History of Spiritualism

Origins – Ancient Spiritualism:

The belief in, and practice of communication with, spirits has existed in all nations. Spiritual phenomenon has occurred throughout human history, with people being entranced, inspired and influenced by spirit intelligences. During moments of ecstasy, in dreams, reveries, drug induced states and deep meditations people have experienced spirit awareness. In fact, mankind’s history, literature, folk law and fairytales are full of mystical spiritual beings both good and bad.


In ancient times, primitive man had no doubt that his ancestors survived death and ancestor-worship was a form of religion. Some people had psychic abilities, similar to modern mediums, and were aware of psychic forces the spirit world, and could communicate with Spirit.


The Greeks consulted oracles and the Egyptians and Romans practiced fortune-telling and prophecy to obtain guidance from the gods. Even today some cultures have their witch-doctors and shamans who invoke the powers of the spirit for healing and giving guidance.


Christianity & Spiritualism:

The Christian Church was founded on spirit communication and phenomena that could be described as mediumship. Throughout the bible are many examples of spiritual happenings, inspirational speech, speaking in other languages, spiritual voices, and angel messengers foretelling the coming of prophets. Many Spiritualists believe that Jesus had an exceptional psychic and mediumship ability as illustrated in the reports of his healing powers, inspired teachings, the transfiguration, and the many so-called ‘miracles’ that occurred in his presence. After his death, Jesus was seen and heard by his followers and it seems that mediumship played an important part in the spreading of the new religion.


However, in the 4th century, Christian leaders decided that the use of psychic and mediumship abilities was wrong unless performed by the Christian priesthood. All others who demonstrated spiritual abilities were denounced as ‘false prophets’, evil sorcerers, heretics and were liable to punishment.


In 1484 the Pope strongly denounced mediums. The Church also sanctioned the publication of a book entitled, Malleus Maleficarum or ‘Hammer of the Witches,’ that described all people who communicated with spirits as witches and stated that they should be severely punished. After this, there was a long period of persecution where people suspected of using psychic abilities were in danger of trial, torture and execution. During these times some mediums were put to death by the church-sanctioned ‘witch-hunters’.


18th Century:

In the 18th century a Swedish scientist and astronomer, Emmanuel Swedenborg, became well-known for his philosophical writings that, he claimed, were received from spirit teachers and inspirers. We move then into the 19th Century as ‘Modern Spiritualism’ made it’s way from America to the United Kingdom and across Europe and around the World where the writings of Andrew Jackson Davis set the foundation. A J Davis claimed that spirit communication from Emmanuel Swedenborg (who died in 1772) contributed to his vast literary works.


The birth of Modern Spiritualism:

Most Spiritualists are familiar with the story of the occurrences at Hydesville on March 31st 1848 involving Catherine and Margaretta Fox who were bothered by ghostly noises which grew more and more troublesome. After a while the family realised that when they spoke out and ask questions the noises changed. They would ask questions and receive a reply: one knock for yes, two for no. By this method the family found out details about the spirit person who was making the noises. The spirit communicator explained that he had been killed and buried in the cellar. The family subsequently found evidence of a hidden body. The publicity about this incident travelled throughout America, England and other parts of the world and encouraged others to seek communication from the spirit world. The logical system of one knock for yes, two for no seemed to work well for many thousands of people and form the basis of communication.


It is equally important to consider the events surrounding Andrew Jackson Davis (1826 – 1910) born in Blooming Grove (Orange County), NY, some years earlier as setting the foundation for acceptance of the phenomena. It was through Andrew Jackson Davis that Spirit brought a new revelation in their universal teachings and philosophy that would colour the nature of Spiritualism and give a deeper meaning to the evidence of the life beyond physical death. A local tailor (William Livingston), who was experimenting with mesmerism, threw Davis into a trance and, in his time, he became know as the ‘Poughkeepsie Seer’ as he developed the ability to go into a trance state and could demonstrate his psychic ability. He called his altered state of consciousness, the ‘superior condition’ and it is said to have induced within him a ‘very active and intense psychic ability.’ It was through this ability Davis produced many volumes of philosophical writing which exceeded all knowledge of the philosophy and many branches in science of the time.


Emma Hardinge was born in 1823 in the East end of London. As a child, Emma could predict coming events and often saw the spirits of dead relatives and family friends. She discovered that she had a mediumship ability for table tipping and rapping, where spirits made themselves known by table movements and noises. Emma went on to concentrate on inspirational speaking about spiritual matters in light trance. Emma travelled throughout America and many parts of the world and in so doing played a pivotal role in encouraged the formation of many Spiritualist groups, societies and churches and in organising and bringing together Spiritualists through her powerful inspired speaking and her ability to communicate by pen and publish to a wider audience.


The origins and concept of the Seven Principles came through Emma’s mediumship. The original Principles were later adapted to suit the newly formed Spiritualists’ National Union becoming the Seven Principles of Spiritualism in the format that we are familiar with today.


Source: Extracts from various locations within the Spiritualists’ National Union website