Western Esoteric Family II: Spiritualism & New Age

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18 Western Esoteric Family II: Spiritualism & New Age














Swedenborgian Groups



Flying Saucer Groups

Drug-Related Groups

Other Psychic New Age Groups

As esotericism developed through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Rosicrucianism was followed by speculative Freemasonry, its first popular expression with a widespread international following. By the end of the eighteenth century, two additional popular movements emerged, one around the writings and experiences of Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) and the other around the magnetic-healing work of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815). The Swedenborgian movement would survive to the present in several small church bodies. Mesmerism as a movement would die out as its essence was absorbed into what would become the most popular expression of esotericism in the nineteenth century—Spiritualism. This second chapter dedicated to Western esotericism covers those groups and subsequent twentieth-century movements that flowed from the efforts of Swedenborg and Mesmer and from Spiritualism. Ultimately, these movements found their life in the ubiquitous experience of people with forces and beings that seem to be from another dimension, as well as various experiences of knowing using powers seemingly apart from the five senses, what today is termed extrasensory perception.

From the beginning of recorded history, people have claimed powers of mind and spirit far surpassing those commonly recognized by modern science. Men have claimed knowledge from beyond the capabilities of the five senses: the power to move objects by thought and the ability to talk to beings whose permanent home is not our world. In ancient Greece, the temple at Delphi was a center of this psychic world. Pythia, a psychic who prophesied for visiting dignitaries, lived in Delphi. These prophecies, given in hexametric verse, were often of a cryptic nature. Possibly the most famous story of Delphi comes from the historian Herodotus (c. 484–c. 425 b.c.e.). According to Herodotus, Croesus, king of Lydia in the time of Cyrus of Persia, decided to do battle with Cyrus. Beforehand, he consulted the oracle of Delphi, who told him, “Croesus, having crossed the Halys (River), will destroy a great empire.” Confident of victory, Croesus crossed the river and was thoroughly defeated. Croesus demanded an explanation. The oracle replied bluntly that a great empire, Lydia, had fallen as predicted.

Socrates (c. 470–399 b.c.e.) is often cited in ancient literature as a psychic of note. While a child, he became aware of a voice that spoke to him. The voice never commanded particular acts, but forbade wrong action.

During the twentieth century, parapsychologists—scientists who investigate the psychic—developed a vocabulary by which the psychic can be understood. J. B. Rhine (1895– 1980) of Duke University spearheaded this effort. Extrasensory perception (ESP) is the term Rhine coined to describe the ability to perceive information and encounter a world beyond the commonly recognized senses. ESP has several basic subdivisions. Telepathy is mind-to-mind (subconscious-to-subconscious) communication. Clairvoyance is perception of the world beyond the senses without any other mind’s help. Precognition is a perception of events in the future. Psychokinesis (PK) is the power of mind over matter; Rhine saw spiritual healing as one prominent example of psychokinesis. In years of exacting experiments, Rhine and his colleagues attempted to document the existence of these four phenomena. As the work progressed, an additional technical vocabulary was developed.

Beyond these four forms of psychic perception, psychic people describe many other experiences, which parapsychologists also attempted to explore. Some are varieties of one of the four basic forms, as, for example, spiritual healing is a special case of psychokinesis. Others psychic experiences are not so clearly tied to the four basic subdivisions of ESP. Astral travel, for example, is the experience of the conscious self being outside the body. Mediumship or channeling involves clairvoyance and telepathic communication with entities (the dead, ascended masters, angels, etc.) claimed to have an existence in a different realm, a realm other than the world of the normal waking consciousness.

In the 1960s, investigation of the healing power so long claimed by sensitive people and members of different religious groups was begun in earnest. Such researchers as Bernard Grad of McGill University in Montreal and Justa Smith of Rosary Hill College in Buffalo, New York, began to demonstrate, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, the reality of a power that could heal mice, stimulate the growth and yield of plants, and change the growth rate of enzymes. From such work as this, a new science, paraphysics, emerged.

Beyond the realm of the purely psychical is the realm of the esoteric or occult. The word occult originally meant “hidden,” the opposite of apocalypse, that which is “revealed.” In popular culture, however, occult has come to be applied to practices that were once part of the “hidden wisdom.” These practices include various arts of divination—astrology, numerology, palmistry, and the reading of tarot cards and tea leaves—to mention a few.


Although aware of the ancient world in general, contemporary psychics are most aware of one aspect of the ancient world—the biblical tradition. They hold that, from cover to cover, the Bible is a psychic book, replete with incidents that in today’s terminology are properly called psychic. These include incidents of spirit communication (Matthew 17:1–9; I Samuel 28), clairvoyance (John 4:16–29), healing (I Kings 5:1–27; Acts 3:3–11), prophecy (Acts 11:28; 21:1–13), and divination (Matthew 2:1–2; Acts 1:15–26).

Among characters in the Old Testament, Samuel is the pristine example of what in the modern world would be called a psychic. According to the account of his life, as a young child, Samuel was taken to Eli, Israel’s corrupt psychic, to be dedicated to God. Shortly afterward, he had his psychic awakening in the famous incident when a voice called out his name (I Samuel 3). Clearly descriptive of the major activity in Samuel’s day-to-day life was the incident that initially brought him into contact with the future King Saul (I Samuel 9). The young Saul, the son of Kish, woke one morning to discover that his father’s donkeys had disappeared. He looked in vain for the lost herd. His servant suggested that Samuel, the prophet, might be able to help, for as the writer of I Samuel noted: “Before time in Israel when a man went to inquire of God, thus he said, ‘Come let us go to the seer; for he that is now called a Prophet was before time called a Seer’” (I Samuel 9).

Samuel received a clairvoyant vision of Saul long before Saul’s arrival and went out to meet him. Instead of speaking to Saul of donkeys, Samuel began to give Saul a precognitive vision of his future as king of Israel. Samuel then anointed him. Only after the anointing did Samuel talk of the lost donkeys, revealing that they had returned home. When Saul became king, Samuel became his chief psychic adviser, a popular office in the ancient world. After Samuel’s death, Saul went to a medium, a woman at Endor, to try to contact Samuel’s spirit (I Samuel 28).

Psychics studying the New Testament look to Jesus as the paradigm of a psychic, one upon whom they can model their own lives. Jesus’ miracles are interpreted in psychic categories. The transfiguration, in which Jesus talks to the visible spirits of two long-dead personages, Moses and Elijah, is seen as a materialization. There are also incidents of psychic healing (Mark 7:31–37; Matthew 20:29–34), psychokinesis (Mark 11:12–14, 20–21; Acts 13:6), clairvoyance (Matthew 2:13; Acts 10:1–33), and precognition (Mark 10:32–34; Acts 27:9–44). Psychic talents are given the name “gifts of the Spirit” by Paul (I Corinthians 12:4–11).

Irenaeus (c. 130–c.202 c.e.) and other writers in the early Christian movement noted the continuation of these gifts in the second-century church. Through the following centuries, various writers have noted the steady occurrence of psychic events up to modern times.

The modern psychic community dates from psychical research that began in the late seventeenth century. In the face of deism, which denied the possibility of miracles or communication with spirits, researchers began to publish accounts of “supernatural” incidents that “proved” the existence of the invisible world. These included accounts of simple clairvoyance and precognition (often in dreams), astral travel, witchcraft and possession, ghosts, and spirit communication. Among the many writers who contributed to this research are Joseph Glanvill (1636–1680), Cotton Mather (1663–1728), Increase Mather (1639–1723), Richard Baxter (1615–1691), and John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of Methodism.

A contemporary of Wesley, Emanuel Swedenborg, became the first psychic-medium of import in modern times. In the late 1700s he published many books that he claimed to be accounts of his contacts and visits to another world—the astral world of spirits. A later contemporary of Wesley and Swedenborg, Franz Anton Mesmer, developed magnetic (or psychic) healing, giving it a scientific frame of reference.


The psychic history of America is as old as the settlement by Europeans. From the beginning, witchcraft and occultism emerged in New England in patterns not unlike those of the settlers’ English homeland. Among the first occultists was Tituba, the slave of the Reverend Samuel Parris (1653–1720) of Salem. Tituba taught the Parris children occult practices brought from her West Indian homeland. Vodou dolls were found in the house of Goodwife Glover during the witchcraft trials of 1692, an indication that occult arts were more widespread than many thought.

Healing, psychic readings, and even black magic were rife among the Pennsylvania Dutch, whose powwow men were both feared and venerated.

In the 1830s and 1840s, a number of healers, hypnotists, and phrenologists toured America, writing and lecturing. The disciples of Mesmer, most notably Charles Poyen (d. 1844), created a movement of magnetists before the Civil War (1861–1865). They defined animal magnetism as the energy flowing from healer to patient during psychic healing and from hypnotist to client in hypnotism. Their ranks included radical Methodist preacher LaRoy Sunderland (1803–1885). The magnetists were followed by the Spiritualists, who gave us the first American psychic tradition. Their goal was proof of survival after bodily death through evidence of spirit contact (contact with the dead).

The growth of Spiritualism, coupled with flamboyant press coverage and charges of fraud, caused many scientists and intellectuals to become interested in psychic phenomena. This interest led to the formation of the Society for Psychical Research in England in 1882 and the American Society of Psychical Research (ASPR) in 1884. Among the leading members of ASPR were William James (1842–1910) and Josiah Royce (1855–1916). Much of the energy of nineteenth-century ASPR members was dedicated to research on mediumistic phenomena. In this endeavor, William James,

Western Esoteric Family II: Spiritualism and New Age Chronology
1747Emanuel Swedenborg resigns from his job with the Swedish Bureau of Mines to devote life to spiritual work.
1759From 300 miles away, Swedenborg has vision of fire in Stockholm.
1784French Academy of Science denounces the magnetic theories of Franz Anton Mesmer.
1792First American Swedenborgian society founded in Baltimore, Maryland.
1817General Convention of the New Jerusalem in the United States of America organized in Baltimore, Maryland.
1848Reports of spirit rappings in the home of the Fox sisters give birth to modern Spiritualism in North America.
1850Spirtualist medium Andrew Jackson Davis issues his study of Spiritual thought, the Great Harmonia.
1855The first issues of England’s first Spiritualist newspaper, the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegram, appear.
1884American Society for Psychical Research founded.
1893National Spiritualist Association founded in Chicago.
1897General Assembly of Spiritualists organized in New York.
1922National Colored Spiritualist Association of Churches is founded after racial split in the Spiritualist movement.
1925The Metropolitan Spiritual Community Churches of Christ is founded by two African Americans, William Taylor and Leviticus Lee Boswell.
1929Medium Arthur Ford claims to have broken the code between Harry Houdini and his wife and to have brought a spirit message from the late magician.
1931Edgar Cayce establishes the Association for Research and Enlightenment.
1934J. B. Rhine introduces public to parapsychology in his book Extra Sensory Perception.
1947Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of some unknown flying objects near Mt. Rainier, Washington, launches flying saucer era.
1951Medium Eileen J. Garrett establishes the New York–based Parapsychology Foundation.
1952Californian George Adamski publishes claims to have met extraterrestrial “space brothers.”
1955Founding Church of Scientology opens its doors in Washington, D.C.
1956The Search for Bridey Murphy introduces the American public to reincarnation and the exploration of past lives.
1960Psychic Observer report exposes fraudulent mediumship at Spiritualists’ Camp Chesterfield in Indiana.
1962Contactee Gloria Lee dies in Washington, D.C., as result of her fast to attract attention to flying saucer phenomenon.
1966Writer Allen Spraggett hosts televised séance with medium Arthur Ford and Episcopal bishop James Pike.
Early 1970sNew Age movement begins with announcement of a coming Aquarian Age of peace and light.
1972Founding of the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research.
1973David Spangler forms the Lorian Association. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell takes part in a telepathy experiment between the Earth and space.
1975The Humanist magazine publishes statement on “Objections to Astrology” signed by 186 scientists.
1976Former medium Lamar Keene exposes world of fraudulent mediumship in his book The Psychic Mafia.
Humanist philosopher Paul Kurtz and others found Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) to counter rise of belief in astrology and psychic phenomena.
1977JZ Knight begins to channel Ramtha.
1978Harmonic Convergence is celebrated August 16–17.
Actress Shirley Maclaine stars in autobiographical made-for-television movie of her awakening, Out on a Limb.
1989–90New Age movement comes to an end as leading figures renounce its millennial expectations.
1994James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy becomes the best-selling book of the post–New Age era.
2000Crossing Over with John Edwards begins airing on national television on the Sci-Fi Network.

who spent a number of years observing medium Leonora Piper (1857–1950), believed he had found sufficient proof of survival beyond death.

A new day in psychical research arrived when J. B. Rhine began his work at Duke University in the 1930s. Rhine completely revamped psychical research, giving it a new name, parapsychology, and a new method. Rhine took the psychic event into the laboratory, demonstrating it in repeatable experiments. In 1968 new impetus was given to psychical research as the West became aware that extensive parapsychological endeavors were occurring in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Among the sources of knowledge about that research was a best-selling book by two young reporters, Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder. Their Psychic Discoveries behind the Iron Curtain (1970) gave the majority of Americans their first look at Russian research into the psychic, and gave parapsychologists additional motivation for expanding their efforts.

After the Civil War, psychic alternatives to Spiritualism began to emerge. Former Spiritualists Pascal Beverly Randolph (1825–1875) and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891) initiated Rosicrucianism and the Theosophical Society, respectively (both are discussed in chapter 17). After the turn of the century, a host of non-Spiritualist psychic groups arose. Some of these were oriented toward Eastern philosophy, others toward parapsychology. The last to arise in any number were the revived occultists.


The contemporary psychic community is oriented toward psychic experience. In this regard, they resemble the Pentecostal community (see chapter 9), which is oriented toward religious experiences. When viewed objectively, psychic and religious experiences are similar, though they are described in different terms. For both, experience is itself important. Psychic people differ slightly from New Thought metaphysicians, who are oriented more toward results and a meaningful context. In being oriented toward religious experience, psychics share a lifestyle with mystics and pietists of all ages.

Psychics have also leaned toward a “scientific” demonstration of the truth of their faith. Psychics see their religious beliefs proved in the everyday repetition of verifiable psychic events. Spiritualists believe that the truth of survival comes in data received through mediums. For some, the truth is in the deep philosophy that comes through an otherwise shallow person who operates as a channel. For others, the truth is found in the existence of an invisible world of psychic perception, continually demonstrated by clairvoyance.

This desire for scientific verification gives the psychic community a peculiar relation to scientists, to whom they are continually looking for verification. There has been at least a relative degree of correlation, and the growth of data from parapsychology has had a profound effect on the religious psychic community. Such data provide content for ongoing discussion, and make the psychic community almost impervious to religious traditions that lack such contemporary scientific verification.


The life and experience of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), the son of a Swedish Lutheran bishop, were to make him one of the great religious lights of the eighteenth century. That he is not as well remembered as some of his contemporaries, such as John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), does not so much belie his significance as illustrate the psychic movement’s tendency to belittle history.

Swedenborg was reared a pious Lutheran. As a young man, he took up the study of science; mathematics and astronomy were his favorite subjects. After a period abroad gaining an education, he settled in Sweden to begin a scientific career and was appointed to a position on the Board of Mines in 1724. His publication of several volumes a decade later led to his recognition by the scientific community and an invitation to become a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia.

His work with the Bureau of Mines led him to concentrate his scientific study in the field of geology. His practical suggestions spurred the improvement of mining procedures throughout Sweden and actually laid the foundation for a science of geology in that country. He published one of the first exhaustive works on metallurgy, and his efforts led to the founding of the science of crystallography. His published works might seem overly philosophical by contemporary standards, but they indicate an ecumenicity of mind, not any lack of scientific acumen.

As early as 1736, however, a different side of Swedenborg began to emerge. He started to take account of unusual dreams and bodily states that he did not fully understand. A crisis in his thinking came in 1744, when he began to realize that intellectual pursuits were ultimately unsatisfying and that he must submit his life to divine guidance. Three years later, he made public his changed perspective, resigned his position with the Bureau of Mines, and devoted the remainder of his life to developing his ideas and publishing them abroad.

At this point, Swedenborg became what today would be called a medium, one who has contact with disincarnate spirit entities. He claimed that, in his visions, he traveled to spirit realms and from spirit entities (primarily angels) gained revelatory knowledge of the nature of life, life after death, and God. The crux of his philosophy is set forth in five long treatises and a commentary on the Bible.

The central theme in Swedenborg’s system is the “law of correspondences.” He believed that there were two realms of created existence, the physical (phenomenal) and the spiritual (real). Between the two, there is everywhere an exact correspondence. As a seer and visionary, Swedenborg was able to discern these correspondences. He turned especially to the scripture; his commentaries were aimed at elucidating its spiritual meaning.

The revelatory data upon which Swedenborg spent so much of his time concerned the nature of life after death. He claimed to have gained this knowledge by traveling (astral travel) to the spirit world. From these experiences, he came to believe that man and woman were immortal. He denied the resurrection of the body, and believed that man’s soul immediately passes to conscious spirit existence. Souls find themselves moving toward the prime of adult life; that is, the souls of people who died as children will progress to maturity and the souls of those who died in old age will return to the vigor they had in younger adulthood.

As one dies, the soul goes to an intermediate spirit abode between heaven and hell, where preparation for the final state is made. Periodic visits of the soul after reaching heaven or hell are made to this intermediate state, so that appreciation or understanding of the final abode can be heightened by contrast.

Swedenborg deviated from orthodox Lutheranism on several other points. For example, he denied the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons), avowing instead that God is one in three principles, each of which is manifest in Jesus Christ. Swedenborg believed the Father is the principle of love, “ineffable and exhaustless”; the Son is the principle of divine wisdom; and the Holy Spirit is the energy of divinity that operates in humans to inspire, console, and sanctify them.

Between 1749 and 1756, Swedenborg’s multivolume commentary on Genesis and Exodus, Arcana Coelestia, was published. Other works followed. The books garnered little response in Sweden, and Swedenborg did little to proselytize, aside from making his ideas available. For example, he wrote his books in Latin, not Swedish. A few persons were impressed with his clairvoyance, demonstrated in his famous vision of the Stockholm fire of 1759 at a time when he was three hundred miles away from that city.

It was in England that his teachings found greatest acceptance. Shortly after Swedenborg’s death in 1772, several men—the Reverend John Cowles, the Reverend Thomas Hartley, and Thomas Cookworthy—began to translate the material into English. In 1783 Robert Hindmarsh (1759– 1835) began to search for other interested parties. As a result of his efforts, a weekly meeting, originally called the Theosophical Society, was established in London. This body was constituted as the New Jerusalem Church in 1787. Today it is often called simply the New Church.

The translation, publication, and dissemination of Swedenborg’s religious writings was a major thrust of New Church activity from the outset. Under Cowles’s leadership, the Society for Printing and Publishing the Writing of Emmanuel Swedenborg was established in 1810.

Members of the New Church migrated to the colonies and formed a society in Baltimore in 1792. Other societies were soon formed along the coast as far south as Charleston, South Carolina, and as far west as Madison Town, Indiana.


In I Samuel 28, according to Spiritualists, there occurs one of the most famous incidents of mediumship in the history of the West. As the story goes, Saul, king of Israel, was to face the Philistines and became afraid of their might. After analyzing his dreams, and consulting his royal psychics and the Urim and Thummim (an ancient divination device), he visited a medium at Endor, asking that she call up Samuel, Saul’s departed psychic counselor. To everyone’s surprise, Samuel appeared and condemned Saul.

In Matthew 17, another famous mediumistic event, popularly known as the transfiguration, is recorded. Jesus and three apostles were present when two long-dead figures, Moses and Elijah, appeared and conversed with Jesus. In modern Spiritualist terminology, this event would be called a materialization séance, a gathering at which a spirit or something immaterial takes visible form.

Mediumistic phenomena are as old as humankind. Archeological, anthropological, and historical literature is full of references to professed intercourse with the spirit world. In so-called primitive culture, the shaman was a combination of medium, psychic, and magician, as were psychics operating under various labels in the ancient Mediterranean world. However, in spite of the ancient practices to which Spiritualism is heir, Spiritualism is itself a relatively new phenomenon, related to the peculiar thrust of Western religion since the late 1600s. The true ancestors of Spiritualism are not so much the ancient mediums, but the Puritan and Wesleyan theologians who cited examples of psychic phenomena to prove the existence of the unseen world to their skeptical readers. In the late 1600s, as the polemic against the existence of witchcraft grew, and as Deism, which denied the validity of any intercourse with spirit entities, emerged, several Puritan theologians began to issue numerous accounts of the spirit world.

In its 1930 Constitution and Bylaws, the National Spiritualist Association of Churches defines Spiritualism as “the Science, Philosophy and Religion of a continuous life, based upon the demonstrable fact of communication by means of mediumship, with those who live in the Spirit World.” The demonstration of survival was not a necessity, nor even a major theme of psychic-mediumistic phenomena, until the modern age began to doubt such survival. In this respect, Spiritualism is the direct inheritor of Puritan Wesleyan concerns.

In 1681, Joseph Glanvill published his Saducismus Triumphatus, which was followed by similar books by Increase Mather, Richard Baxter, and Cotton Mather. John Wesley states the issue of the British Evangelicals succinctly in the introduction to his lengthy discussion of the mediumship of Elizabeth Hobson (b. 1744):

I take knowledge these are at the bottom of the outcry which has been raised, and with such insolence spread through the nation, in direct opposition not only to the Bible, but the suffrage of the wisest and best of men in all ages and nations. They well know (whether Christians know it or not), that the giving up of witchcraft is, in effect, giving up the Bible; andthey know, on the other hand, that if but one account of the intercourse of men with separate spirits be admitted, their whole castle in the air (Deism, Atheism, Materialism) falls to the ground. I know no reason, therefore, why we should suffer even this weapon to be wrested out of our hands. Indeed there are numerous arguments besides, which abundantly confute their vain imaginations. But we need not be hooted out of one; neither reason nor religion require this.”

John Wesley, The Journal (1768) 1914, vol. 5, p. 265.

That these men, not the many psychics of every age, are the immediate ancestors of the Spiritualists is amply documented in the literature of Spiritualism, as well as in the creedal statements, where continual reference is made to the central emphasis of Spiritualism—the belief in personal survival after death, which can be demonstrated by mediumship. This belief and emphasis on survival and mediumship distinguish Spiritualism from other psychic groups.

Spiritualism is secondarily the child of the psychic activity of the eighteenth century. This activity was centered on the work of two men—Swedenborg and Mesmer. Mesmer had, in the 1770s and 1780s, discovered and articulated a form of psychic healing that included both magnetic healing and hypnotism. Denounced by the French Academy in 1784, Mesmer died in disgrace, but many of his students took his magnetic philosophy and hypnotism to England and the United States. As the result of the publication of the Progress of Animal Magnetism in New England by Charles Poyen in 1837, and widespread lecturing by him and other magnetic students, the issue of the human psychic nature was raised across the country in the early 1840s. In 1843 one of these roving mesmerists spurred interest in a young shoemaker apprentice, Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910). With this encounter, modern Spiritualism can be said to have begun.

Davis was born in Blooming Grove, New York, in 1826. After hearing lectures on mesmerism, Davis sought out a local hypnotist, William Levington, and was placed in a trance. He immediately showed powers of clairvoyance; claims were made that he could duplicate the practices of the magnetists. The following year he had a vision of Galen, the famous Greek physician, and soon after, of Emanuel Swedenborg. These visions changed his life, and he began a career as healer and seer. He claimed abilities to diagnose and heal, converse with spirits, and channel knowledge from the omnipotent mind. Davis published a number of books over the next thirty years. Although not widely read today, these books were influential in the formative years of Spiritualism.

Davis, like Swedenborg, pictured six spheres of existence in the afterlife. At death, a person gravitates to the sphere most akin to his state of being at death. From this sphere, he continues to progress toward God through the higher spheres or “summerland.” Thus humankind is in a state of continual progression upward. Such progression schemes were common in early Spiritualism.

The event most American Spiritualists regard as the birth of their faith occurred on March 31, 1848. On that date a young woman named Kate Fox (c. 1839–1892) began to get a rational response from mysterious rapping noises heard in her home in Hydesville, New York. Kate and her two sisters discovered that the rapping sounds would respond to their hand clapping. With a little practice, they were able to work out a code by which they could communicate with Mr. Splitfoot, as they called him, supposedly a disincarnate entity. Mr. Splitfoot rapped out his name as Charles B. Roena, and told them he had been murdered in that house some years previously. Neighbors came to witness the rapping. No less famous a person than the journalist Horace Greeley (1811–1872) supported the veracity of the Fox sisters against charges of fraud. News of the Fox sisters’ mediumship spread, and soon other psychics who could communicate with spirits began to appear. Some were slate mediums: The spirits wrote their messages with chalk on slates. Other mediums tipped tables. Still others went into trances and allowed spirits to use their voice boxes. Physical mediums, who could produce materialized images of the spirits, arose as well. Within a decade of the Civil War, what was to become a spiritualist movement was developing.

Spiritualism, once publicized, spread quickly across the continent. Spiritualism was almost immediately taken to California as people responded both to the spirits and to the gold rush, and by 1855, an unnamed medium who was also a prominent lawyer, was holding regular séances in his parlor in San Francisco. Even before emerging in the West, Spiritualism had traveled northward to Canada, where early centers developed in Toronto, London, Ottawa, and St. Catherines. A Mrs. Swaim became the chief medium in Toronto, while John Spetique was the organizer of activities in London. In 1858 a British medium who had moved to Boston, Emma Hardinge (1823–1899), toured Quebec and the Maritime Provinces speaking and demonstrating spirit contact. From these early endeavors, Spiritualism grew slowly throughout the country.

The 1880–1920 period was the era of the great mediums. During this time, numerous books purporting to be revelations from the spirit world were produced. These provided alternative material to both Swedenborg and Davis. They included Oahspe (1882) by John B. Newbrough (1828–1891) and the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (1907) by Levi H. Dowling (1844–1911). Both are still in print and are heavily read in the Spiritualist movement. Among the mediums to be tested with outstanding results in this era were Leonora Piper, Gladys Osborne Leonard (1882–1968), and Winifred Coombe-Tennant (1874–1956).


Spiritualism developed several forms to disseminate its teachings. These include the camp, the church, the séance, and the development class. The camp developed in the mid-nineteenth century in the Chautauqua era, and was modeled on the famous camp meetings held near Lake Chautauqua in southwestern New York. Scattered around the country, the various Spiritualist camps provide a leisurely setting for lectures, mediumistic readings, and general propaganda efforts. Such camps are a major summertime activity for both churched and unchurched mediums who experience a summer slack.

The local Spiritualist groups are organized into churches on a Protestant model. The head medium is usually listed as pastor, with the other mediums acting as assistants. The Sunday morning service is similar in form to the average Protestant church service except: (1) the content will be Spiritualist; (2) the pastor may go into a trance before delivering the sermon or lecture; and (3) at the close of the service, members of the congregation may receive psychic readings (usually called spirit greetings).

The real heart of Spiritualism is the séance. This meeting is conducted by a medium for as many as 50 people, usually seated in a circle in the dark. From an entranced state, the medium may produce spirit phenomena of a wide variety, including the levitation of objects and materialization. Usually a spirit control speaks through the medium—the spirit control is the person from the spirit realm who regularly speaks through the medium and is thought of as the medium’s constant companion. The word control is used because the medium’s vocal chords are said to be controlled by the person from the spirit realm while the medium is in a trance. The spirit control often gives those at the séance information about their loved ones who have died.

The Spiritualist development class, as the name implies, is for the development and training of psychic abilities, especially mediumistic ones. Meditation is basic to development, but other techniques and practices vary, depending on the medium.

Mediums themselves are largely supported by individual readings (the conveying of greetings from the spirit world) for church members. Building on the experiences of contact with the departed, the Sunday worship services take second place to actual incidence of such contact. Events in which psychic readings occur are always the best attended.

The Spiritualist camp remains a vital force within the movement. A mix of leisure, lectures, and mediums attract believers during the summer (or local tourist season) and are a vital source of revenue for many mediums serving small churches. Some camps serve as schools for mediums-in-training, providing exposure and a working-learning situation.

The great problem that has hampered the development of Spiritualism is fraud. As soon as Spiritualism emerged, fraudulent practices by various mediums were uncovered. Mediums claimed to demonstrate a variety of phenomena produced by spirit agency. As psychical researchers became more and more sophisticated in their ability to perceive conjuring tricks, the number of exposures increased. Henry Slade (d. 1905), a famous nineteenth-century slate medium, was continually exposed. The movement was deeply affected in 1888 when Kate Fox and her sister Margaret (c. 1833–1893) confessed and then demonstrated how they had made the original rappings. Margaret retracted her confession the next year and was accepted back into the ranks of Spiritualism, but the confessions were not forgotten.

In the early years of the twentieth century, Harry Houdini (1874–1926) turned his attention to mediums, becoming one of the most famous exposers of fraud in the history of American Spiritualism. A master magician himself, Houdini knew all the devices used to fool the naive sitter at the séance. As a result of the efforts of psychical researchers and several magicians concerned about conjuring being passed off as the result of paranormal effects, much of the physical phenomena so prominent in Spiritualism in the early twentieth century has largely disappeared from the movement.

Many people assumed that fraudulent mediumship had been driven out of Spiritualism by the likes of Houdini, but as recently as 1960, a major exposé of fraudulent mediums was reported, complete with pictures, in the then-important Spiritualist tabloid Psychic Observer. A psychical researcher, Andrija Puharich (1918–1995), and paper’s editor, Thomas O’Neill, discovered Mable Riffle, one of the most famous mediums in the country and the secretary of Camp Chesterfield (Indiana), a Spiritualist camp, fraudulently giving materialization séances. Besides the removal of some of the mediums from the camp, the main result of the exposé was the withdrawal of financial support for the Psychic Observer, forcing O’Neill to sell out.

Those within the psychic community note that, overall, fraud is not common and is, in the main, confined to a few independent mediums and several of the Spiritualist camps. The major practice is the attempt by mediums and psychics to pad their psychic ability with bland generalities. Apologists insist that the constant demand for psychic readings is responsible. Mediums have to perform on demand, but the nature of psychic power is such that it does not always function on demand. Still, the exposure of fraud has kept Spiritualism from becoming the powerful element in the North American religious community that it is, for example, in Brazil and Great Britain.


Spiritualism initially organized in the second half of the nineteenth century around a set of state associations. The first national organization, the National Spiritual Association (now the National Spiritualist Association of Churches) was founded in 1893. The National Spiritual Association established Spiritualism as clearly a religious movement. Arguments over such topics as reincarnation and scandals over fraud would, decade-by-decade, divide spiritualists and lead to the formation of a number of additional Spiritualist denominations. While never a large movement, it drew continuing comment both from skeptics (such as Houdini) attempting to disprove its claims and from psychic researchers hoping to verify at least some of its phenomena.

The inability to find scientific proof to verify its central claim of spirit contact would keep Spiritualists on the fringe of the religious community, though a few mediums would attain a level of fame and acceptance. Notable among these was Arthur Ford (1897–1971), who claimed to have broken a code that Houdini left with his widow, thus proving spirit survival. Many who were influenced by Ford but otherwise outside of organized Spiritualism would later form the Spiritual Frontier Fellowship, an organization dedicated to exploring the spiritual resources provided by prayer, meditation, and spirit contact. Many of its leaders were Christian clergy and church lay leaders.

Spiritualists showed little interest in the New Age movement and suffered greatly by the growth of channels, mediums who operated outside of the Spiritualist movement. Through the 1970s and 1980s, many of the smaller Spiritualist groups disappeared, not helped by continued charges of fraud, such as those published by ex-medium M. Lamar Keene in The Psychic Mafia (1976).

Surprisingly, Spiritualism has made a comeback as the twenty-first century begins. Two mediums, Sylvia Browne and James Van Praagh, have produced multiple best-selling books, and medium John Edwards demonstrated his abilities on the television programs Crossing Over and Cross Country. At the same time, the Internet has given the movement access to a new generation of potential believers.


Accompanying the emergence of Spiritualism was an impulse not only to prove the existence of life after death, but to gain detailed information from the spirit world concerning the nature of spirit existence and the structure of the universe. Many Spiritualists desired to understand the metaphysical system derived from spirit communication. Although the primary emphasis in Spiritualism has been to prove survival and the continuance of life after bodily death, the secondary emphasis to understand the spirit world and the real nature of life on earth has been a determining force in the history of Spiritualist groups. Some schisms in early Spiritualism grew out of this secondary emphasis.

Channeling is like most Spiritualist activities in that it retains the centrality of mediumship; however, the medium, usually termed a channel, tends to be in contact with evolved spirit entities, spirits that were once human but have evolved and have access to higher levels of wisdom and knowledge. These entities are viewed as wise and spiritual masters, who function much as the bodhisattvas in Buddhism who return from their elevated state to teach humankind.

Channeling was important to some early mediums such as Andrew Jackson Davis and Thomas Lake Harris (1823–1906), both of whom published long works derived from channeling sessions. Newbrough’s Oahspe and Dowling’s Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ were both channeled volumes produced near the turn of the century. The early work of Davis and Harris did much to define Spiritualism as a separate movement. As the century progressed, however, a variety of different influences, especially Theosophy, made their presence known. Through the twentieth century, numerous channels have arisen, offering a wide variety of Spiritualist worldviews.

During the nineteenth century, Spiritualism in the United States was hostile to idea of reincarnation. However, through the twentieth century, channeled works have been a major influence, introducing reincarnation and the associated idea of karma into Spiritualist thinking. Today, channels mostly agree on the ideas of evolution and reincarnation. Humans are usually seen as fallen or entrapped spirit-beings, evolving through many lifetimes toward a pure spiritual existence. Karma, interpreted by Spiritualists as “the Spiritual law of cause and effect,” is operative. Humans must overcome their bad karma, the consequences of bad actions, usually those of an earlier incarnation, and try to create good karma, leading to evolvement to a higher spiritual existence through good deeds.

Spiritualist channeling groups engage in little or no activity at contact of recently deceased relatives and friends of group members. Rather, their activity centers on discourses by evolved spirits speaking through the medium. Channeling groups formed periodically through the twentieth century, but since the late twentieth century, the number of such groups has grown markedly. In such groups, the spirit entity, speaking through the channel, is the teaching authority for the group. Actual teachings tend to make reference to all the major world religions, and much is drawn from Hinduism and Buddhism via Theosophy. Hindu and Buddhist elements include beliefs in reincarnation, a view of all existence as forming a mystic whole, and communication with spiritual masters who are similar to Buddhists bodhisattvas.

During the 1980s, as the New Age movement became a dominant force in the American psychic community, channeling received a startling new life. This new burst began with a set of books written by Jane Roberts (pseudonym of Jane Butts, 1929–1984), who claimed the books were dictated by a spirit entity known as Seth. Roberts, somewhat of a recluse, rarely made public appearances, but the books containing Seth’s teachings sold well. On the heels of Seth’s success, several new mediums (channels) emerged and attracted attention. Possibly the most famous was JZ Knight (b. 1946), a full-trance medium who channels an entity named Ramtha. Others mediums, all of whom remained active at the beginning of the twenty-first century, include Jach Pursel (Lazaris), Pat Rodegast (Emmanuel), and Kevin Ryerson (b. 1951) (John). They have been joined by Barbara Marciniak, Mary Margaret Moore, Darryl Anka (b. 1951), Lyssa Royal, Neale Donald Walsch (b. 1943) (who channeled the popular Conversations with God series), and a number of channels who founded the Sedona Journal of Emergence as a vehicle for presenting their material in the 1990s.

As the Internet became popular, channeling was highlighted on sights such as SpiritWeb and Whole Again. Common to this new group of mediums is their general lack of contact with older Spiritualist leaders (Ryerson being a prominent exception) and their adherence to Eastern and Theosophical (ancient wisdom) teachings. Generally, the newer channels agree on the identification of the self with the divine and the individual’s power to create a world of happiness, health, and success.

Most channels work out of a single center, surrounded by a small group dedicated to the transcription and dissemination of communications from entities being channeled. These transcriptions, and sometimes video and audio recordings, are distributed around the country and the world to supporters. Some channeling centers may also include a place for worship (or meditation), at which regular gatherings are held, although such gatherings are usually held in rented spaces. Many channels would not think of themselves as religious, even though they often function as the main religious teacher for their supporters.

Channeled material shows evidence of being drawn from a diversity of sources. Some comes out of the UFO contactee community, but most derives from Theosophy, the “I AM” Religious Activity, and other ancient wisdom teachings. Groups such as the Agasha Temple of Wisdom and the University of Life Church, which are traditional Spiritualist churches with a strong emphasis on channeling, served as a transition between classical Spiritualism and the new channeling groups.


Since ancient times, religious bodies have made use of various substances that altered consciousness and aided in the production of ecstatic states. According to some scholars, the Hindu god of sacrifice and the rituals associated with him are tied to the Amanita muscaria, a mushroom widely used because of its hallucinogenic powers. Most famous of the ancient drug-oriented bodies was the ancient Greek Dionysian religion, based on Dionysius, the god of the vine. Other Greek-based religions became famous for their use of alcohol. In pre-Colombian America, the Aztecs, Huichol, and various Mexican Indians ate peyote and related plants ceremonially.

Throughout Western history, various persons have discovered drugs with differing consciousness-altering properties and have then incorporated these into religious practices. At the beginning of the twentieth century, William James mentioned the use of nitrous oxide to stimulate the mystical consciousness. Most famous of the early twentieth-century drug users was Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), who used hashish and opium in his magical work for many years.

A new era in consciousness-expansion by the use of drugs began in 1938 when Albert Hofmann (1906–2008), a Swiss biochemist, synthesized d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) tartrate from the rye fungus called ergot. In 1943 he accidentally absorbed some of the new drug, thus discovering its unusual properties. It caused a distortion of space and time and produced hallucinations. It also produced a state of consciousness in which the objective world took on a new meaning. The effects have been termed psychedelic. In the wake of Hofmann’s discovery, other psychedelic drugs were cataloged and became known in medical and academic circles. They began to be used in hospitals for the treatment of neuroses and psychoses.

In the 1950s, widespread experiments with LSD began to occur, some secretly sponsored by the government. Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) wrote a popular account of his use of mescaline, another psychedelic drug, comparing his experiences with those described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In the early 1960s, reports began to appear of the experiences of those who took LSD. Many reported mystical and religious awakenings. The experiments eventuated in the watershed event of the era, the 1963 firing at Harvard University of professors Timothy Leary (1920–1996) and Richard Alpert (b. 1931) for involving students in reckless experiments with LSD.

Leary had been introduced in 1960 to psychedelic mushrooms by a Mexican anthropologist. He described his first “trip” as life-shaking and as the “deepest religious experience” of his life. He proceeded to begin experiments with psychedelic drugs at Harvard, introducing them to his colleague, Richard Alpert. After their firing, Leary became the psychological center of a drug-oriented generation, while Alpert soon felt he had exhausted the drug experience and traveled to India, only to emerge as a Hindu guru, Baba Ram Dass.

The story of the religious drug movement in the United States from this point becomes one of legal battles to establish the open practice of psychedelic groups under the U.S. Constitution. In 1966 the use of LSD was declared illegal, except for very limited research purposes. Several of these cases are discussed in entries on individual group. The loss of some of these cases has decimated the ranks of the once-powerful movement.

An early confrontation of the drug groups and the law occurred in Millbrook, New York, where Leary and his group (which he founded in 1966 as the League for Spiritual Discovery), along with Art Kleps (1928–1999) and the Neo-American Church and the non-drug-using Sri Rama Ashrama, had taken refuge on the estate of William Mellon Hitchcock. In December 1966, the Dutchess County police raided the estate and arrested Leary, Kleps, Hitchcock, and others. As a result of the raid and the attendant publicity, Hitchcock evicted the psychedelic groups. Leary’s career in the next decades became one of fleeing the law and brief jail sentences, before he was finally able to work out the personal issues emerging from his drug-oriented prophethood.

While at Millbrook, Leary began to publish the first of numerous books. Psychedelic Prayers after the Tao Te Ching (1966) became the handbook of the League for Spiritual Discovery. Leary describes the psychedelic experience as occurring on three levels—neural, cellular, and molecular. In the first level, one tunes into patterns of neurological signals that are usually censored from mental life. The cellular consciousness transcends the symbolic game and the sensory apparatus, and people experience raw sensory bombardment and cellular hallucination. The molecular consciousness transcends even further and contacts elemental energies that crackle and vibrate within the cellular structure. The content of molecular consciousness is what, in mystic terminology, is called the white light, the ovid, or the inner light.

Continued legal pressures and unanimous court decisions against psychedelic drug use drove supporters from the ranks or into an underground existence. The League for Spiritual Discovery was disbanded, and most other drug-oriented groups have also been abandoned. By the end of the 1980s, only a few small drug-oriented churches remained, surviving from a fading hope of a court reversal or a change in the laws governing the use of psychedelic drugs.

A major result of the drug culture was to spur work in parapsychology, particularly in the area of altered states of consciousness. The experiences of psychedelically induced states resemble many visionary, mystical, and psychic experiences. Drug users have found more openness to their concerns in the psychic community than in any other religious family.

Through the 1990s, various actions by legal authorities and subsequent court decisions took their toll on the older psychedelic community and on efforts to establish a religious organization that could practice its beliefs concerning the use of psychedelic substances. One by one the groups that were operating in the 1970s died out. Surviving, in large part, were various shamanist-oriented groups that operated on an informal level.

Into this situation, several new groups that originated in Brazil and advocated the use of ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drink, have migrated to North America and Europe. These groups emerged briefly, seeking to gain legal status using precedents articulated in several cases concerning the Native American Church, but their efforts were not successful, and most groups went underground.


On June 24, 1947, history was made in the skies of the state of Washington near Mount Rainier when Kenneth Arnold (1915–1984) saw a series of nine bright disks flying across the heavens in front of his plane. He described the objects as “saucers,” and, when the media repeated his quotation, flying saucers became a new reality with which Americans had to contend. Arnold’s sighting was followed by others. In July, a photograph of a flying saucer, or UFO (unidentified flying object), was given wide coverage in the press before it proved to be a weather balloon. Toward the end of July, a sighting in Maury Island (Washington) was followed by the deaths of two investigators from the Air Force. Only later was the hoax element of the Maury Island incident revealed.

Time and Life devoted space to stories about the saucers. The next major incident in the history of UFOs was the death of Captain Thomas Mantell, a pilot, on January 7, 1948. Mantell died in a plane crash as he was chasing a UFO over Louisville, Kentucky. Other major sightings included those by two Eastern Airlines pilots, Clarence S. Chiles and John B. Whitted, and by Lieutenant George F. Gorman of the North Dakota National Guard.

In 1947 Project Sign was established by the newly created U.S. Air Force to investigate reports of UFOs. In July 1949 a Project Sign report concluded that UFOs really were “interplanetary vehicles.” The investigations were upgraded in 1949, and were called Project Grudge. Investigation proceeded normally until 1952, in spite of charges by UFO buffs such as Major Donald Keyhoe (1897–1988) that the government had orchestrated a cover-up. In 1952 there were major sightings for several evenings over Washington, D.C. That same year APRO (Aerial Phenomena Research Organization) was founded in Tucson, Arizona, as the first national UFO study organization. The founding of APRO marked the beginning of a movement that was to grow significantly during the next 15 years.

A major segment of the UFO movement consisted of the growing number of people who claimed to have met and talked with occupants of the UFOs. Emanuel Swedenborg, for example, claimed to have conversed with beings of the solar system in the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a number of people, mostly psychics, claimed to have been visited by inhabitants of other planets, and they wrote about these experiences and circulated their writings within the psychic community. These claims of contact with extraterrestrial beings form a background for modern claims of contact, as much as do the UFO phenomena.

After the UFO sightings drew national attention, the first to say he met and talked with UFO occupants was George Adamski (1891–1965). In his first book, Adamski detailed a 1952 contact with the “space brothers” and displayed pictures of their craft. Later books included silhouette pictures of Venusians. Adamski’s books drew freely from Theosophical literature, including quotations from the Book of Dzyan, written by Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), founder of Theosophy, and containing her comments on Venusians. Adamski was soon followed by others, such as George Williamson (1926–1986), Truman Bethurum (1898–1969), Orfeo M. Angelucci (1912–1993), and Buck Nelson (1894–1962). These later authors varied greatly in their accounts; each reported contact with visitors from different planets, and each lived in a different part of the United States. For some, the objects were believed to be advanced spacecraft. For others like Angelucci, they were objects from another dimension. Still others, in psychic jargon, saw creatures of a high vibratory rate who lowered their vibration in order to contact earth. Bethurum claimed to have ridden in spaceships.

The emergence of those who said they had contact with UFO occupants in the early 1950s led to a split among those concerned with the strange objects in the sky. UFO investigators continued to seek answers about the nature of the sightings. Another group, having made contact with what members claimed to be extraterrestrial entities, felt they knew what the “UFOs” were, and concentrated their efforts upon telling others the message of the space brothers. The term flying saucer has come to refer to extraterrestrial craft.

Through these early contacts, the space brothers began to articulate a message. While it varied at many points, its central ideas were common. The space brothers were highly evolved (either culturally or psychically) beings who were coming to aid their younger brothers. They brought a message of concern about the course of humankind, whose materialistic nature (or some other evil) is leading the species to destruction. Through the mediation of the beautiful space people, however, this destruction can be averted by following the message of love they bring. The space brothers are said to be constantly around, in a guiding paternity.

The continued appearance of UFOs and, especially, the messages of contactees (those contacted by UFO occupants), led many to begin a search for UFOs in history. Newly discovered accounts became a standard part of UFO literature. The Fortean Society aided in the explication of such accounts. These followers of Charles Fort (1874–1932) collected UFO data for many years.

Other researchers discovered accounts of UFOs in the Bible. Certain events were interpreted as cryptic accounts of UFO visitors from the skies. The most-quoted account is that of Ezekiel and the wheels in the air. More sophisticated study pointed to possible UFO involvement in the movement of the Israelites out of Egypt, as described in the biblical book of Exodus. One author, Presbyterian minister Barry H. Downing, postulated that the word cloud was a code word for biblical UFOs, and angels was a word for extraterrestrial visitors. He cited several passages in the Bible that he believed described UFO action: Genesis 32:24–25; Exodus 14:19–20; Exodus 40:33–38; Joshua 10:12–14; II Kings 2:1; Matthew 17:1–8; Luke 2; and Acts 1. Of interest is his understanding of Miriam’s leprosy as skin irritation from a UFO contact.

Several later visionary experiences have also come to be seen as UFO landings. For example, ufologist Jacques Vallee (b. 1939) noted that the final visit of the Virgin at Fátima, Portugal, early in the twentieth century was accompanied by a bright sunlike object dancing in the sky and the dropping of angel hair, a fluffy substance often associated with UFOs. More recent writers, such as Erich von Däniken, have even speculated that the human race is descended from space beings, not from lower mammalian forms.


Besides the personal effort being made by individuals to spread the space brother gospel through speaking and writing, several people who claimed telepathic contact with UFOs began to gather a group around them, to channel regular messages daily or weekly, and to publish these messages abroad. These groups were modeled upon the Theosophical and “I AM” groups, and many of the hierarchical orders of Theosophy began to appear as space brothers. The Heralds of the New Age began in the 1950s to send out messages from the saucer world. Even though located in New Zealand, it was an influential group in North America. It formed a network, through the mail, of others interested in UFO material. In the United States, a young psychic, Gloria Lee (1925–1962), joined in these efforts. The Cosmos Research Foundation rallied to her support in the late 1950s. Gloria Lee’s guide was an entity from Jupiter, identified only as J. W. Besides the regular mailings from the foundation, J. W. wrote two books through Gloria Lee titled Why We Are Here (1959) and The Changing Condition of Your World (1962). Highly Theosophical in nature, they include much material reminiscent of both Helena Blavatsky and Alice Bailey (1880–1949).

In 1962 the 37-year-old Lee went to Washington with the model and plans of a space ship, given to her by J. W. Following his instructions, Lee secured herself in a hotel room to await word from government officials on her model. Once in her room, she began a Gandhi-like fast. On November 28, 1962, she lapsed into a coma, ending her 66-day fast in death on December 2. The Cosmos Research Foundation soon disbanded with the loss of its leader, but Lee became a martyr figure for the cause. Within two months, the Heralds of the New Age began to channel messages from her and soon produced a book, The Going and the Glory (1966), purporting to be from her. Other groups followed suit, and, in the wake of Lee’s death, a number of space brothers began to emerge.

Another early UFO group was Christ Brotherhood, Inc., founded in 1956 by Wallace C. Halsey, a World War II veteran and engineer who became a minister. Both psychic and engineering interests led Halsey to the study of UFOs. In 1962 the space brothers instructed Tarna, Halsey’s wife, to set up a tape recorder near his bed and to put the microphone on his chest. While asleep in bed, Halsey began audibly to channel a message of coming destruction and the gathering of a remnant who would be saved.

In 1963, on a flight from Utah to Nevada in a light plane, Halsey disappeared. No trace of either him or the plane was found. However, within a short time, Michael X. Barton, a metaphysical lecturer and writer in Los Angeles who had known Halsey, began to receive messages from him. The messages detailed the location of the missing plane. Though the plane was not found, several UFOs were sighted during the course of the search, and through messages Halsey described his departure in a UFO to Boston. The story of Barton’s search was published, and Halsey joined the list of martyrs. Halsey’s plane was finally located in 1977.

Since the 1970s and 1980s, the contactee community has continued to grow slowly. While none of the original 1950s contactees remain, new contactees have emerged, and the number of books describing their encounters and detailing the channeled teachings has grown impressively. As the New Age movement emerged in the 1980s, and channeling took on a new life, contactees shared in the new period of high interest. Among the New Age channels, Ken Carey (Raphael) and Thelma B. Terrell, publicly known as Tuella (who channels a variety of space entities), are representative of those who claim to be in contact with extraterrestrials.

Not a small portion of the credit for the continued growth of the contactee movement through the 1980s must go to the ufological community, which gave serious systematic consideration, for the first time, to stories of direct contact with extraterrestrials. Ufologists initially turned their attention to what were termed “encounters of the third kind” and then to accounts of abductions of individuals by entities in UFOs, the subject of several best-selling books. Though ufologists denounce many of the contactees, their research on close encounters and abductions has served to make their claims more believable to the general public. Among the contactee channels who emerged in the 1990s were Barbara Hand Clow (b. 1943), Amorah Quan Yin (b. 1950), Norma Milanovich, and Robert Shapiro.

Through the 1990s, many ufologists continued to place a great deal of confidence in the accounts of people who claimed to have been abducted by extraterrestrials. The hope for any evidential material from the abductees has slowly faded since the beginning of the twenty-first century, though it has by no means disappeared. At the same time, a steady supply of new books by people claiming to channel extraterrestrials continues to appear, though such books are often given little shelf space in the large chain bookstores. The new century has shown a marked decrease in the number of channeling groups based on messages from outer space.


Many esoteric organizations in the United States do not readily fit among either the Spiritualists or the ancient-wisdom groups discussed in chapter 17. Given the ferment of the esoteric community, new impulses are constantly appearing. In the 1970s, however, a new generation of psychic, occult, and spiritual seekers arose who rejected the Spiritualist emphasis upon spirits and mediums and refused the more negative designation “occult,” but identified strongly with the new wave of Eastern teachers that rose to prominence in the late 1960s. In the fervor of their discovery of the psychic and spiritual dimensions of life, they began to see themselves as the harbingers of a new age for humanity. By the mid-1970s, a loosely organized New Age movement could be clearly discerned. The New Age ideal swept through the psychic, occult, and metaphysical communities, and the hope for a coming age of love and peace affected people of many backgrounds.

The New Age movement originated in the 1960s in Great Britain, but its beginnings in North America can be traced to 1971 with the publication of the first popular book representative of the movement, Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass, and the launching of the first national periodical on the movement, East-West Journal, followed in 1972 by the first national networking directories, Year One Catalog, edited by Ira Friedlander, and the Spiritual Community Guide.

As it emerged, the movement was very loosely organized, though it included within it some highly structured and even authoritarian groups. The movement was centered upon a vision of radical transformation of society and the individual, though the means for accomplishing that transformation varied widely from group to group and individual to individual. On the individual level the transformation was seen as personal and mystical. The accomplished personal transformation provided the model for eventual social transformation. New Age theorist Marilyn Ferguson (b. 1938) described it as an open conspiracy by transformed people to complete a process of transformation in their neighbor and in society as a whole.

New Agers hoped that a new universal religion would arise in the New Age, a religion based not upon creeds and the division of social groups into denominations and religions, but having as its goal the development of a mystical consciousness or awareness. God would be seen as the unifying principle that binds nature and humanity together. Loyalty to humanity would transcend personal loyalties to more limited social groups, such as nations and clans.

New Agers differed in their opinions concerning the exact path that would lead to the New Age. Their disagreements were in part related to their differing alignments with particular religious traditions. A wide variety of occult-spiritual techniques were proposed, taught, and adopted by various segments of the movement. These techniques varied from vegetarianism and communalism to different forms of meditation, yoga, and magic.

The New Age movement peaked in the 1980s, and the hope of an imminent change in the social order largely disappeared as the 1990s progressed. However, the movement had by this time revived many of the older occult groups and spawned a number of new movements, some with more of a Spiritualist nature and some leaning toward Theosophy. (Included in the directory listings of this encyclopedia are a number of groups that originated in the New Age movement and have adopted a complete religious worldview and lifestyle. Such groups provide the basis for a full religious life for those associated with them, including regular worship, religious literature, learning experiences, and a program oriented around a spiritual practice or discipline.)

As the New Age movement faded, most New Agers were happy with the personal spirituality they had acquired through it. Through the 1990s, many identified with the host of new groups that emerged to perpetuate New Age ideals, now focused around the hope of an ever-increasing global interest in spirituality that would over the next centuries lead to new levels of spiritual awareness and produce a flourishing new culture. This post–New Age vision was most clearly articulated in James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy (1993), the best-selling metaphysical text of the 1990s. This new current of the old New Age has been referred to as the Next Age, especially in Europe.


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Gauld, Alan. The Founders of Psychical Research. New York: Schocken, 1968. 389 pp.

Moore, R. Laurence. In Search of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology, and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. 310 pp.


Baer, Hans A. The Black Spiritual Movement: A Religious Response to Racism. 2nd ed. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001.

Brandon, Ruth. The Spiritualists: The Passion for the Occult in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. New York: Knopf, 1983. 315 pp.

Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Hawthorn, 1970. 264 pp.

Carroll, Bret E. Spiritualism in Antebellum America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997. 256 pp.

Centennial Book of Modern Spiritualism in America. Chicago: National Spiritualist Association of United States of America, 1948. 253 pp.

Cox, Robert S. Body and Soul: A Sympathetic History of American Spiritualism. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003. 288 pp.

Grand Souvenir Book: World Centennial Celebration of Modern Spiritualism. San Antonio: Federation of Spiritual Churches and Associations, 1948. 200 pp.

Guthrie, John J., Jr., Phillip Charles Lucas, and Gary Monroe. Cassadaga: The South’s Oldest Spiritualist Community. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. 272 pp.

Pond, Mariam Buckner. Time Is Kind: The Story of the Unfortunate Fox Family. New York: Centennial Press, 1947. 334 pp.

Todorovich, Thomas E., ed. The Centennial Memorial of Modern Spiritualism Records, 1848–1948. St. Louis: National Spiritualist Association of U.S.A., 1948. 157 pp.

Weisberg, Barbara. Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism. San Francisco: Harper, 2004. 336 pp.

Wesley, John. The Journal. London: Epworth, 1914.

Wicker, Christine. Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town That Talks to the Dead. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2004.304 pp.

Flying Saucers and UFOs

Clark, Jerome. Extraordinary Encounters: An Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial and Otherworldly Beings. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2000. 290 pp.

Eberhart, George M. UFOs and the Extraterrestrial Contact Movement: A Bibliography. 2 vols. Metuchen, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1986.

Flamonde, Paris. The Age of Flying Saucers: Notes on a Projected History of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Hawthorn, 1971. 288 pp.

Fuller, Curtis G., ed. Proceedings of the First International UFO Congress. New York: Warner, 1980. 440 pp.

Jacobs, David Michael. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. 362 pp.

Mack, John E. Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters. Three Rivers, MI: Three Rivers Press, 1999. 352 pp.

Steiger, Brad. The Aquarian Revelations. New York: Dell, 1971. 158 pp.

Zinsstag, Lou, and Timothy Good. George Adamski: The Untold Story. Kent, U.K.: Ceti, 1983. 208 pp.


Brown, Michael F. The Channeling Zone: American Spirituality in an Anxious Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997. 236 pp.

Hastings, Arthur. With the Tongues of Men and Angels: A Study of Channeling. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1991. 232 pp.

Klimo, Jon. Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources. Rev. ed. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1998. 474 pp.


Castenada, Carlos. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. New York: Ballantine, 1969. 276 pp.

de Mille, Richard. Castaneda’s Journey: The Power and the Allegory. Santa Barbara, CA: Capra Press, 1976. 205 pp.

———. The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies. Santa Barbara, CA: Ross-Erikson, 1980. 518 pp.

Forte, Roberta, ed. Timothy Leary: Outside Looking In. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1999. 338 pp.

Kleps, Art. Millbrook: A Narrative of the Early Years of American Psychedelianism, Recension of 1997. Austin, TX: Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church, 1997. 222 pp.

La Barre, Weston. The Peyote Cult. Rev. ed. New York: Schocken, 1969. 260 pp.

Leary, Timothy. Flashbacks: An Autobiography. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1983. 397 pp.

Masters, R. E. L., and Jean Houston. The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience. New York: Delta, 1967. 326 pp.

Weil, Gunther M., Ralph Metzner, and Timothy Leary, eds. The Psychedelic Reader: Selected from the Psychedelic Review. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1965. 260 pp.

New Age Movement

Allen, Mark. Chrysalis: A Journey into the New Spiritual America. Berkeley, CA: Pan, 1978. 179 pp.

Ferguson, Marilyn. The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980s. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1980. 448 pp.

Hanegraaff, Wouter J. New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1996. 580 pp.

Heelas, Paul. The New Age Movement: The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996. 266 pp.

Kyle, Richard. The New Age Movement in American Culture. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995. 291 pp.

Lewis, James R., and J. Gordon Melton, eds. Perspectives on the New Age. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. 369 pp.

Melton, J. Gordon, Jerome Clark, and Aidan A. Kelly. New Age Encyclopedia. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1990. 586 pp.

Saliba, John A. Christian Responses to the New Age Movement: A Critical Assessment. London: Chapman, 1999. 245 pp.

Satin, Mark. New Age Politics: Healing Self and Society. Rev. ed. New York: Delta, 1979. 349 pp.

Spangler, David. Towards a Planetary Vision. Forres, U.K.: Findhorn Foundation, 1977.

Sutcliffe, Steve. Children of the New Age: A History of Spiritual Practices. New York: Routledge, 2003. 224 pp.

Wilber, Ken. The Spectrum of Consciousness. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1977. 374 pp.

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Western Esoteric Family II: Spiritualism & New Age

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Western Esoteric Family II: Spiritualism & New Age