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- I. Group Profile
- Name: Spiritualism
- Founder: Emanuel Swedenborg
- Date of Birth: 1688-1772
- Birth Place: Sweden
- Year Founded: Swedenborg started his work in 1744,
but modern spiritualism was made popular in the U.S. by the Fox
sisters in 1848.
- Brief History: Even before modern spiritualism was
founded in 1848, many of the ideas of this belief system were
already in circulation. The Swedish scientist Emanuel Swedenborg
is credited with being the first significant practitioner and
promoter of the central tenets of spiritualism.
Swedenborg claimed to be able to communicate with spirits
and travel through the spirit world, and his followers believed
that he was a highly skilled medium. He wrote many books on his
experiences, though he said that the books were not written by
himself. Rather, he claimed they were inspired by spirits and
angels from the spirit world. Some of his books, he claimed,
were inspired by infants. He also claimed to have developed skillful
powers of clairivoyance and psychic ability. From his study of
dreams, Swedenborg concluded, came predictions of future events.
Swedenborg demonstrated his ability before Queen Louisa Ulrica
of Sweden. He told her that he knew about a secret correspondence
that she had had with her brother while he was still alive because
he was able to communicate with his dead spirit. Swedenborg also
helped people find things that deceased relatives had left for
them. (Toksvig, 185)
The idea that spirits actively help people and that mediumship
can prove the existence of an afterlife was developed by Swedenborg
and ultimately led to modern spiritualism. Another main idea
of spiritualism, the idea that one can develop one's soul through
doing good out of love for God and shunning evil, was also developed
by Swedenborg. Swedenborg combined these ideas with Christianity,
while later on modern spiritualism would be more all encompassing.
After Swedenborg's death, a medium named Andrew Jackson Davis
is said to have channeled Swedenborg's spirit in 1844 so that
Swedenborg could continue his work. In New York, he gave lectures
while in a trance and they were published as The Principles
of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and Voice to Mankind. This
included "an evolutionary account of the origin and growth
of the universe, a system of mystical philosophy, and an account
of the relations between the spirit and the material world. .
." (Nelson, 53)
Swedenborgians, as his followers came to be called, have survived
as organized religious groups. The two primary groups in the
United States go by the name of the Church of New Jerusalem.
Modern spiritualism dates to March 1848 in Hydesville,
New York. On December 11, Mr. and Mrs. John and Margaret Fox
and their daughters, Catherine and Margaretta, moved into a house
that was rumored to be haunted. The family experienced unexplained
noises such as rapping sounds. The girls devised a system of
communication with the entity making the noises. Specified numbers
of raps meant "yes," "no," or different letters
of the alphabet. Eventually they discovered that the communicating
spirit was a man named Charles B. Rosna, who had been murdered
by the previous owner of the house.
Reports of these strange communications became known to the
public and hundreds of people flocked to the house to witness
the supernatural phenomena that occurred. More spirits began
to communicate with Margaretta and Catherine, and the two went
on tour to promote spriritualism. Eventually, other people began
to practice being mediums. In 1853, the first Spiritualism Church
was founded and within two years Spiritualism claimed to have
two million followers. (Anomalies
- Sacred or Revered Texts: Neither Swedenborgianism nor modern
spiritualism explicitly identify sacred texts, but some of the
writings of Swedenborg have been particularly important in developing
Spiritualist ideas. Two especially important books by Swedenborg
are The Heavenly Arcana and The Apocalypse Revealed
- Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when
the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed
in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage
seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the
positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human
cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do
not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed
discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts
"cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing
"Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will
find additional links to related issues.
- Size of Group: Gordon Melton reports
that the two major Church of the New Jerusalem groups have only
a few thousand members each. Modern spiritualism is manifest
in many small organized groups, but is widely practiced under
different names. Studies of the paranormal indicate that large
proportions of the American population believe in contact with
the dead, but do not necessarily participate in organized efforts
to do so. Spiritualism substantially takes the form of a client
cult. Virtually every community of any size has individuals who
offer various kinds of Spiritualist services. Probably no more
than a small proportion of the population engage in the activities
of Spiritualists, and most of those are only occasional clients.
Spiritualists have found an audience for their services as the
result of the expansion of television channels. Psychic Friends
Network is an example of this. There is no way to know the
number of persons who actively participate in some form of Spiritualism
, but it is certainly much greater than the number who participate
in organized "church" groups.
- II. Beliefs of the Group
The main belief of Spiritualists is that a spirit world coexists
overlapping the material world. When a person dies, his or her
soul moves to the spirit world and will continue to progress
for eternity. Each progression of the soul takes it closer to
God. People can develop their souls through developing spiritual
qualities in either this world or the next. Spiritualists' belief
in the afterlife differs from other religions such as Christianity
in that they believe the spirits of the dead can communicate
with the living through mediums and psychics, and that they actively
act as guides to help the living develop their souls.
Spiritualism has several main priniciples that its followers
abide by. These can vary in number from seven to nine depending
on their source. Here are some according to New-Age
1. The Fatherhood of God: God is infinite and permeates everything.
He has infinite love, He is perfect, and people are a part of
2. The Brotherhood of Man: Service to other people is a way
to improve one's spirit. A person should not do good things for
other people just to improve themselves, he or she should do
good out of pure unselfishness and love for other people and
God. Bringing about "economic security, peace, charity,
and culture" to other people are great ways to enhance one's
own spirit and those of others.
3. Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels: The essence
of human beings is their spirit, and this makes the spirits of
the departed able to communicate with people. The subconscious
is the spirit, and so most people are not aware when a dead spirit
is guiding them. However, those people with a close link between
the conscious and unconscious (mediums) are aware of these spirit
guides. This is how Spiritualists know the soul is immortal,
and that people stay essentially the same when they die.
4. Continous Existence of the Human Soul: The soul exists
for eternity, and spiritualism proves this by communicating with
those who visit from the spirit world. People should not live
their lives with merely the material world in mind, they should
live in terms of their eternal life. The soul continually progresses
through different planes of existence to serve and become closer
5. Personal Responsiblity: People are responsible for their
own thoughts and actions. People have to atone for evil acts
and negative thoughts, and continually strive to lead a moral
6. Compensation and Retribution for all Good and Evil Deeds
Done on Earth: This principle can be summed up in the cliche
"what goes around comes around." All the evil a person
does will lead to painful struggles in either this life or the
spirit world, and all the good they do will lead to happiness
and spiritual advancement.
7. Eternal Progress Open to Every Soul: There is always progress
to be made, and what one must accomplish never ends. Primitive
instincts trap people in the material world, and so people must
struggle against these to reach a higher spiritual consciousness.
1. Vibration: Everything and everyone in the universe vibrates.
Turmoil and negative feelings cause low (slow) vibration, and
happiness and love cause high (fast) vibration. You can sense
the vibrations in a room, object or person. God has the highest
vibration of all. Mediums are able to communicate with the spirit
world because they can raise their vibration high enough to contact
it.In this way, mediums are able to give messages from departed
spirits to their living relatives and friends.
2. Healing: Spiritual healing is related to the concept of
vibration. The healer raises his or her vibration to allow positive
healing energy to course through them. Positive thoughts and
actions create positive energy throughout the world, and the
healer draws on this. The healer acts as a channel for healers
from the spirit world. A healer can heal by working on someone's
aura who is with them, or heal someone far away through meditation.
According to Spiritualists, spiritual healing can alleviate physical
and emotional problems.
3. Psychics and Predicting the Future: Spirits in the spirit
world can see more variables in a person's life, and so can give
accurate predictions on what is most likely to going to happen
to that person in the future. Spiritualists are quick to say
that psychics do not tell what is definitely going to happen,
just what is most likely to happen.
4. New Age Connection: Spiritualism has contributed significantly
to the more generalized new age movement. The New
Age movement is a vague term for an ecclectic group of ideas
that derive from Eastern religious traditons, Western religious
traditions, and Paganism. In general, New Agers believe spirituality
is very individual and that all people are divine. Some New Agers
believe even the trees and earth are divine, and others believe
in reincarnation. The way the New Age movement has derived itself
from spiritualism is in some of its methods of developing spirituality.
Many New Agers believe in spiritual healing, channeling, ESP,
dream interpretation, and many other psychic and supernatural
phenomeona as ways of developing spirituality by contacting spirits
or getting in touch with one's past lives. Thse are all methods
spiritualists use to communicate with the spirit world. Spiritualism
is often referred to as a new age religion.
- III. Issues and Controversies
Claims of fraud: Many people believe that the channeling abilities
claimed by many spiritualists are fradulent. Psychics often speak
very fast when channeling and are said to be good at reading
people's responses to see if they are saying anything that rings
true. They then make educated guesses about the situation. For
instance, when a psychic finds out there was a death in someone's
family, he or she may correctly say that the death occurred in
a hospital (since this is often the case.) They may mention a
dead child's love for stuffed animals (which is true of many
children). Adler Skeptics say that mediums
rattle off vague statements while in a "trance" until
they hit on something that rings true for their customer. Then
they just make educated guesses about what happened.
In one study, a linguist recorded various mediums who claimed
to be channeling spirits from various times and places in history.
(Roberts) When the linguist studied the
accents these mediums took on while claiming to channel the spirit,
she discovered that the accents often did not match the time
and place from which the spirit was said to come from. Often
times, a medium's accent would change while channeling the same
spirit. Skeptics say this shows that mediums and psychics are
Many skeptics have said that people easily agree with what
they're told. According to Jill Neimark in
"Do the Spirits Move You?"
"The tendency for people to agree with what they've been
told at readings has been dubbed the Barnum effect, in honor
of P.T. Barnum's line, 'There's a sucker born every minute.'
A legendary test of the Barnum effect was offered in Paris in
the 1970s, by Michel Gauquelin, who placed an ad offering free
personal horoscopes. Later, 94 percent of the recipients rated
their horoscope accurate. Each person had received the same horoscope,
that of one of France's most notorious mass murderers. The Barnum
effect is heightened incredibly in one-on-one readings, simply
because of the way most psychics approach them. Many offer a
kind of messianic authority that both elevates and deflates the
listener, and that may veer from warmly embracing to hostile
-- an all-knowing blend of mothers milk and a slap in the face."
Appeal to women: Spiritualism, since its beginning, has always
especially appealed to women. Women spiritualists greatly outnumber
male spiritualists and there are many reasons. Women have traditionally
been left out of leadership positions in religions such as Christianity
and Judaism. Cultic movements that involve experiences like possession
have often attracted women. While church hierarchy leave women
out, religions where spirits chose to possess whomever they want
often end up appealing to women because being a medium can give
them a crucial role to play in religion. The lack of structure
in spiritualism has also attracted women since the lack of hierarchy
prevented male dominance. With modern spiritualism's founding
in the 19th century, channeling and alternative healing gave
women religious leadership and a voice they did not have in other
main religions. (Baer) The grouping of Spiritualism
with other New Age religions has also encouraged a link between
spiritualism and feminism. The New Age movement often looks to
ancient religions for its ideas. Many women have started to reject
traditionally patriarchical religions by worshipping a Goddess
instead of a God. Many women spiritualists prefer to think of
God as a Goddess. (Lefkowitz)
- IV. Links to Spiritualist Web Sites
The Spiritualist Religion Page
This website is a good introduction to Spiritualism, and is written
for people who may have never heard of this religious movement.
It has links to other sources, and includes a paper the author
wrote called "Spiritualist Basics" which explains many
of the principles and concepts of Spiritualism.
http://www.webt.com/jloffredo/ - 1/19/2011 update: this site
moved to: http://alseyon.com/
Good sections of this site:
As I mentioned earlier, this is a paper which explains many concepts
http://www.webt.com/jloffredo/sbaseNF.htm - 1/19/2011 update:
this site moved to: http://alseyon.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=23&Itemid=4
Story of Spiritualism
This site gives a history of Spiritualism starting with Swedenborg
and going through the Fox sisters. It gives a time line of Spiritualist
history that goes through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
It gives names of prominent Spiritualists and offers information
on the Society for Psychical Research.
Seven Principles of Spiritualism
This gives a detailed explanation for the Seven Principles of
Spiritualism that I mentioned earlier.
This site gives a brief history of Spiritualism beginning with
the Fox sisters and going through the nineteenth century.
This site gives information on Spiritualists' view of death.
It also talks about "spirit guides" and how they convey
their teachings to Earth. http://www.ozemail.com.au/~reverent/spiritualism.html
First Spiritual Temple
This is the webpage of the First Spiritual Temple in Brookline,
MA. Information about the church, its history, its services,
and events are available here.
Good Sections of this site
What is Spiritualism?
This site offers Spiritualist views on the afterlife and on how
spirits interact with the physical world. It also gives a brief
history on Spiritualism's origins. It also gives a link to information
National Spiritualist Association
This website provides links to local Spiritualist churches which
have websites, and offers the addresses to Spiritualist churches
all over the country. It has addtional pages explaining the principles
of Spiritualism and its history.
This website gives some information on the Universal Spiritualist
Association, which is a large organization consisting of Spiritualists
from all over the nation. It gives an address and telephone number
to contact them and offers some basic information on spiritualism.
Grove Spiritualist Association
This is another association of Spiritualist churches. This website
gives information on Spiritualist events around the country and
tells what the Spiritualists are currentlydoing. It also offers
valuable information on the basics of Spiritualism, its history,
and how mediums and psychics work. It also offers links to other
Good Sections of this site
This page gives some of the principles of spiritualism and gives
a declaration of its principles.
Churches on the Web
This website give links to websites of Spiritualist churches
in the U.S.
Masterpiece of Deception
This site offers some criticisms of Spiritualism from a Christian
This is an entry about Spiritualism in an encyclopedia.
New Age Movement
This site offers information on what ideas, both ancient and
modern, have contributed to the New Age movement in general.
It relates some of the concepts for Spiritualism to New Age in
This site offers some theories on psychic phenomena. It also
gives examples of psychic prophecies.
of New Jerusalem; Swedenborgianism
This is the Swedenborgianism profile page which is a part of
the New Religious Movements page that this Spiritualism website
is a part of. It offers a brief overview and history of Swedenborg
and his religion, and has a similar format to this webpage.
The Swedenborgian Church
This is one of the main Swedenborgian webpages. It is maintained
by a Swedenborgian church in Massachusetts and offers information
on both this church and others in the U.S. It also gives biographical
information on Emanuel Swedenborg and an overview of the beliefs
of the Swedenborgians today.
- IV. Bibliography
- Select articles are available through Searchbank for
people based in an institution with a license.
- Adler , Jerry. 1998.
- "Heaven's gatekeepers: They give the people what they
want: talkative spirits and a laid-back God."
- Newsweek. (March 16): 64.
- Baer , Hans A. 1993.
- "The limited empowerment of women in black spiritual
churches: an alternative vehicle to religious leadership."
- Sociology of Religion . (Spring)65.
- Carroll, Bret E. 1997.
- Spiritualism in Antebellum America. Bloomington, IN:
University of Indiana Press.
- Capron, E.W. 1855.
- Modern spiritualism: Its facts and fanaticisms, consistencies
- Boston: Bela Marsh. Reprint ed. 1976. New York: Arno Press
- Fornell, Earl Wesley. 1964.
- The unhappy medium . Austin: University of Texas Press
- Lefkowitz , Mary. 1992.
- "The Twilight of the Goddess: Feminism, Spiritualism,
and a New Craze." The New Republic. (August 3): 29.
- Melton , Gordon. 1996.
- Encyclopedia of American religions . Detroit: Gale
Research. pp. 641-642.
- Neimark , Jill. 1996.
- "Do the Spirits Move You?" Psychology Today
. (September-October): pp. 48-49.
- Nelson , Geoffrey K. 1969.
- Spiritualism and society . New York: Schoken Books,
- Roberts , Majorie. 1989.
- "A linguistic 'nay' to channeling." Psychology
Today . (October): 64.
- Swedenborg, Emanuel. 1907.
- The Apocalypse Revealed . Vol. 1-2 Boston: Massachusetts
- Swedenborg, Emanuel. 1918.
- The Heavenly Arcana . Vol. 1-20 Boston: Massachusetts
- Toksvig , Signe. 1948.
- Emanuel Swedenborg, scientist and mystic . New Haven:
Yale University Press.
- Spritualist Basics.
- The Story of Spiritualism.
- The Seven Principles of Spiritualism.
- Anomalies Article: Spiritualism.
- What is Spiritualism.
- What is Spiritualism?
- Spiritualism- An Historical Perspective.
- First Spiritual Temple.
- New Age Movement.
- Psychic Phenomena: New Age Spiritualism.
- Created by Hilary Chaudhuri
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Spring Term, 1998
University of Virginia
Last updated: 07/24/01
- Source: www.religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/profiles/listalpha.htm