A Demonstration of Spirit: Events in Hydesville
The Emergence of the Spiritualist Movement
Opposition to Spiritualism
The Paradox of Spiritualism: a Religion or a Philosophy?
The First World War & After
The 1920's & 1930's
World War Two & Beyond
A Demonstration of
Spirit: Events in Hydesville
The Modern Spiritualist
Movement is often said to have began with the events that took place in Hydesville,
New York on March 31, 1848. It was on this date that members of the Fox family
began to communicate with the spirit of a murdered pedler, through a system of
John Fox, his wife Margaret,
and daughters Kate and Margaretta had moved into the house in the small hamlet
of Hydesville, some three months earlier. The house had gained a reputation as
being haunted, with recorded instances of mysterious raps, taps and other noises
and the previous tenant, Michael Weakman had moved out because of the inexplicable
At first the Fox family
seem to have had no cause for concern, however around the middle of March 1848
strange sounds and activities began to occur in the house. In a signed affidavit,
dated April 4, 1848, Mrs Fox described the events on that fateful night in March.
After briefly outlining disturbances on earlier occasions, from knocks and the
sounds of footsteps in various parts of the house, Mrs Fox goes on to say:
Friday night, March 31st, 1848, we concluded to go
to bed early and not permit ourselves to be disturbed by the noises,
but try and get a night's rest...... It was very early when we
went to bed on this night; hardly dark. I had been so broken of
my rest I was almost sick. My husband had not gone to bed when
we first heard the noises on this evening. I had just lain down.
It commenced as usual. I knew it from all other noises I had ever
heard before. The children, who slept in the other bed in the
room, heard the rapping, and tried to make similar sounds by snapping
"My youngest child, Cathie,
said: 'Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do,' clapping her hands. The sound instantly followed
her with the same number of raps. When she stopped, the sound ceased for a short
time. Then Margaretta said, in sport, 'Now, do just as I do. Count one, two, three,
four,' striking one hand against the other at the same time; and the raps came
as before. She was afraid to repeat them. Then Cathie said in her childish simplicity,
'Oh, mother, I know what it is. Tomorrow is April-fool day, and it's somebody
trying to fool us.'
"I then thought I could
put a test that no one in the place could answer. I asked the noise to rap my
different children's ages, successively. Instantly, each one of my children's
ages was given correctly, pausing between them sufficiently long to individualize
them until the seventh, at which a longer pause was made, and then three more
emphatic raps were given, corresponding to the age of the little one that died,
which was my youngest child.
"I then asked: 'Is this
a human being that answers my questions so correctly?' There was no rap. I asked:
'Is it a spirit? If it is, make two raps.' Two sounds were given as soon as the
request was made."
Margaret Fox continued
to ask questions and each was answered in the same manner with raps and by this
method she ascertained that it was a man, aged thirty one years who had been murdered
in the house and his remains buried in the cellar.
On asking the spirit whether
it would continue to rap if the neighbours were called in, and receiving an affirmative
answer, John Fox went and fetched their nearest neighbour, who on experiencing
the raps and answers to questions called her husband who was also able to ask
questions and receive answers. Then a Mr. Duesler and his wife and several others
were called in. Duesler asked many questions which established how and where the
man was murdered and when, and even by whom.
All who came to the house
heard the raps and the tapping out of answers to questions asked. Many who came,
stayed the night, but Margaret Fox and her children left the house. Nevertheless,
over the following days the raps continued.
The concluding remarks
in Margaret Fox's statement four days after this event are interesting.
"I am not a believer in
haunted houses or supernatural appearances. I am very sorry that there has been
so much excitement about it. It has been a great deal of trouble to us. It was
our misfortune to live here at this time; but I am willing and anxious that the
truth should be known, and that a true statement should be made. I cannot account
for these noises; all that I know is that they have been heard repeatedly, as
I have stated."
days of these events, attempts were made to dig up the cellar
of the house in the hope of finding the body of the spirit who
claimed his name was Charles B. Rosna, they were unsuccessful.
It was not until 56 years later that a discovery was made which
proved beyond all doubt that someone had actually been buried
in the cellar of the house the Fox family had lived in. In 1904
the Boston Journal recorded that the skeleton of a man
said to "have caused the rappings first heard by the Fox
sisters in 1848 has been found in the walls of the house... "
There is a postscript to
this story that highlights the deeper significance of the events described. Margarette
Fox went to live at her sister's house in Rochester, New York some 30 kilometres
from Hydesville. Raps broke out at this residence, indicating that it might be
the young girls who were supplying the energy for spirit to manifest as they did.
The disturbances continued until David Fox, Margarette's older brother, tried
as an experiment to converse with the spirits using the alphabet. The results
were most intriguing. The following is what was recorded:
"Dear Friends, you must
proclaim this truth to the world. This is the dawning of a new era; you must not
try to conceal it any longer. When you do your duty God will protect you and good
spirits will watch over you."
These words echo those
received by Andrew Jackson Davis, who in the early books written on Spiritualism,
was described as the John the Baptist of Modern Spiritualism, for it was
he who may be said "set into place and definitively proclaimed the coming revelation
of Spirit communication." (3)
Some 4 years before the
Hydesville events, Davis began to tour the countryside giving trance lectures,
as a result of a life changing experience wherein he believed he had been contacted
by the Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg. While entranced, Davis could speak eloquently
on a vast range of philosophical, scientific and religious subjects, even though
he had little education and came from a poor background.
"Davis's prediction of
the movement of Modern Spiritualism was given in his work"(4) 'Principles of
Nature' first published in 1847.
In it he wrote:
is a truth that spirits commune with one another while one is
in the body and the other in the higher sphere...... and this
truth will ere long present itself in the form of a living demonstration.
And the world will hail with delight the ushering in of that era
when the interiors of men will be opened, and the spiritual communion
will be established."
Finally, on the very same
day that the events that would literally shake the world into looking at the very
real possibility of communicating with those in spirit were taking place in Hydesville,
Andrew Jackson Davis recorded in his diary the following words:
daylight this morning a warm breathing passed over my face and
I heard a voice, tender and strong saying, 'Brother, the good
work has begun behold a living demonstration is born'......
The Emergence of
the Spiritualist Movement
The first Spiritualist
meeting was held in the Corinthian Hall, Rochester USA on November 14, 1849. At
the meeting the facts of the Hydesville phenomena were presented, and the case
for Modern Spiritualism outlined. The assertion made was that not only had the
spirit of a murdered man communicated, but that all kinds of spirits could communicate.
Further, that this opening up of communication between the two worlds, was just
And indeed it was. "The
spirits wanted to attract the attention of the world, to ring the bell of the
psychic telephone in the hope that someone would be sensible enough to lift off
the receiver and hearing the message would broadcast it through the world." (5)
Just what that message really was, would become clearer over the following fifty
or sixty years.
But at first it seemed
it was the physical phenomena aspects of spirit communication that drew attention,
and many who 'experimented' with the emerging Modern Spiritualist Movement, discovered
that they too had the ability to make contact with spirit. What became known as
'mediumistic abilities', demonstrated an ever growing range of physical phenomena
wherein spirit appeared to be able to communicate through raps, move objects,
produce apports, materialise under certain circumstances, cause people to levitate,
to mention just a few of the proclaimed physical manifestations observed.
It was inevitable, that
such spectacular phenomena would come under scrutiny, and that there would be
unscrupulous people who would claim fraudulently to be capable of producing such
phenomenal evidence of spirit interaction with the world. But, notwithstanding
the frauds that undoubtedly did occur, there were sufficient genuine examples
of such physical phenomena for the movement known as Modern Spiritualism to continue
to gain in popularity.
The movement grew quickly
and spread throughout many countries. By the 1890's, a range of phenomena, from
rappings, to materialisations, automatic writings, and trance mediumship of various
kinds were occurring in England as well as in America. There were reports of spirit
directed phenomena occurring in Germany, France, China, Turkey, South America,
Africa and Australia.
To understand the early
emphasis on such physical phenomena, we need to remember that in the 1800's "the
world was still deeply enmeshed within Victorian Materialism. Therefore, Spirit
needed to work within the nature of the times, in order to grab people's attention,
so to speak, and get them to listen. Thus, during those pioneer days, the prevalent
means by which Spirit interacted with us was physical mediumship and physical
But this is not to say
that there was no communication from Spirit offering knowledge or information
of a 'higher nature'. Indeed, the information communicated through the instruments
of such as Emanuel Swedenborg and Andrew Jackson Davis, highlights the significant
message being delivered by Spirit and demonstrated through the physical phenomena.
The message was unequivocal: the human spirit survived after physical death of
While the teaching, philosophy,
and revelations of Swedenborg and Davis spoke of this great truth, the physical
phenomena brought the reality of the message home to people in a very direct and
immediate way. There could be no doubt. The Spirit survived death and could communicate,
and indeed was communicating, to those still living in the physical world.
The phenomena also illustrated
a second and vital aspect of Spirit's message to the world: communication with
Spirit could be a two-way process. Spirit in the non-physical realms could speak
to those in the physical but those in the physical could also speak to Spirit
and receive meaningful confirmation of Spirit's continued existence.
Such a revelation is of
immense significance. As Reverend Simeon Stefanidakis Minister of the First Spiritual
Temple in Massachusetts USA put it:
the Hydesville events.......(it was) established (that).....Spirit
communication can be used not only to teach, inspire, and give
philosophical revelation; it can also be used to assist us in
our daily lives and to prove, or demonstrate, that there is personal
and conscious survival of death." (7)
Throughout the late 1800's
and into the early 1900's the Modern Spiritualist Movement continued to flourish.
It was not only a 'popular movement' in the sense that its beliefs and philosophy,
and of course its associated phenomena, appealed to the general population, but
also a movement that attracted many scientists, philosophers, theologian's, and
writers, who were intrigued by the possibility of 'life after death'. Indeed,
many such scientists and men and women of learning, upon investigating the phenomena,
found themselves 'convinced' of the truth of the Spiritualist principle of human
survival. Some became outspoken supporters of Spiritualism. Perhaps the best known
of these 'converts' to the Spiritualist Philosophy is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
the author of the famous Sherlock Holmes novels.
Sir Arthur became a dedicated
supporter of Spiritualism after the tragic death of his son in the First World
War. Having visited a number of mediums seeking to make contact with his dead
son, Conan Doyle set himself to seriously investigate Spiritualist phenomena and,
having become convinced of the veracity of the Spiritualist message, wrote many
influential books on the subject of Spirit communication, and travelled to a number
of countries around the world, including Australia, giving lectures on the Spiritualist
Opposition to Spiritualism
Though the Spiritualist
Movement continued to find its supporters, there were others in the 'scientific'
and 'religious' communities, who sought to ridicule and discredit Spiritualist
beliefs and phenomena. Many detractors, sought to disprove the validity of Spiritualism
by 'exposing' fraudulent mediums and by trying to duplicate the physical and mental
phenomena to show that it did not have a non-physical or Spirit directed origin.
Often such opponents called upon professional conjurer's and magicians to 'expose'
the phenomena as nothing more than 'slight of hand' or other such deception.
A significant number of
those who criticised or attacked the philosophy and phenomena of Spiritualism,
did so on what they called religious grounds. One such outspoken critic was an
American by the name of Uriah Smith in this book 'Modern Spiritualism: A Subject
of Prophecy & a Sign of the Times', published in 1896. His writings are indicative
of both the nature of the criticism generally levelled against Spiritualism, and
the dilemma so often faced by its opponents when attempting to discredit the Spiritualist
A few excerpts from Smith's
work will make clear the form of attack experienced by the Spiritualist Movement.
Smith begins by acknowledging:
cannot be disposed of with a sneer. A toss of the head and a cry
of 'humbug', will not suffice to meet its claims and the testimony
of careful, conservative men who have studied thoroughly into
the genuineness of its manifestations, and have sought for the
secret of its power and have been satisfied as to the one, and
been wholly baffled as to the other. That there have been abundant
instances of attempted fraud, deception, jugglery, and imposition,
is not to be denied. But this does not by any means set aside
the fact that there have been manifestations of more than human
power, the evidence for which has never been impeached. The detection
of a few sham mediums, who are trying to impose upon the credulity
of the public, for money, may satisfy the careless and unthinking,
that the whole affair is a humbug......
"But the more thoughtful
and careful observers well know that the exposure of these mountebanks does not
account or the numberless manifestations of
power, and the steady current
of phenomena, utterly inexplicable on any human hypothesis, which have attended
the movement from the beginning." (8)
Uriah Smith goes on to
describe just a few of the phenomena with these words:
"Various articles have
been transported from place to place, without human hands, but by the agency of
so-called spirits only; beautiful music has been produced independently of human
agency, with and without the aid of visible instruments; many well attested cases
of healing have been presented; persons have been carried through the air by the
spirits in the presence of many witnesses; tables have been suspended in the air
with several persons upon them; purported spirits have presented themselves in
bodily form and talked with an audible voice; and all this not once or twice merely,
but times without number, as may be gathered from the records of Spiritualism,
all through its history." (9)
In concluding his opening
remarks about Spiritualism Smith quotes a remark by T.J. Hudson in 'Law of Psychic
Phenomena' (10) written in 1894:
"The man who denies the
phenomena of Spiritism to-day is not entitled to be called a sceptic, he is simply
ignorant; and it would be a hopeless task to
attempt to enlighten him".
Thus is Smith obliged to
confirm that the phenomena associated with Spiritualism is genuine,
they are not tricks or the result of fraud. What then, can be the reason for such
strenuous opposition to Spiritualism? Uriah Smith supplied the answer in no uncertain
terms. The phenomena is genuine, but the 'Spiritualistic'
interpretation of them
Though "it is evident that
there is connected with Spiritualism an agency that is able to manifest power
and strength beyond anything that human beings, unaided, are able to exert" and,
that "the same agency possesses intelligence beyond the power of human minds",
(11) that agency, of necessity could not be Spirit, because the
human soul is not immortal and could not, therefore, become a spirit after the
death of the physical body in which it had resided. The soul was not immortal
because, if it had been, the Bible would have said so, and since the bible was
the very word of God, the fact it wasn't stated in the Bible could only confirm
that it wasn't true.
Smith, and the many others
who derided Spiritualism in the first 50 or so years of the Movement, concluded,
based on their understanding of the Bible, that what the Spiritualists believed
were Spirits of those who had survived death, were in reality, fallen angels,
evil spirits, who as agents of the devil, were sent to the world to destroy humankind's
faithfulness to God.
was real, but it was the work of the devil!
That the Spiritualist philosophy,
so often accompanying the phenomena, spoke of love, and respect for our fellow
man, and the 'Great Spirit' from whom all things become manifest', was in the
minds of men such as Uriah Smith a blasphemy; a travesty wherein the devil wrapped
himself in the words of God, in order to delude man and entrap their souls in
hell for all time.
Despite such opposition
the Spiritualist Movement held firm and many thousands more explored the movement's
beliefs and phenomena, with each passing year.
The Paradox of Spiritualism:
a Religion or a Philosophy?
From the very beginning,
there existed the seeds for a schism within the Spiritualist Movement. The phenomena
based nature of the early Spiritualist meetings lead many who were disillusioned
with established religions to see in Spiritualism a new philosophy free from the
doctrines and dogma of the past. The message inherent in the phenomena was than
man was a much greater being than previously understood. This new understanding,
should not, indeed could not be contained within a religious context.
For others, the phenomena
associated with Spiritualism, confirmed their religious beliefs, and so Spiritualism
was often heralded as a new revelation of religious doctrine. Spiritualism was
"the religion that superseded all other religions".
The Western world in the
nineteen century was a great age of independent spiritual teachers, though most
remained at least nominally Christian.
"Churches were in the decline.
Atheists and materialists attacked them from without. The abuse of clerical privilege
and collusion between Church and State exposed them to the criticism of liberals
and radicals. Internal squabbles about doctrine and battles between reformers
and reactionaries weakened them within. The antiquity, hierarchy and secular power
which had for so long been the sources of their authority were now the cause of
internal revolt and public disaffection. Putting it simply, the churches seemed
to have lost their way and this was reflected in their spiritual lethargy. Even
the major independent denominations had rebels within their ranks". (12)
One inevitable consequence
was the appearance of independent religious sects, and Spiritualism with its new
breed of 'priests' and 'pastors', in the form of the mediums, who demonstrated
these wondrous new spiritualist phenomena, and spoke with such confidence the
'message of spirit', were quickly seen as able to minister to the spiritual needs
of those unsatisfied by the established churches.
Spiritualist Churches began
to appear throughout America, Britain, and beyond. The format of the meetings
held in these churches usually bore much resemblance to a traditional Sunday church
service, with the addition of a demonstration of the medium's powers to link with
spirit and pass on messages from the so called dead. This is not surprising since
many who flocked to the new Spiritualist Churches came from an orthodox Christian
background and still found comfort in the outer trappings of their religious upbringing.
Many of the staunchest
supporters of Spiritualism, had previously been strong Christians and saw no conflict
between the teachings of Jesus and the new revelations from Spirit, though Jesus
was sometimes described as a Master Teacher, a great spirit who had been sent
to the world by God to guide us forward, rather than being presented as the 'Son
of God'. This strand of Spiritualism gained a strong following and, what are described
as Christian Spiritualist Churches have continued to exist to the present time.
The Spiritualist Movement,
however, attracted many of the middle and upper classes, and those who were drawn
to a new way of thinking and exploring their known world The nineteenth century
had seen the rise in doubts about Christian doctrine and arguments about the institutional
status of churches "were intensified by the growing prestige and authority of
natural science and the increasing sophistication of" (13) the exposition of biblical
scripture. The Bible as a historically accurate and literal record was being challenged
by the emerging sciences which were demonstrating that the world, and humankind's
evolution on the planet, had occurred over a much greater time span the 6,000
years stated in the Bible.
As Peter Washington records
in his seminal work on the life of Madame Blavatsky and the emergence of the Theosophical
Movement in the late 1870's, in the late nineteenth century:
"While technology encroached
further on the sacramental sense of a world created and sustained by divine power,
advanced textual and historical scholars, drawing on the disciplines of philology
and etymology, were demythologising the Bible and humanising the figure of Christ
himself. Christianity was reduced in consequence to little more than an interesting
tribal story with an influential moral, more or less embodied in Christian legal
and political institutions. In such a context Jesus appeared not as the unique
Christ, but one influential teacher among many, together with Buddha, Socrates,
Confusius, Manu and Lao Tzu. Some of these teachers were mythical, others historical
figures wrapped in a carapace of myth which contemporary scholarship gradually
stripped away a process which suggested that Christianity itself might be
a kind of fiction, a transcendent narrative that could still give meaning to each
individual's own 'story', without being in any objective sense true." (14)
This weakening of Christ's
exclusive divine authority made a large enough crack of doubt to let in any number
of new movements, and teachings. And, as Washington notes, though no one of these
developments necessarily denies the validity of Christian experience, or excludes
the possibility of spiritual life or militates against the existence of established
churches as such together they to unsettle all three.
Thus in general, the religious
revivals of the nineteenth century were frequently characterised by a tendency
to identify 'true' spirituality with mysticism or occultism. This was one way
of saving the spiritual from the corrupting effects of religious institutions.
And while the established churches declined, interest in religion itself was never
stronger. "Spirituality itself was not in question, so much as a secure source
of spiritual authority."(15)
The problem of the source
of spiritual authority was intimately entwined with another nineteenth century
pre-occupation, the search for a single key that would solve the mysteries of
the universe. For many, at least for a time, Spiritualism was perceived as a powerful
source which promised to provide a key to the deepest mystery of all. "A major
focus of the unsatisfied spiritual hunger which afflicted so many Victorians was
an obsession with the rituals and protocols of death, fuelled by uncertainty about
the nature an even the existence of the afterlife. This appetite was
suddenly and startlingly satisfied in 1848" by the events which took place in
Though many who flirted
with Spiritualism were content to incorporate the phenomena and belief's as expressed
by the spirits through the mediums, into their existing spiritual and religious
beliefs, other more serious spiritualists hoped that the meaning of their experiences
would be established on solid scientific grounds, and therefore build a movement
independent of any pre-existing religious dogma. For such Spiritualists, Spiritualism
was a Philosophical movement based on scientific principles and natural laws,
albeit principles and laws of nature as yet unexplained. It was merely a matter
The quest for scientific
proof affected not only convinced Spiritualists. A number of Societies, including
the Society for Psychical research took a close and often sympathetic interest
in the progress of Spiritualism. These organisations devoted much energy to collecting
evidence and mounting controlled experiments in order to monitor spirit manifestations.
Though most who involved themselves with such societies were not themselves Spiritualists,
they were people who were prepared to explore the possibility of the Spiritualist
Some sixty years after
the advent of the Spiritualist Movement, the message from the realms of Spirit
was becoming clearer. Those in spirit were proclaiming a 'new dispensation'; a
divinely ordained revelation sent to the world to prove three things:
"immortality; the existence,
and how they exist, of spirits; (and) the effects of spirits in another world
upon life in this."(17)
The so called "New Dispensation"
was a world-wide call from Spirit to humanity to take the next step in the spiritual
evolution of man's understanding of his true nature, and that of the world which
had been created around him. Just as the physical phenomena had at first captured
the minds and imaginations of those who explored the Spiritualist Movement, so
now was Spirit beginning to call for people to see beyond the mediumistic phenomena
and discover an "appreciation and understanding of the implications personal
and universal behind Spirit communion and communication." (18)
Spirit wanted the message
of spiritualism to go out into the world to reach men and women of all faiths,
all denominations, and all persuasions, so that all could experience the reality
of Spirit and incorporate the revealed truths into their own religious and spiritual
"In other words, Spirit
did not wish Spiritualism to become a religion unto itself; rather, a means whereby
all religions could find a common foundation upon which to build their various
pathways into God's Kingdom." (19)
The message of Spirit was
not a call to establish a new religion, "but a new religious order, whereby all
religions could find at least one common ground: in Spirit." (20)
Such a message allowed
for the incorporation of Spiritualist principles and philosophy into any, and
all religions, or indeed into none if so desired. It was a message that stood
above and beyond religion. It was a fundamental Truth being offered to the world.
It was perhaps almost inevitable,
given the social, religious, and political climate of the time that, both in America
and England, the Spiritualist Movement would find itself forming along roughly
religious lines, despite the fact that such a move was not ever the intention
of Spirit. As it became clearer that few established religions were willing to
incorporate spiritualist beliefs or phenomena into their doctrine, more and more
Spiritualists decided to create a new religion out of Spiritualism.
Thus, by 1910 the Spiritualist
Movement can be clearly identified as having two distinct strands, or approaches,
to the phenomena and message from the world of Spirit. The Christian Spiritualist
strand of the movement, in general terms identified Spiritualism as a religious
movement, while the second strand of Spiritualism strove to avoid the trappings
of any religious connotations, seeking to identify Spiritualism in the context
of philosophy and science.
Though these two distinct
strands of Spiritualism can be easily identified, there was in the beginning,
and still today, much overlapping of the two approaches to Spiritualism in practice.
Both treat as fundamental to their practice of Spiritualism, the immortality of
the human soul, the existence of spirit and the reality and value of communication
between Spirit and those in the physical world. Both approaches adhere to a conviction
that the message from the world of Spirit is both profound and far-reaching in
its implications. Spiritualism was an ever evolving movement with Spirit offering
new information and knowledge on a daily basis. As understanding of Spirit's message
to the world has grown, so too has the Spiritualist Movement's understanding of
the value and scope of Spiritualism.
The First World War
In the 10 or so years before
the advent of World War One, the Spiritualist Movement, though still popular,
had settled into being just one of the many different movements that had grown
out of the nineteenth century. Though still actively frowned upon by the religious
orthodoxy, Spiritualism, and particularly Christian Spiritualism, had found a
niche and even established, a certain, if minor, respectability as an alternative
Some, who initially held
high hopes of Spiritualism providing the answers to life's mysteries, had become
dissatisfied with what was seen as the apparently trivial nature of much of the
communication received from Spirit, and the apparent failure of science to confirm
the validity of the Spiritualist viewpoint. The decline in the more sensational
'physical phenomena' had also impacted on the Spiritualist following, while the
emergence of Theosophy with its unique blending of Eastern and Western beliefs
had drawn many onto a new path.
The 1914-1918 War brought
with it the horror of death on an enormous scale. People struggled to come to
terms with the loss of life of many thousands of young men. Inevitably there came
a resurgence of interest in Spiritualism with its purported ability to communicate
with those who had passed from the physical world into Spirit. Grieving families
flocked to the Spiritualist Churches and Missions, seeking comfort and confirmation
that their loved ones had survived. Throughout the war years, and for some time
after, Spiritualism once more had a significant impact on the lives and beliefs
of many. Without doubt, the Spiritualist Movement at that time provided, as it
had in the beginning, a message of hope for the world.
The 1920's &
The impact of the First
World War on Spiritualism was significant in two respects. The loss of human life
on such a massive scale, brought attention strongly back on the message of 'survival
over death', first brought to the world's attention in 1848. The pre-occupation
with proving survival of the human spirit over death was understandable in the
context of the human tragedy experienced as a result of the war. The many who
had lost loved ones, sought reassurance and comfort through the Spiritualist medium's
ability to make contact with the departed spirit; and to hear that those who had
died were 'in fact' alive and well, though existing in a different realm helped
many to deal with their grief.
Arising from this, came
a reawakening of interest in the nature of the Spirit Realms, and during the 1920's
and 1930's many hundreds of books, articles, and pamphlets were produced recording
communications from the Spirit world describing the myriad of different 'levels'
or 'realms' that existed as part of the greater Spirit World.
By 1923, there were between
four and five hundred societies in Britain alone, devoted to Spiritualism. Spiritualist
organisations of various kinds could be found throughout America, Europe and as
far away as Australia and New Zealand. While the full range of physical phenomena
still occurred, by the 1920's what was soon described as the 'mental phenomena'
of spirit directed activity, was gaining ascendency. The mental phenomena included
automatic and inspirational writing, trance mediumship, over-shadowing and transfiguration,
clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, and associated techniques such as
psychometry and flower-reading.
Once again, Spirit was
offering new information and knowledge on a daily basis, revealing what happens
to the human spirit in the process of death, the nature and dimensions of the
spirit world, the evolving nature of spirit consciousness and, importantly some
of the obligations and responsibilities that seemed to be a part of being a 'spirit'.
What were described as
'more evolved' spirit entities began to make their presence felt in the world,
as they communicated through the agency of the trance mediums a message that how
we lived while in the physical world determined in some distinctive way, how we
fared in the world of spirit. The call from Spirit now began to emphasise that
how humankind lives while in the physical world, was an important part of humankind's
Spirit called upon people
of the 'earth plane' to awaken to their true spiritual nature and origins and
recognise the fundamentally important role the earth played in the 'Divine plan'
Spirit cried out for all
people's to learn to love; "to bring an end to all separateness between peoples;
to end all race distinctions, class distinctions, colour distinctions, and all
distinctions of religion╔╔" and learn to care for the Earth that Spirit informed
those that would listen was an essential part of God's creation. (21) To fail
to heed this call could, Spirit reported, bring humankind, indeed the very world
itself, to the brink of destruction.
Therefore, the second factor
of significance influencing the Spiritualist Movement during the years between
the First World War and the second, relates to the new message to humankind emerging
from the world of Spirit. The 1914-1918 War, had been heralded as the 'War to
end all Wars', yet Spirit warned that this would not be the case, the world would
find itself at war again if it did not begin to heed their message.
In addition, Spirit communications
began to emphasise more and more clearly, that the phenomena were a means to an
end, and not an end in themself. With an increasing sense of urgency Spirit urged
humankind to look beyond the phenomena; to look beyond the fact that the spirit
survives bodily death, and understand that all things, human, animal, vegetable,
mineral and the physical Earth, were all a part of the "great creator of all that
is" (22) and must be cared for at all cost.
Silver Birch, one of the
many great spiritual teachers who have communicated from beyond 'the veil of death'
spoke these words:
"There is a plan behind
all spirit communication. We strive to make you realise the latent divinity that
is yours, that you may express more of the great Spirit╔╔╔Your world has to learn
that behind what it regards as the manifestation of life, there is the eternal
reality of the spirit, that the children of matter are not only worldly beings
but spiritual beings expressing themselves through bodies of matter╔╔We preach
the gospel of the spiritual brotherhood of all peoples.
Hints of this new message
can be found in many of the earlier records of the words of Spirit from the very
beginning of the Spiritualist Movement, but by the 1930's and in the 1940's, with
the advent of the Second World War, what had begun as a trickle in the 1890's,
became a loud river roaring our a clarion call to humankind.
Silver Birch, like so many
other spirit teachers, did not merely speak in abstract about humankind's divine
nature, or about humankind's part in the Universe as a whole. He gave a clear
indication as to how to proceed.
whole keynote of our teaching is contained in the word - service.
Ours is the gospel of mutual helpfulness, co-operation, tolerance,
sympathy. We desire all to learn to serve one another. Your world
needs service. It needs the spread of the idea that all people
are parts of one another, that the divine spirit flows through
all human beings, making all equal in the sight of the Great Spirit......"
"There is the service of
freeing poor, racked bodies from pain, the service of fighting injustice and tyranny,
the service of fighting hate, the service of preserving freedom and the service
of abolishing the evils of your world and giving the spirit in man a chance to
express itself as the great Spirit desires that it should."
Silver Birch and many other
Spirit teachers and guides made it clear that in order to give service we must
recognise the divine spark that is within each one of us. We must learn to love,
for unconditional love and service are synonymous; they are the same thing.
World War Two &
With the outbreak of World
War Two, once again Spiritualism experienced a massive increase in interest in
its beliefs and activities. The appalling loss of life on a scale never before
seen, brought grief not only to those whose lives were affected by the loss of
a loved one, but also to those who perceived the futility of all war. The call
of Spiritualism for all to unite as one 'family of mankind', held appeal to many
who were disillusioned by the events taking place