Modern Spiritualism originated from events at Hydesville, New York State, U.S.A. on March 31st 1848, when two sisters, Margarreta and Catherine Fox, dared to communicate with an entity which had been responsible for noisy night time disturbances.
The girls challenged this invisible communicator to make the corresponding numbers of raps in response to finger snapping, clapping and noiseless movements of the hand; this it did. The amazing results of a childish game suggested that some form of intelligence was behind the knocks.
To prove that is was not an “April Fool” the parents asked personal questions, such as the number of children born to Mrs Fox. This could not have been answered by neighbours as the family was new to the district; yet the communicator replied correctly, even allowing for one child who had died in infancy.
One of their neighbours, a former tenant of the house, introduced a method of questioning whereby the communicator gave raps for “Yes” and indicated “No” by remaining silent. Using this method they elicited the information that the communicator was a former peddler, Charles B. Rosna, who had been murdered there in 1843 by a previous tenant, John C. Bell, and had been buried in the cellar.
This was subsequently verified. It seemed that the rappings had been made possible by the presence of the Fox Sisters, who were psychic. Spirits also communicated through other psychics and instructed the investigators to form home circles for the purpose of further communication.
The teachings received and the psychic phenomena produced, attracted the attention of eminent scientists and intellectuals in America and, from the 1850s Britain. There were many recorded events prior to the Hydesville events.
A century before, a Swedish scientist and astronomer, Emmanuel Swedenborg, had become well known for his philosophical writings, received from spirit teachers. He died in 1772 but was able to resume his work prior to the Hydesville phenomena, through the mediumship of another young American Andrew Jackson Davis. Knockings had also occurred in the 18th century in England at the Epworth Rectory, home of the Wesley family.
These fore-runners of Modern Spiritualism appeared at the end of a long period of persecution, during which hundreds of thousands of psychics had been put to death by organised ‘witch-hunters’. Anyone suspected of using psychic gifts, for whatever purpose, was in danger of torture, trial and burning.
Religious sanctions for this persecution had been given in 1484 by the Papal Bull and the publication of the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ or ‘Hammer for Witches’. Since the 4th century the Christian Church had held that Divine Guidance, through the Holy Spirit, should be sought only from the priesthood, and ‘false prophets’ were held to be servants of the devil.
Sorcerers, heretics and mediums were all targets for persecution as a result of ‘witch-mania’; this accelerated from the 15th century. The early Christian Church had a very different attitude towards mediumship. Many Spiritualists believe Jesus to have been exceptionally psychic, as illustrated in the reports of his healing powers, inspired teachings and so-called ‘miracles.
After the Crucifixion it is recorded that Jesus was seen and heard by Paul and others. The Bible in both the Old and New Testaments has many references to psychic abilities – inspirational speech, speaking in other languages, physical mediumship, healing and so on. It also seems that mediumship played an important part in the presentation of this new religion in Church services.
However, the 4th Century and the Council of Nicea brought to an end the use of mediums and the Christian Church has maintained this attitude ever since. It is well to remember, however, that throughout the ages human beings have been aware of the existence of discarnate spirits.
In earlier days, when Man lived close to nature, ancestor worship became a form of religion; primitive man had no doubt that his ancestors had survived death and also that they had powers to affect the living, for good or ill. Therefore due reverence was shown, to incur favour.
Those of the tribe, the wise-men, who were possessed of psychic powers, would testify to the presence of the Spirits and forms of communication were established with them. The Greeks consulted oracles while Assyrians and Romans practiced divination by augury to obtain guidance from the Gods.
Even today some cultures have their witch doctors who invoke the powers of the spirit for healing, or, in some cases, to harm one who has displeased them. Certain tribal rituals appear to induce trance-like conditions amongst the participants.
So it can be seen that there is nothing new in the concept of a spiritual world inhabited by discarnate beings, nor in the use of psychic power to achieve desired ends. The practice of spirit communication is not peculiar to post-1848 Spiritualism.
Modern Spiritualism may be viewed as the rebirth of the use of mediumship, after fifteen centuries of disrepute as a bridge between this plane of life and the next, to guide mankind to a better understanding of himself and his spiritual future.