Spiritualism

Palladino Seance
White Hand Ringing a Bell.” Caption from Eusapia Palladino and Her Phenomena: “This photograph shows the exact position of the medium’s hands and feet during the production of this remarkable phenomenon. It will be seen that her hands are held on the extreme opposite corners of the table.”

Different modalities of mediumship encompass clairvoyance relating to mental images, clairaudience involving auditory experiences deriving from unseen sources, ‘physical’  or ‘materialization’ manifestations with the medium typically entering a trance state, ‘automatic writing,’ and ‘Direct Voice’ phenomena where seance sitters have conversed with voices of people who’d passed over to another realm of being.  ‘Spirit contact’ became better understood as seance communicators spoke about inhabiting an ‘astral body’ while inhabiting other ‘spheres’ of existence. During the Spiritualism Movement that became prominent in the world during the mid-Nineteenth Century, people found themselves experiencing a thought-provoking gamut of unexplained phenomena.  Unfortunately, some researchers seem predisposed to support a conclusion of fraud in regard to many fully documented cases where there may be found discriminating testimonials explaining the authenticity of the observed phenomena.  Skeptical investigators of Spiritualism have often relied upon superficial and cursory data by others who similarly may be ignorant of the evidence offered in qualitative nonfiction sources.  One such case is that of the ‘physical’ (manifestation) medium Eusapia Palladino, whose mediumship is chronicled in Eusapia Palladino and Her Phenomena (1909) by Hereward Carrington, among other accounts. Dealing with the question of fraud, Carrington quoted remarks of physicist and author Oliver Lodge —

“I happen to have had only good sittings with Eusapia, and my own experience of what was likely to happen in the others was based upon what happened when she was not entranced at all.  Judging from that experience, I thought it not unlikely that she may sometimes somnambulicly attempt to achieve effects which she thinks desired, in what may readily appear a fraudulent manner.”

“. . . All danger of unfair accusation will be avoided if sitters will only have the common sense to treat her not as a scientific person engaged in a demonstration, but as a delicate piece of apparatus, wherewith they themselves are making an investigation.  She is an instrument, whose ways and idiosyncrasies must be learned, and to a certain extent humored, just as one studies and humors the ways of some much less delicate piece of physical apparatus turned out by a skilled instrument maker.”

Another physical medium who continuously dedicated herself to fully cooperating with investigators was Mrs. Mina ‘Margery’ Crandon, the subject of the biography “Margery” the Medium (1925) by J. Malcolm Bird, who commented:

Orthodox science is inclined to say that always, if any infinitesimal possibility remains of explaining away the phenomena of the seance room, this possibility must be seized.  I think orthodox science is not wholly justified in this attitude.  It asks us, in effect, to assign to the possibility that there is no major discovery ahead of us, a numerical value which satisfies the mathemetician’s definition of an infinitesimal—a value that shall be less than any other probability that may ever turn up, no matter how small the latter be.

Among the numerous books offering transcripts of the commentary of seance room communicators is Flashes of Light from the Spirit-Land, Through the Mediumship of Mrs. J. H. Conant (1872).  The book was “compiled by Allen Putnam” from responses by “controlling spirits” of the medium.  Here are some excerpts (probably not verbatim)  from the book with the name of the identified ‘controlling spirit’ for each passage.

By William E. Channing, Jan. 6, 1868. 

A.  The spheres spoken of by returning spirits are not localities, by any means, but they are conditions of mind, states of being.  The spirit-world proper has been derived from the spiritual emanations of this world, therefore it is like unto it, only  superior to it.

By Theodore Parker, April 29, 1869.

. . . In the first place, it should be understood that these séances are not controlled at all times by the same spirit, but for each occasion an intelligence is selected best adapted to that occasion.

It should be understood that each distinct intelligence, or human spirit, retains its own special intellectual integrity after death as before.

By. Rev. Arthur Fuller, Feb. 28, 1870.

A.  The theory of re-incarnation in America is a baby.  In some portions of Europe it has attained its majority.  Since we have the evidence of thousands of spirits — I say we, meaning myself and the spirit band with whom I am associated — since we have the evidence of thousands of spirits who remember having lived through several physical existences, of course we know that the theory is correct.  We do not know that we, too, shall be again and again re-incarnated in physical life, but we believe we shall.  Judging from the experience of others, we believe it to be our own fate also.

Arthur Conan Doyle profiled the events in the lives of the Fox Sisters who are often associated with the commencement of the Spiritualism Movement in The History of Spiritualism (1926).   The uncanny occurrences in their house began with rapping noises.  Eventually the unseen ‘independent intelligence’ responded to questions.  “According to its own account he was a spirit; he had been injured in that house; he rapped out the name of a former occupant who had injured him; he was thirty-one years old at the time of death (which was five years before); he had been murdered for money; he had been buried in the cellar ten feet deep . . . It was a neighbor named Duesler who, first of all modern men, called over the alphabet and got answers by raps on the letters.”  Allegations related to the crime were made by a woman who’d served as a part-time helper to previous occupants of the house, the Bells. An account of an earlier similar “the answers would come in raps” predicament was included in memoirs written by Richard Williams Bell concerning what is now known as the ‘Bell Witch’ case, one of the historical testimonials sometimes referred to categorically as ‘talking poltergeist’ cases (described in a previous series of blog posts). There is a fundamental lesson to be learned from the annals of Spiritualism.  What Earth people have in common with those communicating from other realms is that each is an individual personality or ‘unit’ of a pervasive Cosmic Consciousness.   Among the sources explaining the ascended state of human existence are the ‘psychic reading transcripts’ resulting from Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) going into a trance and allowing his body to be used as a channel.  The communicating intelligences would speak in plurality, usually ending sessions with a comment such as “We are through for the present.”   The following passage is an excerpt from Edgar Cayce Channeled Reading 3744-3 given on October 9, 1923.

11. (Q) From what source does this body EC derive its information? (A) The information as given or obtained from this body is gathered from the sources from which the suggestion may derive its information. In this state the conscious mind becomes subjugated to the subconscious, superconscious or soul mind; and may and does communicate with like minds, and the subconscious or soul force becomes universal.  From any subconscious mind information may be obtained, either from this plane or from the impressions as left by the individuals that have gone on before, as we see a mirror reflecting direct that which is before it.  It is not the object itself, but that reflected, as in this: The suggestion that reaches through to the subconscious or soul, in this state, gathers information from that as reflected from what has been or is called real or material, whether of the material body or of the physical forces, and just as the mirror may be waved or bended to reflect in an obtuse manner, so that suggestion to the soul forces may bend the reflection of that given; yet within, the image itself is what is reflected and not that of some other. Through the forces of the soul, through the mind of others as presented, or that have gone on before; through the subjugation of the physical forces in this manner, the body obtains the information.Edgar Cayce

Photograph self-portrait by Edgar Cayce working at the Russell Brothers studio in Jacksonville, Alabama from the 1978 book Edgar Cayce’s Photographic Legacy.

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