HISTORY OF SPIRITUALISM
The Greeks consulted oracles and the Assyrians and Romans
practised divination by augury to obtain guidance from the gods. Even
today some cultures have their witch-doctors, who invoke the powers of
the spirit for healing. It can be seen, therefore, that there is nothing
new in the concept of a spiritual world inhabited by discarnate beings
or in the use of psychic power to achieve spirit communication.
However, the 4th century Council of Nicaea brought to an end the use of mediums and held that divine guidance, through the Holy Spirit, should be sought only from the priesthood: ‘false prophets’ were held to be servants of the devil, and sorcerers, heretics and mediums were all targets for persecution as a result of ‘witch-mania’. This accelerated in the Middle Ages, when religious sanction for this persecution was given in 1484 by a papal bull and by the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum or ‘Hammer of the Witches’. During this long period of persecution anyone suspected of using psychic gifts for whatever purpose was in danger of torture, trial and burning, and hundreds of thousands of mediums were put to death by organised ‘witch-hunters’.
In the 18th century a Swedish scientist and astronomer, Emmanuel Swedenborg (picture left), had become well-known for his philosophical writings, received from spirit teachers. He died in 1772 but was able to resume his work prior to the Hydesville phenomena through the mediumship of young American, Andrew Jackson Davis. Knockings had also occurred in the 18th century in England at the Epworth Rectory, home of the Wesley family.
The Modern Movement
Both the phenomena and the teachings attracted the attention of eminent scientists and intellectuals in America and (from 1852) Britain, to which Spiritualism was brought by Mrs Hayden, who was both persecuted and insulted by the press and the pulpit. In spite of this her mediumship was defended by many public figures, including Robert Owen, Socialist and one of the founders of the Co-operative Movement, who embraced Spiritualism after sittings with her, and many adherents were attracted to the cause. In 1853 the first Spiritualist Church was established in the British Isles by David Richmond at Keighley in Yorkshire (still in use today), and the first Spiritualist newspaper in Britain, The Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph, was published in 1855, also at Keighley. By the 1870s there were numerous Spiritualist societies and churches throughout the country.
In 1869 a Committee appointed by the Dialectical Society investigated Spiritualism and published the most favourable report on the movement up to that time by any investigating body. Two years later Sir William Crookes reported on Spiritualism to the Royal Society and published his findings in the Quarterly Journal of Science. The British National Association of Spiritualists (renamed in 1884 as the London Spiritualist Alliance and now known as the College of Psychic Science) was founded in London in 1873, followed by the Society for Psychical Research in 1882. Five years later the Two Worlds Spiritualist weekly newspaper was founded by Mrs Emma Hardinge Britten (picture left), through whose mediumship in 1871 Robert Owen had communicated the basis of the Seven Principles of Spiritualism, which were later to be adopted by the Spiritualists’ National Union as the basis of its religious philosophy.
In the early days of the movement the most important necessity had been the complete freedom to develop and promote through multiple channels of communication the reception of the new spiritual inspiration without recourse to the establishment of a central organisation or administration. Some twenty years after the introduction of the movement to Britain it was now becoming apparent that there was a need to unite the many scattered churches and societies into some kind of federation in order to present a common front against persecution, win religious recognition and freedom of worship for its adherents and exponents, achieve a greater unanimity of opinion concerning the fundamental basis of Spiritualist beliefs, and give a new impetus and direction to the movement through co-ordination and co-operation. This task fell to Mrs Britten, a gifted orator and writer, who had launched the Two Worlds in 1887 and was the joint composer of the Lyceum Manual published in the same year.
To continue please click on "The SNU".
©2002 JJ Seaman
Updated Aug 02