Spiritualism - Encyclopedia

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SPIRITUALISM, a term used by philosophical writers to denote the opposite of materialism, and also used in a narrower sense to describe the belief that the spiritual world manifests itself by producing in the physical world effects inexplicable by the known laws of nature. It is in the latter sense that it is here discussed. The belief in such occasional manifestations has probably existed as long as the belief in the existence of spirits apart from human bodies (see Animism; Magic, &c.), and a complete examination into it would involve a discussion of the religions of all ages and nations. In 1848, however, a peculiar form of it, believed to be based on abundant experimental evidence, arose in America and spread there with great rapidity, and thence over the civilized world. To this movement, which has been called "modern spiritualism," the present article is confined.

The movement began in a single family. In 1848 a Mr and Mrs J. D. Fox and their two daughters, at Hydesville (Wayne county), New York, were much disturbed by unexplained knockings. At length Kate Fox (b. 18 3 9) discovered that the cause of the sounds was intelligent and would make raps as requested, and, communication being established, the rapper professed to be the spirit of a murdered pedlar. An investigation into the matter was thought to show that none of the Fox family was concerned in producing the rappings; but the evidence that they were not concerned is insufficient, although similar noises had been noticed occasionally in the house before they lived there. It was, however, at Rochester, where Kate and her sister Margaret (1836-1893)(1836-1893) went to live with a married sister (Mrs Fish) that modern spiritualism assumed its present form, and that communication was, as it was believed, established with lost relatives and deceased eminent men. The presence of certain "mediums" was required to form the link between the worlds of the living and of the dead, and Kate Fox and her sister were the first mediums. Spiritualists do not as yet claim to know what special qualities in mediums enable spirits thus to make use of them. The earliest communications were carried on by means of "raps," or, as Sir William Crookes calls them, "percussive sounds." It was agreed that one rap should mean "no" and three "yes," while more complicated messages were - and are - obtained in other ways, such as calling over or pointing to letters of the alphabet, when raps occur at the required letters.

The idea of communicating with the departed was naturally attractive even to the merely curious, still more to those who were mourning for lost friends, and most of all to those who believed that this was the commencement of a new revelation. The first two causes have attracted many inquirers; but it is the last that has chiefly given to modern spiritualism its religious aspect. Many came to witness the new wonder, and the excitement and interest spread rapidly. It should be noted that expectations favourable to the new idea had already been created by the interest in mesmerism and the phenomena of hypnotic trance (see Hypnotism), widely diffused at this time both in America and Europe. It was believed that information about other worlds and from higher intelligences could be obtained from persons in the sleep-waking state. Andrew Jackson Davis was in America the most prominent example of such persons; his work, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations (New York, 1847), was alleged to have been dictated in "clairvoyant" trance, and before 1848 his followers were expecting a new religious revelation. Many reputed "clairvoyants" developed into mediums (q.v.). The "spiritualistic" movement spread like an epidemic. "Spirit circles" were soon formed in many families. There is very little evidence to show that mediumship arose anywhere spontaneously,' but those who sat with the Foxes were often found to become mediums themselves and then in their turn developed mediumship in others. The mere reading of accounts of seances developed the peculiar susceptibility in some persons, while others, who became mediums ultimately, did so only after prolonged and patient waiting.

There seems to have been little practical interest in spiritualism in England till 1852, when its first development took the form of a mania for table-turning. This seems to have prevailed all over Europe in 1853. In England it was greatly stimulated by the visit of Mrs Hayden, a professional medium from Boston, in the winter of 1852-1853. Daniel Dunglas Home, the next medium of importance who appeared in London, came over from America in 1855; and for many years almost all the chief mediums for physical phenomena known in England came from the United States. It was at Keighley in Yorkshire - where also the first English periodical, the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph, was published in 1855 and onwards - that spiritualism as a religious movement first made any mark in England; but this movement, though it spread rather widely, cannot be said to have attained at any time very vigorous proportions. It had taken more hold in its original home in the United States of America, and thence it has spread in some degree to most Christian countries. Nowhere, however, has there been much religious organization in connexion with it, and the force of the movement seems to have declined rather than increased.

In the present article it is impossible to give an exhaustive catalogue of the phenomena and modes of communication of modern spiritualism.' The greater part of the phenomena may be divided into two classes. To the first belong what may be called the physical phenomena (q.v.) of spiritualism - those, namely, which, if correctly observed and due neither to conscious or unconscious trickery nor to hallucination or illusion on the part of the observers, exhibit a force acting in the physical world hitherto unknown to science. The earliest of these phenomena were the raps already spoken of and other sounds occurring without apparent physical cause, and the similarly mysterious movements of furniture and other objects; and these were shortly followed by the ringing of bells and playing of musical instruments. Later followed the appearance of lights; quasi-human voices; musical sounds, produced, it is said, without instruments; the "materialization" or presence in material form of what seemed to be human hands and faces, and ultimately of complete figures, alleged to be not those of any person present, and sometimes claimed by witnesses as deceased relatives; "psychography," or "direct writing and drawing," asserted to be done without human intervention; "spirit-photography," or the appearance on photographic plates of human and other forms when no counterpart was visible before the camera to any but specially endowed seers; 3 unfastening of cords and bonds; elongation of the medium's body; handling of red-hot coals; and the apparent passage of solids through solids without disintegration.

The second class of phenomena, which we may call the automatic, consists in table-tilting and turning with contact; writing, drawing, &c., through the medium's hand; convulsive movements and involuntary dancing; entrancement, trancespeaking, and personation by the medium of deceased persons attributed to temporary "possession" (q.v.); seeing spirits and visions and hearing phantom voices. This class bears affinity to some of the phenomena of hypnotism and of certain nervous 1 It is possible that the family of Dr Phelps were unaware of the "Rochester knockings" when the disturbances began in his house at Stratford, Connecticut, in 1850 (see Capron's Modern Spiritualism, its Facts, &c.); but these disturbances, as recorded, have no closer resemblance to the ordinary occurrences at a spiritualistic séance than those which took place at Tedworth in 1661 (see Glanvill's Sadducismus Triumphatus) and at Slawensik in 1806 (see Kerner's Seherin von Prevorst), and others too numerous to mention.

2 See the articles on Psychical Research; Magic; Conjuring; Automatism; Divination; Crystal Gazing; Hypnotism; Apparitions; Hallucinations; Hauntings, &C.

There have been several professional photographers (all detected in fraud sooner or later) who made it their business to take photo complaints, to certain epidemics of the middles ages,' and to phenomena that have occurred at some religious revivals.

In a third class must be placed the cure of disease by healing mediums. This belongs to medical psychology, and cannot well be studied apart from hypnotic treatment of disease, from the now well-recognized power of suggestion (q.v.), from "faith cures," "mind cures," "Christian Science" and cures connected with other forms of religious belief (see Faith-Healing).

Phenomena falling into the automatic class are much the most common. The investigation of Carpenter on unconscious cerebration and of Faraday on unconscious muscular action showed early in the movement that it was not necessary to look outside the medium's own personality for the explanation of even intelligent communications unconsciously conveyed through table-tilting, automatic writing and trance-speaking - provided the matter communicated was not beyond the range of the medium's own knowledge or powers. And the whole subject of the action of the subconscious personality - the "subliminal self" - has since been more fully worked out by psychologists. and notably by F. W. H. Myers. 6 No one conversant with the facts now doubts that what looks like possession or inspiration by an external intelligence may generally be accounted for by subconscious mentation, so that in all cases where no material effects are produced except such as can be attributed to the muscular action of the medium, the evidence for a supernormal interpretation must depend on the content of the communication. Spiritualists maintain that true information is received, which is provably unknown to the medium or other persons present, or which at least is expressed in a manner obviously beyond their powers; and they attribute this to extra-corporeal intelligences. Others, while not going so far as this, admit that the content of the communications does occasionally exceed the medium's. knowledge and affords evidence of telepathic communication (see Telepathy) between living persons. Probably most persons who have studied the subject would now be inclined to go this length; and there is some evidence, notably in connexion with the trances of an American medium, Mrs Piper,' which has convinced some good observers that the hypothesis of occasional communication from deceased persons must be seriously entertained. 8 Recently the Society of Psychical Research has. obtained from various persons automatic script affording important new material for investigation and which prima facie supports the spiritualistic hypothesis. Whether or not further study of the scripts of these writers confirms this hypothesis, it cannot fail to throw light on the nature of the intelligence involved. The scripts contain some matter unknown to the writers. and in particular show interconnexions with each other not to be accounted for by knowledge normally possessed by the writers.9 At no period of the spiritualistic movement has the class of physical phenomena been accepted altogether without criticism. Most spiritualists know that much fraud in connexion with them has been discovered - frequently by spiritualists themselves - and that the conditions favourable to obtaining them are often such as favour fraud. It is with a full knowledge of these difficulties in the way of investigation that they maintain that unmistakably genuine phenomena are of constant occurrence. Many volumes containing accounts of such phenomena have been printed, and appeal is often made to the mass of evidence so accumulated. "No physical science can array a tithe of the mass of evidence by which psychism" (i.e. what is usually called spiritualism) "is supported," says Serjeant Cox. 10 But the graphs which should contain, besides the normal sitter, representations of deceased friends. For an account of these see Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vii. 268.

4 See Hecker, Epidemics of the Middle Ages (1859).

5 Athenaeum (July 2, 1853); see also on this subject Chevreul, De la baguette divinatoire, &c. (1854).

Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols., 1903). See Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vi. 436;, viii. I; xiii. 284; xxiv. 351.

8 See F. W. H. Myers, op. cit. 9 See Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, xx., xxi. 166; xxii. 19; xxiv. 2-328.

10 Mechanism of Man: What am 1? (1879), ii. 313.

majority of these accounts have scarcely any scientific value. Spiritualists have, as a rule, sought to convince not by testimony but by ocular demonstration. Yet, if there is not a mass of scientific evidence, there are a number of witnesses - among them distinguished men of science and others of undoubted intelligence --who have convinced themselves by observation that phenomena occur which cannot be explained by known causes; and this fact must carry weight, even without careful records, when the witnesses are otherwise known to be competent and trustworthy observers.

Among proposed normal explanations of these phenomena that of hallucination (q.v.), including illusion as to what is seen almost amounting to hallucination, deserves careful consideration. Sensory hallucination of several persons together who are not in a hypnotic state is, however, a rare phenomena outside the séance room and must not therefore be lightly assumed within it; nor is it in most cases a plausible explanation where there is general agreement not only of all the witnesses but of more than one sense as to what is perceived, as distinguished from what is inferred. Nevertheless something of the kind seems occasionally to have happened, especially at some of the seances with Home.' What may broadly be called "conjuring" is a much more probable explanation of most of the recorded phenomena; and in the vast majority of cases the witnesses do not seem to have duly appreciated the possibilities of conjuring, and have consequently neither taken sufficient precautions to exclude it nor allowed for the accidental circumstances which may on any particular occasion favour special tricks or illusions. The experiments of S. J. Davey and R. Hodgson should be studied in this connexion. 2 At a spiritualistic seance the medium has the privilege of failing whenever he pleases and there is seldom any settled programme - circumstances very favourable to deception. As it was put by Mr Stainton Moses, a leading spiritualist and himself a medium, who wrote under the nom de plume of "M.A. (Oxen.)": ". In 99 out of every loo cases people do not get what they want or expect. Test after test, cunningly devised, on which the investigator has set his mind, is put aside, and another substituted." 3 In other words, the evidence is rarely strictly experimental, and this not only gives facilities for fraud, but makes it necessary to allow a large margin for accidents, mistakes and mal-observation. It may be urged that if none of the phenomena is genuine we have to assume a large amount of apparently aimless trickery in non-professional mediums. But it must be borne in mind that the most excellent moral character in the medium is no guaranteee against trickery, unless it can be proved that he was in no abnormal mental condition when the phenomena occurred; and extraordinary deceptions are known to have been carried on by hysterical patients and others with no apparent motive.

One of the possibilities to be allowed for is that of exceptional muscular endowment or anatomical peculiarity in the medium. For instance, it is not very uncommon to find persons who can make loud sounds by partially dislocating and restoring the toe, knee, or other joints, and some experiments made with the Fox girls in 1851 supported the view that they made raps by this method.

Besides the general arguments for supposing that the physical phenomena of spiritualism may be due to conjuring, there are two special reasons which gain in force as time goes on. (1) Almost every medium who has been prominently before the public has at some time or other been detected in fraud, or what cannot be distinguished from fraud except on some violently improbable hypothesis; and (2) although it is easy to devise experiments of various kinds which, by eliminating the necessity for continuous observation on the part of the investigator, would place certain phenomena above the suspicion of conjur 1 See, e.g., Report on Spiritualism of the Committee of the London Dialectical Society (1871), pp. 207, 367-369. See also Guldenstubbe, De la realite des esprits (1857), p. 66; also Maxwell, Les Phenomenes psychiques (1903).

See Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, iv. 371; viii. 253.

3 Human Nature, for 1876, p. 267.

ing, there is no good evidence that such experiments have ever succeeded.

Nevertheless there does exist evidence for the genuineness of the physical phenomena which deserves consideration. Count Agenor de Gasparin, in his Tables tournantes (Paris, 1854), gives an account of what seem to have been careful experiments, though they are hardly described in sufficient detail to enable us to form an independent judgment. They convinced him that by some unknown force tables could be got to move without contact. The experiments were conducted with his own family and friends without professional mediums, and in some of them he was assisted by M. Thury, professor of physics at Geneva, who was also convinced of the operation of an unknown force. 4 The minutes of the sub-committee No. 1 of the committee of the Dialectical Society (op. cit., pp. 373-391) report that tables moved without contact, whilst all the persons present knelt on chairs (the backs of which were turned to the table) with their hands on the backs. The report, however, would be of greater value if the names of the medium and of the working members of the committee were given - we only know that of Serjeant Cox - and if they had written independent accounts of what they witnessed. Sir William Crookes has published accounts of striking experiments and observations with D. D. Home, which have left him convinced of the genuineness of the wide range of physical phenomena which occurred through Home's mediumship.' Of considerable interest again are the experiences of Mr Stainton Moses between 1870 and 1880, of which the best account has been compiled from contemporary records by F. W. H. Myers in two papers published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. 6 More recently several men of science, including Sir Oliver Lodge in England, Professor Charles Richet in France, and Professors Schiaparelli and Morselli in Italy, have convinced themselves of the supernormal chaeacter (though not of any spiritualistic explanation) of certain physical phenomena that have occurred in the presence of a Neapolitan medium, Eusapia Palladino, though it is known that she frequently practises deception. ? M. Joseph Maxwell, of Bordeaux, has published accounts 8 of raps and movements of objects without contact, witnessed with private and other mediums, which he appears to have observed with care, though he does not describe the conditions sufficiently for others to form any independent judgment about them.

The interest in spiritualism, apart from scientific curiosity and mere love of the marvellous, is partly due to the belief that trustworthy information and advice about mundane matters can be obtained through mediums - to the same impulse in fact which has in all ages attracted inquirers to fortune-tellers. The more thoughtful spiritualists, however, are chiefly interested in the assurance of life and progress after death, and the moral and religious teaching, which they obtain through automatic writing and trance-speaking. It was discovered very early in the movement that the accuracy of these communications could not always be relied on; but it is maintained by spiritualists that by the intelligent exercise of the reason it is possible to judge whether the communicating intelligence is trustworthy, especially after prolonged acquaintance with particular intelligences, or where proofs are given of identity with persons known to have been trustworthy on earth. Such intelligences are not supposed to be infallible, but to have the knowledge of spirit. life superadded to their earthly experience. Still the agreement between communications so received has not been sufficiently 4 See Thury, Les Tables tournantes considerees au point du vue de la question de physique generate qui s'y rattache (Geneva, 1855).

5 Quart. Journ. of Science (July and Oct. 1871; republished with other papers by Crookes, under the title of Researches on the Phenomena of Spiritualism (1874-1876). See also his "Notes of Seances with D.D.Home," Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vi. 98.

6 Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, ix. 245; xi. 24.

See E. Morselli, Psicologia e spiritismo (Turin, 1908); cf. also Bulletin de l'institut general psychologique (Nov. - Dec., 1908), and Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, xxiii. 306.

8 Maxwell, Les Phenomenes psychiques (1st ed., Paris, 1903). There is also an English translation entitled Metapsychical Phenomena (London, 1905).

great for anything like a universal spiritualistic creed to have been arrived at. In France the doctrine of successive reincarnations with intervals of spirit life promulgated by Allan Kardec (L. H. D. Rivail) forms a prominent element of spiritualistic belief. This view has, however, made but little way in England and America, where the opinions of the great majority of spiritualists vary from orthodox Christianity to Unitarianism of an extreme kind. Probably it would be impossible to unite spiritualists in any creed, which,, besides the generally accepted belief in God and immortality, should postulate more than the progress of the spirit after death, and the power of some of the dead to communicate with the living by means of mediums.

Spiritualism has been accused of a tendency to produce insanity, but spiritualistic sittings carried on by private persons do not appear to he harmful provided those who find in themselves "mediumistic" powers do not lose their self-control and exercise these powers when they do not desire to do so, or against their better judgment. Public sittings are apt to be means of obtaining money by false pretences, and the great scandal of spiritualism is undoubtedly the encouragement it gives to the immoral trade of fraudulent mediumship.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. - In addition to the works already mentioned, the student, for a general idea of the whole subject, should consult the following: F. Podmore, Modern Spiritualism (2 vols., London, 1902), and The Newer Spiritualism (1910); F. W. H. Myers, Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols., 1903); E. W. Capron, Modern Spiritualism, its Facts, &c. (Boston, 1855), for the early history of the movement in America; J. W. Edmonds and G. T. Dexter, Spiritualism (New York, 1853-1855); R. Hare, Experimental Investigations of the Spirit Manifestations (New York, 1856); Allan Kardec, Livre des esprits (1st ed., 1853); Mrs De Morgan, From Matter to Spirit (London, 1863), with preface by Professor De Morgan; Alfred Russel Wallace, Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (1876); W. Stainton Moses [M.A. (Oxon.)], Spirit Identity and Spirit Teaching; Zbllner, Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen (the part relating to spiritualism has been translated into English under the title Transcendental Physics by C. C. Massey); Report of the Seybert Commission on Spiritualism (Philadelphia, 1887); Professor Th. Flournoy, Des Indes a la Planete Mars (Geneva, 1900; there is an English translation published in London); Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, passim. A succinct account of typical frauds of spiritualism is contained in D. D. Home's Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism (2nd ed., 1877-1878), and also in Hereward Carrington's The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism, Fraudulent and Genuine (Boston 1907). (E. M. S.)

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