SPIRITUALISM: The Mediums and the Message 


Spiritualism -- it dominated the 19th Century public fancy the way Aliens and UFO's did the 20th Century.

The top Mediums -- and even their Spirit Guides -- were worldwide celebrities!

The practice of communicating with the dead is ancient. Shamans, the "medicine men" and "wise women" who were the first priests of every culture, did it. The Oracles of ancient Greece did it. So, too, the Medieval necromancers.

But it wasn't until the middle of the 19th Century that communication with the dead became a public entertainment and preoccupation: "Everybody is doing it!"

The movement, soon to be named Spiritualism, began in 1848 in Hydesville, New York State. The Fox Sisters -- Leah, Margaretta and Kate -- lived with their family in a tumbledown house with a history of hauntings. The Fox family began to hear knocking sounds in the walls and phantom footsteps on the stairs. Mrs. Fox's hair went gray in a week. The three sisters were most sensitive to the knocking sounds, and began to speak of a "Mr Splitfoot."

Believing the sounds to be made by a spirit, the girls worked out a code with "Mr Splitfoot" and were told by him that he was the ghost of an itinerant peddler who'd been murdered for his money and buried in the cellar of their house by former owners. The story was confirmed by a maid who had lived in the house when the murder took place.

When the family moved away, the sisters still still heard the knockings. The spirit-messages, they said, told them that they were chosen "to convince the skeptical of the great truth of immortality."

The public was fascinated.

In just a few years Spiritualism spread throughout North America and Europe.

New phrases were added to the public lexicon: Mediums. The Other Side. Apports. Table-rapping. Levitation. Discarnates. Ectoplasm. Physical materializations. Seances. Automatic writing. Clairaudience and Clairvoyance. Ouija Boards. Thought forms. Controls. Spirit Guides. Spirit possession. Trance State.

Hundreds of mediums gained fame, among the most celebrated were:

DANIEL DUNGLASS HOME Born in Scotland in 1833, Home has been called "Perhaps the most outstanding physical medium in the history of Spiritualism." Ralph Waldo Emerson called him a "prodigious genius."

A sickly child, he learned early to draw on his psychic senses. As an adult, living in America and Britain, he astounded the luminaries of the day with his seances, levitation, fire immunity, strange music from nowhere, elongation of his body, phantom writing (invisible hands picking up pens to write messages), movement of furniture, and changes of room temperature (long before central heating). Among those who were fascinated by him were Bulwer Lytton (who based the hero of his "A Strange Story" on Home), John Ruskin, William Makepeace Thackeray, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sir Davis Brewster, Robert Browning, Anthony Trollope, Count Alexis Tolstoy, Napoleon III, the German Emporer and the Queen of Holland.

Although the messages sent through his sťances were "bang-on" in accuracy, it was his feats of levitation that earned him worldwide acclaim.

Newspaper editor F L Burr reported how, while attending a D D Home sťance in Connecticut in the summer of 1852, Home was "taken up into the air! He palpitated from head to foot with the contending emotions of joy and fear. Again and again he was taken from the floor, and the third time he was carried to the ceiling of the apartment, with which his hands and feet came into gentle contact..."

LEONORE PIPER The Boston-born Leonore Piper is perhaps the most critically-tested of all mediums. She is considered the most outstanding trance medium in the history of psychic research. For over 20 years, members of the American Society for Psychical Research tested her and were amazed at the constant results.

It was while recovering from a long and difficult illness that Mrs Piper decided to seek out a healer. During her second visit with him, she went into her first trance. Once having discovered how to enter a trance, she found that she could enter one whenever she wanted to. Soon she was conducting private sittings for clients. In 1885, the psychic researcher and author William James ("The Varieties of Religious Experience"), visited her. Impressed, James later said that Mrs Piper had either read his mind or was actually giving information from relatives who had "passed over." James later wrote: "My later knowledge of her sittings and personal acquaintance with her has led me to reject the former explanation (mind reading), and to believe that she has supernormal powers."

Over the years, her successes continued to amaze. Her list of sitters included Longfellow, Sir Oliver Lodge, Dr R Hodgson, Sir William Crooker and many others. She said she could summon many "Controls" or Spirit Guides, the most effective being a Native American Indian girl called Chlorine and a French physician, Dr Phenuix.

JOHN KING Most mediums had a Spirit Guide (or Control) -- a spiritual personality who controlled the medium during the sťance and passed on messages. The spirit JOHN KING must hold the record of acting through the most mediums. John King said that in life he was Henry Morgan, the Pirate of Port Royal, who was knighted for his heroic buccaneer activities in the Caribbean and appointed Governor of Jamaica in 1673. He first appeared to the Davenport Brothers -- Ira and William -- in 1850. Other mediums who claimed he was their Spirit Guide include: Mrs Mary Marshall, Mrs Samuel Guppy, Georgina Houghton, Mrs Firman, Mrs Etta Wriedt, William Eglinton, Cecil Husk, Mme Blavatsky (founder of the Theosophical Society), Eusapia Paladino and Dr Glen Hamilton.

By the early 20th Century, public interest expanded from Spiritualism to other psychic phenomena.

The publication of Freud's THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS in 1900 hit like a bombshell. Dream Study and Dream Interpretation were suddenly the talk of society. Dream study was soon carried to fascinating heights by Carl Jung -- the study of Myth, Religion and psychology as manifested in our own dreams was bearing fantastic results.

Interesting are the strange events surrounding Jung's death. Jung had never promised any "afterlife incidents" as many others interested in the Psychic Sciences had, saying such occurrences weren't nearly as important as the study of the Psyche.

However, Jung's close friend, Laurens van der Post, while on a sea voyage, had a dream in which he saw Jung wave at him and say, "I'll be seeing you." Next day, Laurens learned that Jung had passed away, and at the exact time of the dream. He was also told that, just as Jung was "giving up the ghost," a bolt of lightning hit Jung's favorite tree in his Kusnach garden. A few years later, van der Post was making a movie about Jung in that very same garden. Just as he was describing Jung's death to the camera, a bolt of lightning struck the same tree!

About the Author

Brian Alan Burhoe is the author of many articles and short stories. His Home Page is ORNITHANTHROPUS Science Fantasy by B Alan Burhoe.