A psychic is on trial in Britain, accused of tricking two women into stripping naked and performing sex acts in order to speak to their dead relatives.

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph,

A young woman told a jury today how a psychic tricked her into performing “like a porn star” in the hope of getting in touch with her dead grandfather. Medium Karl Lang is accused of persuading the woman, 26, to strip naked during a séance because it increased her powers to contact the spirit world…. The other victim, now 27, said: “The first time I stripped off my clothes he said ‘Well done! You’ve gone up a level in the spiritual world’… He told me the more outrageous I behaved, the higher level I would get. It was like a reward system. I knew other girls were sending him explicit photos and dirty videos of them masturbating and using sex toys on themselves…. In one session I opened my legs and showed him inside my private parts. Karl congratulated me by saying: ‘I didn’t think you had it in you—you really pleased the spirit world.’ I felt uncomfortable.

The second victim claims that Lang convinced her that her dead father was communicating with him, encouraging her to undress and masturbate to improve her psychic powers. She said that she felt “brainwashed, manipulated and groomed” by Lang. “He was an abuser taking advantage of the fact that my dad died when I was young and I never had the chance to say goodbye,” she said.

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The women said that they were introduced to Lang after being impressed with a psychic reading he’d given at a friend’s party. Lang faces a dozen counts of causing women to engage in sexual activity without consent; he denies all charges.

Psychics, Fraud, and Exploitation

Trickery and exploitation by alleged psychics is nothing new; indeed fraud and people claiming to talk to the dead have gone hand-in-hand for over a century. In Victorian England it was fashionable in many circles to conduct séances; Ouija boards, three-legged tables, candles, and other objects were used to try to contact the dead. Séances were (and still are) held in darkened rooms around a table, led by a psychic who would ask participants to join hands.

Sometimes items would be placed on the table, and spirits asked to move them to reveal their presence. The books, metal trumpets (called spirit trumpets), or other small items could be dimly seen rising into the air; other times strange knocks, musical sounds, or faint voices could be heard above or around the table. It all seemed very mysterious, and convinced many people that the psychic mediums had indeed contacted their loved ones.

The great magician Harry Houdini crusaded against fraudulent mediums, his training and experience as a magician allowing him to effectively expose many psychic mediums’ fake ghostly phenomena. Mediums were caught using everything from assistants dressed in black to wires and strings in order to fake ghostly phenomenon. Some psychics even swallowed (then regurgitated) white or luminescent cheesecloth to make it look like ghostly forms were emanating from their bodies. By the 1920s an entire cottage industry devoted to faking ghostly communication was thriving on both sides of the Atlantic. A big reason for their success: emotionally manipulating grieving people’s desire to believe.

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American belief in communication with the dead rose dramatically in the 1800s along with the rise of Spiritualism, a religion founded on alleged spirit communication by two young sisters in western New York. Though the sisters later admitted that they had faked the sounds they had claimed came from the spirits of the dead, Spiritualism flourished by 1900.

Usually the goal was financial exploitation; psychics quickly learned that grieving people were very generous when they believed they were getting personal, reassuring messages from dead loved ones. Other times the psychics refused payment outright, instead suggesting donations could be made to their churches. Many psychics were less interested in money than the status and social connections they made; their socially prominent and wealthy clients often recommended them to their friends.

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In some cases psychics have used their position of trust for sexual exploitation, as Lang is accused of. When you have a person in authority claiming to have unproven, special powers and giving alleged messages from the dead to vulnerable and grieving people, it’s a recipe for emotional manipulation.