HISTORY OF SPIRITUALISM
Emma Hardinge Britten
Most of the various forms of psychic phenomena associated with the Spiritualist Movement are as old as Man himself. Throughout the ages human beings have been aware of the existence of discarnate (spirit) beings. In early days, Man had no doubt that his ancestors had survived death and that they had the power to affect the living for good or ill. Therefore, due reverence was shown to them in order to incur favour. The wise men of the tribe, who had psychic powers similar to modern mediums, would testify to the presence of the spirits, and forms of communication were established which were helpful to the tribe.
The Greeks consulted Oracles, and the Assyrians and Romans practised divination by augury to obtain guidance from the Gods. 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.
The early Christian Church was founded on the basis of mediumship. Jesus of Nazareth was considered to have been an exceptionally gifted medium and healer, as illustrated in the reports of his healing powers inspired teachings and so called 'miracles'. It is clear that mediumship played an important part in the work of the Apostles in the spreading of this new religion and its presentation in church services. The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, has many references to psychic abilities, inspirational speaking, physical mediumship and healing.
The fourth century Council of Nicaea brought an end to the use of mediums in Christianity, and held that Divine guidance, through the Holy Spirit, should be sought only from the priesthood; mediums who had been considered to have the gift of God were held suddenly to be servants of the devil, and were targets for persecution. This persecution accelerated in the Middle Ages, when anyone suspected of using psychic gifts for whatever purpose, unless within the Christian Church, was in danger of torture, trial and burning.
In the 18th century, a Swedish scientist and astronomer, Emmanuel Swedenborg, became well known for his philosophical writings, received from Spirit teachers. He died in 1772, but was able to resume his work through the mediumship of a young, uneducated American called Andrew Jackson Davis. Swedenborg guided Davis to write many inspired works, and Davis eventually founded the Lyceum movement in America for the education of young people in spiritual matters.
Modern Spiritualism is generally considered to date from the events which occurred in Hydesville, New York State on March 31st 1848, when two sisters, Margaretta and Catherine (Kate) Fox, established intelligent communication with a spirit entity which had been responsible for noisy rappings in the household. The publicity which this aroused and the numerous investigations at the time, allowed mediumship to come out into the open once more. In a short space of time, many societies of Spiritualists were formed in America, based not merely upon psychic phenomena produced, but also upon the religious implications which are behind the teachings received from spirit through the mediums.
Both the phenomena and the teachings attracted the attention of eminent scientists and intellectuals in America, and also in Britain after Spiritualism was brought across the Atlantic by Mrs Maria Hayden. She was both insulted and persecuted by the press and the pulpit, but in spite of this, her mediumship was defended by many public figures, including the well- known Socialist Robert Owen.
In 1853, the first British Spiritualist Church was established in Keighley in West Yorkshire by David Richmond. The first Spiritualist newspaper, the Yorkshire Spiritualist Telegraph was published in 1855, also in Keighley.
In 1871, Sir William Crookes reported on Spiritualism to the Royal Society, and published his findings in the quarterly Journal of Science. The Society of Psychical Research was founded in 1882 by Sir William Barrett, in order to investigate from a neutral standpoint, the phenomena of Spiritualism.
In 1887, the Two Worlds Spiritualist Weekly was founded by Mrs Emma Hardinge Britten. It was through Mrs Britten's mediumship that we received, In 1871, the Seven Principles from the spirit of Robert Owen. These #Principles were adopted later by the Spiritualists' National Union as the basis of its religious philosophy. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became a champion for the movement, and is an Honorary President in Spirit.
In the early days of the movement, the most important necessity had been the freedom to develop mediums, and spread the knowledge of Spiritualism. Approximately 20 years after Spiritualism came to Britain, it became apparent that there was a need to unite the many scattered Churches, in order to present a united front against our many detractors, achieve a greater unanimity of opinion concerning the basis of Spiritualist beliefs and give a new impetus to the movement. This task fell to Emma Hardinge Britten, who, in 1890, called the Inaugural Conference of the Spiritualists' National Federation. Subsequently, the Spiritualists' National Union was formed in 1901, and in 1902, took over the rights and obligations of the Spiritualists' National Federation.
In 1951, the British Government passed the Fraudulent Mediums Act, repealing the Witchcraft Act 1735, and removing genuine mediums from the provisions of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. Thus, Spiritualists' were enabled to practice their religion openly and legally. The Fraudulent Medium's Act has since been repealed in 2008, and now mediums are subject to the provisions of Consumer Protection Law.