THE MAGNIFICENT ONE
Spiritualism is a religious movement that began in the United States and was prominent in the 1840s–1920s, especially in English-speaking countries. The movement's distinguishing feature is the belief that the spirits of the dead can be contacted by mediums. These spirits are believed to lie on a higher plane of existence than humans, and are therefore capable of providing guidance in both worldly and spiritual matters.************In spiritualism, mediumship denotes the ability of a person (the medium) to produce psychic phenomena of a mental or physical nature.It is said that a medium can communicate with the spirits of the dead and produce physical paranormal phenomena such as materializations. In skepticism, mediumship is considered to be the result of self-delusion, unconscious influence, or of magician's techniques such as cold reading and hot reading. ************Modern Spiritualism first appeared in the 1840s in the Burned-Over District of upstate New York where earlier religious movements such as Millerism (Seventh Day Adventists) and Mormonism had emerged during the Second Great Awakening. It was an environment in which many people felt that direct communication with God or angels was possible, and in which many people felt uncomfortable with notions that God would behave harshly — for example, that God would condemn unbaptized infants to an eternity in Hell.***********Spiritualists often set March 31, 1848 as the beginning of their movement. On that date, Kate and Margaret Fox, of Hydesville, New York, reported that they had made contact with the spirit of a murdered peddler. What made this an extraordinary event was that the spirit communicated through audible rapping noises, rather than simply appearing to a person. The evidence of the senses appealed to practical Americans, and the Fox sisters became a sensation.**************Amy Post and Isaac Post, Hicksite Quakers from Rochester, New York, had long been acquainted with the Fox family, and took the two girls into their home in the late spring of 1848. Immediately convinced of the genuineness of the Fox sisters' communications, they became early converts and introduced the girls to their circle of radical Quaker friends. It thus came about that many of the early participants in Spiritualism were radical Quakers and others caught up in the reforming movement of the mid-nineteenth century. These reformers were uncomfortable with established churches because those churches did little to fight slavery and even less to advance women's rights************Women were particularly attracted to the movement, because it gave them important roles as mediums and trance lecturers. In fact, Spiritualism provided one of the first forums in which American women could address mixed public audiences. Cora L. V. Scott (1840–1923) was the most popular trance lecturer prior to the American Civil War. Young and beautiful, her appearance on stage fascinated men. Her audiences were struck by the contrast between her physical girlishness and the eloquence with which she spoke of spiritual matters, and found in that contrast support for the notion that spirits were speaking through her. Cora married four times, and each time adopted her husband's last name. During her period of greatest activity she was known as Cora Hatch. ************************* Another famous woman spiritualist was Achsa W. Sprague, who was born November 17, 1827, in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. At the age of 20, she became ill with rheumatic fever and credited her eventual recovery to intercession by spirits. An extremely popular trance lecturer, she traveled about the United States until her death in 1861. Sprague was an abolitionist and an advocate of women's rights.Yet another prominent Spiritualist and trance medium prior to the Civil War was Paschal Beverly Randolph, an African American "Free Man of Color", who also played a part in the Abolition movement. *****************************Despite widespread fraud, the appeal of Spiritualism was strong. First and foremost, the movement appealed to those grieving the death of a loved one: the resurgence of interest in Spiritualism during and after the First World War was a direct response to the massive number of casualties.Secondly, the movement appealed to reformers, who found that the spirits were in favor of such causes du jour as equal rights.Finally, the movement appealed to those who had a materialist orientation and had rejected organized religion. The influential socialist and atheist Robert Owen embraced religion following his experiences in Spiritualist circles. Many scientific men who bothered to investigate the phenomena also ended up being converted. These include the chemist William Crookes, the evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), and the physician and author Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). ************************The movement quickly spread throughout the world; though only in the United Kingdom did it become as widespread as in the United States.In Britain, by 1853, invitations to tea among the prosperous and fashionable often included Table-Turning, a type of séance in which spirits would communicate with people seated around a table by tilting and rotating the table. A particularly important convert was the French academic Allan Kardec (1804-1869), who made the first attempt to systematize Spiritualist practices and ideas into a consistent philosophical system. Kardec's books, written in the last 15 years of his life, became the textual basis of a religious movement called Spiritism, widespread in Latin countries. In Brazil, Kardec's ideas are embraced by millions of followers today.In Puerto Rico, Kardec's books were widely read by the upper classes, and eventually gave birth to a spiritualist movement known as Mesa Blanca (White Table). **************************** American Spiritualists would meet in private homes for séances, at lecture halls for trance lectures,at state or national conventions, and at summer camps attended by thousands. Among the most significant of the camp meetings were Camp Etna, Etna, Maine, Onset Bay Grove, in Onset, Massachusetts, Lily Dale in western New York State, Camp Chesterfield in Indiana, the Wonewoc Spiritualist Camp in Wonewoc, Wisconsin, and Lake Pleasant in Montague, Massachusetts. In founding camp meetings the spiritualists appropriated a form developed in the early nineteenth century by American Protestant denominations. Spiritualist camp meetings were located most densely in New England and California, but also were established across the upper midwest. Cassadaga, Florida is the most notable Spiritualist camp meeting in the American south. ******************************* The movement was extremely individualistic, with each Spiritualist relying on her own experiences and reading to discern the nature of the afterlife. Organization was therefore slow to appear, and when it did it was resisted by mediums and trance lecturers. Most Spiritualists were content to attend Christian churches, and Unitarian and particularly Universalist churches contained many Spiritualists. As the movement began to fade, partly through the bad publicity of fraud accusations, partly through the appeal of religious movements such as Christian Science, the Spiritualist Church was organized, and this church can claim to be the main vestige of the movement left today in the United States.