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THE IMPACT OF THE SPIRITIST PHENOMENON ON19TH CENTURY SOCIETY AND HISTORY 


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THE IMPACT OF THE SPIRITIST PHENOMENON ON19TH CENTURY SOCIETY AND HISTORY 

  Ana Maria DUCU

 

 Historical, anthropological and social studies regarding the spiritist phenomenon started to appear in the second half of the 19 thcentury and reached a peak at the beginning of 20th century. This paper’s purpose is to discuss the most importantliterature on the spiritist phenomenon, as well as to dig into the way in which thepress covered one of the most important events of 19 th century, namely spiritistséances. The central debate covers the manifestations of spiritism in the social,political and historical domains. Spiritism is defined as a “science which has as itspurpose the experimental demonstration of soul’s existence and its immortality,through communication with dead people.”

1

 Belief in the immortality of the souland the possibility of communication between the dead and the living was a featureof many ancient cultures, even though the practice of communicating with thesouls of the dead was often the prerogative of the priests who officiated at suchceremonies. Spiritism became a central issue in the 19th century, due to a numberof factors which relate to history, religion and modernity.

2

 In France, the term“spiritism” was used to designate all related practices which had been born in theUnited States in 1848 and arrived in Europe around 1852. These practices werebased on the phenomenon of “table-turning” or “table-tipping,” as well ascommunication with the spirits of dead people. Spiritism as a movement spreadacross America after the 1848 rappings which began in the Fox sisters’ house andsoon became a catalyst for social radicals, particularly for abolitionists andsupporters of women’s rights.

3

  When trying to analyze the success of the spiritist phenomena, one cannothelp but notice Allan Kardec’s contribution: systematizing old ideas into new ones, while showing support and understanding for those whose relatives had died. The word “spiritism” was invented by Kardec in 1857; before then, the only termsbeing used were “American spiritualism,” “modern spiritualism,” “magneticphenomena” and “table-turning phenomena.”

4

 Before Allan Kardec ordered

 This paper has been prepared with the financial support of the project “Quality EuropeanDoctorate-EURODOC,” contract no. POSDRU/187/1.5/S/155450, project co-financed by theEuropean Social Fund through the Sectoral Operational Programme “Human ResourcesDevelopment” 2007-2013.



 PhD Student at the “1 Decembrie 1918” University of Alba Iulia, Romania; e-mail:louvsal@gmail.com.

1

 Delanne 2012, p. 227-235.

2

 Berge 1990, p. 37-39.

3

 Braude 1990, p. 25.

4

 Hardinge-Britten 1870, p. 45-59
 

Ana Maria Ducuť

 

spiritist ideas into a coherent system, similar beliefs had started to appear; althoughthe word “spiritism” did not exist before 1857, the spiritist phenomenon hadalready started to take shape. In 1830 in Germany, there was much discussion ofpsychic Frédérique Hauffe and her communication with dead people. Sixteen yearslater, in Normandy, Angélique Cottin caused strange phenomena that wereassociated with the spirits of the dead. Not long after this, the two women wouldbecome the subject of research for doctors of the Academy of Science.

5

 By themid-19th century, the spiritist phenomenon was beginning to spread among groupsand individuals who were admiring of magnetic phenomena, which had becomefashionable once again after reaching a peak in 1820. Although we do not know exactly when interest in psychic phenomenaentered Europe, we know for sure that England, through its cultural links with theUnited States, was the main binding agent in importing the overseas movement.

 

  American spiritualist practices found supporters in cities such as Bremen,Hamburg, Strasbourg and Paris. In mid-1853, the spiritist phenomenon reached itspeak: in June “turning-tables” became “talking-tables.”

From this moment, themovement was no longer simply about parapsychological experiments, but aboutclear communication with dead people. Within weeks, the phenomenon hadattracted major attention in most European cities. In France it had a particularlystrong impact, with repercussions in all francophone countries, such as Canada andBelgium.Following the winter of 1854, spiritism began to lose its popularity - theCrimean war was a major contributor in this shift - and fashionable spiritistphenomenon became regular fact, yet not to be completely ignored. In thiscontext, we must delimitate two main channels: the American mediums and thescientists investigating the spiritist phenomenon. Often considered as oppositedimensions, they complemented each other and represented a point of referencefor the followers of this school of thought. In the first instance, spiritism stood fora set of ideas about the nature of life and death, as well as the purpose of spiritistcommunications which came to be implemented by mediums, and later to spreadat the level of the entire society where they were practiced as a game, a curiosity, oras a means to answer various questions. American spiritualists, such as DavidHome and the brothers Ira and William Davenport were responsible for themassive popularization of the phenomenon through tournaments in Europe, basedon spectacular performances.

Spiritualist periodicals describe in detail the activities of mediums andspiritist speakers, as well as publicity for a wide range of services offered bymediums. In Braude’s article

 News from the Spirit World: A Checklist of AmericanSpiritualist Periodicals, 1847-1900

, Ann Braude offers an inventory of spiritualistperiodicals, mentioning their title and their lifespan. Periodicals such as

Banner ofLight

 (1857-1907),

Religious-Philosophical Journal

 (1865-1907) or

World’s Advance

Berge 1990, p. 27.

Home 1883, p. 26-32.

Guillard

 

1853, p. 7-9.

 

Braude 1990, p. 36-53.

continue 
https://www.academia.edu/26462445/Ana_Maria_DUCUŢA_The_Impact_of_the_Spiritist_Phenomenon_on_19th_Century_Society_and_History?email_work_card=reading-history

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