I have mentioned this before, but one of the things I appreciate about George Yeats is her understanding of the medium’s role in mediumship. She makes clear that the quality of the medium shapes the quality of the message. The medium has to work at being a good medium and that includes developing their intellectual faculties so that spirits have easier access to concepts for communicating.
This is really useful. It allows us to think about mediumship both in terms of both capacities and limitations. Sometimes, the capacity forms the basis for the limitation (as when a sharp-eyed observer pays less attention to what they hear), sometimes the limitation forms the basis of the capacity (as when someone who spends a lot of time on the phone learns to pay more attention to tone of voice), and sometimes they are unrelated.
Taking this observation to the limit, we should also observe that there inherent limits to mediumship in general. Mediumship (and most forms of divination) operate according to a lunar principle, being primarily reflective. Care should be taken to distinguish this from other spiritual modalities.
Prophecy is perhaps the most easily and problematically conflated with mediumship, in part because some have a capacity for both; it doesn’t help that some mediums (deliberately or in ignorance) encourage the conflation. Like mediums, prophets often have a message. However, unlike mediums who relay a message, prophets express a message from within themselves.
In almost all cases, prophetic messages have their basis in spiritual forces outside of the prophet. However, unlike a medium who ideally reflects without retaining, a prophet incorporates what they receive into their spiritual being. It has a bearing on how they live, becomes a matter of ethos.
The comparison might best be made by saying that mediums work with light while prophets work with fire. To properly receive a prophetic message, you have to accept and tend the fire that defines it. That fire has a life of its own, though, and can make a bit of a mess if you aren’t ready to manage it. It requires you to change how you live in order to accommodate it. A mediumistic message is more akin to advice–the content of it remains whether you take it or leave it.
Initiatory practices often parallel prophetic ones on this point, but prophetic forces tend to be wilder than initiatory ones, making them somewhat more dangerous than either. While it is usually pretty difficult to ‘catch’ an initiatory force, the same cannot be said of some prophetic ones.
Those carrying this fire are also less likely to know how to manage it. The parallel leaves me to wonder if most initiatory practices don’t begin as prophetic ones that folks learn how to manage.
To summarize, then, we can distinguish two forms of communication, solar and lunar. Solar communication changes directly those who receive it and can be divided into at least two categories, the initiatory and the prophetic. Lunar communication is more of an invitation, which only changes those who follow-up and make use of its material. Here we can distinguish many categories, depending upon the nature of the medium through which that information passes.
Now, there is a punchline to this somewhat academic exercise. You should pay attention to the forms of communication going in a spiritual setting. Are you just receiving information or are you being subjected to spiritual forces?
This sort of distinction helps us preserve the good advice in texts like this (lifted from Jack Faust here) while moderating the overly moralizing tone:
Approach mediums, and in two minutes you can tell whether they be under the influence of good or evil spirits. Sit by them and touch the hand: if you feel an unusual coolness, a blandness of sphere, gentle, wakeful sensation, the indications are good. If on the contrary, you feel a positive glow, an unusual warmth, a soft, seductive, somnolent influence, a tendency to sadness, to love, to endearment, then look out – and run out, for the evil is at work; you must fly, else the morbid gas or effluvium will pervade and taint you, you will carry the poison to others, and so the pestilence will spread. (Paschal Beverly Randolph, The Unveiling, 49)
Consider, too, how well this description of heat fits up against accounts of charismatic preachers.