Spiritualism (An Introduction)



Q: What is spiritualism?

A: Spiritualism is a semi-religious movement that began in 1848 in the United States. It's popularity swept both America and Britain, eventually fading in the twentieth century. A modern version of it still exists today. 

Q: What made Spiritualism so popular?

A: Spiritualism dramatically addressed that ageless question: Is there life after death? Mediums and seances were used to communicate with the dead, and this was often accompanied by paranormal phenomenon like table rappings, the materialization of objects, and ghostly apparitions. These manifestations stirred the imaginations of millions, and it was hoped the question of immortality would finally be answered. 

Q: What started the movement?

A: In Europe the mystical writings of Emanuel Swedenborg were already quite popular, while mesmerism fascinated many in the United States. Thus, the road was being paved for a new spiritual movement. In 1848, when the Fox sisters of Hydesville, New York revealed communications with spirits via mysterious rappings, the story swept the nation and created an enthusiastic following. P.T. Barnum brought the sisters to New York city, and they impressed influential people like William Cullen Bryant, Horace Greely, James Fenimore Cooper, and George Ripley. 

Q: Wasn't the movement proved to be fraudulent?

A: Indeed, there was much fraud in Spiritualism. But like anything else, there will always be opportunists and charlatans who take advantage of a situation for monetary gain. Many of the mediums were rightly accused of fraud, yet as it is true today, a couple of them survived the scrutiny and produced impressive results throughout their careers.

Q: Did Spiritualism believe in reincarnation?

A: In the beginning, Spiritualism did not embrace the tenets of reincarnation, but the modern incarnation of Spiritualism does. Spiritism, a movement popular in Europe during the same time period, did believe in reincarnation, and so did the turn of the century version of Theosophy, founded by H.P. Blavatsky. 

Q: What's the difference between mediums, psychics, and channels?

A: A medium specializes in communication with people who have died, as opposed to a channel who works with higher or more abstract sources -- usually teachers or guides from higher spiritual planes. A psychic can also be a medium or channel, but the term also refers to a person who uses their psychic skills to read the energy of a person to acquire knowledge, where a medium or channel is actually communicating with a spiritual being. 

Q: I want to contact a medium or channel. Where do I go?

A: The following resources are available here. 

Q: All of the historical info and books about Spiritualism are fascinating, but where can I find material that's more modern and applicable to my life?

A: Spiritualism and Theosophy laid the foundation for many modern new age ideas, so knowing the history of these doctrines is important. 


Spiritualism: An Introduction

Spiritualism in its modern aspect has for its Basic principles the belief in the continuance of life after death, and the possibility of communication between the dead and the living, through the agency of a medium or psychic, a person qualified in some unknown manner to be the mouthpiece of supernatural beings. On this foundation has been raised the belief known as spiritualism, variously regarded as a religion or a philosophy. Besides the speaking (or writing, drawing, etc) indirectly through the agency of the medium, there are also physical manifestations, such as the materialization of spirit forms, and "apports," the so-called "direct" writing, moving of inanimate objects without contact, and other phenomena of a like nature. The word "Spiritism" used in France to denote spiritualism, is in this country only applied to the theories of Allan Kardec a well-known spiritualist who believed in re-incarnation, or to an inferior phase of spiritualism, in which only physical manifestations are sought, and the religious and ethical significance of the subject ignored.

Though the movement in its present form dates no further back than 1848, it is possible to trace its ancestry to witchcraft, demoniac possession, poltergeistic disturbances, and animal magnetism. In these all the phenomena of spiritualism may be found, though the disturbing influences were not in the earlier instances identified with the spirits of the deceased. Many famous outbreaks of an epidemic nature, such as that among the Tremblers of the Cevennes (q.v.) and the Convulsionaries of St. Medard, 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, utterance of long-winded discourses, and speaking in unknown tongues, all of which are to be found in the séance-room. The fluency of speech, especially of these ignorant peasants, has been equaled, if not surpassed, by the outpourings of the unlearned medium under the influence of her "control." In such cases the symptoms were generally referred either to angelic or diabolic possession, and most frequently to the latter. Witches also were supposed to hold converse with the Devil, and many aspects of witchcraft—and notably the part played in the persecution of suspects by young women and children—show an obvious relationship to those poltergeistic disturbances which were the connecting link between early forms of possession and modern spiritualism. Cases in which children of morbid tendencies pretend to be the victims of a witch are to be found in every record of witchcraft. It was the poltergeist, however, who showed most affinity to the "control" of the mediumistic circle. For at least the past few centuries poltergeist disturbances have occurred from time to time, and the mischievous spirit's favorite modes of manifesting itself have been singularly akin to those adopted by the spirit control of our days. Again, both spirits require the agency of a medium for the production of their phenomena, and it is in the immediate presence of the medium that the phenomena generally make their appearance. 


Partly evolving from these phases of spirit-manifestation, and partly running parallel with them, was an extensive movement whose significance, from the spiritualist point of view, is very considerable. The doctrine of animal magnetism was, said to have originated with Paracelsus, and was much in favour with the old alchemists. The actual magnet was not greatly used, but was regarded as a symbol of the magnetic philosophy, which 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 ail things interacted upon one another. While the mystics were engaged in formulating a magnetic philosophy, there were others, such as Valentine Greatrakes, who cured diseases, claiming their power as a divine gift, and not connecting it with the rationalist ideas of the alchemists. These two phases of magnetism united and came to a height in the work of Franz Antoine Mesmer, who in 1766 published his De planetarium influxu, a treatise on the influence of the planets on the human body. His ideas were essentially those of the magnetic philosophers, and his cures probably on a level with those of Valentine Greatrakes, but into both theory and practice he infused new life and won for himself the recognition, if not of the learned societies, at least of the general public. To him is due that application of the magnetic system which resulted in the discovery of the induced hypnotic trance, whose bearing on spiritualism is obvious and important. In 1784 a commission was appointed by the French Government to consider magnetism as practiced by Mesmer and his followers but its report only served to cast discredit on the science, and exclude it from scientific discussion. Until the third decade of the nineteenth century the rationalist explanations of Mesmerism concerned themselves entirely with a fluid or force emanating from the person of the operator, and even visible to the clairvoyant eye, but in 1823 AleT-andre Bertrand, a Paris physician, published a Traite d* Somnambulisms, and in 1826 a treatise Du Magnetism* Animal en France, in which he established the relationship between ordinary sleep-walking, somnambulism associated with disease, and epidemic ecstasy, and advanced the doctrine now generally accepted—that of suggestion. 

Magnetism was by this time receiving a good deal of attention all over Europe. A second French Commission appointed in 1825 presented in 1831 a report which, though of no great value, contained a unanimous testimony to the actuality of the phenomena. In Germany also magnetism was practiced to a considerable extent, and rationalist explanations found some acceptance. There was a class hov/ever, more numerous in Germany than elsewhere, who inclined towards a spiritualistic explanation of Mesmeric phenomena. Indeed, the belief in spirit-intercourse had grown up beside magnetism from its earliest conception, in opposition to the theory of a magnetic fluid. In the earlier phases of " miraculous " healing the cures were, aa has been said, ascribed to the divine gift of the operator, jirho 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. A detailed account of the trance utterances of an hypnotic subject was given in 1787 in the journals of the Swedish Exegeticol and Philanthropic Society. The society naturally inclined to the doctrines of their countryman, Ernanuel Swedenborg, who was the first to identify the " spirits " with the souls of deceased men and women. In Germany Dr. Kerner experimented with Frederica Hauffe, the " Seeress of Prevorst" (q.v.), in whose presence physical manifestations took place, and who described the conditions of the soul after death and the constitution of man—the physical body, the soul, spirit, and nervengeist, an ethereal body which clothes the soul after death—theories afterwards elaborated by spiritualists. Other German investigators, J. H. Jung (Jung-Stilling), Dr. C. R6mer, and Dr. Heinreich Wemer. recorded the phenomenon of clairvoyance in their somnambules. A French spiritualist, Alphonse Cahagnet, produced some of the best evidence which spiritualism can show, his accounts being as remarkable for their sincerity and good-faith as for the intelligence they display.

Magnetism received but little attention in England, till the third decade of the nineteenth century. Towards the end of the eighteenth century Dr. Bell, Loutherbourg, and others, practiced the science in this country, but for about thirty years—from 1798 to 1828—it'was quite neglected. In the latter year Richard Chenevix, an Irishman, gave mesmeric demonstrations. Dr. Elliotson, of University College Hospital, practiced mesmerism with his somnambules, the sisters Okey, and though he first believed in the magnetic fluid, he afterwards became a spiritualist. In 1843 two journals dealing with the subject were founded—the Zoist and the Phreno-magnet. Most of the English magnetists of the time believed in a physical explanation of the phenomena. In 1845 Dr. Reichenbach published his researches, claiming to demonstrate the existence of an emanation which he called odylic or odic force, radiating from every substance. This effluence could be seen by clairvoyants, and had definite colors, and produced a feeling of heat or cold. Working on individual lines, Braid arrived at the same conclusions as Bertrand had done, and demonstrated the power of suggestion in "magnetic" experiments, but his theories were neglected as Bertrand's had been. By the medical profession, especially, the whole matter was freely ridiculed, and declared to be fraudulent. There is no doubt that their attitude would have changed—it had, indeed, already begun to do so—but for the wave of spiritualism that swept over America and Europe, and magnified the extravagant attendant phenomena of the trance state, and so obscured its true significance and scientific value.

It will thus be seen not only that magnetism contained the germs of spiritualistic phenomena, "but that in many cases the phenomena were identical with those of spiritualism in its present stage of development. Trance-speaking was well-known, physical manifestations, though less frequently met with, were also witnessed, as in the case of Frau Hauffe ; and clairvoyance was regarded as a common adjunct of the trance. In later years, as has been Been, the so-called " magnetic " phenomena were largely attributed to the agency of the spirits of the deceased. For such an obviously supernormal faculty as clairvoyance—by means of which the subject professed himself able to see what was going on at a distance, or to distinguish objects carefully concealed from his normal sight—even such men as Bertrand and Braid do not seem to have offered an adequate explanation, nor have they refuted the evidence for it, though it was extensively practised both in France and England. Indeed, there sprang up in these—countries a class who specialized in clairvoyance, and still further prepared the way for spiritualism.

Early American Spiritualism 

What is generally regarded as the birth of modern spiritualism took place in America in 1848. In that year an outbreak of rapping occurred in the home of the Fox family, at Hydesville, in Arcadia, Wayne County, N.Y. The household comprised John Fox, his wife, and their two young daughters, Margaretta and Kate, aged fifteen and twelve years respectively, .and the house itself was a small wooden erection. On the 3ist March, 1848, Mrs. Fox summoned her neighbors to hear the knockings, which had disturbed the family for a few days past. On being questioned the raps manifested signs of intelligence, and it was finally elicited that the disturbing influence was the spirit of a peddler, done to death by a former resident of the house at Hydesville for the sake of his money. It was afterwards said that in April of the same year the Foxes, while digging in their cellar at the instigation of the spirits, had discovered therein fragments of hair, teeth, and bones, supposed to be those of a human being, but the statement was not properly verified, and the evidence for the murder was but small. The neighbors of the Fox family, however, were deeply impressed by the "revelations," and, by way of a test, questioned the spirits on such matters as the ages of their acquaintances, questions which were-answered, apparently, with some correctness. Soon afterwards Margaretta Fox visited her married sister, Mrs. Fish, at Rochester, New York, where the knockings broke out as vigorously as they had done at Hydesville. Her sister Catherine visited some friends at Auburn, and here, too, the rappings were heard. Many persons found themselves possessed of mediumistic powers, and the manifestations spread like an epidemic, till in a few years they were witnessed in most of the eastern states. Numerous circles were formed by private individuals, and professional mediums became ever more abundant. Mrs. Fox and her three daughters continued to hold the place of honor in the spiritualistic world, and gave exhibitions in many large towns. 

In 1850, while they were at Buffalo, some professors of the Buffalo University showed that the raps could be produced by the medium's joints, and shortly afterwards Mrs. Norman Culver, a relative by marriage of the Fox family, declared that Margaretta Fox had shown her how the rappings were obtained by means of the joints. She also alleged that Catherine Fox had told her that in a séance at Rochester where the medium's ankles were held to prevent fraud, a Dutch servant maid had rapped in the cellar on a signal from the medium. This latter statement was hotly denied by the spiritualists, but no refutation was attempted with regard to the other allegations. Many mediums confessed that they had resorted to trickery, but the tide of popular favor in America held to the actuality of the manifestations. These, as time went on, became more varied and complex. Table-turning and tilting in part replaced the simpler phenomena of raps. Playing on musical instruments by invisible hands, "direct" spirit writing, bell-ringing, levitation, and materialization of spirit hands, are some of the phenomena which were witnessed and vouched for by such distinguished sitters as Judge Edmonds, the Hon N. P. Tallmadge, Governor of Wisconsin, and William Lloyd Garrison. We find the levitation of the medium Daniel D. Home recorded at an early stage in his career. Slate-writing and playing on musical instruments were also feats practiced by the spirits who frequented Koon's "spirit-room" in Dover, Athens County, Ohio. At Keokuk, in Iowa, in 1854, two mediums spoke in tongues identified on somewhat insufficient data, as "Swiss," Latin, and Indian languages, and henceforward trance-speaking in their native language and in foreign tongues was much practiced by mediums. The recognized foreign tongues included Latin and Greek, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Gaelic, but generally the trance utterances, when they were not in English, were not recognized definitely as any known language, and frequently the "spirits" themselves interpreted the "tongue." The latter phenomena are evidently akin to the early outpourings of the "possessed" or the articulate but meaningless fluency of ecstatics during a religious epidemic. There have been cases, however, where persons in a state of exaltation have spoken fluently in a language of which they know but little in their normal state. Many of the "spirit" writings were signed with the names of great people—particularly Franklin, Swedenborg, Plato, Aristotle, St. John and St. Paul. Trance-lecturing before audiences was also practiced, books of inspirational utterances were published, and poetry and drawings produced in abundance. These automatic productions had a character of their own—they were vague, high-sounding, incoherent, and distinctly reminiscent. In cases where they displayed even a fair amount of merit, as in the poems of T. L. Harris, it was pointed out that they were not beyond the capacity of the medium in his normal state. As a rule they had a superficial appearance of intelligence, but on analysis were found to be devoid of meaning. During the early years of spiritualism in America the movement was largely noticed by the press, and many periodicals devoted exclusively to spiritualism made their appearance. The Spirit Messenger was first published in 1849, Heat and Light in 1851, the Shekinah in 1852, Spiritual Telegraph in 1853, Spirit World, under the title of the Spiritual Philosopher, in 1850, under the editorship of Laroy Sunderland. From the beginning of the movement those who accepted the actuality of the phenomena ranged themselves into two separate schools, each represented by a considerable body of opinion. The theory of the first was frankly spiritualistic, the explanation of the second was that of Mesmer, now appearing under various guises, with a more or less definite flavor of contemporary scientific thought. These two schools, as we have seen, had their foundation in the early days of animal magnetism, when the rationalist ideas of the magnetists were ranged against the theories of angelic or diabolic possession. In America the suppositions " force" of the rationalists went by the name of " odylic force," " electro-magnetism," and so forth, and to it was attributed not only the subjective phenomena, but the physical manifestations as well. And poltergeistic disturbances occurring from time to time were ascribed either to spirits or odylic force, as in the case of the Ashtabula Poltergeist.

The Rev. Asa Mahan, one of the " rationalists," suggested that the medium read the thoughts of the sitter by means of odylic force. The protagonists of a magnetic theory attributed trance-speaking to the subject's own intelligence, but after the birth of American spiritualism in 1848 a spiritualistic interpretation was more commonly accepted. Notwithstanding these conflicting theories, of which some were certainly physical, practically nothing was done in the way of scientific investigation, with the exception of the experiments conducted by Dr. Hare, Professor of Chemistry in the University of Pennsylvania, though they hardly deserved the name of " scientific investigation." In 1857, when the experiments were made, Hare was already advanced in years, and seems to have been easily imposed upon. Very few exposures of fraud were made, partly because the majority of the sitters accepted the phenomena with unquestioning faith, and partly because the machinery with which such detection might be made was not forthcoming. The collaboration of skilful, trained, and disinterested investigators, such as have recently applied themselves to the elucidation of psychic problems, was entirely lacking in those days, and the public was left to form its own conclusions. Spiritualism in America was from the 'first intimately bound up with socialism. The cult of spiritualism was, in fact, the out-growth of the same state of things which produced socialistic communities, and occasioned the rise and fall of so many strange religions. Warren Chase, Horace Greeley, T. L. Harris, and other prominent spiritualists founded such communities, and the so-called " inspirational " writings frequently gave directions for their construction. It was characteristic of the nation and the time that the general trend of religious and philosophic speculation should run on democratic lines. The fixed standards of thought which obtained in Europe were not recognized in America; everyone thought for himself, with but little educational training on which to-base his ideas, and the result was that the vigor of his speculation frequently outran its discretion. As for the causes which made spiritualism more popular and more lasting than other strange doctrines of the time, they are probably to be found in the special conditions which prepared the way for spiritualism. Clairvoyants had made use of rapping prior to the mediumship of the For girls, the induced trance had only recently been brought to the notice of the American people by lecturers, the clergy and others, accustomed to departures from orthodoxy in every direction, found no difficulty in admitting the intervention of good or evil spirits in human affairs, while for those who refused to accept the spirit hypothesis a satisfactory explanation of the phenomena was found ia electricity, electro-magnetism, or "odic force."

Spiritualism in England 

Though, as has been said, clairvoyants and somnambules were sufficiently common in England prior to the importation of spiritualism in its American form, the phenomena were, nevertheless, interpreted mainly on rationalist lines, and even when the spirit doctrine—which in those days had but a small following— became wide-spread and important, the theory of any rational explanation was still represented. In 1852, four years after the " Rochester Rappings," a medium named Mrs. Hayden was brought from America by a lecturer on " electro-biology." Soon afterwards another professional medium, Mrs. Roberts, crossed the Atlantic, and botk ladies had a distinguished clientele, and received substantial remuneration in the way of fees. Many of the most influential Journals published scornful comments on these performances, but a belief in the genuineness of the phenomena was expressed by one at least, Chambers's Journal, is an article by Robert Chambers himself. Professor de Morgan was another distinguished witness who testified to the actuality of the phenomena, and its supernormal character, and yet others were disposed to investigate. In 1853 an epidemic of table-turning (q.v.) spread from the Continent to Britain, and attained to immense popularity among all classes. So wide-spread did it become that such men as Braid, Faraday and Carpenter turned their attention to it, and showed it to result from unconscious muscular action. The " rationalist" explanation, be it said, was still well to the fore, with talk of odylic force, electricity, or magnetism. Faraday's experiments were ridiculed, and a pamphlet entitled Table-turning by Animal Magnetism demonstrated ran through more than a hundred editions in one year. Elliotson and the other protagonists of mesmerism found an illustration of their own views ia table-turning. Those who inclined to a spiritualistic belief found a spirit agency at work in the same phenomena; while a band of clergymen, confessedly awaiting similar manifestations in fulfillment of Scriptural prophecy, concluded that Satanic agency was at the root of the matter, and had their conclusions supported by the "spirits" themselves, who confessed that they were fallen angels, or the spirits of evil-doers. Among the earliest converts to spiritualism were Sir Charles Isham, Dr. Ashburner, and the socialist Robert Owen, at that time already over eighty years of age, who published in 1854 the first number of The New Existence of Man upon the Earth, intended as the organ of a sort of millennium to be brought about by the spirits. Automatic writing is recorded at this period, one medium being a child of four, who wrote in Latin.

In the autumn of 1853 Mrs. Hayden returned to America, and the practice of table-turning speedily declined. Until 1860 little more is heard of spiritualism, though a few journals were published in the interval. Owen continued to issue his New Existence, in which, however, spiritualism was only a secondary consideration. The Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph published at Keighley in 1855, ran till the end of 1859 (from 1857 under the name of the British Spiritual Telegraph). There were also a few other periodicals which did not enjoy so long a lease of life. But though the British books and papers dealing with the subject were but few, the lack was supplied by American productions, which were largely read in this country. Mediums, as well as literature, were imported from America, notable among them being Daniel Dunglas Home who crossed over to Britain in 1855 at the age of twenty-three, and who had already acted as a medium in America for some four years. Many of those who afterwards became prominent mediums were first converted to spiritualism at Home's séances. In the autumn of 1855 Home returned to America, and in 1856 his place was taken by P. B. Randolph, who attended the meetings of the Charing Cross Circle. In 1859 came the Rev. T. L. Harris, deputed by the spirits to visit England. An English medium, named Mrs. Marshall, gave séances professionally, but much less successfully than did Home and the American mediums, though the phenomena were of a similar kind. English spiritualists, however, did not court publicity, but practiced for the most part anonymously. The phenomena at these séances resemble those in America—playing of instruments without visible agency, materialization of hands, table-turning, and so on— but on a much smaller scale. It was not so much these physical manifestations, however, which inspired the confidence or excited the credulity of early spiritualists, but rather the automatic writing and speaking which, rare at first, afterwards became a feature of mediumistic séances. So early as 1854 the trance utterances of a medium named Annie were recorded by a circle of Swedenborgians presided over by Elihu Rich. The importance given at this stage of the movement to subjective phenomena must be attributed to an imperfect understanding of unconscious cerebration. Such men as Mr. Thomas Shorter, editor of the Spiritual Magazine, failed to comprehend how the medium was able to reason while in the trance state, and to perform intelligent acts of which the normal consciousness knew nothing. Therefore they adopted the spirit hypothesis. Mrs. de Morgan and Mrs. Newton Crosland gave a ready credence to the automatic utterances of their friends. Symbolic drawings were a feature of Mrs. Crosland's circle, as was also the speaking in unknown tongues, which were translated by the spirit through another medium.

In 1860 a new spiritual era opened, and the whole subject came into more prominence than it had done heretofore. This was due to the increase in the number of British mediums and the emigration to Britain of many American mediums, including the Davenport Brothers and D. D. Home, who once more visited England in 1859. Home was treated respectfully, not to say generously, by the bulk of the press and by the public, and admitted to the highest grades of society. Another American medium who practiced about the same time was J. R. M. Squire, whose manifestations were vouched for by Dr. Lockhart Robert-son. Other mediums there were, however, such as Colchester and Foster, who practiced trickery so openly that the spiritualists themselves exposed their fraud, though maintaining that at times the manifestations even of these mediums were genuine.

After Home, the most famous American mediums were the brothers Davenport, who practiced various forms of physical mediumship. They took their-places in a small cabinet, bound hand and foot to the satisfaction of the sitters. When the lights were lowered, musical instruments were thrown about the room and played upon and other physical phenomena were apparent. When the sesnce was over and the lights once more raised, the brothers Davenport were found securely fastened in their cabinet. The manifestations were so skillfully produced that many people hesitated whether to regard them as clever conjuring or spirit phenomena. At length, however, the Davenports were exposed through the agency of a secret knot called the "Tom Fool's knot," which they were unable to untie, and which rendered the necessary escape from their bonds impossible. Their career in Britain was at an end. Shortly afterwards the conjuring performances of Maskelyne and Cook, in emulation of the Davenport Brothers, drove the spiritualists to conclude that they also must be renegade mediums. Native medium-ship developed much more slowly in England than that of the American spiritualists. Mrs. Marshall was for a time practically the only professional medium of standing in the country, though private mediums were less rare. Notable among the latter were Mrs. Everitt, Mr. Edward Child, and Miss Nichol, afterwards the second wife of Mr. Guppy, wha became a famous medium. During this period poltergeistic disturbances were still recorded in which all the familiar phenomena reappeared, but they were explained on . spiritualist lines. Crystal vision was practiced and auras were commonly seen by the medium round the heads of his friends. 

Automatic writing, speaking, and drawing continued, and inspirational addresses, etc., were published. In 1869 a new impulse was given to spiritualism by the appearance of several public mediums, chief among them being F. Herne, who devoted his talents to the production of physical manifestations, and in connection with whom we first see the phenomenon of "elongation." Within a few years a number of other English mediums sprang up—Eglinton, Monck, Rita, and many more, while Dr. Slade, Annie Eva Fay, and Kate Fox (who afterwards married an English barrister named Jencken) came over from America. In 1870 the Rev. W. Stainton Moses (" M. A. Oxon,") destined to be one of the greatest of English mediums, devoted himself to private mediumship. In 1872 there was introduced into England, through the agency of the Guppys, the practice of Spirit Photography (q.v.), which had originated ten years earlier in America. To very many people a photograph containing, in addition to the sitter's portrait, a vague splotch of white, was conclusive evidence of the materialization of spirits. After numerous exposures the craze for spirit photography declined and of late years little has been heard of it, though in spasmodic fashion it sometimes shows evidence of life. Slate-writing was a favorite mode of "direct" writing and one extensively practiced. Sittings were generally held in the dark, and the sitters were enjoined to talk or sing, or perhaps a musical box was played. Most of the records of these earlier séances are singularly suggestive of fraud. In 1874 Mrs. Jencken (Kate Fox) was staying at Brighton with her baby, aged about six months, and it is related that the baby became a writing medium.

A facsimile of its writing was published in the Medium and Daybreak of May 8th, 1874. In the same year came Mrs. Annie Eva Fay whose feats resembled those of the Davenports. Another celebrated medium was David Duguid, of Glasgow, who painted "under control." In 1876 Henry Slade came from America, and turned his attention chiefly to slate-writing. A few months, after his appearance in Britain Professor Ray Lankester detected him in fraud, prosecuted him, and finally obliged him to leave the country. But the crowning manifestation, the climax of spiritual phenomena and apparently the most difficult of achievement, was materialization (q.v.) It began with the materialization of heads, hands, and arms, and proceeded to full materialization. In 1872 Mrs. Guppy attempted this form of manifestation, but with no conspicuous success. The mediums Herne and Williams also included it in their repertory, but a new and successful medium made her appearance—Florence Cook, who materialized the spirits of " John" and " Katie King." When, during a seance, Miss Cook was seized by Mr. Volckman while impersonating a spirit, the exposure drew from Sir William Crookes several letters testifying to the honesty of the medium, With whom he had experimented, .and rather helped the cause of spiritualism than otherwise. Other private mediums also gave materialization séances, and from them the contagion spread to their professional brethren, among whom the most successful was undoubtedly William Eglinton. 

Miss Lottie Fowler also attained to fame as a medium about the same time—the decade 1870-So. These open séances offered a better opportunity to the investigator, and though even in them some care was doubtless exercised to prevent the intrusion of "adverse influences," there were a good many instances where a skeptic ventured to grasp the spirit, and when this occurred spirit and medium were always found to be one and the same. By way of apology for these untoward happenings the Spiritualist suggested that the spirit was composed of emanations from the medium, and that when it was grasped by the sitter spirit and medium would unite, the form possessing most of the medium's force rejoining the other. Another explanation, especially applicable to physical manifestations, was that genuine mediums, giving professional séances, and forced to produce the phenomena on all occasions, would sometimes resort to fraud when their mediumistic powers temporarily failed them. This perfectly plausible excuse was always ready to meet a charge of fraud. The subjective phenomena, as time advanced became less in favor with investigators, who began really to understand its subjective nature, but with spiritualists it remained the most important form of manifestation The trance utterances of Home (q.v.), Stainton Moses, and Miss Lottie Fowler were highly valued.

David Duguid, the celebrated painting medium, was controlled by a new spirit, Hafed, Prince of Persia, whose life and adventures were delivered through the medium. Prominent inspirational speakers were Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten, J. J. Morse, and Mrs. Cora L. V. Tappan-Richmond. Among English periodicals devoted to spiritualism were Human Nature, first issued in 1867; the Medium and Daybreak, founded a few years later ; the Spiritual Magazine ; and the Spiritualist (1867), edited by Mr. W. H. Harrison, and treating the subject in a scientific manner. A still more recent paper, Light, dates from 1881, and still remains one of the principal organs of ihe movement.

One of the earliest investigators was Sir William Crookes, whose experiences with D. D. Home are not to be lightly passed by. In 1863 Professor de Morgan, in a preface to Mrs. de Morgan's book, From Matter to Spirit, .suggests the agency of some mysterious force, though he did not become a spiritualist until afterwards. In 1868 Cromwell Varley, the electrician, testified to the phenomena of Home. In the following year the London Dialectical Society appointed a Committee to enquire into the matter, whose members included Alfred Russel Wallace (q.v.), Charles Bradlaugh, and Sergeant Cox. The report of the committee stated that the subject was "worthy of more serious and careful investigation than it has hitherto received." Cromwell Varley, and the Research Committee of the British Nationa 1 Association of Spiritualists carried out various electrical and other tests, but as these have since been proved to be inadequate, it is not necessary to consider them in detail. On the other hand Faraday and Tyndall, Huxley and Carpenter, refused to have anything to do with the psychic phenomena, and opposed the spiritualistic movement in a spirit of intolerance which contrasted unfavorably with the attitude of its scientific protagonists.

Meanwhile the old rationalist school of believers in magnetic or odylic emanations still lingered and were represented by the Psychological Society (founded in 1875, and came to an end in 1879), the writings of its president, Sergeant Cox, and those of the well-known spiritualist, Mr. Samud Guppy. One other scientific man of the period is deserving of mention in this connection. In 1876 Professor Barrett (now Sir William), lecturing before the British Association, declared that hyperaesthesia and suggestion were not alone capable of explaining the phenomena, and urged the necessity for appointing a committee to investigate. However, his suggestion was not acted upon, and in 1882 he called a conference to consider the question. The direct result of this conference was the founding of the Society for Psychical Research. Up to this point the English movement differed from the American less in kind than in degree, for it was altogether weaker and more restricted. Indeed, the difference in the traditions of the two countries, and in the general temper of their people, rendered it impossible that the movement should spread here as rapidly as it had done in America, or that it should be embraced with such fervor. It was not—probably for the same reason—inimical to Christianity in England, but rather supplementary to it, and there were those who claimed to be converted to Christianity through its means.

The Society for Psychical Research —The history of the criticism of occult phenomena in Great Britain from 1882 to the present time is intimately connected with the Society for Psychical Research, and there is no development worthy of record which its members have not investigated. It was the first body to make a united and organized attempt to deal with what was called, for want of a better name, psychic phenomena, in a purely scientific and impartial spirit, free from the bias of pre-conceived ideas on the subject. It was, indeed, expressly stated in their prospectus that the members in no wise bound themselves to accept any one explanation, or to recognize in the phenomena the working of any non-physical agency. The first president of the Society was Professor Henry Sidgwkk, and the Council numbered among its members Edmund Gurney, Frank Podmore, Frederic W. H. Myers, and Professor Barrett; and the Rev. W. Stainton Moses, Morell Theobald, Dr. George Wild, and Dawson Rogers, the latter four being spiritualists. It may be mentioned, however, that the avowedly spiritualistic members of the Society gradually dropped off. Other presidents of the Society were, Professor Balfour Stewart, the Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour, Professor William James, Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, and Professor Barrett, several of these being among the original members. The scope of the Psychical Research Society was defined by the appointment of six committees, as follows :—(i) Committee on Thought Transference; (2) Committee on Hypnotism; (3) Committee on Reichenbach's Experiments; (4) Committee on Apparitions; (5) Committee on Physical (spiritualistic) Phenomena; and (6) a Committee to consider the history and existing literature of the subject. The field of the Society was thus a wide one, and it was still further enlarged in later years, when a committee, headed by Dr. Richard Hodgson, conducted an enquiry into Theosophy. And the methods of psychic research were applied to other matters also, which were outside of the Society's original scope. In order to find an explanation for the spiritualistic phenomena, its members journeyed into the domain of psychology, and studied automatism, hallucinations, and thought transference, one or other of which has been proved to have an important bearing on much of the spiritualistic phenomena, if not on all. They were also instrumental in detecting a great deal of fraud in connection with mediumistic performances, especially in such phenomena as slate-writing and other "physical" manifestations. The explanation of these, in fact, formed one of the chief aims of the Society. Though at the time of its founding public mediumship seemed to have declined; there was still more than enough phenomena for the Society to investigate, and the testimony of Sir William Cropkes and others of standing and intellectual strength indicated that the matter was at least a fit subject for investigation. In connection with slate-writing, which many persons declared to be genuine and so simple that fraud was impossible, Mr. S. J. Davey, a member of the Society, gave a number of pseudo-séances. Having been himself deceived for a time by the performances in that line of the well-known medium, William Elinton, and having at length discovered the modus of his slate-writing feats, Mr. Davey set himself to emulate the medium's "manifestations." In the interests of psychic research he undertook to give sittings, which were carefully recorded by Dr. Hodgson. So well were the devices of the professional mediums reproduced that none of the sitters were able to detect the modus operandi of Davey's performances, even though they were assured beforehand that it was simply a conjuring trick. Such a demonstration could not fail to do more than any amount of argument to expose the " phenomenon" of slate-writing. (See article on Slate-writing.) Excellent work was done by the Society in the collection of evidence relating to apparitions of the dead and the living, many of which are embodied in Phantasms of the living, by Messrs. Myers, Podmore and Gurney. A statistical enquiry on a large scale was undertaken by a Committee of the Society in 1889. Some cases of apparitions were collected by the committee and its assistants. The main object in taking such a census was to obtain evidence for the working of telepathy in veridical or coincidental apparitions, and in order to make such evidence of scientific value, the utmost care was taken to insure the impartiality and responsible character of all who took part in the enquiry. The result was, that after every precaution had been taken the apparitions coinciding with a death or other crisis were found greatly to exceed the number which could be ascribed to chance alone. (See also Psychical Research.)

But the most fruitful of the Society's researches were those concerning telepathy (q.v.), or thought-transference, and it was through the influence of its members that the doctrine of thought-transference, so long known to the vague speculations of the old magnetists and mesmerists, was first placed on a definite basis as a problem worthy of scientific enquiry. Investigations into this matter are still progressing, and trustworthy proof of such a mode of communication would affect the scientific view of spiritualism to a remarkable degree. Among the individual efforts of members of the Society for Psychical Research the most complete and the most successful were those conducted by Professor and Mrs. Sidgwick in 1889-91. (See Telepathy.) At the same time there was much to encourage the belief in some "supernormal" agency, especially in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The two mediums whose manifestations led many able men in this country, in America, and on the Continent, to conclude that the spirits of the dead were concerned in their phenomena were the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino (q.v.) and the American Mrs. Piper. In 1885 Professor James, of Harvard, studied the case of Mrs. Piper, and a few years later Dr. Richard Hodgson of the American Society for Psychical Research also investigated her case, the latter commencing his investigations in an entirely skeptical spirit. Of all the trance mediums she offers the best evidence for a supernatural agency. Dr. Hodgson himself declared his belief that the spirits of the dead spoke through the lips of the medium, and among others who held that fraud alone would not account for the revelations given by Mrs. Piper in the trance state were Professor James, Sir Oliver Lodge, Mr; Myers and Professor J. H. Hyslop. On the other hand, Mr. Podmore, while not admitting any supernormal agency, suggests that telepathy may help to explain the matter, probably aided by skilful observation and carefully-conducted enquiries concerning the affairs of prospective sitters.

Mrs. Sidgwick, again, suggested that probably Mrs. Piper received telepathic communications from the spirits of the dead, which she reproduced in her automatic speaking and writing. The other medium was Eusapia Palladino, who, after attracting considerable attention from Professors Lombroso, Richet, JRlammarion, and others on the Continent, came to Britain in 1895. Several English scientific men nad already witnessed her telergic powers on the Continent, at the invitation of Professor Charles Richet—Sir Oliver Lodge, Mr. Myers, and others — and of these Sir Oliver Lodge, at least, had expressed himself as satisfied that no known agency was responsible for her remarkable manifestations. The English sittings were held at Cambridge, and as it was proved conclusively that the medium made use of fraud, the majority of the investigators ascribed her "manifestations" entirely to that. Later, however, in 1898, a further series of séances were held at Paris, and so successfully that Richet, Myers, and Sir 0. Lodge once more declared themselves satisfied of the genuineness of the phenomena. A further account of this medium will be found under a separate heading. Perhaps the most convincing evidence for the working of some supernormal agency, however, is to be found in the famous cross-correspondence experiments conducted in recent years. Mr. Myers had suggested before he died that if a control were to give the same message to two or more mediums, it would go far to establish the independent existence of such control. On the death of Professor Sidgwick (in August, 1000) and of Mr. Myers (in January, 1901) it was thought that if mediums were controlled by these, some agreement might be looked for in the scripts. The first correspondences were found in the script of Mrs. Thomson and Miss Rawson, the former in London, the latter in the south of France. The Sidgwick control appeared for the first time to these ladies on the same day, January nth, 1901.

On the 8th of May, 1901 the Myers control appeared in the script of Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Verrall, and later in that of Mrs. Piper and others. So remarkable were the correspondences obtained in some cases where there could not possibly be collusion between the mediums, that it is difficult to believe that some discarnate intelligence was not responsible for some, at least of the scripts. (See also Cross-Correspondences.)

See also the biographies of the various eminent spiritualists, mediums, and investigators dealt with in this work, and the articles on Telepathy, Hallucination, Table-turning, etc. Also the articles on the various countries of Europe.

By far the most extraordinary experiments in. connection with psychic phenomena were those undertaken by Sir William Crookes. Working under the most stringent conditions he and his fellow experimenters assured themselves that entrance or exit to the room in which their séances were held was impossible. Yet he succeeded by the aid of a medium in obtaining the best possible evidence of the presence of spirits or other entities in the apartment. These were of a tangible nature and were actually weighed by Sir William, who on one occasion even succeeded in obtaining a portion of the protoplasmic matter from which these entities were built up, which he kept in a box for several days. These entities emerged from the body of the medium or from that of one of the sitters, walked about, spoke, and even debated loudly and noisily with Sir William and the other sitters on many different topics over a prolonged space of time. They frequently vanished through the floor. Sir William found their average weight to be about one-third of that of a human being. These phenomena were witnessed by numerous persons of the highest intelligence and probity, among them, it is understood, some of exalted rank. A full statement regarding the phenomena in all their details may be found in Mr. Gambier Bolton's interesting little volume Ghosts in Solid Form.

No work of recent times furnishes the student of psychic research with such a masterly conspectus of the subject as Sir William F. Barrett's On the Threshold of the Unseen (1917). Expanded from an address on the phenomena of spiritualism delivered some twenty years ago, it covers the whole history of psychical research during that period and a notice of it may well serve to complete this article and furnish the reader with data concerning psychical research during the present century. The introductory chapter briefly reviews the work of eminent scientists and provides a frank statement of the present position of psychical research. Public opinion regarding the quest, and the conflicting objections of science and religion are briefly reviewed in chapters II. and III., and are followed by an essay on the physical phenomena of spiritualism, which contains little that is not noticed in the present article. Chapter VII., "On Certain more Disputable Phenomena of Spiritualism," deals with examples of the direct voice and direct writing, materialization and spirit photography, all of which phenomena have been termed ectoplasms by Professor Ochorowicz of Warsaw. "By Ectoplasy," says Sir William, "is meant the power of forming outside the body of the medium a concentration of vital energy or vitalized matter which operates temporarily in the same way as the body from which it is drawn, so that visible, audible or tangible human-like phenomena are produced. This is very much like the 'psychic force' hypothesis under a new name. The chapter " On the Canons of Evidence in Psychical Research " includes a sentence which might well be taken to heart by the too skeptical: "It is utterly unphilosophical to ridicule or deny well-attested phenomena because they are inexplicable." Sir William shows how the critical examination of psychic phenomena has languished because of the lack of trained scientific observers, those devoting themselves to the subject being for the most part persons of more enthusiasm than judgment. The chapter on theories is eminently useful. "I have never yet," says the author, " met with anyone who has seriously studied the evidence or engaged in prolonged investigation of this subject who holds 'that all mediums are impostors.'" The theories examined to account for supernormal phenomena include those of hallucination, which is only partially admitted as a cause. Exo-neural action of the brain which is, however, a sub-conscious action, an effect of the subliminal self, but perhaps the most interesting of the hypotheses which account for these miraculous happenings is described as follows: "It may be that the intelligence operating at a séance is a thought-projection of ourselves—that each one of us has his simulacrum in the unseen; that with the growth of our life and character here a ghostly image of oneself is growing up in the invisible world." The Problem of Mediumship is the subject of the tenth chapter. Objection is taken to the word "medium," not only because of its associations, but for more scientific reasons. A separate division of the book is occupied with the phenomenal evidence afforded by apparitions, automatic writing, supernormal messages, and the evidence of identity in the discarnate condition and of survival after death. The last portion of the volume brings the question of human personality up to date, especially as regards its higher aspects, the conclusion being that only the barrier of our sense perceptions, a "threshold of sensibility," divides us from the world beyond our normal consciousness, just as "the organism of an oyster constitutes a threshold which shuts it out from the greater part of our sensible world." As regards the question of immortality it is concluded that "Life can exist in the unseen," but it does not follow that spirit communications teach us the necessary and inherent immortality of the soul. " If we accept the evidence for 'identity,' that some we have known on earth are still living and near us," we have still to remember that " entrance on a life after death does not necessarily mean immortality, that is eternal persistence of our personality, nor does it prove that survival after death extends to all. Obviously no experimental evidence can ever demonstrate either of these beliefs, though it may and does remove the objections raised as to the possibility of survival."

Towards the end of 1916 a great sensation was made not only in occult but in general circles by the publication by Sir Oliver Lodge of a memoir upon his son, the late Lieutenant Raymond Lodge, who was killed near Ypres in September, 1915. The book is divided into three parts, the first of which contains a history of the brief life of the subject of the memoir. The second part details numerous records of sittings both in the company of mediums and at the table by Sir Oliver Lodge and members of his family, and it is claimed that in these many evidences of the personal survival of his son were obtained, that the whole trend of the messages was eloquent of his personality and that although if the evidential matter were taken apart for examination single isolated proofs would not be deemed conclusive, yet when taken in a body it provides evidential material of an important nature. There is certainly ground for this contention and it must be admitted that proofs of identity are more valuable when experienced by those who were familiar with the subject during his earthly career. But to those who have not had this opportunity the balance of the evidence seems meager and it is notable that in this especial case most of the tests of real value broke down when put into practice. The third part of the book deals with the scientific material relating to the life after death which is reviewed and summarized in a spirit of great fairness, although a natural bias towards belief in immortality is not a little obvious. In this the work differs from that by Sir William Barrett, with its wholly scientific attitude and its greater natural ability to discern dialectical weaknesses, but it is far from being unscientific in character. On the other hand Sir Oliver Lodge's work is inspired throughout by an enthusiasm which if not entirely absent in that of Sir William Barrett, is certainly not conspicuous in that writer's treatise. Sir Oliver's enthusiasm is, indeed, that of a Columbus or a Galileo. Throughout the centuries the pioneer and discoverer have been uplifted and assisted more by faith than by reason, and it is probably because of his abounding faith in human immortality that Sir Oliver Lodge will in future be regarded as perhaps the greatest pioneer in psychic science, not only of his own generation but of many generations. 

Spiritualism as a Religion 

Spiritualism was, and is, regarded by its adherents as a religion, or a supplement to an existing religion, imposing certain moral obligations and offering new and far-reaching revelations on the conditions of existence beyond the grave. The continuity of life after death is, of course, one of its most important tenets, though not a distinctive one; since on it depend most of the world's creeds and religions. But the spiritualist's ideas concerning the nature of the life of the freed soul are peculiar to his creed. 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 however, undergoing any direct change, and for a longer or shorter 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," and from that to a higher and a higher, gradually evolving into a purer and nobler type, until at length it reaches the sphere of pure spirit. Another central belief of spiritualism is that the so-called "dead" can, and do, communicate with the living, through the agency of mediums, and can produce in the physical world certain phenomena depending for their operation on no known physical laws. To the earnest spiritualist, requiring no further proof of the reality of his creed, the subjective phenomena, as they are called, comprising trance-speaking, writing, etc., are of vastly greater importance than the physical manifestations, just as the latter are more in favor with psychical researchers, because of the better opportunities they offer for investigation. From the trance-speaking of the medium are gathered those particulars of the spirit world which to the outsider present one of the most unattractive pictures extant of that domain. The spirit life is, in fact, represented as a pale and attenuated reproduction of earthly life, conducted in a highly rarified atmosphere. Trance drawings, purporting to depict spirit scenes, afford a description no less flattering than the written picture.

From their exalted spheres the spirits are cognizant of the doings of their fellow-men still on earth, and are at all times ready to aid and counsel the latter. This they can do only through the medium, who is a link between the seen and the unseen, perhaps through some quality of supernormal sensitiveness. There are those who 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 humanity—that all men are mediums in a greater or less 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. For the spirits are naturally attracted to those mediums whose qualities resemble their own. Enlightened spirits from the highest spheres seek high-souled and earnest mediums through whom to express themselves, while mediums who use their divine gifts for a base end are sought by the lowest and wickedest human spirits, or by beings termed "elementals," who do not even reach the human standard of goodness. Indeed, it is stated that the lower spirits communicate with the living much more readily than do the higher, by reason of a certain gross or material quality which binds them to earth. The path of the medium is thus beset with many difficulties, and it is essential that he should be principled and sincere, a creature of pure life and high ideals, so that the circle of his "controls" be select. For not only do the tricky "elementals" deceive the sitters and the investigators with their lying ways, but they oft-times drive the medium himself to fraud, so that under their control he secretes "apports" about his person, and materializes false beards and dirty muslin. And as it is with the full-fledged medium, so with the normal individual. If he is to insure that the source of his inspiration be a high one he must live in such a way that only the best spirits will control him, and so his impulses shall be for his own good and the betterment of the race. It will thus be seen that spiritualism is in itself a complete religion; but it also combines well with other religions and creeds. In America the spiritualistic and the socialistic elements mingled harmoniously and many of the socialistic communities were founded by spiritualists. Other sects there were which associated themselves with spiritualism during the early history of the movement in America, and rumor—somewhat unfairly, it must be admitted—would have associated with it some less creditable ones, such as that which advocated free Love. But the many forms which spiritualism took in America were, as has been said, the product of the country and the time. In other Jands the forms were different. In England, for instance, where wont and tradition were more happily settled, spiritualism was regarded as by no means incompatible with Christianity but rather as affording a fuller revelation of the Christian religion, a view which the trance utterances of the medium confirmed. In France, again, Allan Kardec's doctrine of re-incarnation blended happily with the doctrines of spiritualism to produce spiritism. Then we have the more modern example of theosophy, a blending of spiritualism with oriental religions. But all these varied forms contain the central creed of spiritualism; the belief in the continuance of life after the "great dissolution," or death of the body, and in continual progress; and in the fact of communication between the freed spirit and living human beings. On the whole spiritualists have shown themselves rather tolerant than otherwise to those who were not of their band. On the one hand their mediums did not hesitate to claim kinship with the wizards, shamans and witchdoctors of savage lands, whom they hailed as natural mediums; and on the other, there were many able and sincere spiritualists who joined forces with the Psychical Researcher, in the unflinching endeavor to expose fraud and get at the truth.


Did You Enjoy This Article? Share It With Your Friends

Shop at the
New Age Store




Soul Ages

Our goal sets the theme for a lifetime, acting as a primary motivator that guides our course of direction in life.


The Old Soul

Learn about the Overleaves, personality traits that shape our individual experience during each lifetime.