Monday, 3 January 2011



In exploring the Victorian Consciousness we need to ask:

WHY WAS SPIRITUALISM SO POPULAR during the Victorian period?
What connection had Spiritualism with Materialistic Science?
What did the Spiritualists intend to achieve in relation to the new scientific Philosophies.?

I have previously stated that during the Victorian era, Churchianity was coming under attack, so was the Christian Belief in the Bible and all that goes with it. If Science seemed to be challenging the various beliefs in such things as the immortality of the soul this left some individuals without any hope whatsoever.

Nevertheless, some people would not let go of traditional, ingrained beliefs concerning Survival After Death. Many began to ask whether, following the methods of science with its emphasis on evidence anything could be produced that validated the idea that somewhere the dead were still alive?

So the Victorian question was, What happens to Consciousness after death?

And then, out of the blue it seemed, evidence was forthcoming in the person of the Fox Sisters in the United States.

Let us see in what way their activities deluged the Victorian Consciousness and seemed to give a satisfying, scientific answer to the question of the Survival of Consciousness After Death.

There were three  Fox sisters  from New York who undeniably played a large part  in the creation of Spiritualism and in its widespread popularity The three sisters were Leah Fox (( 1814-1890) Margaret Fox, Maggie, (1833-1893) and Kate Fox (1837 – 1892

Let us explore how they kick-started the movement.

To get hold of this we need to travel to the United States before the Civil War.

In 1848 the two younger sisters – Kate (age 12) and Margaret (age 15) – were living with their parents in  Hydesville, New York. At this time Hydesville was a hamlet in Wayne County. Before their occupancy the house had a reputation for being haunted. Then, in March 1848  the family began to hear  unexplained sounds. These sounds seemed like strange knocking, and at other times like the moving of furniture.
In 1888 Margaret described the origins of the mysterious rapping sounds which the time they were living in the house. Apparently the sisters once they were in bed  ‘used to tie an apple to a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor, or we would drop the apple on the floor, making a strange noise every time it would rebound’
This was the start of the sister’s tests and subsequent publicity. One night, rather than simply dropping the apple,  Kate challenged the invisible noise-maker, presumed to be a "spirit", to repeat the snaps of her fingers. Apparently it obliged. They then asked ‘the spirit’ to rap out the ages of the girls. Once more it did so. The neighbours soon heard of this behaviour and flocked in droves to the house.
The next step, in front of the aghast audience, a code was developed whereby raps could signify ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in response to a question, or be used to indicate a letter of the alphabet.

To make matters more personal the girls  began to address the alleged Spirit as "Mr. Splitfoot" which at the time was a nickname for the Devil. Unfortunately, things began to have unexpected effects. The  alleged Spirit Rapper through the use of sounds claimed to be the spirit of a peddler named Charles B. Rosma. This peddlar, the ‘entity’ indicated had been murdered five years earlier and lay buried in the cellar. At once the neighbors apparently dug up the cellar and found only a few pieces of bone. However, in 1904  a skeleton was found, buried in the cellar wall.  But no missing person named Charles B. Rosma was ever identified.
Then the turn for the worst occurred. The neighbours combed the surrounding countryside to discover the names of anyone who had ever occupied the house.
Finally, they located a man by the name of Bell, and alleged that this innocent man had committed the murder in the house and that the noises had come from the spirit of the murdered person. As a result this innocent man was shunned and looked upon by the whole community as a murderer.

Whilst all this was going on,  Kate and Margaret were sent away to nearby Rochester. Kate went to the house of her sister Leah, and Margaret to the home of her brother David. Even so, the rappings followed them. The word of their rappings soon spread amongst the Rochester community. Eventually, a group of Quakers, who were particularly taken with this phenomena, became the early core of Spiritualists. 

The idea that the Fox sisters were some sort of Mediums was soon formulated. That is, they were persons who could contact the spirits of the dead and could pass on messages to the living. This notion became the core of Spiritualism.

Then the phenomena reached England and the wave of interest reached gargantuan proportions.

Most students of the subject usually link the origin of Spiritualism and Spiritualist Mediums to the  Fox sisters. So, by1853 Spiritualism had reached London. Then,  prominent Spiritualists came on the scene. One such person was  Mercy Cadwallader. She became a sort evangelist for the movement. Around the same time another lady,   Emma Hardinge Britten  wrote the first Spiritualist newspaper in Britain. 

The amazing life of this woman, Emma Hardinge Britten, is well worth following up. But it is too massive for this blog.

In 1855 ‘The Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph’, was published, in Keighley, Yorkshire.  and by then the interest had grown to such an extent that by 1870s there were a multitude of Spiritualist Societies and churches throughout the US and Britain. 

Truly, the search for Life After Death was permeating the Victorian Consciousnes to an indescribable extent. As we shall see, even the Scientific Community reached out to it one way or another.

Back now to the Fox sisters. I have shown their influence on the Victorian Consciousness in Britain. But we can’t leave them hanging in the air. It is to Margaret and Kate we return. Leah’s having departed the scene as far as this blog is concerned.

Couple calling up a female Spirit 

After a brief departure from her Mediumistic activities and her conversion to Roman Catholicism, Margaret eventually resumed her activities as a Medium and In 1876 she joined her sister Kate, who was living in England. As I have said, Spiritualism was in full swing by then.

Kate seizes our attention most. She was reputed to be, alongside D.D.Hume, one of the most powerful Mediums of the day. She was capable of producing not only raps, but dancing spirit lights, direct writing, and the appearance of hands materializing in front of the sitters. She was also, like Hume, apparently able to move objects at a distance.
Between 1871 to 1874, she, along with D.D.Hume was investigated by Sir William Crookes  - as pictured - the famous scientist. Incidentally, this reveals the extent to which Spiritualism had penetrated even the Consciousness of the Scientific Establishment.

There is no doubt about it, Kate Fox impressed the notable scientist. He recorded  her ability to produce raps. Although, by now, other Mediums could also manifest this phenomena using wooden tables. But she, he said, could place her hand on any substance and  loud thuds would be distinctly heard. In fact these were a triple pulsation, sometimes loud enough to be heard several rooms away.
Crookes claimed to have heard her produce the sounds by placing her hands on a living tree, on a sheet of glass, on a stretched iron wire as well as on the roof of a cab and on the floor of a theatre.
In many cases, he said she did not need to make physical contact. He had heard sounds produced  from the floor, walls, and other places. To ensure that no trickery was involved her hands and feet were held. He heard the sounds when Kate Fox was standing on a chair, when she was suspended in a swing from the ceiling, when she was enclosed in a wire cage, and surprisingly, when she had fallen fainting on a sofa. He had heard them on a musical instrument made of glass vessels, known as a harmonicon. Crooks had even felt raps on his own shoulder, and I had felt them  under his  own hands.
Remember, Crookes spent years investigating Kate Fox and his catalogue of impressions is certainly prodigious. He reports that he had heard the sounds  on a sheet of paper, held between the fingers by a piece of thread passed through one corner. The scientist reported that he had tested them in every way that he could devise.
What was his final conclusion? That ‘they were true objective occurrences not produced by trickery or mechanical means.’
But what has our theme, ‘Table Turning’ to do with this’ ?
I shall return to this in my blog in a day or so. I do not want you to go to sleep reading any more.
I hope you have enjoyed this part of the blog
Any comments?
Picture Credits
1. Undream en wikipedia
2. commons. wikimedia. org
3.      ibid
4.      ibid


  1. Spiritism is a sort of a bridge between visible and invisible worlds, the invisible makes "a call", knocks in a perceptive way at our wooden doors. Opening the door needs proper knowledge because as we are here on earth educated and not so educated such are we when we inhabit the other levels. Knowledge includes purity as weel.

  2. Victorian society appeared to be more open to researching such phenomena than present day. Science and religion have entered an unholy alliance to dismiss evidence that confirms extra physical events.