What Is Spiritualism?February 25, 2022
Psychics, séances, and possessions have been the frightening subject of countless horror films. We shouldn't forget that these thrills and chills on-screen come straight from some dark and mysterious realities. Communication with the spiritual realm is as old as time; however, one period in our recent past is infamous for its unorthodox spiritualist practices. Spiritualism reached its cultural peak between the 1840s and the 1920s in primary English-speaking communities in a time where the threats of untimely death loomed around every corner. Below are the highlights from a time that still haunts and excites our present.
The Fox Sisters and the Birth of the Celebrity Medium
At its climax, Spiritualism gave birth to the idea of the celebrity medium. These figures were renowned for their awe-inspiring ability to communicate with the dead in intelligent, convincing, and uncanny ways. The Fox Sisters were some of the first mediums and psychics to become notorious and are almost synonymous with Spiritualism. Their ability to arouse spirits to communicate through clear, responsive sounds and voices kept crowds and private patrons coming back for decades. The three sisters traveled nearly every corner of the country, spreading awareness and proof of spiritualist practice.
Along with individual and group mediums, Spiritualism gave rise to multiple clubs, federations, and religious groups such as The Spiritualists National Union that is functional to this day.
The Art of the Séance
During this period in history, abrupt and untimely death was a fact of life. This led to many grieving families turning to Spiritualism to communicate with lost loved ones. The séance is perhaps what is most associated with Spiritualism in popular culture. We can picture it vividly: the psychic and the grieving family around a table with eyes closed, huddled around a Ouija board or other device. Some of these seances took place in a private family home, and others were conducted on a stage in front of an audience. One thing they all had in common, though, was uncanny and mysterious moving objects, brief spiritual possessions, voices, and perhaps ectoplasm. If there was one way to get the public’s attention for the spiritualist movement—the séance was it!
A spiritual possession occurs when a demon or spirit takes control of a human body. The live human body will often experience intense external changes and start to exhibit personality changes and self-harm. Each spirit possession is unique, and the phenomenon was no stranger to Spiritualism. It was often that séances opened portals to the spiritual realm and welcomed spirits to interact with and enter the living.
Some high-profile possessions featured victims speaking foreign languages in different voices, expressing knowledge that would have been impossible for the living person to know, as well as other frightening exhibits of violence.
Next time you see aspects of Spiritualism play on the silver screen, remember that these figures, practices, and phenomena happened to real people and come from real places!