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see spiritismspiritism
or spiritualism,
belief that the human personality continues to exist after death and can communicate with the living through the agency of a medium or psychic.
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Photo of the largest spiritualist assembly in the world, at Forest Temple, Lily Dale, New York. Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Spiritualists do not "worship" spirits. Neither do they seek to commune with the devil. Some, as was the case with the clairvoyant Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), may be Methodist Sunday-school teachers. Others, as was true of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, may be best-selling authors.

But Spiritualists do seek contact with those who have crossed the border dividing the material world from the spiritual. Those who have died are still alive, according to Spiritualist belief, but in a different form.

God is real, but defined in different ways depending upon the individual's level of spiritual development. Often the phrase "the God of your understanding" is used to talk about divinity.

In order to contact "the other side" it is common to consult a person who has developed the gifts necessary to become a conduit to other planes of existence. Such a person is called a medium. Many Spiritualists believe that Jesus Christ was the greatest medium who ever lived on "the earthly plane." Mediums enter a passive, trancelike state and allow spirits to communicate through them. Such an experience is sometimes sought at a séance. (The great magician known to the world as Harry Houdini [1874-1926] tried all his life to discover if such things were really possible. He never attended an authentic séance. A gifted magician himself, he was always able to spot a charlatan. But he never gave up hope that the real thing existed. He promised his wife that when he died he would, if at all possible, communicate with her. He never did.

Séances were held every year on the anniversary of his death, but he never spoke to her. After many years, she finally gave up.)

Spiritualism has ancient routes. But its modern American incarnation seems to have begun, as with so many other religions, in upstate New York. In May 1848, Margaretta and Kate Fox were young sisters, eleven and eight years old. They claimed to hear a rapping emanating from an upstairs bedroom. They were able to work out a code and employ it to communicate with entities on "the other side." The news spread like wildfire. Soon the whole country was caught in the spell. "Rappings" were heard everywhere. Tables rose up from the ground and slowly revolved in circles. Voices were heard. Church attendance dwindled, and spiritualist séances exploded in every city and town across America. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) even supported the movement.

But it wasn't long before frauds were uncovered. People who hoped to cash in on the movement through hoax and deception were exposed. The Civil War soon drew attention away from the fad.

But there were those who carried on, believing that just because fraudulent people tried to cash in on Spiritualism, it didn't mean the underlying principles were not real. Many Spiritualist churches had been formed and, just as in other religions, revivals have occurred from time to time. Spiritualist churches usually are formed around the psychic powers of one person, often a woman, who has cultivated her powers through practice and study. Services consist of listening for voices that speak from other planes of existence through mediums. Those who receive the messages then seek to act on them to improve understanding and contentment in this life.

Because the experience of communicating with spirits is an intensely personal one, it is difficult to define the word "spiritualism" with any degree of exactness with which all Spiritualists will agree. There are probably as many definitions as there are Spiritualists. The field is wide open. Of course that means there is still probably a high degree of fraud and deception. But there are those who have sincerely come to the conclusion that there is life after death. This is a belief common to many religions. Spiritualists just go one step further. They believe that those who have died want to be involved with and pass on their accumulated wisdom to loved ones.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Spiritualism is the belief in and practice of communication with spirits of the dead. A 1980 Gallup Poll revealed that 71 percent of Americans believe in an afterlife. In many religions, including both Spiritualism and Wicca, there is no division of that afterlife into "Heaven" and "Hell." There is just one place, neither all good nor all bad, where everyone goes. Andrew Jackson Davis coined the term "Summerland" for this afterlife world; a name that was picked up by Gerald Gardner for the afterlife believed in by Wiccans.

Spiritualism maintains that certain people have the ability to act as conduits between this world and the next. They are mediums through which the dead may communicate. Such a medium may receive the information in visions (termed "clairvoyance" or "clear seeing"), by hearing it ("clairaudience" or "clear hearing"), by sensing it ("clairsentience"), or by direct voice (the spirit utilizing the medium's vocal cords to actually speak). Other ways of communicating include automatic writing, scrying, meditation, and talking boards.

A gathering to communicate with spirits, with one or more persons acting as medium, is known as a séance, or "sitting." These may vary considerably in structure but usually involve the seekers sitting in a circle, holding hands.

When spiritualism is blended in with Christian religious philosophy—the contact with the spirits serving as part of a religious worship service—it is known as Spiritualism, with a capital "S." There are many Spiritualist churches, but one does not have to belong to one to practice spiritualism.

At the Wiccan Samhain celebration it is not unusual for the coven to make contact with spirits of the dead. This usually happens without the aid of a regular medium, many times the entire group seeing or hearing the communicating spirit. Samhain is the traditional time for such contact.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

Spiritualism; Spiritualist

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Spiritualism is a movement that started in the mid-eighteenth century, sparked by the episode of the Fox Family in Hydesville, New York, in 1848. It has become a religion, a philosophy, and a science, though it tends to focus on communication with the world of spirits of the dead. Margaretta and Kate, later joined by Leah, Fox showed that such contact was possible and inspired thousands to try to renew communication with loved ones who had died.

In its early days, Spiritualism became a breeding ground for fraudulent mediums and those seeking fame and fortune. However, there were many who showed that true contact was possible. In its heyday, Spiritualism commanded more than two million followers on both sides of the Atlantic. Repeated exposés by psychical researchers and scientists quickly reduced that number, but a devoted core remains and is still active today. There have been some outstanding mediums never found to be fraudulent, such as William Stainton Moses, Daniel Dunglas Home, Eileen Garrett, Ena Twigg, Estelle Roberts, George Anderson, Jean Cull, and others.

Many enthusiasts made the movement into a religion, inspiring Spiritualist churches of various types. The movement became especially big in South America, in Brazil in particular, though there the focus was on what is termed Spiritisminspired by the work of Allan Kardec. The focus of a lot of the Spiritualist groups, whether religiously affiliated or not, is healing of the sick through the agencies of departed medical experts, which is termed spiritual healing. The laying-on of hands, auric healing, Reiki, and similar are also very popular and effective.

Home circles, or séances (meaning “sittings"), allowed the movement to develop with groups of friends working together, with or without a professional medium, thus eliminating a controlling priesthood. From the use of talking boards, automatic writing, clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, etc., a true grassroots movement gave Spiritualism a foundation that it may never totally lose. In 1951, with the passing of the Fraudulent Mediums Act in England, Spiritualism there became legal as a religion. Today has seen something of a worldwide renaissance of Spiritualism, with outstanding mediums such as John Edward, James van Praagh, Tony Stockwell, Colin Fry, and Gordon Smith appearing not in semi-darkened rooms but under the bright lights of television, with live audiences. A Gallup poll showed that in 1996, twenty percent of adults questioned expressed a belief that it was possible for the dead to communicate with the living. Another twenty-two percent believed it might be possible.

Figures published on the British Office of National Statistics’ website at the end of 2004 showed that Spiritualism has emerged as Britain’s eighth largest religious group, according to the Psychic News newspaper. The figures show that there are more Spiritualists in Great Britain than there are Roman Catholics.


Brown, Slater: The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Hawthorn, 1970
Buckland, Raymond: Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004
Edward, John: Crossing Over: The Stories Behind the Stories. New York: Princess Books, 2001
Owens, Elizabeth: How to Communicate With Spirits. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2002
Psychic News, #3782, January 8, 2005. Stansted, Essex
Spiritualist Association of Great Britain see Marylebone Spiritualist Association
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A mystical movement, the adherents of which believe that the souls of the deceased exist after death and that it is possible to communicate with these souls.

Spiritualism arose in the mid-19th century in the USA and soon spread both in the USA and in Western Europe. It traces its origins to ancient animistic beliefs and diverse conceptions of the existence of a supernatural world and of nonmaterial beings, such as spirits, demons, and angels. Its adherents believe in the possibility under certain conditions of communicating with such beings, including the souls of deceased people. These conceptions may be compared to the doctrine of the transmigration of souls in Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Hinduism and to doctrines of the ancient Egyptians and the Orphics and Pythagoreans in ancient Greece. Communication with the spirit world was regarded as the privilege of a small number of specially ordained people—magi, priests, or soothsayers, such as the Greek Pythians or Roman sibyls—and the means of communication were cloaked in deepest secrecy.

In contrast, spiritualism immediately assumed the character of a mass mystical movement whose followers sought “experimental” proof of the existence of the soul after death. In the practice of spiritualistic séances, phenomena of communication with spirits of the dead were considered manifestations of “physical medi-umism.” They included movements and knockings of various household articles, especially table tipping, sounds of musical instruments, the appearance of light, voices speaking, and even materialization, that is, the sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance of individual parts of the body (hands or faces).

By the end of the 19th century, there were several million spiritualists in Great Britain and more than 10 million in the USA. Societies and associations of spiritualists were organized, and newspapers and journals were published; in Russia, the best known was the journal Rebus (1881–1917). The theorists of spiritualism were the American A. J. Davis and the Frenchman A. Kardec. Spiritualism evoked sharp criticism from materialist scientists. In 1871, on the proposal of D. I. Mendeleev, a commission was created under the auspices of St. Petersburg University for the study of spiritualistic phenomena, and it branded spiritualism superstition. F. Engels called spiritualism “the most barren of all superstitions” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, p. 382).

Spiritualism still exists in the West, with its followers united in communities and associations, including the National Spiritualist Association of Churches in America and the Spiritualist National Union and International Spiritualist Federation in Great Britain.


Shakhnovich, M. I. Sovremennaia mistika v svete nauki. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Doyle, A. C. History of Spiritualism, vols. 1–2. London, 1926.
(2) An objective, idealist philosophical view that regards spirit as the primary reality, as a special incorporeal reality that exists distinct from and independent of matter. “Spiritualism” was introduced into use as a philosophical term by V. Cousin. Subsequently, several schools and trends, primarily in French and Italian philosophy of the 19th and 20th centuries, were known as spiritualism, including those of J. Ravaisson-Mollien, J. Lachelier, E. Boutroux, A. Rosmini-Serbati, V. Gioberti, C. Renouvier, M. Sciacca, H. Bergson, and L. Lavelle.
All religious beliefs in the existence of god and the immortality of the soul are fundamentally spiritualistic. Spiritualism characterizes a most diverse collection of teachings of antiquity and modern times, which have asserted in opposition to materialism the fundamental nature of the spiritual principle. Such teachings include those of Plato, St. Augustine, Leibniz, G. Berkeley, and many others. Sometimes, in opposition to the intellectualistic forms of idealism, the irrational aspects of spirit are accentuated in the concept of spiritualism, with spirit being regarded as some kind of integral entity that cannot be reduced to reason, thought, or other individual phenomena.and
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Arcati, Madame
medium who materializes her client’s two successive wives. [Br. Drama: Noel Coward Blithe Spirit in On Stage, 236]
Medium, The
Menotti’s opera of a medium haunted by her own hoax. [Am. Opera: Benét, 653]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the belief that the disembodied spirits of the dead, surviving in another world, can communicate with the living in this world, esp through mediums
2. the doctrines and practices associated with this belief
3. Philosophy the belief that because reality is to some extent immaterial it is therefore spiritual
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Spiritualism fared better in Britain, especially in the 1950s after the repeal of the witchcraft laws, which had been used against mediums quite apart from any charges of fakery.
In fact, as this essay demonstrates, spiritualism proved useful not only in EBB's profession but also in her very attempts to conceptualize that profession and articulate its purpose.
He added: "Around Huddersfield, groups of people formed circles to investigate into this new religion which was called Spiritualism. To ensure that only the people who were genuinely interested in the meetings could attend, cards were issued, signed by the holders and which read 'I am a truth seeking Spiritualist' and these cards had to be produced to gain admission to the meetings.
In the movie, spiritualism first appears in the flashback, when King T'Chaka appears in California to his unprepared brother N'Jobu who he confronts as a traitor.
In Supernatural Entertainments, communication and media studies scholar Simone Natale explores the relationship between the rise of spiritualism and the development of media culture.
THEREFORE, it takes both these two spiritualistic as well as materialistic wingsfor any free bird to be healthy and have these two strong wings to fly properly and higher: a nation of or world with required material and spiritualsignificance, nonetheless possessesits negative, mere worldly wise character, unmindful of hereafter, as well as unleashes its positive, inborn and natural qualities too: These two traits of compulsory materialism and compulsory spiritualism are mostly found, to lesser or more degrees, in any nation or place on earth and, despite all its ups and downs, still strugglesto make a relatively satisfied and competent life, materially and spiritually.
FREE SPIRITS introduces us to American spiritualism by way of Maggie and Katie Fox, bored siblings who began popping and cracking their toe joints against the wooden floors of their house to create mysterious sounds.
Crucially, the text has also been considered in conjunction with Conan Doyle's spiritualism and, as Christine Ferguson points out, the earlier trend whereby literary critics "traditionally maintained an embarrassed, or perhaps respectful, silence on the subject of Doyle's spiritual writings [...] now shows signs of reversal" (84n37).
Koester acknowledges that Stowe continued to dabble in spiritualism. Yet she argues that Stowe must have known that spiritualism and Christianity are incompatible.
John Ramirez, a former high ranking priest in Santeria, spiritualism, and the occult had an encounter with Jesus Christ, became a Christian, and is now an international evangelist, speaker, and author
RIYADH: The poet of the east Allama Iqbal through his poetry emphasized pure spiritualism to counter the German concept of materialism, said Pakistani Ambassador Manzoor ul Haq.