Moses, William Stainton

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William Stainton Moses (1839–1892), British medium and theologian, experienced an array of psychic phenomena, including apports, levitation and automatic writing. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Moses, William Stainton (1839–1892)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

William Stainton Moses was born at Donnington, Lincolnshire, England, in 1839. His father was headmaster of Donnington Grammar School. The family moved to Bedford in 1852, and Moses attended Bedford Grammar School. He went to Exeter College in Oxford on a scholarship. At Exeter, his health broke down before his final exams and he went abroad, but later returned and received his Master of Arts degree. In 1863, he was ordained as a Minister of the Church of England and spent time as a curate on the Isle of Man and in Dorsetshire. But his health did not hold up to the rigors of the church. He became seriously ill in 1869, convalescing with Dr. and Mrs. Stanhope Templeton Speers and in 1870, becoming a tutor to the Speers’ son. He kept that position for seven years.

In 1872, Moses read R. Dale Owen’s book The Debatable Land. He initially distrusted Spiritualism, but at Mrs. Speers’ suggestion, went to a number of séances given by such mediums as Daniel Dunglas Home and Lottie Fowler. He soon found himself developing his own mediumistic powers. He gave private séances for the Speers and their friends. Dr. Speers kept impeccable records of these sittings, which started with rappings and quickly advanced to include levitations and apports. Spirit lights appeared and Moses himself was levitated. He soon became one of the greatest physical medium of all, after D. D. Home and Carlos Mirabelli. In What Am I? A Popular Introduction to Mental Physiology and Psychology (London, 1874) E. W. Cox, Serjeant-at-Law and early psychical researcher, described the swaying and rocking of a mahogany table measuring nine by six feet, which would normally require two strong men to move it even a few inches. This took place in daylight. When Cox and Moses stood over it, holding out their hands, the table lifted first on one end and then on the other. The physical phenomena continued until 1881.

Moses’ séances frequently featured various scents. The most common were musk, verbena, new mown hay, and an unfamiliar odor referred to as “spirit scent.” Without musical instruments in evidence, a variety of musical sounds was heard. Nandor Fodor reports, “The character and integrity of William Stainton Moses was so high that Andrew Lang was forced to warn the advocates of fraud that ‘the choice is between a moral and physical miracle.’”

Moses was probably best known for the large number of automatic writings from various spirits that he produced and that were published under the title Spirit Teachings (London, 1883). Describing the automatic writing procedure, Moses said,

It is an interesting subject for speculation whether my own thoughts entered into the subject matter of the communications. I took extraordinary pains to prevent any such admixture. At first the writing was slow and it was necessary for me to follow it with my eye, but even then the thoughts were not my thoughts. Very soon the messages assumed a character of which I had no doubt whatever that the thought was opposed to my own. But I cultivated the power of occupying my mind with other things during the time that the writing was going on, and was able to read an abstruse book and follow out a line of close reasoning, while the message was written with unbroken regularity. Messages so written extended over many pages and in their course there is no correction, no fault in composition, and often a sustained vigour and beauty of style.

The writings came from forty-nine spirits, including those who were called Imperator, Preceptor, and Rector. The writings lasted from 1872 to 1883, and started to gradually die away in 1877. They filled twenty-four notebooks. They were written while Moses was in the waking state, not in trance, and were written in the form of a dialogue. Imperator first spoke directly on December 19, 1892, but had appeared to Moses clairvoyantly earlier than that.

Moses later assisted in the founding of the British National Association of Spiritualists and served on the councils of the Psychological Society and the Society for Psychical Research. He was president of the London Spiritual Alliance from 1884 until his death in 1892, and left a deep impression on Spiritualism. His books included Spirit Identity (1879), Psychography (1882), Spirit Teachings (1883), and Higher Aspects of Spiritualism (1880).


Buckland, Raymond: The Fortune–Telling Book: The Encyclopedia of Divination and Soothsaying. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2004
Ebon, Martin: True Experiences in Communicating With the Dead. New York: New American Library, 1968
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Moses, William Stainton: Direct Spirit Writing. London: L. N. Fowler, 1878
Moses, William Stainton: More Spirit Teachings. London: L. N. Fowler, nd
Mühl, Anita M.: Automatic Writing. Dresden: Stein-kopff, 1930
Spence, Lewis: An Encyclopedia of the Occult. London: George Routledge & Sons, 1920