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"Eenie meenie chili beanie, the spirits are about to speak!"
—Bullwinkle, Rocky and Bullwinkle
A séance 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.
Séances 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 seances 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.
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!"
- Ghost: Whoopi Goldberg plays a Phony Psychic conducting fake séances 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 Teds Bogus Journey, after Bill and Ted get killed, they find somebody they know holding a séance 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 séance 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 seance as prearranged bunk).
- Night of the Demons: Demons are released after the partying teens hold a séance.
- The Changeling: (1980) has a particularly spooky séance 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, Wild World of Batwoman, features a séance 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 séance and accidentally summon the late father of one of the participants.
- In The Uninvited (original version), Rick stages a phony séance 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 an 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.
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 séance, 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 séance to find out what's going on. It turns out to be Energy Beings rather than actual ghosts.
- A séance occurs in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Wolf in the Fold".
- 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 séance unexpectedly produces real spirits.
- "Angel Down, Sussex" by Kim Newman begins with the heroine at a fake séance, which she proceeds to mercilessly deconstruct. (Arthur Conan Doyle makes a guest appearance in the story.)
- 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 séance is very prominent in Rim Of The Pit
- "Proper" séance techniques are discussed in the "How to Contact the Dead" chapter of The Action Heros Handbook.
- In a Noodle Incident from The Anubis Gates, a séance 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 séance 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 séance.
- A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz, revolves around séances 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.
- The Beatles in Cry Baby Cry:
At twelve o'clock a meeting 'round the table for a séance in the dark
- Call of Cthulhu.
- Noel Coward's play Blithe Spirit (no relation) begins with a séance, 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 medium and alcoholic, who fakes séances with the help of her daughter and a mute boy she took in. During one of her séances, she feels an icy hand grab her throat. It is never revealed whether it was supernatural in nature, or just her imagination.
- When Baba confesses to her clients that she was faking the whole thing, instead of being angry they ask her to put on another "seance" even though they know it's phony, because the thought of being able to communicate with their dead loved ones is so comforting.
- The Hound Of Shadow: This Lovecraftian Interactive Fiction game begins with one.
- A séance is held in the indie Adventure Game Ben Jordan : Case 4: Horror at Number 50.
- One of these is part of a puzzle in Sam And Max: Beyond The Alley Of The Dolls.
"Mortimer Moleman, your entrance is cued. To conquer your stage fright, just picture us nude."
- Ace Attorney: A formal spirit channeling is done this way. However, it's usually unnecessary and Maya often channels Mia with barely a moment's notice.
- One of the levels in Ghost Master has a couple of college students performing a séance in the basement of a frat house. Thanks to you, they get much more than they bargained for.
- The Lost Crown: One of Nigel's first experiments is a one-man seance using an upside-down teacup, that rattles around when he asks the spirits questions.
- Dark Fall: The Journal: Jonathan Boakes's previous game, includes a ouija board through which you can ask ghosts questions.
- In Disney's Robin Hood, Robin, disguised as a Gypsy fortuneteller, stages a fake séance as a distraction while he and Little John rob Prince John.
- On Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko and Heffer attend a séance 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 Biopic 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 séances.
- 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.
- Other serious investigations of Spiritualism were made by Queen Victoria, Horace "Go west, young man" Greeley, Booth Tarkington (author of Alice Adams), Beethoven, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.