowledge of the future” (for which see Precognition).   Back to top of page

A personality, usually manifesting through a medium, and claiming to be that of a deceased individual trying to communicate with the living. See also Drop-in Communicator.   Back to top of page

(i) A personality purporting to be that of some deceased individual, believed to take control of the medium’s actions and speech during trance, and/or who habitually relays messages from the communicator to the sitter. (ii) In the context of scientific investigation, a control is something (a procedure, condition, object, set of subjects, and so on) which is introduced with the purpose of providing a check on (that is, of “controlling for”) the influence of unwanted factors.   Back to top of page

See under Apparition.   Back to top of page

A highly complex series of independent communications delivered paranormally (and ostensibly from one or more discarnate entities) to two or more geographically separate mediums such that the complete message is not clear until the separate fragments are pieced together into a meaningful whole.   Back to top of page

Term coined by Theodore Flournoy to refer to a memory of some event or experience which has been forgotten by the conscious mind, and which may appear in awareness without the person recognizing it as a memory; sometimes invoked as a counterhypothesis to apparent paranormal awareness. [From the Greek kryptos, “hidden,” + mnesis, “memory”]   Back to top of page

A phenomenon of physical mediumship in which living entities (sometimes the medium’s own body) or inanimate objects — sometimes previously materialized — are caused to disappear. Compare Materialization.   Back to top of page

A disembodied being, as opposed to an incarnate one; the surviving personality of a deceased individual or non-human entity; a spirit. [From the Latin dis-, “away, apart,” + caro (carnis), “flesh”]   Back to top of page

A process in which a body of awareness (perceptual, memory, physical) becomes separated or blocked from the main center of consciousness; examples are trance-speaking, automatic writing, amnesia, multiple personality, and so on; thought by some to be a psi-conducive state.   Back to top of page

Term coined by Ian Stevenson for a communicator who appears unbidden at a sitting, and who is entirely unknown to the medium, sitters, or anyone else present.   Back to top of page

Term introduced into parapsychology by Charles Richet to describe the “exteriorized substance” produced out of the bodies of some physical mediums and from which materializations are sometimes formed. [From the Greek ektos, “outside,” + plasma, “something formed or molded”]   Back to top of page

Speaking in “tongues,” that is, in a language which is either unknown to linguistic science, or completely fabricated; it usually occurs in a religious context or is attributed to religious inspiration, as from the Holy Spirit; not to be confused with xenoglossy. [From the Greek glossa, “tongue, language,” + lalia, “chat, gossip, talking,” derived from lalein, “to make an inarticulate sound”]   Back to top of page

A type of high-voltage, high-frequency photography, developed in the Soviet Union by Semyon Davidovich Kirlian, which records on photographic film the so-called “corona discharge” of an object caused by ionization of the field surrounding that object; it is claimed by some that this process indicates the existence of hitherto unknown radiations or energy fields such as “bioplasma” or the “psychic aura.”   Back to top of page

The raising or suspension of persons or objects into the air without any apparent agency as required by known physical laws of motion and gravity.   Back to top of page

A phenomenon of physical mediumship in which living entities or inanimate objects are caused to take form, sometimes from ectoplasm. Compare Dematerialization.   Back to top of page

A predominantly Spiritualistic term applied to a person who regularly, and to a greater or lesser extent at will, is involved in the production of psi in the form mental and/or physical phenomena. See also Communicator; Control; Sensitive; Trance; Apport; Ectoplasm; Levitation.   Back to top of page

The original term for what has since become known as “hypnotism,” named after the Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1733-1815), who believed that it involved the transfer from operator to patient of a subtle fluid, force or energy known as “animal magnetism.”   Back to top of page

Anglicization of a French term coined by Charles Richet as an alternative designation for the subject matter of parapsychology. [From the Greek meta, indicating change of condition, + psychikos, “of the soul, mental”]   Back to top of page

A phenomena which mimics telepathy, in which a person is able, for example, to find a hidden object by means of physical contact with the person who knows its whereabouts, probably due to subtle muscular cues that the latter provides unconsciously; also known as “Cumberlandism,” after Stuart Cumberland, a nineteenth century practitioner of this art.   Back to top of page

Term referring to certain reputed sciences and practices such as magic, astrology, witchcraft, sorcery, and so on, involving esoteric knowledge or the employment of mysterious agencies; not to be confused with scientific parapsychology. [From the Latin occultus, “covered over, concealed”]   Back to top of page

A device consisting of a board marked with words, alphabetical letters and numerals,together with a smaller board on three legs, one of which serves as a pointer; the device is employed to spell out messages, answers, and so on, by having the fingers of one or more persons rest lightly upon the pointer, which moves over the larger board and stops at the various markings; some of these messages may be extrasensory in origin. Nowadays an upturned glass is frequently used to spell out messages. [From the French oui + German ja, both meaning “yes”]   Back to top of page

Any hallucinatory sensory impression, whatever sense may happen to be affected. See also Apparition; Hallucination. [From the Greek phantasma, “appearance, image, phantom”] [Nash, 1978]   Back to top of page

The paranormal production of images on photographic film; also known as “thoughtography,” a term used to describe the experiments of Tomokichi Fukurai (1931) but adopted by Jule Eisenbud to describe the phenomena produced by Ted Serios, as if mental images were “projected” onto the film. See also Thoughtography; Spirit Photography.   Back to top of page

Percussive sounds, often tapping out an intelligible message, sometimes said to be produced by paranormal means.   Back to top of page

See Electronic Voice Phenomena.   Back to top of page

The statements made by a sensitive (or as a result of the process of divination) in the course of an attempt to obtain paranormal information or “messages.”   Back to top of page


An apparition of a deceased person. [From the French revenir, ultimately derived from the Latin revenire, “to come back”]   Back to top of page

A technique for obtaining paranormal impressions by staring into a crystal ball, pool of water, coffee grounds, tea leaves and so on, which causes the practitioner to experience images or exteriorized hallucinations. [Variant of descry]   Back to top of page

A meeting of one or more persons, generally, but not always, with a medium, for the purpose of eliciting physical phenomena and/or for receiving communications from the deceased; the term has also been used without Spiritualistic connotations, that is, to refer to the purpose of getting together to observe phenomena, without the intent to communicate with the dead. Also called a “sitting” or “session.” [From the French, derived from the Old French seoir, “to sit,” ultimately derived from the Latin sedere, “to sit”]   Back to top of page

A person who frequently experiences extrasensory perception and who can sometimes induce it at will. Compare Medium.   Back to top of page

A person who sits with a medium at a seance and who receives a communication through the medium.   Back to top of page

As defined by Kenneth Batcheldor (1984, p. 105), “a small, semi-informal group that seeks to develop paranormal physical phenomena by meeting repeatedly under conditions that resemble those of a Victorian seance. No spiritistic assumptions are made, however, and the phenomena — such as rapping noises and levitation of tables — insofar as they may be paranormal are interpreted in terms of the PK abilities of the sitters.”   Back to top of page

A session or interview with a medium, generally by an individual or a small number of people, and often for the purpose of obtaining communications from the deceased; also termed a “seance.”   Back to top of page

A sitting at which the person desiring to receive a communication via a medium absents themselves from the actual sitting and is represented by another person, called a “proxy sitter.”   Back to top of page

The theory that individual consciousness survives the death of the body in the form of a spirit, and that it may be communicated with by living persons, especially via a medium. Compare Survival.   Back to top of page

The photographing of supposed self-portraits of discarnate entities (called “extras”) upon film or photographic plates. Compare Photography, Paranormal.   Back to top of page

Quasi-religious cult based upon the belief that survival of death is a reality, and upon the practice of communicating with deceased persons, usually via a medium.   Back to top of page

A form of motor automatism in which several persons place their finger-tips on a table top, causing it to move and rap out messages by means of a code. Also called “table tipping” or “table turning.” [Dale & White, 1977]   Back to top of page

In general, any school of thought claiming to have special insight into the nature of God; specifically, the religious and philosophical doctrines of the Theosophical Society, founded in 1875 in New York by Madame Helene Petrova Blavatsky based on Hindu and Buddhist notions, it taught the conscious development of paranormal abilities, and belief in reincarnation. [From the Greek theos, “God,” + sophia, “wisdom”]   Back to top of page

A state of dissociation in which the individual is oblivious to their situation and surroundings, and in which various forms of automatism may be expressed; usually exhibited under hypnotic, mediumistic or shamanistic conditions. [From the Old French transe, “passage,” ultimately derived from the Latin transire, “to go across”]   Back to top of page

See Communicator; Control.   Back to top of page

See Automatic Writing.   Back to top of page

Term coined by Charles Richet (1905) to denote the act of speaking in a language ostensibly unknown to the speaker. To be distinguished from glossolalia. [From the Greek xenos, “foreign, alien,” + glossa, “language”]   Back to top of page


In the future we hope to have a searchable list of terms taken from the forthcoming Glossary of Terms Used in Parapsychology by Michael A. Thalbourne, Ph.D. (Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, University of Adelaide). Dr. Thalbourne is the foremost authority on terminology in English-language parapsychology. In the meantime, we have copied a short list from Dr. Thalbourne's very long list of many hundreds of terms. We are indebted to Dr. Thalbourne for his generous use of this list.

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