Spiritualism is a belief system or religion, postulating the belief that spirits of the dead residing in the spirit world have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living. Anyone may receive spirit messages, but formal communication sessions (séances) are held by "mediums", who can then provide information about the afterlife.
Spiritualism developed and reached its peak growth in membership from the 1840s to the 1920s, especially in English-language countries. By 1897, it was said to have more than eight million followers in the United States and Europe, mostly drawn from the middle and upper classes, while the corresponding movement in continental Europe and Latin America is known as Spiritism.
The religion flourished for a half century without canonical texts or formal organization, attaining cohesion through periodicals, tours by trance lecturers, camp meetings, and the missionary activities of accomplished mediums. Many prominent Spiritualists were women, and like most Spiritualists, supported causes such as the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage. By the late 1880s the credibility of the informal movement had weakened due to accusations of fraud being perpetrated by mediums, and formal Spiritualist organizations began to appear. Spiritualism is currently practiced primarily through various denominational Spiritualist Churches in the United States and United Kingdom.
Bureau 13 policy is to treat this as another religion. There were healings in Spiritualist churches during the Healing Wave. Mediums are sometimes gifted, sometimes not. Sometimes dangerous as all hell when something "out there" gets a hold of them. There are Spiritualist mediums that are Bureau assets. God it seems is gnostic and sect-blind, even if religion is not.
Although various Spiritualist traditions have their own beliefs, known as Principles, there are some shared concepts:
- A belief in spirit communication.
- A belief that the soul continues to exist after the death of the physical body.
- Personal responsibility for life circumstances.
- Even after death it is possible for the soul to learn and improve
- A belief in a God, often referred to as "Infinite Intelligence".
- The natural world considered as an expression of said intelligence.
Mediumship and spirits
Spiritualists believe in communicating with the spirits of discarnate humans. They believe that spirit mediums are humans gifted to do this, often through seances. Anyone may become a medium through study and practice. They believe that spirits are capable of growth and perfection, progressing through higher spheres or planes. The afterlife is not a static place, but one in which spirits evolve. The two beliefs—that contact with spirits is possible, and that spirits may lie on a higher plane—lead to a third belief, that spirits can provide knowledge about moral and ethical issues, as well as about God and the afterlife. Thus many members speak of spirit guides—specific spirits, often contacted, relied upon for worldly and spiritual guidance.
Compared with other religions
As Spiritualism emerged in a Christian environment, it has features in common with Christianity, ranging from an essentially Christian moral system to practices such as Sunday services and the singing of hymns. Nevertheless, on significant points Christianity and Spiritualism are different. Spiritualists do not believe that the works or faith of a mortal during a brief lifetime can serve as a basis for assigning a soul to an eternity of Heaven or Hell; they view the afterlife as containing hierarchical "spheres", through which each spirit can progress. Spiritualists differ from Protestant Christians in that the Judeo-Christian Bible is not the primary source from which they derive knowledge of God and the afterlife: for them, their personal contacts with spirits provide that.
Christians, generally speaking, accept and believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for all the sins of all humanity from the dawn of time to eternity. The great majority of Spiritualists do not accept that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was to pay for all of humanity's sins. Instead, they believe that each individual is personally responsible and may have to answer for all of their own thoughts, words, and deeds after death upon their return to the spirit realms.
In the same way that Christians have the guidance of the Ten Commandments, Spiritualists follow a number of principles, which are different depending on the tradition followed.
There are quite a number of Spiritualist churches which are explicitly Christian in theology, forms of worship and praise, and liturgical orientation. Among these Christian Spiritualist groups are the historically African American denominations collectively known as the Spiritual Church Movement, a group which includes multi-church organizations such as the Metropolitan Spiritual Churches of Christ, and Pentecostal Spiritual Assemblies of Christ International.
It is held by some adherents of the Jewish religion that Spiritualism is strictly forbidden by the Torah. In Leviticus, one of the books concerning God's laws to Moses, it is written that God says: "I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people." (Leviticus 20:6).
On the other hand, among Jews who are inclined toward Spiritualism it is common to refer to trance mediumship as "prophecy," a "vision," or a "dream," and to cite as a counter-text the verse from Numbers 12:6 in which God says, "Hear my words: If there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision, or I will speak to him in a dream."
Within Islam, certain traditions, notably Sufism, consider communication with spirits possible. Additionally, the concept of Tawassul recognizes the existence of Good Spirits on a Higher Plane of existence closer to God, and thus able to intercede on behalf of humanity.
Hinduism, though heterogeneous, shares with Spiritualism a belief in the existence of the soul after death and also the belief of ghosts or spirits. Hinduism teaches both reincarnation and ghosts, as Hindus believe that if a person were to die at an early age, such as by suicide or unnatural death, the spirit then roams the earth until their natural date of death. The spirit is only then reincarnated into its next physical form.
Spiritism, the branch of Spiritualism developed by Allan Kardec and today found mostly in Brazil, has emphasized reincarnation. According to Arthur Conan Doyle, most British Spiritualists of the early 20th century were indifferent to the doctrine of reincarnation, few supported it, while a significant minority were opposed, since it had never been mentioned by spirits contacted in séances. Thus, according to Doyle, it is the empirical bent of Anglophone Spiritualism—its effort to develop religious views from observation of phenomena, that kept Spiritualists of this period from embracing reincarnation.
Spiritualism also differs from occult movements, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or the contemporary Wiccan covens, in that spirits are not contacted to obtain magical powers (with the exception of power for healing). For example, Madame Blavatsky (1831–91), the founder of the Theosophical Society, only practiced mediumship to contact powerful spirits capable of conferring esoteric knowledge. Blavatsky did not believe these spirits were deceased humans, and held beliefs in reincarnation different from the views of most Spiritualists. Spiritualists at that time viewed Theosophy as unscientific and both occultist and cult-like. Theosophists viewed Spiritualism as unsophisticated and uncosmopolitan.
Spiritualism first appeared in the 1840s in the "Burned-over District" of upstate New York, where earlier religious movements such as Millerism, and Mormonism had emerged during the Second Great Awakening.
This region of New York State was an environment in which many thought direct communication with God or angels was possible, and that God would not behave harshly—for example, that God would not condemn unbaptised infants to an eternity in Hell.
Swedenborg and Mesmer
In this environment, the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) and the teachings of Franz Mesmer (1734–1815) provided an example for those seeking direct personal knowledge of the afterlife. Swedenborg, who claimed to communicate with spirits while awake, described the structure of the spirit world. Two features of his view particularly resonated with the early spiritualists: first, that there is not a single hell and a single heaven, but rather a series of higher and lower heavens and hells; second, that spirits are intermediates between God and humans, so that the Divine sometimes uses them as a means of communication. Although Swedenborg warned against seeking out spirit contact, his works seem to have inspired in others the desire to do so.
Mesmer did not contribute religious beliefs, but he brought a technique, later known as hypnotism, that it was claimed could induce trances and cause subjects to report contact with supernatural beings. There was a great deal of professional showmanship inherent to demonstrations of Mesmerism, and the practitioners who lectured in mid-19th-century North America sought to entertain their audiences as well as to demonstrate methods for personal contact with the Divine.
Perhaps the best known of those who combined Swedenborg and Mesmer in a peculiarly North American synthesis was Andrew Jackson Davis, who called his system the Harmonial Philosophy. Davis was a practicing Mesmerist, faith healer and clairvoyant from Poughkeepsie, New York. His 1847 book, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind, dictated to a friend while in a trance state, eventually became the nearest thing to a canonical work in a Spiritualist movement whose extreme individualism precluded the development of a single coherent worldview.
Spiritualists often set March 31, 1848, as the beginning of their movement. On that date, Kate and Margaret Fox, of Hydesville, New York, reported that they had made contact with the spirit of a murdered peddler. What made this an extraordinary event was that the spirit communicated through rapping noises, audible to onlookers. The evidence of the senses appealed to practically minded Americans, and the Fox sisters became a sensation. However, the Fox Sisters later admitted that this "contact" with the spirit was a hoax.
Amy and Isaac Post, Hicksite Quakers from Rochester, New York, had long been acquainted with the Fox family, and took the two girls into their home in the late spring of 1848. Immediately convinced of the genuineness of the sisters' communications, they became early converts and introduced the young mediums to their circle of radical Quaker friends.
It therefore came about that many of the early participants in Spiritualism were radical Quakers and others involved in the reforming movement of the mid-nineteenth century. These reformers were uncomfortable with established churches, because they did little to fight slavery and even less to advance the cause of women's rights.
Women were particularly attracted to the movement, because it gave them important roles as mediums and trance lecturers. In fact, Spiritualism provided one of the first forums in which American women could address mixed public audiences.The most popular trance lecturer prior to the American Civil War was Cora L. V. Scott (1840–1923). Young and beautiful, her appearance on stage fascinated men. Her audiences were struck by the contrast between her physical girlishness and the eloquence with which she spoke of spiritual matters, and found in that contrast support for the notion that spirits were speaking through her. Cora married four times, and on each occasion adopted her husband's last name. During her period of greatest activity, she was known as Cora Hatch.
Another famous woman spiritualist was Achsa W. Sprague, who was born November 17, 1827, in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. At the age of 20, she became ill with rheumatic fever and credited her eventual recovery to intercession by spirits. An extremely popular trance lecturer, she traveled about the United States until her death in 1861. Sprague was an abolitionist and an advocate of women's rights.Yet another prominent spiritualist and trance medium prior to the Civil War was Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825–1875), of mixed race, who also played a part in the Abolition movement. Nevertheless, many abolitionists and reformers held themselves aloof from the movement; among the skeptics was the eloquent ex-slave, Frederick Douglass.
Believers and skeptics
In the years following the sensation that greeted the Fox sisters, demonstrations of mediumship (séances and automatic writing, for example) proved to be a profitable venture, and soon became popular forms of entertainment and spiritual catharsis. The invention of the telegraph in 1844 led spiritualists to claim that an unseen "spiritual telegraph" to the dead also existed. The Foxes were to earn a living this way and others would follow their lead. Showmanship became an increasingly important part of Spiritualism, and the visible, audible, and tangible evidence of spirits escalated as mediums competed for paying audiences. While investigating fraud among mediums was one of the primary early tasks of Bureau 13 it has never publicly been admitted. The actual expose of the frauds was handled through a third party agency such as independent commissions. These independent investigating commissions repeatedly established, most notably the 1887 report of the Seybert Commission, fraud was widespread, and some of these cases were prosecuted in the courts.
Despite numerous instances of chicanery, the appeal of Spiritualism was strong. Prominent in the ranks of its adherents were those grieving the death of a loved one. Many families during the time of the American Civil War had seen their men go off and never return, and images of the battlefield, produced through the new medium of photography, demonstrated that their loved ones had not only died in overwhelmingly huge numbers, but horribly as well. One well known case is that of Mary Todd Lincoln who, grieving the loss of her son, organized séances in the White House which were attended by her husband, President Abraham Lincoln. The surge of spiritualism during this time, and later during World War I was a direct response to those massive battlefield casualties.
In addition, the movement appealed to reformers, who fortuitously found that the spirits favored such causes du jour as equal rights. It also appealed to some who had a materialist orientation and rejected organized religion. The influential socialist and atheist Robert Owen embraced religion following his experiences in Spiritualist circles.
Many scientists who investigated the phenomenon also became converts. They included chemist and physicist William Crookes (1832–1919), evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) and Nobel-laureate physiologist Charles Richet. Other prominent adherents included journalist and pacifist William T. Stead (1849–1912) and physician and author Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930).Conan Doyle, who lost his son as a result of the war, was also a member of The Ghost Club. Founded in London in 1862, its focus was the scientific study of alleged paranormal activities in order to prove (or refute) the existence of paranormal phenomena. Famous members of the club have included Charles Dickens, Sir William Crookes, Sir William Fletcher Barrett and Harry Price. Pioneering American psychologist William James studied spiritualism, publishing supportive conclusions. The séances of Eusapia Palladino were attended by investigators including Pierre and Marie Curie. The celebrated New York City physician, John Franklin Gray, was also a well-known and prominent Spiritualist in New York City.
The claims of spiritualists and others as to the reality of ghosts were investigated by the Society for Psychical Research, founded in London in 1882 (an early incarnation of Mi-13). The Society set up a Committee on Haunted Houses and a Literary Committee which looked at the literature on the subject. Prominent investigators who exposed cases of fraud came from a variety of backgrounds, including professional researchers such as Frank Podmore of the Society for Psychical Research or Harry Price of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, and professional conjurers such as John Nevil Maskelyne. Maskelyne exposed the Davenport Brothers by appearing in the audience during their shows and explaining how the trick was done. During the 1920s, professional magician Harry Houdini undertook a well-publicised campaign to expose fraudulent mediums. He was adamant that "Up to the present time everything that I have investigated has been the result of deluded brains."
The movement quickly spread throughout the world; though only in the United Kingdom did it become as widespread as in the United States. Spiritualist organizations were formed in America and Europe, such as the London Spiritualist Alliance, which published a newspaper called The Light, featuring articles such as “Evenings at Home in Spiritual Séance”, “Ghosts in Africa” and “Chronicles of Spirit Photography”, advertisements for "mesmerists” and patent medicines, and letters from readers about personal contact with ghosts. In Britain, by 1853, invitations to tea among the prosperous and fashionable often included table-turning, a type of séance in which spirits would communicate with people seated around a table by tilting and rotating the table. A particularly important convert was the French pedagogist Allan Kardec (1804–1869), who made the first attempt to systematize the movement's practices and ideas into a consistent philosophical system. Kardec's books, written in the last 15 years of his life, became the textual basis of Spiritism, which became widespread in Latin countries. In Brazil, Kardec's ideas are embraced by many followers today. In Puerto Rico, Kardec's books were widely read by the upper classes, and eventually gave birth to a movement known as Mesa Blanca (White Table).
Spiritualism was mainly a middle- and upper-class movement, and especially popular with women. U.S. spiritualists would meet in private homes for séances, at lecture halls for trance lectures, at state or national conventions, and at summer camps attended by thousands. Among the most significant of the camp meetings were Camp Etna, in Etna, Maine; Onset Bay Grove, in Onset, Massachusetts; Lily Dale, in western New York State; Camp Chesterfield, in Indiana; the Wonewoc Spiritualist Camp, in Wonewoc, Wisconsin; and Lake Pleasant, in Montague, Massachusetts. In founding camp meetings, the spiritualists appropriated a form developed by U.S. Protestant denominations in the early nineteenth century. Spiritualist camp meetings were located most densely in New England and California, but were also established across the upper Midwest. Cassadaga, Florida, is the most notable spiritualist camp meeting in the southern states.
A number of spiritualist periodicals appeared in the nineteenth century, and these did much to hold the movement together. Among the most important were the weeklies The Banner of Light (Boston), The Religio-Philosophical Journal (Chicago), Mind and Matter (Philadelphia), The Spiritualist (London), and The Medium (London). Other influential periodicals were the Revue Spirite (France), Le Messager (Belgium), Annali dello Spiritismo (Italy), El Criterio Espiritista (Spain), and The Harbinger of Light (Australia). By 1880, there were about three dozen monthly spiritualist periodicals published around the world. These periodicals differed a great deal from each other, reflecting the great differences among Spiritualists. Some, such as the British Spiritual Magazine were Christian and conservative, openly rejecting the reform currents so strong within Spiritualism. Others, such as Human Nature, were pointedly non-Christian and supportive of socialism and reform efforts. Still others, such as The Spiritualist, attempted to view spiritualist phenomena from a scientific perspective, eschewing discussion on both theological and reform issues.
Books on the supernatural were published for the growing middle class, such as 1852’s Mysteries, by Charles Elliott, which contains “sketches of spirits and spiritual things”, including accounts of the Salem witch trials, the Cock Lane Ghost, and the Rochester Rappings. The Night Side of Nature, by Catherine Crowe, published in 1853, provided definitions and accounts of wraiths, doppelgangers, apparitions and haunted houses. (Bureau 13 note: If you find one of these, seize it. A deeply dangerous book in that is is wrong, but too right.)
Mainstream newspapers treated stories of ghosts and haunting as they would any other news story. An account in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1891, "sufficiently bloody to suit the most fastidious taste", tells of a house believed to be haunted by the ghosts of three murder victims seeking revenge against their killer’s son, who was eventually driven insane. Many families, “having no faith in ghosts”, thereafter moved into the house, but all soon moved out again. In the 1920s many "psychic" books were published of varied quality. Such books were often based on excursions initiated by the use of Ouija boards. A few of these popular books displayed unorganized Spiritualism, though most were less insightful.
The movement was extremely individualistic, with each person relying on her own experiences and reading to discern the nature of the afterlife. Organization was therefore slow to appear, and when it did it was resisted by mediums and trance lecturers. Most members were content to attend Christian churches, and particularly Universalist churches harbored many Spiritualists.
As the Spiritualism movement began to fade, partly through the bad publicity of fraud accusations and partly through the appeal of religious movements such as Christian Science, the Spiritualist Church was organized. This church can claim to be the main vestige of the movement left today in the United States.
The Effect of Evolution
Spiritualists reacted uncertainly to the theories of evolution in the late 19th and early 20th century. Broadly speaking the concept of evolution fitted the spiritualist thought of the progressive development of humanity. At the same time however, the belief in the animal origins of man threatened the foundation of the immortality of the spirit, for if man had not been created, it was scarcely plausible that he would be specially endowed with a spirit. This led to spiritualists embracing spiritual evolution.
The spiritualists view of evolution did not stop at death. Spiritualism taught that after death spirits progressed to spiritual states in new spheres of existence. According to spiritualists evolution occurred in the spirit world “at a rate more rapid and under conditions more favorable to growth” then encountered on earth.
In a talk at the London Spiritualist Alliance, Rev. John Page Hopps (1834–1911) supported both evolution and spiritualism. Hopps claimed man had started off imperfect “out of the animals darkness” but will rise into the “angel’s marvelous light”, Hopps claimed man was not a fallen but a rising creature and that after death man would evolve on a number of spheres of existence to perfection.
Theosophy is in opposition to the spiritualist interpretation of evolution, theosophy teaches a metaphysical theory of evolution mixed with human devolution, spiritualists do not accept the devolution of the theosophists. To theosophy man starts in a state of perfection (see Golden age) and falls into a process of progressive materialization (devolution), developing the mind and losing the spiritual consciousness. After the gathering of experience and growth through repeated reincarnations humanity will regain the original spiritual state, which is now one of self-conscious perfection. Theosophists and Spiritualists were both very popular metaphysical schools of thought especially in the early 20th century and thus were always clashing in their different beliefs. Madame Blavatsky was critical of spiritualism, she distanced theosophy from spiritualism as far as she could and allied herself with eastern occultism.
After the 1920s
After the 1920s, Spiritualism evolved in three different directions, all of which exist today.
The first of these continued the tradition of individual practitioners, organized in circles centered on a medium and clients, without any hierarchy or dogma. Already by the late 19th century Spiritualism had become increasingly syncretic, a natural development in a movement without central authority or dogma. Today, among these unorganized circles, Spiritualism is similar to the New Age movement. However, Theosophy with its inclusion of Eastern religion, astrology, ritual magic and reincarnation is an example of a closer precursor of the 20th century New Age movement. Today's syncretic Spiritualists are quite heterogeneous in their beliefs regarding issues such as reincarnation or the existence of God. Some appropriate New Age and Neo-Pagan beliefs, whilst others call themselves 'Christian Spiritualists', continuing with the tradition of cautiously incorporating Spiritualist experiences into their Christian faith.
The second direction taken has been to adopt formal organization, patterned after Christian denominations, with established liturgies and a set of Seven Principles, and training requirements for mediums. In the United States the Spiritualist churches are primarily affiliated either with the National Spiritualist Association of Churches or the loosely allied group of denominations known as the spiritual church movement; in the U.K. the predominant organization is the Spiritualists' National Union, founded in 1890.
Formal education in Spiritualist practice emerged in 1920s, with organizations like the William T. Stead Center in Chicago, Illinois, and continue today with the Arthur Findlay College at Stansted Hall in England, and the Morris Pratt Institute in Wisconsin, USA.
Diversity of belief among organized Spiritualists has led to a few schisms, the most notable occurring in the U.K. in 1957 between those who held the movement to be a religion sui generis (of its own with unique characteristics), and a minority who held it to be a denomination within Christianity. In the United States, this distinction can be seen between the less Christian National Spiritualist Association of Churches and the more Christian spiritual church movement.
The practice of organized Spiritualism today resembles that of any other religion, having discarded most showmanship, particularly those elements resembling the conjurer's art. There is thus a much greater emphasis on "mental" mediumship and an almost complete avoidance of the apparently miraculous "materializing" mediumship that so fascinated early believers such as Arthur Conan Doyle. The first Spiritualist Church in Australia was the United Stanmore & Enmore Spiritualist Church established in 1913. In 1921 Arthur Conan Doyle gave a farewell to Australia speech there.
The third direction taken has been a continuation of its empirical orientation to religious phenomena. Already as early as 1882, with the founding of the Society for Psychical Research, secular organizations emerged to investigate spiritualist claims. Today many persons with this empirical approach avoid the label of "Spiritualism", preferring the term "survivalism". Survivalists eschew religion, and base their belief in the afterlife on phenomena susceptible to at least rudimentary scientific investigation, such as mediumship, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, electronic voice phenomena, and reincarnation research. Many Survivalists see themselves as the intellectual heirs of the Spiritualist movement. An example of the modern approach is the work of the Professor of Psychology, David Fontana, who has written about the subject from a number of points of view.
The conformation that not only are we not alone, but we have lots of company has not negatively impacted the Spiritualist faith. If anything they see the Ane Aspect and the All as well as the Vulcan Katra and associated beliefs as confirmation of a like spirit in Humans. The Ansisi make then positively giddy. Proof of the Human soul and an existence after death.
The Spiritualist movement in general has looked deep into the idea of the Ane All. The idea of a place, a physical and locatable place, where the spirits of the dead (Aspects) exist and can be freely communicated with is to them an ideal situation. The reluctance of the Ane to allow them a look is frustrating and has resulted on some harsh words. Ane and Ansisi explanations that "a look" is not possible, you are either in or out, no middle ground is not accepted with good grace.
Outsiders are less welcome. The more shapes of people are not the problem, but the clear emphasis on keeping the barrier between life and death sharp and distinct. Those religious minded Outsiders so far encountered think the Spiritualists are playing with fire, and are surprised they don't get burned more often.
Greyhawkens, the majority of known Outsiders, are openly hostile to the idea of spirits crossing the life/death barrier except in narrow and approved channels, such as reincarnation and resurrection. They see ghosts and like manifestations as hostile and in need to destruction, at once if not sooner. The priests have specific magical powers to do exactly this. As you can imagine this does not jibe well with the Spiritualist viewpoint and beliefs.
Robert Canna and others have stated that as the magic level increases the Spiritualist practices of open séances as currently used will become a danger allowing hostile spirits into the world and to allow possession by these spirits. They do not say the Spiritualist are incorrect in their core beliefs, but that their methods are dangerous and do not have sufficient, if any, safeguards. More magic thins the barriers and one must be careful.
Of all religions observed the Spiritualist are the least impacted by the Healing Wave and the Enlightenment Movement. Those claiming experience with Spiritualism and enlightenment are sharply moving away from the beliefs and practices of the Spiritualist movement. They cite the danger mentioned above. Increasing magic will make dealing in spirits less tenable and far more dangerous. Frauds are not the problem, real power is.
Bureau 13 File
The Littleton Uncertainty Principle aside we have more than sufficient proof that ghosts and other restless spirits exist. Be warned that evil outsiders will often play the part of the concerned spirit to lure mortals to their doom. Sadly that is more common than the real ghosts. Keep an open, wary, and skeptical mind.
Spiritualism works. It is true that frauds abound and are the majority of the mediums you will find. The understated and reluctant mediums will often have a measure of real power. The Bureau has a few on call and has used their abilities to benefit. Debunking frauds is still part of our job when they engage in criminal behavior.
In light of the information that such practices are going ot become dangerous in the near future we must revisit the Bureau use of mediums even if benefit has been shown in the past. Seek an Enlightened Cleric, not a medium if restless spirits are indicated.