Why Did So Many Victorians Talk With The Dead?

The New Yorker addressed a number of recently published books addressing the Spiritualist movement of the 19th century, seeking to relate that to a contemporary resurgence in interest in necromantic communications. This topic, I’d suggest, should be of central interest to modern students and practitioners of thaumaturgy and theurgy and arguably, the roots of both lie in the pivoting from “Spiritism” to “Spiritualism” (as they were differentiated back in the day by some of the folks involved). The difference between the two was that while the latter was a matter of passive mediumship, the latter sought to actively control the experience and it’s original exponents were Emma Hardinge Britten and Pascal Beverly Randolph. Both started as passive mediums and came to look to be conscious and directing the contact with spirits – and not simply of deceased humans, but a range of spirits. You can trace their innovations through the doctrines and ritual work of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and thence to A.’.A.’., Ordo Templi Orientis, etc. — more or less. The article begins:

It’s a good time to be dead—at least, if you want to keep in touch with the living. Almost a third of Americans say they have communicated with someone who has died, and they collectively spend more than two billion dollars a year for psychic services on platforms old and new. Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, television: whatever the medium, there’s a medium. Like clairvoyants in centuries past, those of today also fill auditoriums, lecture halls, and retreats. Historic camps such as Lily Dale, in New York, and Cassadaga, in Florida, are booming, with tens of thousands of people visiting every year to attend séances, worship, healing services, and readings. And many people turn up not every year but every week: there are more than a hundred Spiritualist churches in the United States, more than three hundred in the United Kingdom, and hundreds of others in more than thirty countries around the world. Such institutions hardly represent the full extent of Spiritualism’s popularity, since the movement does not emphasize doctrines, dogmas, or creeds, and plenty of people hold spiritualist beliefs within other faith traditions or stand entirely outside organized religion.


Frater Lux Ad Mundi

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