Spiritualism, “the belief in and practice of communication with the dead” by way of a medium, saw growing mainstream popularity in America during the last half of the 19th century. From there, it made its way to the UK, where the London newspaper The Spiritualist was published beginning in 1869. In it, you’ll find accounts of seances, ghost stories, inspirational spirit poetry, and apparitions of long-dead relatives. It is AMAZING! There’s a full run of it on JSTOR, so click on the images below and dig in.
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How to Form Spirit Circles
Instructions for how to form a spirit circle to “obtain manifestations” adorn the final page of many issues of The Spiritualist. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Let the circle consist of four, five, or six individuals, about the same number of each sex. Sit round an uncovered wooden table, with all the palms of the hands in contact with its top surface…
Before the sitting begins, place some pointed lead-pencils and some sheets of clean writing paper on the table, to write down any communications that may be obtained…
People who do not like each other should not sit in the same circle, for such a want of harmony tends to prevent manifestations, except with well-developed physical mediums; it is not yet known why. Belief or unbelief has no influence on the manifestations, but an acrid feeling against them is a weakening influence…
The first symptom of the invisible power at work is often a feeling like a cool wind sweeping over the hands. The first manifestations will probably be table tiltings or raps.
Seances at Mrs. Everitt’s
Here, the author describes a seance performed by a medium named Mrs. Everitt, and the manner by which a circle of spirits appears and accompanies the circle of sitters:
The controlling spirit comes, takes the medium by the hand, and the medium leaves her natural body, and goes to her spirit home, where she is soon surrounded by her friends. Mrs. Everitt knows that she has not finally left her natural body, by the luminous blue life-cord, which goes from the back of her head, to the back of the head of the natural body. She also saw the spirit circle formed a little above the one in the natural world, and the spirits collecting the emanations from the sitters, and surrounding the medium with this luminous and comparatively solid substance. She saw how the spirit lights were produced, and how the spirit hands, arms, and faces were formed from this substance. From this material also the spirits formed a throat, mouth, and part of a face, and connected with this curious formation was a long tube coming from the medium. From the end of the tube issued a vapour, which was the breath of the medium, which the spirit used in connection with his extemporised apparatus to speak audibly in the natural world.
Marvelous Spiritual Manifestations
In an article that recounts instances of solid objects “carried from place to place and through the walls of houses by spirits,” one author describes a curious incident involving feathers:
In the first number of the Spiritual News (London, E. W. Allen), there is a well attested report of the bringing of a large quantity of fruit to seventeen or eighteen ladies and gentlemen by spirits. In number three (February, 1871) of the same journal there is another well attested case; the séance was held in the house of Mr. Guppy, in a drawing-room twenty-four feet long by fourteen broad. Thirty-six guests were present, and there being a large round table in the centre of the room, the room was completely filled by the company. The gas was extinguished, and relit about three minutes later. In that interval feathers fell perpendicularly and evenly, like snow, at all parts of the room from wall to wall; the heads, shoulders, and knees of the ladies and gentlemen present were thickly covered with feathers, and the table in the centre looked like a large circular cake of snow. The spirits had taken the feathers from a bed upstairs, and brought them through the ceiling.
Seances at the Spiritual Library
During one seance, a man named Mr. Burns interviews a spirit named Tien Sien Tie, a guardian spirit who speaks through the medium J.J. Morse:
What is the difference between the soul, the spirit, and the body ?
TIEN SIEN TIE said that the soul is the garment of the spirit, and the spirit cannot lose its soul, which is its outer consciousness. The persons in the room had each of them a physical organisation, and permeating the whole of it was a “life principle,” which continuously draws around it and spiritualises what it requires from the physical nature. At death, the physical body is no longer required, but the spiritualised particles within ascend upwards in a bright golden shower; a principle of elective affinity runs through these particles, so that each one goes to its proper place, and a new body is formed, finer and rarer than his hearers could comprehend. This body is the soul, and it is animated by the spirit of the Deity.
How far are you from the medium?
TIEN SIEN TIE—I am six feet above the roof of the house in which you meet, and am acting upon the brain of the medium, who gives forth my thoughts, clothed in his own words.
One author outlines some ways in which Spiritualism alleviates the fears of death and eternal damnation for its practitioners:
Spiritualism proves that the supposed “dead” still live, and can communicate with us under scientific law; it also proves that those whom we loved on earth are separated from us but for a time, and in many cases think about us and watch over us still. It proves that the horrible doctrine of eternal punishment is not true, and it demonstrates that “ death” is a natural and benevolent process, and is but the gate-way to the flower-laden land of the hereafter. Experienced Spiritualists have altogether lost the unreasoning dread of bodily dissolution ; the approach of death causes about the same amount of trouble to a Spiritualist as the approaching extraction of a tooth; it may give temporary physical pain, to be followed by greater happiness, supposing the life of the individual to have been at all a good one, for Spiritualism teaches that the better lives men lead here, the happier they will be hereafter.
Testimony of Mr. S. C. Hall
Here, the editor of Art Journal writes in about his experience witnessing the apparition of his sister, who died of cancer eight months prior:
When she appeared to us in my drawing-room, her face was so healthy—so full of the red and white that exhibit health—that at the moment I did not recognise her; for she had been two years confined to bed, “ died” of cancer, was a great sufferer, and was naturally reduced to a skeleton, so to speak. Suddenly I said, with an exclamation, “ It is my sister!” Three blows were struck on the table. The eyes were closed—she had been blind during the last ten years of her earth-life—possibly but for that I should not have recognised her; there was so marvellous a contrast between the face, as I saw it on her “ death” bed, and the face as I saw it then; so healthful, so beautiful, so happy, smiling ; but the likeness was exact, for I recognised every feature after my exclamation.
Two women recount their experiences channeling “inspirational spirit poetry,” and include several examples of such poems:
The poetry came first in May, 1871. The spirits put pieces of poetry rapidly into my mind, giving me one line at a time, and pausing while I write down the words; sometimes I distinctly hear the voices of the spirits. They will make poetry at once upon almost any subject I or others give them.
A Venomous Spider
One woman recounts the “curious psychological experience” of dreaming of a dangerous spider:
She says that at one of the hotels she put up at to break the journey, and about half an hour after she had fallen asleep, she dreamt that she saw a large horrible spider on the wall by her bedside. It was of a size and kind she had never seen before, and so great was her fear of it, she awoke. Thinking it only a dream, she fell asleep again, being very tired. Once more she saw it in her sleep, and again her fear caused her to awake. Fatigue and sleep again overcame her, but only to once more dream of the spider, always in the same place, always filling her with the same fear. This time, however, she was so impressed with her dream that she could not rest, and called to her friend sleeping in the adjoining room to come to her, and to bring a light. Immediately on her friend’s entrance, she looked at the wall, and to her horror the spider was there, just as she had seen it three times in her sleep. In an instant she was out of bed, and never having seen a spider so large and strange, she rang the bell to ask about it and have it destroyed. The servant said that it was well she had seen it, as it was a most venomous one.
A Yorkshire Ghost Story
An author describes the bone-chilling experience of being visited by the ghost of a little girl:
I was seized with a most uncomfortable feeling, not exactly of fright, but a strange, unearthly sensation that I was not alone, I had had that feeling for some minutes, when I saw at the foot of the bed a child, about seven or nine years old. The child seemed as if it were on the bed, and came gliding towards me as I lay. It was the figure of a little girl in her night-dress—a little girl with dark hair and a very white face. I tried to speak to her, but could not. She came slowly on up to the top of the bed, and I then saw her face clearly. She seemed in great trouble; her hands were clasped and her eyes were turned up with a look of entreaty, an almost agonised look. Then, slowly unclasping her hands, she touched me on the shoulder. The hand felt icy cold, and while I strove to speak she was gone, I felt more frightened after the child was gone than before.
A woman writes in to relay the strange account of a rotating ball of light:
The young lady in question, who knew nothing of Spiritualism, happened to go into a bedroom after dark, and without taking a light, and, on looking towards one part of the room, perceived what appeared to her to be a sort of luminous rotating ball. She, imagining it some peculiar effect of light and shadow, looked towards the window to ascertain the cause; but, on turning again to the spot, the ball had in that short space of time evolved itself into the half figure in profile of a very old woman ; the yellow, parchment-coloured skin and shabby, old-fashioned black silk cloak were distinctly visible.