(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The modern Spiritualist movement began rather unceremoniously in the home of a family named Fox in the town of Hydesville, New York, in 1848. The family, especially two of the children, Kate (1836–1892) and Margaret (1833–1893), found their routine disturbed with rapping noises that could be heard throughout the house. The children assumed that someone was making the noises and gave the name Mr. Splitfoot to him. At one point, in a somewhat playful mood, Kate called aloud, “Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do,” and she then clapped her hands twice. She then heard two rappings as if in response. From this incident, over a period of time, the family devised a code in order to turn the rappings into an intelligible form of communication.

The rappings continued through the rest of the year, and many people came to hear and participate in the communications. Eventually, the girls were sent away, but the rappings followed them to their new homes. Margaret went to live with her older sister Leah in Rochester, New York, and here the rappings not only continued but were combined with poltergeist phenomena that included objects being thrown at people by the spirits.

In Rochester, Kate was investigated by two committees, neither of which could come up with a mundane explanation for the rappings. Both she and her sister Leah would go on to become professional mediums. At their séances, in addition to the rapping sounds, objects would move about. As the movement spread, the occurrence of the rapping, and the movement of the table around which the people trying to contact spirits would sit, were common.

Over the next generation, rappings and table tipping would be replaced by trance mediumship in which the person leading the group of people gathered to contact the spirit world would go into a trance and allow spirits to speak through him or her. To this vocal means of communication would also be added various physical phenomena, especially materializations. Much of the physical phenomena would later be proven fraudulent.

One reason that rappings died out was the ease with which they could be produced fraudulently, and from the beginning a number of critics denounced the phenomena as the product of trickery. For example, as early as 1869 British medium William Ferguson testified how he produced and sold simple magnetic devises that could be used to produce the rapping sounds.


Brownson, Orestes. The Spirit-Rapper. Boston: Little Brown, 1854.
Carrington, Hereward. The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism. London: L. T. Werner Laurie, 1907.
Jackson, Herbert G., Jr. The Spirit Rappers. Garden City,NY: Doubleday & Company, 1972.
Pearsall, Ronald. Table-Rappers. London: Joseph, 1972.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
Presently the whole chapel resounded with rappings and counter rappings: every man's hand was against his neighbour; and Branderham, unwilling to remain idle, poured forth his zeal in a shower of loud taps on the boards of the pulpit, which responded so smartly that, at last, to my unspeakable relief, they woke me.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-- While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
My Father started--"What noise is that," (said he.) "It sounds like a loud rapping at the door"--(replied my Mother.) "it does indeed." (cried I.) "I am of your opinion; (said my Father) it certainly does appear to proceed from some uncommon violence exerted against our unoffending door." "Yes (exclaimed I) I cannot help thinking it must be somebody who knocks for admittance."
But Collins, knowing ahead of the lion what the lion was going to do, struck first, with the broom-handle rapping the beast on its tender nose.
He remembered having crossed the road and seen the finger-post only a little while before Wildfire broke down; so, buttoning his coat, twisting the lash of his hunting-whip compactly round the handle, and rapping the tops of his boots with a self-possessed air, as if to assure himself that he was not at all taken by surprise, he set off with the sense that he was undertaking a remarkable feat of bodily exertion, which somehow and at some time he should be able to dress up and magnify to the admiration of a select circle at the Rainbow.
Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of this very year last past(supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped out theirs.
As soon as it was midnight, there came in two little naked dwarfs; and they sat themselves upon the shoemaker's bench, took up all the work that was cut out, and began to ply with their little fingers, stitching and rapping and tapping away at such a rate, that the shoemaker was all wonder, and could not take his eyes off them.
nor is this any very easy matter; for in his rear is the immense projecting steering oar hitting him now and then in the small of his back, the after-oar reciprocating by rapping his knees in front.
"The executioner may kill, without being on that account an assassin," said the man in the red cloak, rapping upon his immense sword.
I sat by his side rapping for the waiter with my tail, and eating free lunch such as mamma in her flat never equalled with her homemade truck bought at a delicatessen store eight minutes before papa comes home.
Mr Swiveller was wondering whether this might be another Miss Brass, twin sister to the Dragon, when there came a rapping of knuckles at the office door.