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Modern Spiritualism began in the late winter months of 1847 with the mysterious knocking and window rattling at the John Fox residence in Hydesville, New York. Fox spent an entire day securing everything that looked as if it might shake or vibrate, only to have the night resound with even louder knockings and rappings. After a time, the Fox family began to observe that the center of the disturbances seemed to be the bedroom shared by 12-year-old Catherine (Katie) and 15-year-old Margaretta (Maggie).

One night in March 1848, when John Fox was once again attempting to discover a cause for the rappings, the family was startled to hear mysterious sounds imitating those that their father was making as he went hammering about the room. Katie excitedly challenged the unseen presence, which she laughingly personified as "Old Splitfoot," to follow the snappings of her fingers. When the sounds responded in a precise manner, other members of the family began to test the mysterious invisible agency.

As word spread that the John Fox family had a knocking ghost that could respond to any question answerable with a "yes" or "no" (one rap for yes; two for no), people from all over Hydesville came to test the spirit's knowledge. Although the invisible agency responsible for the initial knockings claimed to be the spirit of a peddler who had been murdered and buried in the basement of the Fox home (some accounts have it that investigation produced a skeleton interred in the basement), other spirit entities soon manifested themselves. Young Katie and her older sister Maggie seemed especially suited for the role of medium, for they seemed pleased and excited by the phenomena and did not appear to fear the invisible communicators as did the other Fox children. Serious investigators who were attracted to the phenomena soon worked out codes whereby in-depth communication with the spirits might be possible. Committees of researchers tracked through the Fox home and did considerable knocking and rapping of their own.

In order to give their parents a respite from the knocking spirits and the crowds of the curious, Katie and Maggie were sent to their older sister Leah's home in Rochester, New York. It was soon apparent that the spirits had followed them, and Leah encouraged her sisters to hold seances to contact other entities. When these initial attempts at spirit contact proved successful, Leah arranged for Maggie and Katie to give a public demonstration of the spiritistic phenomena, which brought an audience of 400. According to witnesses, the spirit knockings did not seem confined to the stage, but rapped from numerous areas in the hall.

After they had played to that enraptured audience in Rochester, it seemed clear to Leah that the spirits were telling her that she should act as a manager for Maggie and Katie and arrange demonstrations in other cities. Following her other-worldly guidance, Leah set up a tour that made her sisters a sensation wherever they appeared. Soon the two young girls were being routinely hailed as modern prophets or as frauds and deceivers, depending upon the biases of the witnesses. Maggie and Katie were examined by scientific investigators on both sides of the Atlantic and were "exposed" when they purportedly confessed that they produced the knocks and raps by cracking their toe joints. In the skeptic's casebook, this has become the accepted disclaimer for the phenomena produced by the Fox sisters.

Official cynicism had little effect on the budding Spiritualist movement, however. Some authorities fix the membership of the Spiritualist church as nearly two million by the height of the American Civil War in 1864. This seems high when one notes that the total population of the United States at this time was about 30 million. (The Spiritualist church todayInternational General Assembly of Spiritualists, National Spiritual Alliance of the U.S.A., and Nationalist Spiritualist Association of Churchesnumbers about 200,000 members.) In the second half of the nineteenth century, though, several important Americans were either members of a Spiritualist church or were in sympathy with its philosophy of spirit contact. Shortly after Abraham Lincoln's (18091865) election to the presidency, Cleveland's Plain Dealer dealt the president-elect some harsh criticism for having "consulted spooks." Lincoln's honest reply was that the only falsehood in the story was that "the half of it has not been told. The article does not begin to tell of the wonderful things I have witnessed."

Lincoln made no secret of having consulted backwoods "granny women" in his youth, and once he moved to Washington, D.C., he invited some of the most noted mediums of the day to conduct seances in the White House. Lincoln had received a strong spiritual heritage from his mother, and he had been reared in an atmosphere in which one did not reject advice from "the other side." Although Lincoln never became dependent upon mediums to guide his administration, he was by no means a skeptic, and he stated that spirit messages had enabled him to survive crisis after crisis during his presidency. The president became so outspoken in praise of the guidance he received from the spirit world that it is said that it was Lincoln's influence that prompted Union general Ulysses S. Grant (18221885) to turn to Spiritualism.

In December of 1862, when the Union cause was on the brink of defeat, Lincoln was under great pressure from all sides to drop the rigid enforcement of the forthcoming Emancipation Proclamation. Mary Lincoln, aware of the terrible strain on her husband, called several trusted individuals together in the Red Parlor and called for one of the president's favorite mediums, Nettie Colburn (b. ca. 1841), to conduct a seance.

The medium went into trance and her spirit control spoke of matters which only the president seemed to understand. Then the entranced Nettie Colburn's spirit control charged President Lincoln not to compromise the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation, but resolutely to carry out all the implications of the announcement he had made.

When the medium came out of the trance, she found the president looking soberly at her. One of the gentlemen present asked Lincoln if he had recognized anything about the voice and the message of the delivery. Nettie Colburn recalled later that the president "raised himself as if shaking off a spell," then glanced at the full-length portrait of Daniel Webster that hung over the piano. "Yes," the president admitted, "and it is very singular, very."

In his Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (1975), Alfred Russell Wallace writes that the hypothesis of Spiritualism is the only one that can at all commend itself to the modern philosophical mind. "The main doctrines of this religion are: That after death man's spirit survives in an ethereal body, gifted with new powers, but mentally and morally the same individual as when clothed in flesh. That he commences from that moment a course of apparently endless progression, which is rapid just in proportion as his mental and moral faculties are cultivated when on earth. That his comparative happiness or misery will depend entirely upon himself.Neither punishments nor rewards are meted out by an external power, but each one's condition is the natural and inevitable sequence of his condition here."

Spiritualists contend that they have proof of survival after death and the existence of an afterlife that other churches only promise on faith. Many orthodox clergypersons do not deny the occurrence of genuine spiritual phenomena, but they are in sharp disagreement with Spiritualists as to the source of the manifestations. Some of the disagreement stems from the accusation that Spiritualism may be treading dangerously close to demonology. Religious orthodoxy, which believes survival after death to be assured, holds that contact with departed mortals cannot be established and warns that those who attempt to establish communication with the dead may find themselves involved with deceptive evil spirits. The oft-quoted allegation that Spiritualists consort with demons goes a long way toward preventing any sort of ecumenical movement between Spiritualists and the conventional religious groups from developing.

In an effort to clarify their theological position, the National Spiritualist Association adopted these following definitions of its belief in October 1914:

  1. Spiritualism is the science, philosophy, and religion of a continuous life, based on the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the spirit world.
  2. A spiritualist is one who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the communication between this and the spirit world by means of mediumship, and who endeavors to mold his or her character and conduct in accordance with the highest teaching derived from such communication.
  3. A medium is one whose organism is sensitive to vibrations from the spirit world and through whose instrumentality intelligences in that world are able to convey messages and produce the phenomena of spiritualism.
  4. A spiritualist healer is one who, either through his own inherent powers or through his mediumship, is able to impart vital, curative force to pathologic conditions.

"Spiritualism is a science" because it investigates, analyzes, and classifies facts and manifestations demonstrated from the spirit side of life.

"Spiritualism is a philosophy" because it studies the laws of nature both on the seen and unseen sides of life and bases its conclusions upon present observed facts. It accepts statements of observed facts of past ages and conclusions drawn therefrom, when sustained by reason and by results of observed facts of the present day.

"Spiritualism is a religion" because it strives to understand and to comply with the physical, mental, and spiritual laws of nature, which are the laws of God.

Delving Deeper

Barbanell, Maurice. This Is Spiritualism. London: Herbert Jenkins, 1959.

Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Pocket Books, 1972.

Moore, R. Laurence. In Search of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Moore, Raymond C., and Paul Perry. Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones. New York: Villard Books, 1993.

Mysteries of the Unknown: Spirit Summonings. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1989.

Post, Eric G. Communicating with the Beyond. New York: Atlantic Publishing, 1946.

Andrew Jackson Davis (18261910)

Andrew Jackson Davis is often referred to as the "John the Baptist" of modern Spiritualism, for he preached the advent of spirit communication in the United States with an evangelical fervor. Davis grew up in extreme poverty in Blooming Grove, New York, a small hamlet along the Hudson River, the only son in a family of six. His mother was illiterate, but highly religious, and quite likely encouraged her frail, nervous son to receive visions and to hear voices early in life. Davis's father was afflicted with alcoholism and barely managed to provide any sustenance for his family in his trade as a weaver and shoemaker. Only one of the family's five daughters survived to adulthood.

When he was 12, Davis's clairvoyant impressions and spirit voices manifested convincingly enough to persuade his father to move the family to Poughkeepsie. Five years later, in 1843, Davis attended a demonstration on mesmerism conducted by Dr. J. Stanley Grimes. Mesmerism, usually defined as an old-fashioned term for hypnotism, developed out of the theories of certain physicians in the sixteenth century that humans could project and control their animal magnetism, sometimes inducing trance states in themselves or in others. In the 1760s, Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (17341815) began healing patients with what he believed was the result of animal magnetism's effect on a kind of "universal fluid" that flowed between the stars, the human body, and everything on the planet, but which today would likely to be attributed to light trance states and the power of suggestion.

With Davis's childhood experiences of hearing spirit voices, it is not surprising that he was found to be a good subject by a local tailor named William Levingston, who had decided to experiment with mesmerism on his own. Once Davis had entered an altered state of consciousness, he seemed to have the ability to see through the human body and to diagnose the cause of illnesses and medical disorders. Within a short period of time, Andrew Jackson Davis was being proclaimed as the "Poughkeepsie Seer." Men and women were coming from miles around to draw from his magnetic powers, and Levingston abandoned his tailor shop to devote all of his time to overseeing Davis's healing ministry.

On the evening of March 6, 1844, Davis experienced a life-altering event that would direct the course of his personal destiny. All he claimed to remember was being overcome by some power that made him feel as though he were literally flying through the air. When he regained consciousness the next morning, he found himself in the Catskill Mountains, 40 miles away from Poughkeepsie. Had the spirits transported him through the air and deposited him there in the mountains? Or had he walked 40 miles in one evening while in a trance? And why did he suddenly awaken to find himself in this particular spot?

While Davis claimed never to learn the answer as to how he got to that particular setting in the Catskills, he soon learned the reason why. He said that first the spirit of the Greek philosopher Galen (129 c.e.c. 199c.e.) materialized before him, then the spirit of the Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg (16881772), both of whom provided him with mental illumination and spiritual revelation. From that day onward, Andrew Jackson Davis set forth on an extensive lecture schedule, proclaiming the advent of spirit communication for humans everywhere. He claimed a great cosmic doorway was being opened, and ministers from the spirit world would soon be making themselves available for contact with those individuals who wished to gain from their wisdom and inspiration.

While on tour, Davis met Dr. S. Silas Lyons, an experienced mesmerist, who was able to induce a deep trance state in the Poughkeepsie seer. In November of 1845, with Lyons as the mesmerist, Davis as the prophetic voice, and Reverend William Fishbough as the stenographer, dictation was begun on The Principles of Nature: Her Divine Revelations and a Voice to Mankind. The process lasted for 15 months, and often small crowds of enthusiastic men and women, including such luminaries as American writer Edgar Allan Poe (18091849), bore witness to the words as they poured forth from the entranced Davis.

In 1847, the book was published and was received eagerly by a public seeking new revelations from a modern prophet. Although some critics pointed out many similarities to the writings of Swedenborg concerning creation, philosophy, and religion, Davis' champions replied that the seer was a man of modest education who had never read the works of the great Swedish mystic. Davis had, in fact, only five months of formal schooling. However, there should be little mystery if the Principles of Nature contained echoes of Swedenborg, for it was his spirit who had manifested with Galen to inspire Davis. Due to the success of his book, Davis began issuing Univercoelum, a periodical which was published from 1847 to 1849 and was devoted to clairvoyance, trance phenomena, and his Harmonial Philosophy.

On March 31, 1848, it is said that Davis predicted the coming of modern Spiritualism when he reported that he had awakened that morning hearing a voice telling him that the good work had begun: "About daylight this morning a warm breathing passed over my face, and I heard a voice, tender and strong, saying, 'Brother, the good work has begun. Behold, a living demonstration is born.' I was left wondering what could be meant by such a message." Although Davis and his followers would not ally themselves with the Spiritualist cause until 1850, it would often be pointed out that the Fox sisters first challenged "old Splitfoot" on March 31, 1848, and that the "voice, tender and strong," had obviously been referring to their "living demonstration" of spirit communication.

In July 1848, after creating a bit of scandal for the conservative times, Andrew Jackson Davis married Catherine Dodge, a wealthy heiress, who was 20 years his senior. Their union was unhappy and brief, and she died in 1853, leaving her estate to Davis. Davis continued to lecture and teach his Harmonial Philosophy for many years. At the age of 60, he acquired a medical degree, but soon thereafter he retired to Boston, where he ran a bookshop and prescribed herbal remedies to his patients. Andrew Jackson Davis died amidst his books and herbs in 1910, a quiet ending to the full life of the "John the Baptist" of the Spiritualist movement.

Delving Deeper

Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Pocket Books, 1972.

Fodor, Nandor. An Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1966.

. These Mysterious People. London: Rider & Co., 1936.

Moore, R. Laurence. In Search of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (18591930)

When many first learn that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mystery series, was fascinated with psychical research and an investigation of life after death, they make the immediate assumption that he may well have been allied with the likes of the great magician Harry Houdini (18741926) (especially when it is learned that the two men were friends), devoting his intellect and his experience to exposing fraudulent spirit mediums. They may visualize the author much like Holmes, his famous fictional detective, unveiling the trickery by which a charismatic, but phony, medium has deceived the unwary, then climaxing his explanation of the deception with the casual utterance of, "elementary, my dear Watson." In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Doyle was an ardent believer in the reality of spirit communication, and he became such a missionary for Spiritualism that he came to be known as the "St. Paul" of the movement. While Holmes, the quintessential proponent of deduction, and his creator did not share the tendencies to be unfailingly skeptical, extremely rational, and shrewd, there were other aspects of the fictional detective which did manifest in Doyle. Arthur Conan Doyle was tall, upper-class, thoroughly English, self-confident, and successful at his chosen profession, which, like that of Holmes's loyal associate, Dr. Watson, was the practice of medicine.

Doyle was first invited to witness mediumistic phenomena while he was a physician at Southsea in 1885. For the next three years, he participated in a number of sittings in the home of one of his patients, who was a teacher at the Greenwich Naval College. The medium at the center of these experiments was a railway signalman who seemed capable of producing a wide range of astonishing phenomena. So astonishing, that Doyle, the young man of science and medicine, eventually concluded that the man was occasionally faking the manifestations, and that the other sitters either chose to ignore the trickery in the hope that more genuine phenomena would manifestor else were too gullible or too eager to accept the miraculous to protest.

While his early encounters with mediumship were not greatly impressive, Doyle's interest in exploring the unknown was stirred, and he joined the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) shortly thereafter. In 1902 he met Sir Oliver Lodge (18511940), and the experiences and research of this highly respected scientist had a great impact upon him. Doyle became convinced that telepathy was a genuine phenomenon that could also account for a great deal of apparent mediumistic knowledge of the deceased. Perhaps, he theorized, the medium was picking up thoughts about the dead from the various sitters in the seance circle who had lost loved ones. During the same period of time, Doyle read Fredric W. H. Myers 's (18431901) Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (1903), which had a great effect on his acceptance of mediumship and spirit communication.

In 1916, after 30 years of intense study, Doyle accepted the phenomena of Spiritualism as genuine. He was 58, at the height of his literary career, and filled with self-confidence, so he openly associated himself with the cause of modern Spiritualism in two books, The New Revelation (1918) and The Vital Message (1919). In that same year, with World War I creating turmoil in both the physical and spiritual worlds, his second wife, Jean, lost her brother at the Battle of Mons. In the midst of her grief, she began experimenting with automatic writing, a mediumistic technique whereby one allows the pen to flow across the page under the guidance of spirit writers. When her early attempts at spirit communication proved successful, Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle became convinced that their earthly mission was in large part to be devoted to relaying messages from those who had fallen in battle to their bereaved families.

In 1918, Doyle's oldest son, Kingsley, died of pneumonia during the Battle of the Somme. A year after his son's death, Doyle attended a seance held by a Welsh medium who spoke in Kingsley's voice and referred to matters that would have been completely unknown to the medium. Shortly after the remarkable direct voice communication, the medium materialized Doyle's mother and nephew. Contemptuously brushing aside the efforts of those who attempted to explain the phenomena, Doyle declared that he saw his loved ones as plainly and as clearly as he had ever seen them in life.

After the war ended in 1918, Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle began the first of their extensive lecture tours. For the next 12 years, they were seldom at home for very long periods of time as they traveled throughout Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, northern Europe, South Africa, and the United States. Among the members of the large crowds that gathered were those who were eager to meet the author of their favorite detective fiction and those who wished to hear words of comfort from the Doyles concerning the kind of existence that their deceased loved ones were living on the other side.

The December 1920 issue of Strand magazine contained several allegedly authentic photographs of fairies that had been taken with an inexpensive camera by two young girls, Elsie Wright and her cousin Frances Griffiths, in a little valley through which ran a narrow stream near the village of Cottingley. One snapshot taken by Elsie in the summer of 1917, when she was 16, captured her 10-year-old cousin seated on the grass surrounded by four dancing fairies. Another, taken a few months later, showed Elsie with a tiny gnome.

Doyle managed to obtain the negatives and brought them to one of England's most eminent photographic analysts. At first the expert dismissed the very notion of fairy photographs, but he ended up staking his professional reputation by saying that not only were the pictures all single exposures, but he said that he could detect that the tiny beings had actually been moving while having their images snapped by the girls' camera. Furthermore, he stated firmly, he could not detect the slightest evidence of any fakery in the photographs. Doyle wisely sought another opinion, so he took the negatives to the Kodak Company's offices in Kingsway. While these experts declined to acknowledge that the photographs actually depicted fairies, they did issue a statement that they could find no evidence of trick photography or any tampering with the film. Yet a third analyst expressed his opinion that the most significant factor in the Cottingley photographs was that the fairy figures seemed clearly to have been caught in motion as they hovered over the flowers and the girls.

As the British press spread the charming story of the Cottingley fairy photographs, numerous individuals came forward to testify that they, too, as children had played with the little people. Fortified by the photographic analyses of several experts that the photographs were genuine, Doyle obtained the services of one of Great Britain's most gifted clairvoyants to see if he might be able psychically to verify the girls' accounts of fairies near Cottingley. The psychic sat down with Elsie and Frances in the little valley and found that he was able to see even more of the fairy realm because of his mediumistic abilities. According to his great sensitivity, the entire glen was alive with many types of elemental spiritswood elves, gnomes, fairies, and graceful water sprites around the valley and stream. Try as he might, though, the clairvoyant was unable to project to the fairies the amount of psychic energy necessary to allow them to materialize. It appeared that only the young girls had the unique blend of innocence and wonder that could somehow supply the fairies with the necessary energy to permit them to attain a material form.

Doyle issued his summation of the case of Elsie and Frances and their fairy photographs, along with his interpretation of the phenomena, in which he stated that while the proof offered by the Cottingley experience was not as "overwhelming" as in the case of spiritualistic phenomena, "there is enough already convincing evidence [for the authenticity of fairies] available." Later, the photographs were exposed as fakes, and Doyle was embarrassed by his having endorsed both the girls and their pictures in his book The Coming of the Fairies (1922) as being authentic examples of the ability of certain sensitive individuals to take genuine spirit photographs.

Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle had met Harry Houdini after one of the famous magician's performances at the Hippodrome in Brighton, England, in 1920, and while many have pondered how Doyle, a true believer in Spiritualism, and Houdini, the determined nemesis of spirit mediums, could ever have become friends, a bond of friendship was formed between the two families. Some writers and researchers contend that Houdini didn't disbelieve in survival after death, but, rather, was seeking proof that he could find completely acceptable by his standards. His attack against certain spirit mediums may have been inspired by his feeling that their evidence for the afterlife had been faked. Indeed, the friendship between Doyle and Houdini may have been inspired by the entertainer's sincere desire that the Doyles might somehow be instrumental in providing him with the proof of the afterlife that he so desired. Sadly, their friendship ended quite explosively after Lady Doyle conducted a seance in the United States.

In 1922, Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle were lecturing in the United States, and Houdini asked them to join him and his wife Beatrice (Bess) for a brief vacation in Atlantic City on June 17. That particular date was sacred to Houdini because it was his beloved mother's birthday. Expressing the belief that she could establish contact with his mother on that special day, Lady Doyle entered a light trance and began producing lovely and sentimental messages from the magician's mother in the spirit world. Although Houdini was grateful for the kind sentiments, he later publicly expressed his strong doubts that the spirit of his mother had written such words, especially since she had never learned to write English. Also, since the Weiss family (Houdini's birthname) was Jewish, Houdini doubted that his mother would have begun the message by drawing a cross at the top of the page of automatic writing. Houdini's public denials of Lady Doyle's mediumship created a breach between the friends which never healed.

Doyle was nominated honorary president of the International Spiritualist Congress that was held in Paris in 1925. In 1927, he published Pheneas Speaks, revelations relayed through automatic writing to Lady Doyle from her spirit control Pheneas. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died on July 7, 1930.

Delving Deeper

Brandon, Ruth. The Spiritualists. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Edge of the Unknown. New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1968.

Fodor, Nandor. An Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1966.

The Fox Sisters

On one of the last days of her life, in February of 1893, Margaretta Kane managed to prop herself into a sitting position and demanded a pencil and paper from Dr. Mellin, the doctor who had been commissioned to care for her. Kane began writing at an incredible pace, and before she had finished she had filled 20 sheets with clear handwriting. After handing the written sheets back to the doctor, she fell into a coma and died.

When Mellin had the opportunity to examine what Kane had written, she was astonished to discover that her patient had filled the sheets with an accurate and detailed biography of the doctor's own life. It included many events that Mellin had not divulged to anyone. Some time later, Mellin described the incident to the Medico-Legal Society of New York. She concluded her remarks about the manuscript by saying: "To my surprise, I found she had written down a detailed story of my life. The most startling thing did not appear until near the end where Mrs. Kane mentioned the missing will of my mother and the names of several people back home in Manchester, Indiana. I wrote at once to my brother. He sent a friend to Manchester and mother's missing will was recovered."

The story of the dying woman who somehow knew intimate details about her doctor that could not have been known through ordinary means takes on tragic significance when Kane's history is revealed. Kane was born Margaretta Fox, and it was she and her sister Catherine who were credited with the founding of modern Spiritualism. They were later discredited by certain investigators as being clever deceivers with no paranormal or mediumistic abilities whatsoever.

Mysterious knocking and window rattling began in the John Fox home in Hydesville, New York, shortly after they had moved into the house on December 11, 1847. After the first night, Fox spent the next day securing everything that looked as though it might make knocking or rattling sounds, but the following night the knockings and rappings were even louder. One of the family members ventured a guess that it was a prankster playing a trick on them or some neighbor trying to frighten them away, but as much as they tried to catch the supposed joker in the act, they never saw him.

Then Fox, the local blacksmith, began to hear talk about the complaints of some of the previous tenants in the house, who, as early as 1843, had also complained of mysterious rappings, footsteps, and dragging sounds. Michael Weekman, who had rented the house just prior to their occupancy, moved out when he could no longer stand the eerie night sounds.

By March 31, 1848, John and Margaret Fox gave up chasing after the rappings and resolved to live with the disturbances. After all, no real damage had ever occurred. The sounds were just annoying. They would go to bed early that evening and try to get a good night's sleep.

But that night when the disturbances began, the five childrenJohn, David, Maria, Margaretta (Maggie), and Catherine (Katie)seemed to be more frightened than ever before by the continual knocks and thuds echoing throughout the house. Observing that the strange noises were centering around 12-year-old Katie and 15-year-old Maggie, Fox closed the window in the girls' bedroom with a loud thump. His thump was immediately followed by two others, and Katie cried out that "they" were answering him.

For a few moments, no one moved. Then Fox cautiously knocked on the window sill. There came an answering knock from somewhere in the room. Katie was more excited than frightened. As if it were all some thrilling game, she commanded the sounds to follow the snaps of her fingers and called out: "Here, Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do." The unseen prankster did so perfectly, even when she only held up a certain number of fingers to prompt an appropriate number of raps. "It can see as well as hear!" she laughed in childlike triumph.

Soon other members of the family had entered the game with the mysterious unseen visitor and were asking it to pound out number sequences or to sound one rap for yes, two raps for no. Mrs. Fox was no stranger to psychic phenomena, for although they were respected members of the Methodist Church, three prior generations of women in her family (Rutan) had the ability to predict deaths, births, and other local occurrences.

As his daughters' communication with the spirit progressed, Fox wanted to determine whether or not his entire family was deluded. He went next door and brought a neighbor, Mrs. Redfield, into the children's bedroom. Although the woman laughed at the thought of a knocking spirit, she went away greatly disturbed by the fact that she had not only heard the knocks, but whatever invisible source was making them knew a great deal about her past, also.

As word spread about the curious phenomena that was occurring in the Fox home, people from all over Hydesville came to hear the mysterious rappings. A committee composed of 20 friends and neighbors and directed by William Duesler set about a program of investigation. Shortly after the committee had reached its conclusions regarding the authenticity of the phenomena, E. E. Lewis published a 40-page pamphlet of their findings entitled, "A Report on the Mysterious Noises Heard in the House of John D. Fox at Hydesville, Arcadia, Wayne County. Authenticated by the certificates and confirmed by the statements of the citizens of that place and vicinity."

After Katie and Maggie had experimented with the phenomena for several weeks, a code of rappings had been developed and intelligent communication with the entity had been established. The spirit revealed itself as Charles B. Rosna (Rosa in some accounts), a 31-year-old itinerant peddler who had been murdered in the house and buried in the basement. Charles became the spirit control for Katie and Maggie, and he revealed a great deal of personal information about his life on Earth through their mediumship.

On April 3, 1848, David Fox and some neighbors began digging in the cellar and discovered charcoal, quicklime, strands of human hair, and portions of a human skull. Based on the evidence provided by the spirit of the murdered man, a former tenant was accused of having perpetrated the deed, but the authorities refused to arrest or prosecute on such testimony.

The Fox family was growing weary of all the attention that they were receiving both from the spirit world and from the populace of Hydesville and the surrounding area. John and Margaret thought they might be able to get rid of the ghostly noises if they sent Maggie and Katie away from the house for a while. The girls were sent to their older sister Leah, 34, who was living in poverty in Rochester after her husband had deserted her. Loud, resounding raps broke out in Leah's home when the girls arrived, indicating that the spirits had followed them to Rochester, and they received the following message from the spirits: "You must proclaim this truth to the world. This is the dawning of a new era. You must not try to conceal it any longer. When you do your duty, God will protect you and good spirits will watch over you."

With this message from the spirit world, modern Spiritualism was born. Spiritualists believe that death is only a change of worlds, and communication with those who have passed to the other side is possible. For the Fox sisters, their declaration of this message from the spirits placed them in the center of a tumultuous storm that raged throughout their lifetimes. Leah, who according to some sources is also said to have demonstrated some mediumistic abilities, became the manager for Maggie and Katie and arranged during numerous stage presentations for them to demonstrate their interaction with spirits, first in Rochester, then in many other cities throughout New England. The sisters were tested and exposed, tested and authenticated, tested and humiliated, over and over againdamned or praised, depending upon the biases of the investigators. They succumbed to such continual stresses by resorting to heavy drinking. They fought among themselves.

In 1857, Leah married a wealthy insurance man named Underhill and retired from her position as her sisters' manager. Maggie had been wooed by the famous Arctic explorer Dr. Elisha Kane (18201857), who died tragically before they could be married. Undeterred by such a sorrowful change of plans, Maggie considered herself a widow and called herself Margaretta Kane. In 1861, Katie went to England to be tested by such active psychic researchers as Sir William Crookes (18321919) and became the wife of H. D. Jencken, an attorney. She bore Jencken two sons before he died in 1885, leaving her despondent and once again dependent upon alcohol. In 1888, Katie's lifestyle had become so destructive that Leah managed to have the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children assume custody of her two children.

Outraged by what she considered a traitorous act, Maggie allied herself with her younger sister and vowed to ruin Leah. This she sought to accomplish by writing a letter to the New York Herald denouncing Spiritualism and promising revelations of the frauds that the sisters had employed to deceive their audiences. Maggie made good her threat to Leah and her promise to the New York Herald by giving a lecture at the New York Academy of Music, where she confessed to being a fraud and offered explanations as to how she and Katie had produced various aspects of the phenomena. An angry Katie joined her sister and endorsed her exposure of spirit communication. They had been able to crack their toes and certain joints to make the sound of the spirit raps, the two sisters said. It had begun as a joke on their parents, but Leah had seen a way to make money from their unique talents. Plus, Maggie and Katie said, Leah had wanted to establish a new religion.

A year later, after passions had cooled among the sisters, Maggie completely retracted her confession of trickery and fraud. She explained that she had been under great mental stress and suffering severe financial difficulties. For five dollars, she declared, she would have sworn to anything. The demonstration at the New York Academy of Music only revealed how such phenomena could be faked, she swore, not how she and her sisters had actually engaged in fraudulent activity. Maggie swore now that they had served as mediums for genuine spirit manifestations.

The phenomena produced by the Fox sisters were important to psychical research. Professor Charles Richet (18501935), world-famous physiologist at the Sorbonne, stated that spirit rappings were of "primary importance" as demonstrations that "there are in the universe human or nonhuman intelligences that can act directly on matter." Sir William Crookes (18321919), the renowned British chemist and physicist, concluded after a full investigation of Katie Fox that she only had to place her hand on any substance to produce "raps loud enough to be heard several rooms off. In this manner, I have heard them in a living tree, on a sheet of glass, on a stretched iron wire, on a stretched membrane, a tambourine, on the roof of a cab, and on the floor of a theatre. Moreover, actual contact is not always necessary. I have heard these sounds proceeding from the floors, walls, etc., when the medium's hands were held, when she was standing on a chair, when she was suspended from the ceiling, when she was enclosed in a wire cage."

Psychical researcher Robert Dale Owen observed Leah Fox Underhill in a seance during which she manifested a "light about as large as a small fist, that rose and fell as a hammer would, striking the floor. At each stroke, a loud rap was heard." In over 400 seances sponsored by investigators in New York, Katie Fox, whose hands were held by the researchers, materialized phantom human forms that produced flowers, glowing lights, and written messages in the handwriting of deceased individuals.

Katie worked as a medium and conducted seances until, at the age of 56, she drank herself to death on July 2, 1892. Leah had passed away the year before, November 1, 1891. Maggie died ill and destitute on March 8, 1893, at the age of 59.

Whether the majority of Americans accepted the exposure of the Fox sisters as deceivers and frauds or believed the more positive appraisals by certain psychical researchers that Maggie and Katie were capable of producing genuine spirit phenomena, the Spiritualist movement had been born, and with the help of sensationalistic articles in the press, word of the controversial mediums spread around the world. Andrew Jackson Davis (18261910) and Emma Vera Brittain began to deliver trance lectures in the major cities of the eastern seaboard of the United States. In 1859, Dr. Phelps, a Presbyterian minister in Stratford, Connecticut, produced spirit manifestations and developed a following. Soon, trance mediums from the United States were visiting Scotland, England, and being embraced in the Scandinavian countries, where the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (16881772) had prepared them to expect such messages from the spirit world. Within months, the movement had taken root in Germany, France, Russia, and many other countries on the continentall the result of the rappings and knockings of Maggie and Katie Fox, two little girls who, in the eyes of their supporters, had broken down the dividing wall between the worlds of life and death.

Delving Deeper

Brandon, Ruth. The Spiritualists. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.

Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1970.

Fodor, Nandor. These Mysterious People. London: Rider & Co., 1936.

Jackson, Herbert G., Jr. The Spirit Rappers. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972.

Allen Kardec (18041869)

Allen Kardec, known as the father of Spiritism, distinct from Spiritualism, was born in Lyons, France, in 1804, with the birth name Hypolyte Leon Denizard Rivail. The names "Allen" and "Kardec" were names from prior lifetimes that he chose to use in his present life experience. The son of an attorney, Kardec decided to become a medical doctor, but he soon became intrigued by the enthusiasm for experiments in mesmerism and spirit communication that were spreading throughout Europe.

In 1850, he began sitting with Celina Bequet, a professional somnambulist (hypnotist) who, for family reasons, assumed the name of Celina Japhet. Japhet not only placed others in trance states, but was assisted in achieving a somnambulistic state by M. Roustan. While in trance, Japhet was under the spirit control of her grandfather, M. Hahnemann, and the spirit of Franz Anton Mesmer (17341815) spoke from the spirit world to give medical advice through her mediumship. Many other spirit entities manifested themselves and explained to the assembled sitters that the process of reincarnation was not only possible, but that it was compulsory for all souls to be reborn and receive new life experiences. Because Kardec was recognized as a proficient writer as well as a medical doctor, the spirits urged him to author what would be considered his classic work, Le Livre des Esprits (known today as The Spirits' Book ), first published in 1856.

The 1857 revised edition of Kardec's book, based on the trance communications of Celina Japhet, became the guidebook for those wishing information regarding mediumship, life in spirit, and the evolution of the soul. The Spirits' Book went into more than 25 editions and became popular throughout Europe and South America. However, because traditional Spiritualists reject the concept of reincarnation, conflict developed between the established dogma and the writings of Kardec. Kardec remained firm in his belief in what the spirits had told him: Reincarnation was necessary for the soul to progress and to better understand and heal current physical or mental illnesses, which had been caused by the deeds and misdeeds of prior life experiences. Because of his resolve in these matters, "Spiritism" or "Kardecism" became distinguished from Spiritualism.

Other books written by Allen Kardec include The Gospel as Explained by Spirits (1864); Heaven and Hell (1865); and Experimental Spiritism and Spiritualist Philosophy (1867). Although Spiritism was gradually reabsorbed back into Spiritualism in Europe, it remains popular as a separate philosophy throughout South America, especially in Brazil, where its members see no conflict in being nominal Roman Catholics and practicing espiritas.

Delving Deeper

Fodor, Nandor. An Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1966.

Playfair, Guy Lyon. The Unknown Power. New York: Pocket Books, 1975.

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A social religious movement founded in the mid-nineteenth century in New York State. According to the definition adopted by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, Spiritualism is The Science, Philosophy and Religion of continuous life, based upon the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the Spirit World. Spiritualism is a science because it investigates, analyses and classifies facts and manifestations, demonstrated from the spirit side of life. Spiritualism is a philosophy because it studies the laws of nature both on the seen and unseen sides of life and bases its conclusions upon present observed facts. It accepts statements of observed facts of past ages and conclusions drawn there-from, when sustained by reason and by results of observed facts of the present day. Spiritualism is a religion because it strives to understand and to comply with the Physical, Mental and Spiritual Laws of Nature[,] which are the laws of God.

According to the British medium W. Stainton Moses, a Spiritualist is "one who has proven for himself, or has accepted on adequate evidence, the fact that death does not kill the spirit."

Spiritualism centers upon two basic teachings: the continuity of personality after the transition of death, and the possibility of communication between those living on Earth and those who have made the transition to death. Spiritualism teaches that death is a new birth into a spiritual body, the counterpart of the physical, which is gifted with new powers. Spiritualists claim that their beliefs are based upon scientific proof and communication with the surviving personalities of deceased human beings by means of mediumship.

After death, the individual faces neither punishment nor rewards. Individuality, character, and memory survive and undergo no change. Continued progression in the new life rests upon individual fitness. The rapidity of progress is in proportion to the mental and moral faculties acquired in Earth life. Every spirit is left to discover the truth for itself. Evil passions or a sinful life may chain a spirit to the Earth, but the road of endless progress opens up for these as soon as they discover the light. Higher and higher spiritual spheres correspond to the state of progress. The gradation is apparently endless. Communion with higher intelligences appears to be available, but the spirits report no particular communion with the deity.

Origins of Spiritualism

Spiritualism in its modern form dates back no further than 1848 and the Fox sisters. Its practices can be traced to attempts at spirit communication reaching back to ancient times. Such attempts at communication with both the surviving consciousness of the dead and various orders of spiritual beings, both angelic and demonic, appear in the oldest extant records of cultures worldwide. It has only been in the last few centuries that strong doubts about the possibility of life after death and communication with a spiritual world have arisen.

Spiritualism emerged as a direct counter to such post-Enlightenment doubts, which by the nineteenth century had become the subject of popular debates and literature.

In his 1993 book, Madame Blavatsky's Baboon, writer Peter Washington noted that the true momentum for the movement was given full vent in America; but, in fact, its roots sprouted up from people and places all over the world. Washington noted that it seemed to have found a particular following in America for certain reasons. He also said that,

The seance offers a new version of holy communion, in which faith is replaced by evidence, blood and wine by manifested spirits. It was therefore especially popular among the Protestant sects fo the east coast of the United States, deprived as they usually were of any sensuous fulfillment in their religion and susceptible to any sign of the workings of divine grace, however bizarre. It is no coincidence that Hydesville is in the middle of the notorious 'burned-over' district of New York State, so called because of the extraordinary number of religious fashions that swept through it in the early nineteenth century. Spiritualism blends easily with millenarian Christianity: though most of its messages were trivial, the expectation remained that these were merely a prelude to news of real import from the Other World. Having confirmed its own existence through the Fox girls, that world was now expected to come through with the facts about life after death, immortality, and even the future of mankind.

As Spiritualism formed, it looked to a number of individual occurrences of Spiritualist phenomena and previous movements to show its continuity with the past. For example, many famous outbreaks of an "epidemic" nature, such as that among the Tremblers of the Cevennes and the Convulsionaries of St. Médard, which to the beholders showed clear indications of demonic possession, had in their symptoms considerable analogy with modern Spiritualism. They were accompanied by spontaneous trance or ecstasy, lengthy discourses, and speaking in tongues, all of which are phenomena to be found in the séance room.

The fluency of speech noted in such outbreaks, especially of persons lacking any formal education, has been equaled, if not surpassed, by the outpourings of the unlearned medium under the influence of a "control. " In such historical cases, the conditions were generally ascribed to either angelic or diabolic possession, and most frequently to the latter. Witches were supposed to converse with the Devil, and many aspects of witchcraft, notably the part played by persecuted young women and children, show a relationship to poltergeist disturbances. These were the connecting link between early forms of possession and modern Spiritualism. Cases in which children of morbid tendencies pretended to be the victims of a witch are to be found in many records of witchcraft.

However much it seemed otherwise, still it was the poltergeist who showed affinity to the "control" of the mediumistic circle. For at least the past few centuries, poltergeist disturbances have occurred from time to time. The mischievous spirit's favorite modes of manifesting itself have been similar to those adopted by spirit controls.

Both poltergeists and spirit controls require a "medium," an agent for the production of their phenomena. It is in the immediate presence of the medium that the phenomena generally make their appearance. Both also tend to display personality, even if of an infantile nature in the case of poltergeists. Intelligent communication has often been reported to have occurred by means of raps in phenomena attributed to poltergeists.

A related manifestation also believed to be caused by spirits occurred in the practice of animal magnetism, which was said to have originated with the alchemist Paracelsus, in favor with the old alchemists. An actual magnet was rarely used, but was regarded as a symbol of the magnetic philosophy. This belief rested on the idea of a force or fluid radiating from the heavenly bodies, human beings, and, indeed, from every substance, animate or inanimate, by means of which all things act upon one another.

While Paracelsus's students were engaged in formulating a magnetic philosophy, there were others. They included the seventeenth-century healer Valentine Greatrakes, who cured diseases. He claimed such magnetic power as a divine gift and did not connect it with the ideas of the alchemists. According to Spiritualist thought, these two phases of "magnetism" united and climaxed in the work of Franz Anton Mesmer, who published De planetarium influxu, in 1776, a treatise on the influence of the planets on the human body. His ideas were essentially those of the magnetic philosophers. His cures equaled those of Greatrakes; but he infused new life into both theory and practice and won for himself the recognition, if not of the learned societies, at least of the general public. He laid the groundwork for the discovery of the induced hypnotic trance. This has considerable significance in Spiritualism.

In 1784 a commission was appointed by the French government to consider magnetism as practiced by Mesmer and his followers. Unfortunately, its report only served to cast discredit on the practice and exclude it from scientific discussion. A detailed account of the trance utterances of a hypnotic subject was given in 1787 in the journals of the Swedish Exegetical and Philanthropic Society. Members of the society inclined to the doctrines of their countryman Emanuel Swedenborg, who was the first to identify the "spirits" as the souls of the deceased.

Until the third decade of the nineteenth century, the explanations of mesmerism concerned themselves almost entirely with a fluid or force emanating from the mesmeristand even visible to the eye of a clairvoyant. In 1823, however, Alexandre Bertrand, a Parisian physician, published his Traité du Somnambulisme. In 1826 he published the treatise Du Magnetisme Animal en France, in which he set forth a relationship between ordinary sleepwalking, somnambulism associated with disease, and epidemic ecstasy and advanced the doctrine, now generally accepted, of suggestion.

Animal magnetism was by this time receiving a good deal of attention all over Europe. A second French commission appointed in 1825 presented its report in 1831, which, although of no great value, contained a unanimous testimony as to the authenticity of the phenomena. In Germany magnetism was also practiced to a considerable extent, but rationalist explanations of the associated phenomena found some acceptance. There was a class, however, more numerous in Germany than elsewhere, who inclined toward a Spiritualist explanation of mesmeric phenomena. Indeed, the belief in spirit communication had grown up beside magnetism from its conception, in opposition to the theory of a magnetic fluid.

In the earlier phases of "miraculous" healing, the cures were ascribed to the divine gift of the person conducting the session, or the operator, who expelled the evil spirits from the patient. In epidemic cases in religious communities, as well as in individual instances, the spirits were questioned both on personal matters and on abstract theological questions.

In Germany Justinus Kerner experimented with Frederica Hauffe, "the Seeress of Prevorst," in whose presence physical manifestations took place and who described the condition of the soul after death and the constitution of manthe physical body, the soul, the spirit, and the nervengeist, an ethereal body that clothes the soul after deaththeories afterward elaborated by Spiritualists. Other German investigators, such as J. H. Jung (Jung-Stilling), C. Römer, and Heinrich Werner, recorded the phenomenon of clairvoyance in their somnambules. In 1845 Baron Karl von Reichenbach published research he claimed demonstrated the existence of an emanation, which he called od or odyllic force, radiating from every substance. This effluence allegedly could be seen by clairvoyants and had definite colors and produced a sensation of heat or cold.

Animal magnetism received little attention in England until the third decade of the nineteenth century. In 1828, Richard Chevinix, an Irishman, gave mesmeric demonstrations. John Elliotson, of University College Hospital, London, practiced mesmerism with the O'Key sisters, who were somnambules, and although he first believed in the magnetic fluid, he afterward became a Spiritualist. In 1843 two journals dealing with the subjectthe Zoist and the Phreno-magnet were founded. Most of the English mesmerists of the time preferred the magnetist explanation of the phenomena to the notion of spirit agency. Within the Spiritualist community, the so-called "magnetic" phenomena were largely attributed to the agency of the spirits of the deceased.

Spiritualism as a Religious Movement

In responding to the challenge of Enlightenment thinking, Spiritualism became the first of the new "scientific" religions. Adherents talked little of faith. Rather, they asserted that they could prove Spiritualism's central doctrine of survival of death through facts, instead of relying on traditions and the revelations of ancient times. They saw Spiritualism as a progressive and evolutionary faith reconciling religion with contemporary science. "Spiritualism," wrote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "is a religion for those who find themselves outside all religions; while on the contrary it greatly strengthens the faith of those who already possess religious beliefs."

Not long after Spiritualism swept America, it began to take over Europe. According to Washington, "In the wake of failing political revolutions in 1848the very year of the Hydesville phenomenait rapidly became part of an 'alternative' synthesis which included vegetarianism, feminism, dress reform, homoeopathy and every variety of social and religious dissent." He noted that when Harriet Beecher Stowe, famed American abolitionist, visited Europe in 1853, the seance was "all the rage."

Early Spiritualists also believed their religion restored primitive Christianity, pointing to inscriptions in the Roman cata-combs in which the early Christians spoke of the dead as though they were still living. According to Saint Augustine, in De cura pro Mortuis, "The spirits of the dead can be sent to the living and can unveil to them the future which they themselves have learned from other spirits or from angels, or by divine revelation." Not surprisingly, much of the movement's motivation still rested in anti-Catholicisimnot so different from the antagonism many Protestant sects harbored without Spiritualism.

Spiritualists do not believe in an afterlife of unchangeable bliss or eternal damnation. In their perspective, there is no hell with brimstone and flames of fire as some Christians teach. In like measure they deny the existence of devils, a final judgment, and the vicarious atonement. Christ was a great teacher who descended to set an example. "It is our task to do for Christianity what Jesus did for Judaism," said a message received by W. Stainton Moses from the spirits who allegedly spoke through his automatic writing. Spiritualists also deny the resurrection of the physical body, as did the hieracites, a sect that flourished in the fourth century: they maintain that it is the soul alone that resurrected.

Spiritualism admits all the truths of morality and religion of all other sects. The moral stance is illustrated in the role of mediums. Spiritualists tend to maintain that those mediums who hold séances and become the direct mouthpieces of the spirits are only supereminently endowed with a faculty common to all humanitythat all men and woman are mediums to some degree, and that all inspiration, whether good or bad, comes from the spirits.

It is in connection with this idea of the universality of mediumship that the effect of Spiritualism on the morals and daily life of its adherents is most clearly seen. The spirits are naturally attracted to those mediums whose qualities resemble their own. Enlightened spirits from the highest spheres seek "highsouled" and earnest mediums through which to express themselves. Mediums who use their divine gifts for ignoble ends are sought by the lowest and wickedest human spirits, or by elementals, who do not even reach the human standard of goodness. Indeed, it is claimed that the lower spirits communicate with the living much more readily than do the higher, by reason of a certain gross or material quality that binds them to Earth. As with the full-fledged medium, so with the normal individual; if one is to ensure that the source of inspiration be a high one, one must live in such a way that only the best spirits will control.

In the United States, Spiritualists embraced many socialist ideals, and many resided in the socialist communities of the nineteenth century. The loose, nondogmatic approach also allowed some Spiritualists to embrace a variety of different ideals, such as free love. In England, where habit and tradition were more settled, Spiritualists emphasized its compatibility with Christianity and projected an image of affording a fuller revelation of the Christian religion. In France, Allan Kardec 's doctrine of reincarnation blended with the doctrines of Spiritualism to produce Spiritism, a form of Spiritualism highly alienated from Christianity.

These varied forms of Spiritualism are held together by two central beliefs: that the soul continues after "the great dissolution" (death of the body) and continually progresses and that the freed spirit can communicate with living human beings. The continuity of life after death is, of course, one of Spiritual-ism's most important tenets. It is not a distinctive one, since most of the world's creeds and religions also affirm such a belief. But Spiritualist ideas concerning the nature of the life of the freed soul are unique.

Spiritualists believe that the soul, or spirit, is composed of a sort of attenuated matter inhabiting the body and resembling it in form. On the death of the body the soul withdraws itself, without undergoing any direct change, and for a period remains on the "Earth plane." But the keynote of the spirit world is progress, so after a time the spirit proceeds to the lowest "discarnate plane." From that plane they go on to higher and higher planes, gradually evolving into a purer and nobler type. At length it reaches the sphere of pure spirit.

From the comments of mediums speaking in trance, a picture of the spirit domain has been constructed by Spiritualists. It is thought to be a somewhat attenuated version of earthly life, conducted in a highly rarified atmosphere. Automatic drawings, purporting to depict spirit scenes, afford a description no less flattering than that gleaned from mediums speaking in trance, although many such drawings appear imaginative rather than factual. From their exalted spheres the spirits are said to be cognizant of the doings of their fellow individuals still on Earth.

The other central belief of Spiritualism is that the spirits communicate with the livingprimarily through the agency of mediumsoffering their aid and counsel. They can produce in the physical world certain phenomena that transcend known physical laws. Most Spiritualists, in seeking proof of the reality of the creed, have been content with what is described as "subjective" phenomena, including such as trance speaking, automatic writing, clairvoyance.

Spiritualism was enlivened by more or less sensational physical manifestations through an entire period of its history. These found great favor among both believers and psychical researchers. Their success seemed to promise irrefutable proof of the extraordinary nature of Spiritualist phenomena, and they were relatively easy to investigate. They were so intimately connected with fraud unfortunately, that any hope for verifying the phenomena disappeared in the first half of the twentieth century.

Manifestation of phenomena therefore occupies a central place in Spiritualism, and the question of the genuineness of claimed phenomena remains of great importance. It is true, of course, that paranormal phenomena are also central to the development of other great religions that have claimed miracles in support of doctrine. Spiritualists point to the Judaeo-Christian Holy Bible as a book full of accounts of "miraculous" phenomena not essentially different from those demonstrated by modern mediumsinspired trance addresses, paranormal healing, apparitions, and prophetic statements. The primary difference is that traditional religions assume a perspective of awe in the presence of the occasional miraculous event, whereas Spiritualists view such events as constant aspects of a mundane world.

The Literature of Spiritualism

There is vast literature on Spiritualism. Many important works from the nineteenth century are long out of print. This literature ranges from mediumistic communications of varied value, including spirit revelations from automatic writing, trance sermons, and séances, to personal experiences of investigators and theories of psychical researchers, to histories of Spiritualism and attacks on it.

Books that chart the transition from mesmerism and animal magnetism to Spiritualism are valuable for the information and opinions of the time. Emma Hardinge Britten 's Nineteenth Century Miracles (1884) and Modern American Spiritualism (1869) are full of detailed, hard-to-find information on the events of the period but are written from the viewpoint of a firm believer and worker in the field and are sometimes marred by inaccurate quotations. Alphonse Cahagnet 's The Celestial Telegraph (2 vols., 1851) and Robert Hare's Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations (1856) are also of special period interest.

Autobiographies of mediums are fascinating and well worth studying for their firsthand subjective viewpoint. A classic work of this kind is D. D. Home 's Incidents in My Life (1863). Other popular works of this kind are Estelle Roberts ' Fifty Years a Medium (1969) and Doris Stokes's Voices in My Ear (1980).

Various histories of Spiritualism are available, but there is no single satisfactory work. It is advisable to study different histories, bearing in mind the commitment of their writers. Cesar de Vesme 's History of Experimental Spiritualism (2 vols., 1931) is a comprehensive survey of Spiritualist type phenomena in many countries from primitive times on. William Howitt 's The History of the Supernatural (1863) is useful, if simplistic, in tracing the antecedents of Spiritualism in past ages. E. W. Capron's Modern Spiritualism: Its Facts and Fanaticism, Its Consistencies and Contradictions (1855) has special interest as an account of the movement in its early years.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's History of Spiritualism (2 vols., 1926) is an important review of the background and history of the movement, but non-critical in its presentation. Frank Pod-more 's Modern Spiritualism (2 vols., 1902) is a skeptical review, valuable for its detailed information of early mediumship. J. Arthur Hill's Spiritualism: Its History, Phenomena and Doctrine (1918) is useful but fragmentary. A. Campbell Holms's The Facts of Psychic Science and Philosophy (1925) is a useful tabulation of the phenomena of Spiritualism but non-critical in treatment.

In the decades since Spiritualism celebrated its centennial in 1948, a variety of scholars, primarily sociologists and historians, have taken a look at the movement and provided valuable additions to the literature. Foremost is J. Stillson Judah's The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America (1967), which discusses Spiritualism in the larger context of the movement, from the doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg to Spiritualism and then to Theosophy. An excellent modern survey of nineteenth-century Spiritualism in the United States is provided in Slater Brown's The Heyday of Spiritualism (1970); and British Spiritualism is covered in Geoffrey K. Nelson's Spiritualism and Society (1969). Hans Bear supplies a most valuable discussion of the very neglected spiritual churches, the movement of Spiritualism in the African American community. Lamar Keene, a former Spiritualist, documents the continuance of fake materialization séances in some Spiritualist churches. Keene's volume joins a long list of older but still valuable literature, such as John W. Truesdell's The Bottom Facts Concerning the Science of Spiritualism (1884); Julien J. Proskauer's Spook Crooks! Exposing the Secrets of the Prophet-eers Who Conduct Our Wickedest Industry (1932); Harry Houdini 's A Magician Among the Spirits (1924); and the anonymous Revelations of a Spirit Medium (1891; reissued by Harry Price and Eric J. Ding-wall ).


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SPIRITUALISM is a religious movement whose adherents seek contact with spirits through mediums in gatherings called séances. It emerged in the Northeast amid the transformations of capitalism, industrialization, urbanization, religious revivalism and experimentation, social reform, democratization, and the rising authority of science.

Spiritualism originated in 1848 in western New York, a region swept by religious revivalism and ferment after the opening of the Erie Canal. Radical ex-Quakers and abolitionists there decided that mysterious knockings in the Hydesville home of sisters Kate and Margaret Fox were communications by spirits. Press coverage generated interest in these "spirit manifestations" after the Fox sisters began a series of demonstrations in Rochester, and

they were referred to as the "Rochester Rappings." Advocates claimed scientific proof of immortality. Many Americans thought they could serve as mediums.

Meanwhile, "Poughkeepsie Seer" Andrew Jackson Davis's involvement with mesmerism had by 1847 produced "harmonialism," a system of religious philosophy and social reform he claimed he had received in a trance from the eighteenth-century scientist-mystic Emanuel Swedenborg and other spirits (see Swedenborgian Churches). Rejecting Calvinist doctrines of innate depravity and eternal punishment and advocating perpetual spiritual growth, harmonialism attracted Universalists, Unitarians, Quakers, Swedenborgians, deists, members of evangelical denominations, and radical social reformers, especially abolitionists and women's rights advocates. Spiritualis memerged when Davis and his followers linked harmonialism to mediumship.

Spiritualism spread across the North during the 1850s and subsequently to the West Coast. Associated with abolitionism and other radical reforms, it was less popular in the South. Mediums were usually women, whom Victorian Americans believed had a heightened piety and sensitivity to spirit communication; many were empowered to public social activism by their mediumship. Spirit messages often urged Americans to counteract expanding commercialization, industrialization, and urbanization by retaining communal and republican values thought to be threatened by the emerging order. Spiritualism appealed across race and class lines but was promoted primarily by an anxious new middle class.

Spiritualism had its critics. Ministers, feeling their authority threatened, labeled it necromancy, witchcraft, and a stimulus to free love. Most scientists rejected it, especially after unfavorable investigations in the mid to late nineteenth century, although a few became defenders, and some examined it within the framework of psychic phenomena from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. Debunkers from the 1850s forward have charged mediums with fraud. Some early sympathizers bolted to found Christian Science and Theosophy.

Such challenges limited Spiritualism's growth and appeal, but the new religion persisted and, despite its strong anti-organizational thrust, became institutionalized. Spiritualists formed perhaps thousands of circles nationwide. They founded over 200 newspapers by 1900 and publishing houses in New York City, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. The federal census listed 17 Spiritualist churches in 1860, 95 in 1870, 334 in 1890, and 455 in 1906, with tens of thousands of members in 1890 and 1906. Beginning in the 1870s, Spiritualists established camps in New York, Massachusetts, Indiana, Florida, and several other states. National organization efforts began in the 1860s, and the National Spiritualist Association of Churches was founded in Chicago in 1893. Although over-all numbers subsequently declined, large-scale organizations proliferated (the NASC remained the largest), giving Spiritualism a permanent institutional presence and an increasingly ecclesiastical character.

Spiritualism revitalized during the 1960s amid increased interest in alternative spiritualities, psychic phenomena, and the subsequent New Age Movement, whose eclectic practices include spirit "channeling." Yet it remained distinct from New Age religions and continues to express Americans' desire for spiritual grounding amid ongoing change.


Braude, Ann. Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

Carroll, Bret E. Spiritualism in Antebellum America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Moore, R. Laurence. In Search of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology, and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Bret E.Carroll

See alsoParapsychology ; Religion and Religious Affiliation ; Women's Rights Movement: The Nineteenth Century .

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spir·it·u·al·ism / ˈspirichoōəˌlizəm/ • n. 1. a system of belief or religious practice based on supposed communication with the spirits of the dead, esp. through mediums. 2. Philos. the doctrine that the spirit exists as distinct from matter, or that spirit is the only reality. DERIVATIVES: spir·it·u·al·ist n. spir·it·u·al·is·tic / ˌspirichoōəˈlistik/ adj.

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spiritualism Belief that, at death, the personality of an individual is transferred to another plane of existence, with which communication from the world of the living is possible. The channel of such communication is a receptive person called a medium. Spiritualism as a movement began in the USA in 1848.

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604. Spiritualism

  1. Arcati, Madame medium who materializes her clients two successive wives. [Br. Drama: Noel Coward Blithe Spirit in On Stage, 236]
  2. Medium, The Menottis opera of a medium haunted by her own hoax. [Am. Opera: Benét, 653]

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"Spiritualism." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. 1986. Encyclopedia.com. 30 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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spiritualism: see spiritism.

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