Origins of Spiritualism
Modern Spiritualism began with the events at Hydesville, NY, USA on
March 31st 1848, when two sisters, Margarita and Catherine Fox, started
to communicate with an entity,
which had been responsible for noisy night-time disturbances.
The girls challenged this invisible communicator to make the
corresponding numbers of raps in response to finger snapping, clapping
and noiseless movements of the hand; this it did. The amazing results
of a childish game suggested, that some form of intelligence was behind
To prove, that is was not an April Fool's joke, the parents asked
personal questions, such as the number of children born to Mrs Fox.
This could not have been known to neighbours, as the family was new to
the district; yet the communicator replied correctly, even allowing for
one child who had died in infancy.
One of their neighbours, a former tenant of the house, introduced a
method of questioning whereby the communicator gave raps for "Yes" and
indicated "No" by remaining silent. Using this method they elicited the
that the communicator was a former peddler, Charles B. Rosna, who had
been murdered there in 1843 by a previous tenant, John C. Bell, and had
been buried in the cellar.
This was subsequently verified. It seemed that the rappings had been
made possible by the presence of the Fox sisters, who were psychic.
Spirits also communicated through other psychics, and instructed the
investigators to form home circles for the purpose of further
The teachings received, and the psychic phenomena produced, attracted
the attention of eminent scientists and intellectuals in America, and
from the 1850s Britain. There were many recorded events prior to the
A century before, an outstanding Swedish scientist, Emmanuel Swedenborg
well known for his philosophical writings, which he
received from spirit teachers. He died in 1772, but was able to resume
his work prior to the Hydesville phenomena, through the mediumship of a
young American - Andrew Jackson Davis
. Knockings had also occurred in
the 18th century in England at the Epworth rectory, home of the Wesley family.
These fore-runners of modern Spiritualism appeared at the end of a long
period of persecution, during which hundreds of thousands of psychics
had been put to death by organised "witch-hunters". Anyone suspected of
using psychic gifts, for whatever purpose, was in danger of torture,
trial and burning.
Religious sanctions for this persecution had been given in 1484 by
the Papal bull, and the publication of the "Malleus Maleficarum" or
"Hammer for Witches". Since the 4th century the Christian church had
held that Divine guidance, through the Holy Spirit, should be sought
only from the priesthood, and "false prophets" were held to be servants
of the devil.
Sorcerers, heretics, and mediums were all targets for persecution as a
result of "witch-mania"; this accelerated from the 15th century. The
early Christian church had a very different attitude towards
mediumship. Many Spiritualists believe Jesus to have been exceptionally
psychic, as illustrated in the reports of his healing powers, inspired
teachings and so-called "miracles".
After Jesus' crucifixion it is recorded that he was seen and heard by
his disciples. The Bible in both the old and new testaments has many
references to psychic abilities - inspirational speech, speaking in
other languages, physical mediumship, healing and so on. It also seems,
that mediumship played an important part in the presentation of this
new religion in church services.
The 4th century and the council of Nicea brought to an end the use of
mediums, and the Christian church has maintained this attitude ever
since. This in spite of the fact, that a whole book of the Bible
(Revelation) was written by a medium who was shown future events by an
Angel (a "Spirit of the light" in Spiritualist terms). It is also well
to remember, that throughout the ages human beings have been aware of
the existence of discarnate spirits.
In earlier days, when man lived close to nature, ancestor worship
became a form of religion. Primitive man had no doubt, that his
ancestors had survived death, and also, that they had powers to affect
the living, for good or ill. Therefore due reverence was shown, to
incur their favour.
Those of the tribe, the shamans and wise-men, who had psychic powers,
would testify to the presence of the spirits, and forms of
communication were established with them. The Greeks consulted oracles,
while Assyrians and Romans practiced divination by augury (looking for
signs and omens) to obtain guidance from the Gods.
Even today some cultures have their witch doctors, who invoke the
powers of the spirit for healing, or - in some cases - to harm people
who had displeased them. Certain tribal rituals appear to induce
trance-like conditions amongst the participants.
So it can be said, that there is nothing new in the concept of a
spiritual world inhabited by discarnate beings, nor in the use of
psychic power to achieve desired ends. The practice of spirit
communication had been established long before the arrival of post-1848
Modern Spiritualism may be viewed as the rebirth of the use of
mediumship as a bridge between this plane of life and the next, to
guide us to a better understanding of ourselves and our spiritual
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