Spiritualism is a philosophy that accepts that we each live beyond this life on Earth and states that we are able to communicate with souls that have gone beyond this life.
The modern spiritualist movement can be said to have started in America in the 1840s with the first public display of mediumship in 1849 at the Corinthian Hall in New York.
The first demonstration of a spiritualist medium in the United Kingdom was in 1852 and the foundations of a permanent church were laid in the following year.
Famous followers of spiritualism are among others Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer, Sir Oliver Lodge, scientist, and Robert Owen, co-founder of the co-operative movement.
Spiritualism is a way of life. It is not religion; it is an association of like-minded people who may or may not belong to any of the world faiths. Official bodies and theocracies of the world do not accept spiritualism and denounce it as fallacy. Spiritualists may take inspiration from all the world's great teachers - Jesus Christ and Mohammed arguably being two of many.
Instead of fixed religious teachings that say something along the lines of 'have faith and you will meet God1 when you die', spiritualism seeks to prove that we each have a soul that is part of God and that one's soul was in existence before this life and will be after this life.
Spiritualism has no set creed or affirmation to follow, but rather principles for guidance in life and one's own personal development. These are the principles, as stated by the Spiritualist National Union (SNU):
- The fatherhood of God
- The brotherhood of man
- The communion of saints and the ministry of angels
- The continuous existence of the human soul
- Personal responsibility
- Compensation and retribution hereafter
- Eternal progress open to every soul
For various reasons, many of the churches in the UK belong to one of the associations that have been formed there. SNU, SAGB2 and Greater World Christian Spiritualist Association are among the associations that form recognised legal and financial structures. Besides the legal issues, the various associations accredit formally those mediums and healers that reach acceptable standards in their craft.
Places of Gathering
Spiritualist gathering places are called by various names: churches, lyceums and temples, and as in all such places it is not the building but the people in it that are important. Some groups possess a building of their own, while others hire a range of rooms in which to meet: scout halls and rooms above pubs are popular.
Spiritualist churches are not dissimilar in design to many simple Christian churches. Some are old, Victorian in design, often quite cluttered and can feel slightly overpowering. New, simple, functional, modern buildings, used as churches, exist as well.
There are several forms of services but the Sunday service is the most all-round one, where hymns are sung and the congregation takes part in prayer. From an inspirational source there is a reading and there is also a time for a visiting medium to give some form of practical teaching, address or sermon, which is usually given without notes of any kind.
What may seem unusual is a time of silent prayer3. It is a time when the congregation gives personal thanks to God, requests that love and light be sent to the world and its troubled places, asking for healing or guidance for those known to them and lastly for oneself.
Clairvoyance is a part of the service - a medium will try to demonstrate that living a human life is something much greater than merely this time we spend on Earth.
A person who is able to sense or channel energy4, is said to be psychic, persons that see energy are clairvoyant and those that hear are clairaudient. The person that senses those already passed from this physical life are often referred to as mediums, while those who channel the love of the universe are called healers, using that love for healing the physical body.
Mediums and healers are not a chosen few, as opposed to other messengers of god(s), and many have the ability to develop psychic gifts.
The use of psychic gifts is not exclusive to spiritualism, as those that read Tarot cards, gaze into crystal balls, or even read Astrological charts may use some form of psychic abilities, sometimes referred to as a sixth sense.
Proving a continuous existence of the soul beyond the grave is the primary aim of any medium. There is a common misconception that communing with spirits is telling the future - it is not. These spirits may give guidance, or inspiration for personal growth, but if the listener is not convinced that aspect of it is meaningless.
A medium looks out to the gathering and says: 'I would like to come to the woman/man wearing the blue top. I have here your mother'; this will flatter the person but is it proof? That person replies: 'Sorry, but she is alive and well.' 'She feels so much like your mother, she must be your grandmother then', is a great way of saving face for the medium5.
Every person will have his or her own judgement as to what proof will suffice. Names are often given, impressive as it may be, but even those can be unreliable as total proof. Names come in or fall out of fashion and can thus be guessed from the age of the person in the audience.
From the information the medium gives one should try and sort out anything that could be good guesswork and note the things that are highly improbable to guess and then decide if what is left is proof of the mediums sincerity or not. Anything that is left should then either lend more credibility to the information given, or expose the medium as a fraud.
Not So Spiritual
In the 1800s, frauds were rife. Using a whole range of tricks and accomplices they conned money from the rich and/or gullible.
During the early years of spiritualism seances were often performed in dark rooms, where table rapping6 was common and easy to fake in a darkened room, lit maybe with candles and not much more.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, caused controversy by openly accepting and advocating the spiritualist ideals. Although a sceptic at first, he later said that he thought the Faerie photographs of Cottingley were authentic and his reputation never really recovered after that.
Harry Houdini, a skilled escapologist and magician in the 19th Century, became fascinated with the spiritualist movement after the death of his mother. At seances he discovered, however, that not all he saw was genuine. He then began to root out these shenanigans with the aim of publicly exposing them as frauds. Modern-day stage magicians and illusionists, those that arguably bluff for a living, are still doubtful of the existence of the sixth sense.
The Witchcraft Act of 1735
In the United Kingdom the Witchcraft Act of 1735 said that magic and witchcraft did not exist, but any person stating to have such powers was prosecuted as an imposter. This included mediums, healers and those that adhered to spiritualist philosophies; the last case of anyone being brought to court under this act was Helen Duncan in 19447. It was not until 1951 when the Fraudulent Mediums Act was set that spiritualists could practice legally in the UK.