Table Tipping: Spirit Communication or Con?

During the 1800’s a new movement took root in Europe and America…a movement called Spiritualism.  Spiritualism is still practiced today with entire communities such as Lily Dale, New York, that are based around this religious practice.  What is spiritualism?  In short, it’s a religious movement (some Christian, some not) with a focus on mediumship and spirit communication and the development of those abilities.  Through the use of séances, channeling, spirit boards (aka Ouija boards), and table tipping (to just name a few) spiritualists claim they can communicate with our dearly departed who reside on the other side.  Séances, channeling and ouija boards are old hat to most of you…but what the hell is table tipping?  Well, I’m going to give you a brief history of this questionable means of communicating with the other side.

Table tipping, sometimes known as table-turning, is…well…describing the process might be easier.  Table tipping is a form of séance wherein a group of people sit around a table (how very appropriate), gently place their hands on the edges of the table (like you would a planchette on a ouija board) and wait for spirits to move the table in reaction to questions asked by the sitters.  A picture’s worth a thousand words so here are some videos of live table tipping sessions being conducted.*

Fact or Fake?

While I’m a firm believer in spirits and the ability to communicate with them due to my own personal experiences, I’m always skeptical of communication that involves the movement of a physical object that is in direct contact with a living person.  There are far too many ways for people to tamper with the item in question, be it Ouija board or table tipping.  That being said I have never tried table tipping so my opinion is merely that of an observer, but in my youth I used many a ouija board and I imagine the experience to be much the same.  Could table tipping be real?  In some instances I believe it could be a genuine paranormal phenomena, but in most I would be inclined to chalk it up to trickery, be it intentional or the work of the subconscious.  I would, however,  have to try it before I could give a 100% solid opinion on the matter.  But what did the “professionals” of the time think?
Several “studies” were conducted by many scientists during the height of the spiritualist movement and several very different conclusions were drawn:

  1. The table’s movement was caused by the collective psychic energy of the sitters, or participants, in the session.  The term attributed to this was ectenic force.
  2. The power of suggestion was the root cause.  Some believed that the mere suggestion of the table moving or stopping caused the sitters to subconsciously act according to the expected outcome…like a form of post-hypnotic suggestion.
  3. A host of more off the wall explanations such as: the earth’s rotation, electricity, galvanism, or even odic force…none of which proved to be viable explanations.
  4. Let’s not forget the good old fashioned, plain and simple explanation (and the most obvious) – that someone is consciously and intentionally moving the table with their own two hands.

So OBVIOUSLY table tipping is fake, right?  I mean the amazing mentalist Derren Brown can successfully reproduce the same phenomena using the power of suggestion and slight of hand in front of hundreds of people, one of which (in case you failed to notice) was using binoculars in an attempt to catch him in the act, so to speak.   So clearly it’s a con.  Well…not so fast.

The one thing, the one catch, the one flaw with saying all table tipping is flagrant fakery is this:  in some instances the information acquired during a table tipping session has provided information that NO ONE would have been privy to prior to the séance.  We’re talking intensely personal and private information that you can’t just pull out of a hat or are a matter of public record.  How very perplexing.  Add to the fact that some truly brilliant minds and powerful people (like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Todd Lincoln and Noble-laureate physiologist Charles Richet) were believers in the spiritualist movement and it does give one pause.

So what do you think?  Fact or fake?  Have any of you ever tried table tipping?  If so, I’d love to hear about it.  Do tell, do tell!  Inquiring minds want to know.


Kisses & Chaos,
Alli Woods Frederick


*email subscribers, please note:  for some reason unbeknownst to me but known by feedburner (the service that delivers these posts to your inbox), videos will NOT show up in your email.  You’ll need to visit Kisses & Chaos to watch.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

image credits:  a séance courtesy of national media museum  *  source unknown

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  • Sonya Ki

    Hi Alli
    Great article! Well I am going to a table tipping seance this Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012.
    Will let you know the outcome 🙂

    sonya ki

    • Thanks so much, Sonya. That is so cool! I can’t wait to hear all about it.

  • john

    I just wanted to say that i have gone to a spiritualist camp here in the town that i live in. if you look up the “Wonewoc spiritualist camp” in wisconsin, you will know what im talking about. but while i was there, and i still go there to this day. they had a table tipping session. it was done on a hard wood floor. no basement, and with nothing around it. when i went to the session i wasnt familiar with table tipping at all. until that night. that night they actually asked me to join them in it. So we all sat down around a table that was at least 4 ft wide, circular. the table had to of weighed at least 50 or 60 pounds. the stand part underneath was thick metal. and we had 4 to 5 people puting their hands on it. and from what i seen, no one was forcefully pushing on the table. there was nothing connected to it or anything underneath it. we where getting it to move by singing, and as we sang it tried to rock back and fourth to the beat. especially the song row row row your boat. not only did it rock back and fourth, it started shifting side to side and then sliding across the floor. so bad that it scratched the wood floor. leaving deep engraves. and after that i find it hard to believe that spirits are false. and that they cant move items in the physical realm. and this is coming from your average joe of a 21 year old.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story, John. It’s fascinating to hear a first hand account of the phenomena.

      • john

        No problem, im glad to tell someone that is interested. because after experiencing it for myself, i find it almost impossible to not believe.

        • I know what you mean. I know what I know about life after death due to my own personal experiences which I’ve had since I was a child. With something as intangible and unpredictable as this it often takes a personal experience for someone to become a believer.

  • RainWolf

    Have recently been involved with table tipping in my current home city. Three people sit around table and are only lightly touching the table. Questions that require a yes or no answer are asked. The table tips on its own. Sometimes slowly, sometimes almost dancing on the three legs. There is absolutely no way anyone at the table is causing the table to move. It moves on its own.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Justin

    I went to a local psychic today for a table tipping session hoping to talk to my best friend who recently passed away. I went with my best friends sister and my other friend who was really good friends with my friend who passed away. As soon as the psychic lady said our friend was with us the table tipped and hovered over my friends lap. The lady then said “Your friend is sad about your suicide attempt.” My friend started balling and I instantly knew this stuff was legit. I didn’t even know my friend had attempted suicide after the passing of our best friend and this lady had no way of knowing I mean she only knew my friend for all of 10 minutes. He said he hadn’t told anybody about his suicide attempt. It’s hard not to believe given how much this psychic knew. She also told me I have been visiting my friend a lot in my sleep through Astral Projection. I really needed to hear her say that because I have been having a lot of vivid dreams with my friend in them. 3 nights ago I was having a terrible night and I went for a drive and I talked to my best friend for about an hour like he was sitting shotgun even though he has passed on. Last night we met up in my dream and he responded to everything I had talked to him about during my car ride. I remember his exact words and everything. The psychic then said the right side of her back was hurting. She looked at me and said “Why is your back hurting?” I told her I have always had back problems and that I was supposed to be in a wheelchair by my 20’s. She said the reason I’m not is because I have a healers spirit and that I visit other healers when I Astral Project and they heal me. Then she said that could explain why I’m in the medical field. She had no way of knowing that I am a Personal Support Specialist and that I help elderly and disabled people for a living. I miss my friend a lot and I honestly believe I communicated with him today through table tipping. I’ve always been a believer and I think this world is about ready to start believing to. There is life after survival.

    • Sounds like a fascinating experience. Thanks so much for sharing it 🙂

  • Kayla

    As a skeptic I attended a table tipping session last night. I love investigating the paranormal but this was my first table tipping so I was looking for the tricks of the trade as soon as we walked into the house. There were no stings, we had out hands atop of the table and it moved in manners that could only be accomplished if there were hands under it. It bumped into us, bounced up and down and stood in a tilted position. I have no explanation for what I saw.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Kayla. It sounds very interesting.

  • Sue

    My aunt used to do table tipping, swears she doesn’t understand how it works, and agreed to show me once since she had some bad experiences with it. Her hands were so light on the table that as the table tipped, her hands gently slid up as she was not pressing hard with flat palms, only fingertips touching (not pressing hard as it is obvious when I tried to recreate the tipping but had to press into the table). Her knees were not lifting the table as she allowed me to scrutinize from every angle. She alone had the table tipping or sliding across the floor while walking with it. She made it clear not to ask anything about spirits and to keep it light because someone in the past had asked if there were evil spirits in her house which scared her when the table answered yes. Her sister also can do it and agreed to show me, but the question it answered turned out to be true…and so I don’t want to play again. Her own daughter was pregnant with twins…so I asked is she having boys? Table tipped twice for no, asked re girls, table said no…asked a boy and a girl? Table said no…then I thought oh no what if a baby is still born so didn’t ask. A baby was still born. That and a number of other things came true so it was real enough for me. I just don’t understand and really want to!!!

  • I’m loving hearing everyone’s different experiences with table tipping. It’s fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing! ?

  • Juliab2004

    I went to a table tipping evening at the local spiritualist church and I have spent my whole life being a believer in the afterlife. However, due to various life changing events I have come to the conclusion that it probably doesn’t exist after all. When we are gone we are gone- I am 99% sure. OK so the only thing that I cant get out my mind and the only thing preventing me from saying that I am 100% sure is the table tipping. The two people running round the room “casing” a flimsy side table was me and a friend of mine. There was nothing in that table that was fake, I inspected it for a good twenty minutes and nothing, just a regular table.
    How did it occur? I couldnt keep up with that table and I had put no pressure on that table with my one finger. There has to be a scientific reason for this. Please could anyone help me put this question to bed?

  • warren

    I find Derren Brown to be a dreadful example of what happens in a séance room.
    He never show full materialization, he never had independant voice or spirit trumpets with illuminous ends flying around at break-neck speed whilst the medium has luminous tabs on him to indicate his location at all times. He never gave evidential informationband above all, we talk about fakes… The TV is the greatest fake medium, editing, actors, people paid to do as instructed, friends happy to get their 15 mins of fame.
    Rather than look at a tv personality that is ensured success through editing etc perhaps look at controlled science… Sir William Crookes, Oliver Lodge, Arthur Findlay, John Logi Bear, Arthur Conan Doyle…. The list is endless, inteligent men, men of letters and science.

  • Ali

    Recently attended a table tipping demonstration. I had no idea what it was & thought I needed cash to tip the demonstrators. 😉 The guy outside overheard us giggling about it as we were approaching the building. He said, “Yeah! It’s kind of like cow tipping, but indoors!!”
    The demo began w/ the lady rubbing her hands together, then placing them lightly on the table top. She gave it a gentle push to get the table started. (Kind of like getting a pendulum started, then it continues to go back and forth on its own.) While keeping her finger tips lightly on the table it rocked back and forth, gently turned a bit, then fell over. I think she said,”Spirit just laughed.”
    She picked the table up and began again. The table began to travel in my direction, again with her fingertips lightly touching the top, rocking back and forth and coming directly for me. It was like a sailboat that gently rocks back and forth in the water. As it got closer, I began to feel warm.
    The table was almost in my lap when it stopped. I was a bit scared, then I began to feel what I can only describe as a warm labor contraction than ran slowly from my spine around my upper arm and shoulders. It began to get warmer & warmer until it felt hot on my back. Not painful, just a very comforting peacefulness came over me.
    It was a bit emotional for me, then I think she said, “Spirit wanted to give you a hug.”
    At that point I began to cry a bit and I continued to have that warm, peaceful feeling.
    I don’t know exactly what happened. I can only say that when it ended, I was no longer scared of it. I just felt a loving feeling.
    I kind of felt honored.