TABLE TURNING AND SPIRITUALISM PART 2
The Victorian Consciousness, as I have shown in the previous post was becoming saturated with the notion THAT LIFE OR HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS SURVIVES AFTER THE DEATH OF THE BODY.
I have also shown that such departed ‘Spirit Beings’ were alleged to be able to communicate through a human agent or Medium.
Thirdly I have indicated that this and other Victorian experiences were helping to shape the Victorian Consciousness.
Overall, what I am attempting to imply is that THE VICTORIAN NOVELISTS WERE NOT MERELY WRITING STORIES. THEY WERE IN FACT LIVING IN THEM. However, That discussion is some way off yet.
As I have commented one way to communicate with the ‘Spirits’ of the dead was through rappings. But as time went on more sophisticated techniques were devised, one of which was Table Turning. Other techniques involved ‘Spirit Materialisations’ of various sorts and even Levitation..
For the moment let us have a look at Table Turning.
A TABLE TURNING SESSION
The phenomena of Table Turning and Spirit-rapping" took England by storm. Although there usually was more than one person sitting around the table, nevertheless it was customary to have a Medium present who could allegedly encourage the ‘Spirit’ to make contact and receive the messages.
This practice of Table Turning soon developed into a social pastime, particularly by the upper classes. According to those critical of their social superiors, the elite ‘having pretty well exhausted the pleasures of this world’ were now busy looking for ‘any new amusement they can get out of’ the world beyond. So, this often developed into a fairly frivolous tea party seance - with the curtains drawn of course. In fact both Table Turning and Trance Mediumship seemed to have even reached Buckingham Palace.
Of course, although it seemed a major pastime of the upper classes, nevertheless, those lower down in the social scale also gathered in their parlors for Seances, which often involved Table Turning, Tarot Card Readings, or sessions with a Ouija board. This sort of activity seemed to provide consolation for those who were grieving over sons, brothers, or fathers lost in war.
Let us get to Table Turning and see what was involved.
The noted English Chemist and Physicist, Michael Faraday (1791-1876) also had an interest in Table Turning and it is from his personal file on this topic that we can glean some details.
MICHAEL FARADAY IN 1842
Faraday’s file on Table Turning contains ten items, mostly letters and reports, relating to his investigations into Spiritualism. He reveals that one of the most common means of obtaining answers from beyond the grave, was through a practice known as ‘table-turning’ or ‘table-tipping’. To engage in this séance-like activity the participants would sit around a table, usually in a dim light, place their hands on the table and slowly call out the letters of the alphabet. In response, the ‘Spirits’ would then either knock or the table would tilt or turn at an appropriate letter, thus spelling out words and sentences.
The opinions concerning this phenomena were divided. Some observers believed it to be proof of supernatural forces at work. Often these were considered to be trustworthy and reliable people. Others viewed it as trickery. Thus, the question was did the table move due to some action on the part of the participants, or because of the action of occult forces?
It was with these questions in mind that Faraday began a carefully controlled study of Table-Turning. For this investigation he selected a group of cooperative and reputable candidates in 1853.
I am not sure whether Faraday had an open mind or not, or whether he assumed it to be due to the agency, somehow, of the participants. I have a feeling that before he began he, doubted that ‘Spirits’ were involved and set out to disprove such a notion. Again, this is a personal view intuited from reading his data.
Anyway, I set it out so that you can make up your own mind.
Throughout his experiments, Faraday made extensive notes. In these notes he described that the table moved in the expected direction, even when just one person was participating. He also recorded that sandpaper, millboard, glue, glass, moist clay, tin-foil, cardboard, vulcanised rubber and wood did not interfere with the table’s movements.
He was still not satisfied that occult forces were at work. For, after his initial tests he recorded that he believed the movements of the table were due to unintentional pressure in one or other direction horizontally. From his point of view, there were no electrical, magnetic, or any unknown forces involved.
As far as his reputable participants were involved, he did not suspect trickery. Rather, as stated, he deduced that the table moved by unconscious pressure exerted by the participants. To establish this he laid various discs of cardboard, and other pieces of equipment on top of the table. From the alteration of the position of the discs he concluded that it was pressure of the participant’s fingertips that caused the table to turn, regardless of whether they realised it or not.
To sum up, Faraday’s eventual conclusion was that unconscious and involuntary muscular force was involved and that no supernatural forces, nor even trickery was entailed.
Keep in mind, that the mere fact of Faraday’s investigations into Table Turning, whether fraudulent or not, reveals the EXTENT to which SPIRITUALISTIC MANIFESTATIONS of one sort or another had INFLUENCED THE VICTORIAN CONS CIOUSNESS. That is my main focus.
Despite the investigations of Faraday, Table Turning remained a major pre-occupation. Some reports came in that when a number of persons sat round a table, with their hands resting on it, and waited for the table to move, if the experiment was successful, not only would the table exhibit knocks or tilt but would even the rotate with considerable rapidity, and would occasionally rise in the air, or perform other movements.
TABLE ELEVATES AND TIPS OVER
In fact the eminent physician Dr John Elliotson, (1791-1868) was a firm believer in Mesmerism and Magnetic force. Despite Faraday’s investigations, Elliotson firmly believed the Table Turning and Table Tipping phenomena were definitely the effects of Mesmerism. He said so in 1853. So Table Turning continued to saturate the country. It really had permeated the Victorian Consciousness.
Table Turning was locked into the Spiritualist assumptions about Life After Death. So, with the passage of time other forms of contact were established. We shall look at three of these, namely, Trance Mediumship, Levitation, and Spirit Materialisations. Keep in mind, it does not matter how genuine these effects were; my argument is that the extent to which such permeated and shaped the Victorian Consciousness is more important.
Infatuated with the tidal wave of interest in Survival After Death that was flooding the nation, Spiritualists devised new methods of communicating with the Departed.
Instead of simply sitting round a table and waiting for knocks and movements, they decided to ‘persuade’ the Spirit to manifest itself ‘objectively’. As a result Mediums claimed that the voice of a departed Spirit was speaking through them. Some Mediums went even further and using ectoplasm (a supernatural viscous substance that is supposed to exude from the body of a medium during a spiritualistic trance), to form a ‘Spirit Body’ in front of the sitters at the séance. Of course all this took place in either dark or semi-dark rooms.
SPIRIT FORMED FROM ECTOPLASM
During the séance a small group of people sat around the table in the presence of the Medium. As I have said this took place in dark or semi dark rooms. When the appointed time arrived for the manifestation to occur, the medium would go into a trance. It was asserted that in this state the spirit could more easily use the medium’s body.
I have not the space to describe the accoutrements that Mediums used from time to time such as trumpets, slates, and cabinets. Instead, I shall concentrate on several of the famous Mediums and the alleged Manifestations they produced.
Let us start with one of the best known Mediums of the 19th century, Cora Lodencia Veronica Scott (1840-1923) Most of her activities were spent as a Trance Lecturer. In addition, she wrote several books and attributed their composition to the dictation of the ‘Spirits’.
It was in Waterloo, Wisconsin in early 1852, that Cora first exhibited her ability to fall into a trance and write messages. Whilst in the trance state she tended to speak in a manner foreign to her normal speech patterns.
Like the Fox sisters, the word spread and soon her parents exhibited her to the surrounding country. She thus became part of the network of trance lecturers that characterized the Spiritualist movement.
In 1854 when she was merely fifteen years old Cora moved to Buffalo, New York after the death of her father. In rapid time she became well-known among the most important Spiritualists in the country.
At his time Cora seemed able to perform surgery whilst in a trance. She claimed that this was possible because a German doctor’s spirit had taken her over. The results were so astonishing that some local doctors feared they would become redundant. Then, for some reason, her ability to heal stopped when she was about fifteen. From that time onwards her trance lecturing really took off.
At this early age she made numerous public appearances and whilst in a trance, spoke in an eloquent manner on almost any topic offered by the audience. For example, whilst in the trance state, she seemed to be contacted by ‘Oina’ whom she called her ‘Spirit Guide’. On one occasion, in front of a packed auditorium, under the influence of ‘Ouina’, she began to lecture on the topic of ‘Primary Rocks’.
So impressive was her delivery and the mastery of a subject she allegedly knew nothing about, that a specialist in research on Primary Rocks, Professor Mapes of New York City was staggered. Mapes, in a dazed state went to the platform and declared that despite having spent his entire life investigating scientific matters and mingling with fellow scientists, he was struck ‘dumb before this young girl.’
What was more remarkable was that Cora had no formal education after the age of eleven and yet could enter into debates whilst in trance and answer any questions posed to her. The conclusion was that she could not possibly have access to the knowledge she was displaying. We will leave her here and turn to another country.
As I have indicated previously Spiritualism swept through the United States and England. It is to the Mediums in England I now turn.
One prominent Spiritualist in England was William Stainton Moses (1839-92). He was a clergyman in the Church of England. This is not surprising of course. As I have said earlier, Churchianity, Christianity, and the Bible were coming under assault. Therefore, Stainton Moses was possibly one who felt that there was an objective (scientific?) way to prove that the immortality of the soul is a valid Christian teaching.
Consequently, in a trance state, in the period from 1872 to 1883, Moses filled 24 notebooks with so called automatic writing and engaged in seances. The contents of the notebooks were said to describe conditions in the spirit world.
A SÉANCE IN OPERATION
During his séances he claimed to come under the influence of a ‘Spirit Guide’, who called himself, Imperator. Apparently this Spirit claimed to be the leader of forty-nine other Spirits. Imperator is alleged to have passed on to Moses, during the trance state, of course, details about the spirit world, its workings, and how information is conveyed along to people. Moses’ automatic writing is of interest . When producing this, Moses did not always need to enter a trance state. He could often hold the pen in his hand and read a book at the same time. The communications he received were neither related to the book he was reading, nor was the quality of the production affected by Moses' distractions.
His activities were widely broadcast. And it was reported that during his séances, he levitated a number of times. In addition, he levitated a large table just by touching it.
One Medium who was widely acclaimed on the Continent before coming to England in 1895 was Eusapia Palladino 1854 – 1918)
But I have said enough on this blog up to now.
I shall carry on with this during the course of a day or so and finish off this Victorian Search For Life After Death.
If you wish to get in the mood for the future discussions on how all this relates to the Victorian novelists. May I suggest that you start to plough through, Bulwer Lytton’s ‘A Strange Story’ It can easily be downloaded FREE from the Guttenburg Project.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog.
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