Handbook of Spiritualism and Channeling
Brill Handbooks on
Carole M. Cusack (University of Sydney)
James R. Lewis (University of Tromsø)
Olav Hammer (University of Southern Denmark)
Charlotte Hardman (University of Durham)
Titus Hjelm (University College London)
Adam Possamai (University of Western Sydney)
Inken Prohl (University of Heidelberg)
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Handbook of Spiritualism
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Handbook of spiritualism and channeling / edited by Cathy Gutierrez.
pages cm. -- (Brill handbooks on contemporary religion, ISSN 1874-6691 ; volume 9)
ISBN 978-90-04-26377-2 (hardback : acid-free paper) -- ISBN 978-90-04-26408-3 (e-book) 1. Spiritualism.
2. Channeling (Spiritualism) I. Gutierrez, Cathy, 1967- editor.
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1 Mesmerism and the Psychological Dimension of Mediumship 9
2 Spiritualism and the American Swedenborgian Current 32
3 Dead Reckonings
Spirits and Corpses at the Crossroads 48
4 Spirit Possession 66
5 Queering the Séance
Bodies, Bondage, and Touching in Victorian Spiritualism 87
6 Man is a Spirit Here and Now
The Two Faces of Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism and the
Creation of the Magical Occult Theosophical Spiritualist
New Thought Amalgam 119
John Patrick Deveney
7 Pinkie at Play
Postcolonialism, Politics, and Performance in Nettie Colburn Maynard’s
Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist? 152
Criticising the Dead
Spiritualism and the Oneida Community 171
The Nature of Reality
Christian Science and Spiritualism 199
The Path to Progress 221
Lynn L. Sharp
Allan Kardec and the Transnationalisation of Modern
John Warne Monroe
Spiritism in Brazil
From Religious to Therapeutic Practice 275
Waleska de Araújo Aureliano and Vânia Zikán Cardoso
Between Two Worlds
Transformations of Spiritualism in Contemporary Lily Dale 294
Darryl V. Caterine
“The Medium is the Message in the Spacious Present”
Channeling, Television, and the New Age 319
15 Channeling—The Cinderella of the New Age?
A Course in Miracles, the Seth Texts, and Definition in New Age
Individual Power, Cultural Constraints
Israeli Channeling in Global Context 362
Theosophical Discourse in the Space Age 390
The Next Move
Secret Lives of the Superpowers
The Remote Viewing Literature and the Imaginal 421
Psychics, Skeptics, and Popular Culture 444
Douglas E. Cowan
20 The Occultists and the Spaceman
The Metamorphosis of Dorothy Martin 464
Historical Imagination and Channeled Theology
Or, Learning the Law of Attraction 480
Catherine L. Albanese
Spirit possession ranks, along with myth-making and mysticism, as one of the
truly global religious phenomena. Through time and across space, all cultures
have manifested some form of spirit possession, whether ritualised and central
to religious authority, like indigenous shamans or the Pythia of Greece, or
understood as an intrusion of chaos into religious order, like the travails of
Salem or even the current outbreak of interest in zombies. An external, supernatural force occupying a living, material body can be an omen or a curse, a
prophecy or a sign of end times. The fate of the possessed—and the role of
possession—is always in the hands of its interpreters, who bring culturallycrafted conditions and conceptions to the moment and determine whether
the event is demonic, divine, or somewhere in between.
The contributors to this volume have come together to examine two related
models of interaction with spirits in the modern world. Spiritualism, the movement that is generally dated to 1848 with the Fox sisters, inaugurated widespread attempts to contact the dead through the use of mediums. Modeled on
the new technology of telegraphy, mediums served as conduits between this
world and the next, where trance lecturers expounded on politics and philosophy while home séances contacted the dead for the bereaved. In the course of
these communications, the living learned the landscape of heaven and that it
was the destination for all of humankind. Indebted to the Neo-Platonic ladder
of progress and predicated on Emanuel Swedenborg’s visions of a lively and
active heaven, Spiritualists understood death to be the next step on a journey
of never-ending progress.
Born in California in the 1970s, channeling relied on new technologies of
television and talk shows to become an international New Age phenomenon.
Much as with Spiritualist mediums, channelers initially came from the ranks
of middle-class white women who would enter some alternative state and let
spirits speak through them. Unlike those in Spiritualism, these spirits were not
familiar ones, famous dead people or lost loved ones, but rather ancient wise
men from mythical places like Atlantis or Lemuria. Speaking with the authority of tens of thousands of years of knowledge, these channeled spirits held
forth on all matters of theology and history. As time went on, the beings channeled by the living expanded to include aliens, elemental spirits, and even
While the basic structures of Spiritualism and channeling share remarkable
family resemblances with religious communication transhistorically and
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2015 | doi 10.1163/9789004264083_002
cross-culturally, they also bear the markers of their specific cultural circumstances: both relied on and embraced technology, both existed in a new world
of international communication, and both shaped and reacted to the new discourses of psychology. They also share an ethos that is extra-denominational, a
multicultural and progressive spirit that is inclusive of all humanity but still
not entirely exempt from the pitfalls of stereotyping, racism, and colonialism.
But as Spiritualism and channeling do not deal with the deity per se but rather
with wise intermediaries, they also deny that spiritual knowledge or salvation
is reserved for the few.
Many scholars have noted that spirit possession allows the marginalised of
a society a voice in important religious and political matters that would otherwise be denied. Bypassing the need for education or credentials and often in
direct contradiction to priestly authority, women and children are often the
vessels for spirit contact and the recipients of cultural currency for it. This
observation holds true for Spiritualism, where the majority of mediums were
women, many of them quite young. In addition to discoursing publicly on such
serious matters as Abolition and women’s rights, mediums also had a higher
degree of autonomy than many women in the nineteenth century. They usually made a generally poor but at least independent living, travelled, and interacted with social classes that would often have been out of their normal reach.
Channeling began among housewives. There were far fewer restrictions on
women in the 1970s and 1980s than there had been on their Spiritualist sisters,
and the possibilities for fame and fortune were also much higher: these women
wrote bestsellers and appeared on television with some regularity.
Those claiming direct contact with some sort of spiritual authority that
bypasses the establishment are always in danger of censure. The nineteenth
century saw a new form of condemnation, often with the power of the state
behind it—nascent psychology and the medicalisation of consciousness. The
infrastructure of Spiritualism was predicated on the work of Franz Anton
Mesmer, a medical doctor who was seeking a single-cause cure for illness. In
the course of conducting treatments with what Mesmer called ‘animal magnet
ism’, a student of his discovered that his patients would often fall into alternate
states of consciousness. Erroneously and eponymously called ‘Mesmerism’, the
ability to induce a trance state in another was the necessary backdrop to early
Spiritualism, where the trance state was understood as the condition for allowing spirits to use the medium as a portal to this world.
Ghosts are also good to think with, and the appearance of the dead speaks
volumes about a culture’s fears, boundaries, and bigotries. Mediums, particularly those who produced material goods or people from heaven, were
often tested, prodded, and bound to protect against trickery, with effects that
frequently fell outside of the established bounds of Victorian ladyhood. The
presence of spirits from other cultures and races both inscribes their presence
in heaven and reinscribes painful stereotypes. Simultaneously within and
ahead of its time, Spiritualism proposed an equality of souls but demonstrated
an inequality of their knowledge and refinement: the many tiers of heaven routinely placed many Others in such lowly spots that even the living—generally
the least knowledgeable beings in this schema—could teach those in heaven
from earth. Contemporary channeling similarly often distorts and disguises
racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and more into a discourse that is a thin
patina over its true objects of fear and condemnation.
Spiritualism has received renewed interest of late in both scholarship and in
popular culture. In the academic literature, commentators on both sides of the
secularism debate have turned to Spiritualism and other non-institutional religious movements to explore the claim that Western society is becoming
increasingly irreligious. Responding to Max Weber’s famous description of
secular and scientific worldviews as the “disenchantment” of the West, scholars have looked to less authoritarian and less doctrinally motivated forms of
expressing the sacred to question whether religious pursuit is actually in
decline or merely shifting forms. Since Spiritualism was historically at the vanguard for progressive reforms in gender and race that are now accepted standards of ethics, it remains of particular interest to those concerned with the
intersection of politics and religion. Moreover, and less overtly, Spiritualism
was among the first widespread articulations of complete metaphysical
The lack of a centralised authority coupled with the wholesale denial of
damnation makes Spiritualism and its related currents attractive to contemporary thinkers who find exclusive truth claims and excessive priestcraft to be
outdated or distasteful. Spiritualism provides a powerful and moving sense of
enchantment without the hegemonic discourse of institutionalised religions.
Popular culture, too, quietly endorses this system of salvation: contemporary
depictions of mediumship imply that all of the dead are destined for the same
eternity and that reconciliation with one’s loved ones is posthumously guaranteed. In keeping the appealing aspects of spirituality and disregarding restrictive categories of the saved, Spiritualism provides a template for an enchanted
cosmos that is neither distant nor judgmental.
This handbook seeks to set Spiritualism in context alongside its influences,
its affinities, and its effects. While none of these topics can be exhaustively
covered, the reader should find the historical and social location of Spiritualism
in its beginnings as well as an explanation of many of the ideologies that
were necessary to its birth. Ranging from the theoretical underpinnings of
Swedenborg’s theology to the ritual ability to induce trance states to the
changes in the economies of death, the background of Spiritualism emerges.
How the movement articulated, subverted, and created ideas of gender, race,
and sexuality is explored in both Spiritualism as well as channeling.
Spiritualism’s interactions with other religions of the period—and specifically
how competitor movements differentiated themselves from Spiritualism while
feasting on some of its features—are examined in detail. The spread of
Spiritualism and the attendant changes to its tenets is of course fruitfully the
topic of many existent and future books in itself: here the primary initial moves
to France and Afro-Caribbean religions are explored.
Channeling is here situated as the heir apparent to Spiritualism, sharing
many of its primary claims and social priorities. However, while Spiritualism
thrived in relation to current technologies such as the telegraph, channeling
was born into the world of television, where fame and the possibility of fortune
met with a completely new scale. In addition to changes in media, channeling
responded not to a cultural moment in which the majority of Western seekers
were encountering science and evaluating its theories but rather to one in which
scientific theories were generally accepted as a given. Wisdom in channeling is
sometimes found in the long dead, those who have had millennia to watch the
course of the world, and it is also found in outer space. Aliens, superior in
knowledge and frequently (but not always) beneficent, function in many new
religions as the prophets of old—capable of such technology that their works
seem like miracles, aliens provide enchantment that remains strictly nondivine. The beginnings of channeling are covered here for the classical examples
and then the horizon of discourse is expanded both geographically and thematically. Finally, the legacy of Spiritualism is explored in its interrelations
with millennialism, psychical research, and popular culture. The last chapter
serves as both a conclusion and a coda—the tangled skein of relations between
people and ideas, the dead and the extraterrestrial, are brought together in a
discussion of a new metaphysics and a changed sense of the sacred.
This volume is arranged in five sections, beginning with Locating Spiritualism,
which details categorical speculation that should be useful to students and historians of Spiritualism and channeling. Adam Crabtree begins with an examination of Mesmerism and psychoanalysis, highlighting the changing values
assigned to the trance state and the battle for a theological or material definition of consciousness. While Mesmerism is not the sole influence on Spiri
tualism, it is vital for understanding the trance state that the majority of
Spiritualist ritual required. Equally important was Emanuel Swedenborg’s theology, discussed by Arthur Versluis in its American context. Versluis encounters the Swedenborgian Church in America and its interpenetrations with
Spiritualism, particularly in the lives of Andrew Jackson Davis, Laurence
Oliphant, and Thomas Lake Harris. At the intersection of social history and
economic flux, changes in funerary practices in America are discussed. I argue
that the monetizing of the dead had an impact on the rise of Spiritualism
and that the shifting valence of the body and soul were responsible for changing attitudes towards death and the dead. Mary Keller recounts spirit possession in a global context, using what she terms the ‘scene of possession’ as the
focal lens for understanding how possession mediates history. While much
excellent work has been done on the gendered effects of Spiritualist mediumship, less scholarship has focused on sex itself. Here Marlene Tromp proposes
the queering of the séance and how its non-normative space could foster
The section In Conversation is designed to bring Spiritualism into dialogue
with various other religious and cultural movements. John Patrick Deveney
traces the intellectual influences on Spiritualism and the resultant bifurcation
of Spiritualist trends in the New Thought movement. Elizabeth Lowry links
women’s autobiography with race and power relations in an exploration of a
medium’s Native American spirit control. Simultaneously overtly political and
largely unconscious, the troubled relations between white women and their
desire for endless interactions with a fantasy of Native Americans has only
begun to get the scholarly attention it deserves and Lowry contributes to that
growing area of literature. Christa Shusko recounts the surprising and almost
entirely overlooked relationship between Spiritualism and the members of the
Oneida Community. The founder John Humphrey Noyes originally considered
Spiritualism to be a religious competitor but later experimented with séances
as a method to rejuvenate a feeling of religiosity among skeptical members.
Jeremy Rapport outlines the beginnings of Christian Science and Mary Baker
Eddy’s efforts to differentiate her religion from Spiritualism. The similarities in
some aspects of medical discourse and also in the strong leadership role of
women required a direct accounting of their differences by Eddy to distinguish
their many shared values.
In New Directions authors explore the exporting of Spiritism from Europe
to Latin America. In these chapters the influence of Asian thought, particularly reincarnation, transforms Spiritualism in ways that make it attractive to
new populations across continents and up through time. Lynn Sharp takes us
through the history of widespread belief in reincarnation and the thinkers who
combined Asian ideals with Platonic legend to create one of the most robust
branches of Spiritualist belief. John Warne Monroe discusses the transnational
growth of Spiritualism and the centrality of the work of Allan Kardec, primary architect of the marriage of reincarnation to the afterlife. Bringing the
conversation into the contemporary world, Waleska de Araújo Aureliano and
Vânia Zikán Cardoso examine Spiritism in Brazil and its trajectory through the
French Spiritualist Allen Kardec whose work was detailed in the previous
chapter. Lastly, Darryl Caterine observes the transformations in Spiritualism in
its most famous community, Lily Dale, as the spirits reflect Asian and New Age
influence and focus on individual improvement.
The second half of the book remains in the late twentieth and twenty-first
centuries and reflects on Spiritualism’s legacy to new religious movements.
The section on Channeling begins with Hugh Urban’s analysis of the birth of
channeling among Californian housewives and the impact of television and
gender on its success. Ruth Bradby examines the growth and democratisation
of channeling and its impact as a New Age theology. Adam Klin-Oron looks at
channeling in a new context—that of Israel, amidst entrenched monotheism
and shifting political landscapes. Christopher Partridge examines the practice
of channeling aliens and its roots in Theosophy. These chapters are brought to
the Next Move with Jeffrey Kripal’s tracking of the history of parapsychology
through remote viewing in the Cold War. Douglas Cowan looks at the inundation of portrayals of psychics on television and in movies, arguing that the infotainment industry blurs the lines between fact and fiction. Michael Barkun
follows the career of Dorothy Martin after her starring role in the classic, When
Prophecy Fails, to discover that she flourished after her famously failed prediction by channeling spacemen. Finally, Catherine Albanese uses channeled
wisdom according to the Teachings of Abraham as a focal point for reflecting
more broadly on the uses of the imagination in both trance theologies and
scholarship about them.
This handbook brings together work by many of the best established scholars in this field as well as voices from new perspectives. The result, I hope, is
that the reader will find scholarship that is both comprehensive and surprising, that covers what the beginning student needs to know about the state of
modern spirit possession and that brings the reader to new locations, both historical and spatial, to see the effects of past religious movements as they continue to spread and change in the contemporary world.
Mesmerism and the Psychological Dimension
Mesmerism has a twofold relationship with Spiritualism and spiritualistic
mediumship: 1) as the healing tradition of animal magnetism founded by
Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815), it spawned many forms of Spiritistic mediumship and eventually contributed centrally to the rise of Spiritualism in the
United States; and 2) as a psychological approach to human life based on
the ideas of Mesmer’s pupil the Marquis de Puységur, it made possible a psychodynamic view of the human psyche and the development of psychodynamic psychotherapies in the latter half of the nineteenth century. These two
streams of influence travelled side by side for over one hundred fifty years,
periodically overflowing their banks and intermingling, so that eventually the
second stream became the source of a new way of looking at mediumship and
gave rise to several theories of explanation for mediumistic phenomena.
Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815) was born in the region of Germany called
Swabia. His parents hoped he would become a priest (Pattie 1994: 5–7), but he
chose the field of medicine instead and received his medical degree from the
University of Vienna Medical School in 1766, upon completion of a dissertation called Dissertatio physico-medica de Planetarum Influxu (Bloch 1980).
Mesmer’s thesis was that just as there are tides in the ocean, so must there also
be tides in the atmosphere and even in the human body. This tidal influence of
celestial bodies on the human body he called ‘animal gravity’. He developed
this idea over time and came to connect this force with the action of mineral
magnets; nine years later he called it ‘magnetic fluid’. He eventually separated
this organic magnetism from the action of mineral magnets and asserted that
the most powerful healing magnet was the organism of the physician, which
he could use to affect the flow of magnetic fluid in the patient’s body, freeing it
from disease-created blocks. In this way he came to call his system ‘animal
magnetism’, the word ‘animal’ referring to the fact that the flow of magnetic
fluid occurred in the bodies of all animate beings.
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2015 | doi 10.1163/9789004264083_003
In 1778, Mesmer moved to Paris, where he hoped to find acceptance for his
ideas and the practice of magnetic healing. There he published his manifesto
on animal magnetism, Mémoire sur la découverte du magnétisme animal (1779).
His pleas for the acceptance of animal magnetism by the medical establishment met with mixed results, generating a great deal of controversy. In 1784,
the French king appointed two commissions to investigate the claims of practitioners of animal magnetism. The first was established to determine the
scientific status of animal magnetism; it was comprised of five members from
the Academy of Sciences and four from the Faculty of Medicine and was
chaired by Benjamin Franklin. The second, made up of members of the Royal
Society of Medicine, was supposed to determine the usefulness of animal
magnetism in the treatment of illness. The first concluded that the true causes
of the effects attributed to animal magnetism were touching, imagination, and
imitation, and the effects were not due to the action of magnetic fluid (Bailly
1784). The second arrived at similar conclusions (Poissonnier et al. 1784),
although there was a dissenting report submitted by one of the commissioners, Antoine Laurent de Jussieu, who wrote that there may be some true magnetic effects and that further investigation was warranted (Jussieu 1784).
While Mesmer was promoting his ideas to medical men, he was also earning
a living by teaching, to anyone who was willing to pay the fee, the ‘secret’ of
animal magnetism and the proper techniques for its application (see Vinchon
1936). These teachings were delivered in the form of a lecture series delivered
in Paris. Among those who took the course in 1784 was Armand Marie Jacques
de Chastenet, Marquis de Puységur (1751–1825). When he returned to his estate
near Soissons, Puységur immediately began practicing his new techniques and
soon noticed that something odd seemed to happen to those he magnetised.
Many entered into a state characterised by: 1) a sleep-waking kind of consciousness; 2) a ‘rapport’ or special connection with the magnetiser; 3) suggestibility with heightened imagination; 4) amnesia in the waking state for events
in the magnetised state; 5) the ability to read the thoughts of the magnetiser;
and 6) a striking change in the personality of the magnetic subject (Crabtree
1993: 38–45). The magnetised person seemed to be asleep but was awake
enough to communicate with the magnetiser. Rapport meant that the subject
was connected both mentally and, it seemed, physically with the magnetiser.
The magnetic subject was ready to follow the suggestions of the magnetiser
and experienced a heightened ability to imagine things vividly. The observation that there was amnesia for events that had occurred during magnetic
somnambulism upon returning to the normal state, led to the notion that
everyone possesses a divided consciousness, and Puységur (1784: 90) regarded
the waking and magnetised states as “two different existences.” Ability to read
Mesmerism And The Psychological Dimension Of Mediumship
the magnetiser’s thoughts was thereafter augmented by other ostensibly paranormal capacities, such as being able to perceive objects and situations not
available to the senses and the ability to exercise a ‘sixth sense’ by which magnetic somnambulists could diagnose their own illnesses or those of others and
prescribe effective remedies.
Unlike Mesmer, who paid little attention to the fact that some patients went
into a swoon while being treated, Puységur immediately saw the importance
of this special state, which he called ‘magnetic sleep’ or ‘magnetic somnambulism’. As it turned out, Puységur’s discovery was to have momentous consequences for the subsequent history of psychology and psychological healing
(Crabtree 1993; Crabtree 2003; Ellenberger 1970). Puységur believed that magnetic somnambulism was the same thing as natural somnambulism or sleepwalking, with the important difference that the magnetic subject was in a state
of rapport with the magnetiser, whereas the sleepwalker was in rapport with
no one (Puységur 1811).
The discovery of magnetic sleep by Puységur would have momentous implications for understanding the nature of the psyche, introducing a new paradigm for understanding human psychological life (Crabtree 1993: 86–88).
Before then, when a person was subject to unaccountable thoughts, feelings, or
impulses, the source was thought to be some outside entity—the devil or an
evil spirit or witch—intruding itself into the consciousness of the afflicted
person and causing him or her to think strange things and have weird visions.
This paradigm for disturbed mental functioning was employed to account for
everything from “evil thoughts” to madness, and it was considered an adequate
and complete explanation. For our purposes, we can call this paradigm the
‘intrusion paradigm’. The intrusion paradigm holds that all mental aberrations
are of supernatural origin and require as their remedy an intervention by some
person skilled in spiritual lore. Later, a second paradigm arose that asserted
that disturbances of consciousness could be understood in terms of natural
causes rooted in imbalances of the physical organism, so that mental dysfunction was not considered a spiritual or moral problem, but a physical one. In
this schema, the condition could be cured through the application of medical
remedies. Since this explanatory framework holds that mental aberrations are
the result of a malfunctioning organism, it can fittingly be called the ‘organic
The discovery of magnetic sleep by Puységur introduced a radically new
view of the human psyche and opened up a fresh vista of psychological inquiry.
Magnetic sleep revealed that consciousness is divided and that there exists in
human beings a second consciousness quite distinct from normal everyday
consciousness. This second consciousness in some cases displays personality
Author Cathy Guttierez Isbn 9789004263772 File size 5MB Year 2015 Pages 511 Language English File format PDF Category Religion Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Bringing together scholars from different disciplines and geographies, the Brill Handbook of Spiritualism and Channeling presents modern spirit possession in a variety of contexts. Weaving together the interrelated movements of Spiritualism along with its specific Franco and Latin American currents, articles explore the nineteenth-century beginnings of seances and trance mediumship. Channelling, an heir to Spiritualism begun in the 1970s and still flourishing today, is brought into direct conversation with its predecessors with a view to showing both continuity and disjuncture as the products of new cultural and religious needs. The Brill Handbook marks the first extensive collection on these two interrelated movements and examines themes such as gender, race, performance, and technology in each instance. Download (5MB) Liberation Theology and Sexuality The Essential Guide To Possession, Depossession, And Divine Relationships Summoning the Spirits: Possession and Invocation in Contemporary Religion The Embattled but Empowered Community Shamanism: An Introduction Load more posts