Spiritualism is a word now generally used to designate the belief of those who regard certain mental and physical phenomena as the result of the action of spirits through sensitive organizations known as mediums. Spiritualists claim that Spiritualism is but another term for the belief in the supernatural; that it has pervaded all ages and nations; and that American Spiritualism is but the last blossom of a very ancient tree. They assert that phenomena differing but slightly from the manifestations of modern Spiritualism appear in many of the Scripture incidents, e.g. the vision of Elisha's servant (2Ki 6:15-17), the spiritual handwriting at the feast of Belshazzar (Da 5:5), in the Delphic oracles, in the experiences of Luther, the occurrences related by Glanvil (1661), in the Camisard marvels in France (1686-1707), in the occurrences in the Wesley family (1716), and in the communications of Swedenborg with the spirit world. For about a hundred years before the American phase of Spiritualism appeared, Germany and Switzerland had their Spiritualists, developing or believing in phenomena almost identical. They had spirit vision, spirit writing, knowledge of coming events from the spirit world, and daily direct intercourse with its inhabitants. Preeminent among these Spiritualists were Jung-Stilling, Kerner, Lavater, Eschenmeyer, Zschokke, Schubert, Werner, Kant, etc. Clairvoyance and mesmerism were intimately associated with the introduction of modern Spiritualism, making the same claims to open intercourse with the spiritual world, and in some cases predicting that this communition would ere long assume "the form of a living demonstration" (Davis, The Principles of Nature, her Divine Revelations, etc.).
Spiritualism assumed a novel shape in the United States — that of moving physical objects — and has introduced spirits speaking through means of an alphabet, rapping, drawing, and writing, either by the hand of mediums or independently of them. The "spirit rapping" phenomenon began in the home of J.D. Fox, Hydeville, Wayne Co., N.Y., and is thus described by Mr. Dale Owen: "In the month of January 1848, the noises assumed the character of distinct knockings at night in the bedrooms, sounding sometimes as from the cellar below, and resembling the hammering of a shoemaker. These knocks produced a tremulous motion in the furniture and even in the floor. The children (Margaret, aged 12 years, and Kate, aged 9 years) felt something heavy, as of a dog, lie on their feet when in bed; and Kate felt, as it were, a cold hand passed over her face. Sometimes the bedclothes were pulled off. Chairs and the dining table were moved from their places. Raps were made on doors as they stood close to them, but on suddenly opening them no one was visible. On the night of March 13 (or 31), 1848, the knockings were unusually loud," whereupon "Mr. Fox tried the sashes, to see if they were shaken by the wind. Kate observed that the knockings in the room exactly answered the rattle made by her father with the sash. Thereupon she snapped her fingers and exclaimed, 'Here, old Splitfoot, do as I do.' The rap followed. This at once arrested the mother's attention. 'Count ten,' she said. Ten strokes were distinctly given. 'How old is my daughter Margaret?' Twelve strokes. 'And Kate?' Nine." Other questions were answered, when "she asked if it was a man? No answer. Was it a spirit? It rapped. Numbers of questions were put to the spirit, which replied by knocks that it was that of a traveling tradesman, who had been murdered by the then tenant, John C. Bell, for his property. The peddler had never been seen afterwards; and on the floor being dug up, the remains of a human body were found." After a time the raps occurred only in the presence of the Fox sisters, accompanying them upon their removal to Rochester, and developing new phenomena. In November, 1849, the Fox girls appeared in a public hall, and their phenomena were subjected to several tests, without being able to trace them to any mundane agency. They arrived in New York in May 1850, and became the subject of extensive newspaper and conversational discussion. Meanwhile knockings were reported to have occurred in the house of Mr. Granger, of Rochester, and in that of a Dr. Phelps, at Stratford, Conn. Individuals were discovered to be mediums, or persons through whose atmosphere the spirits were enabled to show their power, until, in 1853, their number is given at 30,000. The following are some of the numerous phenomena characteristic of Spiritualism in this country. Dials with movable hands pointing out letters and answering questions without human aid; the hands of mediums acting involuntarily, and writing communications from departed spirits, sometimes the writing being upside down, or reversed so as to be read through the paper or in a mirror. Some mediums represented faithfully, so it was said, the actions. voice, and appearance of deceased persons, or, blindfolded, drew correct portraits of them. Sometimes the names of deceased persons and short messages from them appeared in raised red lines upon the skin of the medium. Mediums were said to have been raised into the air and floated above the heads of the spectators. Persons claimed to be touched by invisible and sometimes by visible hands; and voices were heard purporting to be those of spirits. In 1850 D.D. Home became known as a medium, and maintained for five years a wide-spread reputation, giving sittings before Napoleon III in Paris, and Alexander II in St. Petersburg. Other prominent mediums were the "Davenport brothers," Koons of Ohio, Florence Cook, and the Holmeses. In the London Quarterly Journal of Science, Jan. 1874, some of the phenomena exhibited in repeated experiments with the mediums D.D. Home and Kate Fox are thus classified:
1. The movement of heavy bodies with contact, but without mechanical exertion; 2. The phenomena of percussive and other allied sounds; 3. The alteration of weight of bodies; 4. Movements of heavy bodies when at a distance from the medium; 5. The rising of chairs and tables off the ground without contact with any person; 6. The levitation of human beings; 7. Movement of various small articles without contact with any person; 8. Luminous appearances; 9. The appearance of hands, either self luminous or visible by ordinary light; 10. Direct writing; 11. Phantom forms and faces; 12. Special instances which seem to point to the agency of an exterior intelligence; 13. Miscellaneous occurrences of a complex character.
Later phenomena are those of the cabinet, in which the medium is, ostensibly, tied and untied by spirit hands; and other forms of materialization. One of the most recent of these last is "spirit photographs." It is asserted that on clean and previously unused plates, marked by the sitter, and even when the sitter has used his own plates and camera, there has appeared with the sitter a second figure, which in many instances has been recognized as the portrait of a deceased relative or friend.
While many persons distinguished in the walks of science, philosophy, literature, and statesmanship have become avowed converts to Spiritualism, or have admitted the phenomena so far as to believe in a new force not recognized by science, or, at least, have witnessed that its phenomena are not explainable on the ground of imposture or coincidence, others boldly assert that they are all attributable to physical agencies (see Gasparin, Science vs. Spiritualism, transl. by Robert, N.Y. 1857, 2 vols.).
Spiritual photographs, it is alleged, are secured by first tampering with the negative; and all the effects shown by Spiritualists are claimed for the simple processes of photography. The cabinet trick has frequently been reproduced by ordinary performers, and professional prestigiators have publicly offered to imitate all the so called marvels of Spiritualism without the slightest pretence of spiritual intervention. We have before us a letter from one who has made the whole subject a careful study, and he declares his ability to reproduce by sleight of hand any phenomenon of Spiritualism after seeing it once or twice.
It is impossible to make an approximate estimate of the number of Spiritualists, owing to the fact that their organized bodies contain but a small proportion of those who wholly or partially accept these phenomena. A very large proportion of the converts are from the ranks of those who previously doubted or disbelieved the immortality of the soul, and who affirm that they carry their skeptical tendencies into the investigation of this subject.
The Spiritual Magazine (the oldest journal of Spiritualism in England, and one that contains a record of the movement from its establishment, in 1860) has the following as its motto: "Spiritualism is based on the cardinal fact of spirit communion and influx; it is the effort to discover all truth relating to man's spiritual nature, capacities, relations, duties, welfare, and destiny, and its application to a regenerate life. It recognizes a continuous divine inspiration in man. It aims, through a careful, reverent study of facts, at a knowledge of the laws and principles which govern the occult forces of the universe; of the relations of spirit to matter, and of man to God and the spiritual world. It is thus catholic and progressive, leading to true religion as at one with the highest philosophy." The "British National Association of Spiritualists" was organized in Liverpool, November, 1873, and has for its object the union of "Spiritualists of every variety of opinion, the aiding of students in their researches, and the making known of the positive results arrived at by careful research." Of periodicals, the number in Europe, America, and Australia is at least one hundred. The books relating to Spiritualism maybe. reckoned by the hundred, of which the following are some of the more important: Ballou, Spiritual Manifestations; Crookes, Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism (Lond. 1874); Crowe, Spiritualism and the Age we Live in (ibid. 1859); De Morgan, From Matter to Spirit (ibid. 1863); Edmonds and Dexter, Spiritualism (N.Y. 1854-5, 2 vols.); Hardinge, Modern American
Spiritualism (ibid. 1870); Home, Incidents in my Life (Lond., Paris, and N.Y. 1862, 1872, 1875); Howitt, History of the Supernatural in All Ages and Nations (Lond. 1863); Olcott, People from the Other World (Hartford, 1875); Owen, Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (Phila. 1860), and The Debatable Land between This World and the Next (N.Y. 1872); Sargent, Planchette, or the Despair of Science (Boston, 1869); Wallace, On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism, three essays (Lond. 1875).
Spiritualists. 1.= Libertines (q.v.). 2. The name assumed by persons who profess to hold communication with the spirits of the departed. SEE SPIRITUALISM.