The basic ideas behind spiritualism are far from new. People have been channeling and communicating with spirits and generally getting messages from "the other side" for thousands of years. However the specific name spiritualism is usually reserved for a particular brand of mediumistic transcommunication that became popular during the Victorian era.

What Is Spiritualism?

Spiritualism is based around the theory that the spirits of the dead still exist and that certain adepts - mediums - can contact them. The mediums pass messages, comfort and advice to and from the other side.

Spiritualism is sometimes described as a religion. Many spiritualists are certainly religious and there is a Spiritualist Church. However the basic tenets of spiritualism don't require any particular faith other than that in the survival of the consciousness.

The question of exactly where the communicating consciousness resides is unanswered. A popular idea is that the spirits are on some form of "higher plane". Some spiritualists also believe that the spirits are somehow more advanced or knowledgeable than us and hence better able to provide guidance.

Many spiritualists speak not directly with the spirits but with their own "spirit guide" This guide acts as a go-between, relaying messages between the medium and the target entity.


Credit for spiritualism as a movement is usually given to Emanuel Swedenborg who lived from 1688 to 1772. Swedenborg claimed to be able to contact the spirits and to be a powerful medium. He wrote numerous books, which he said were actually written through him by those on the other side. Swedenborg's version of spiritualism was more explicitly based on Christianity than the modern version.

Modern spiritualism began in the mid nineteenth century. It was brought into the limelight by the Fox sisters, Catherine and Margaretta. In 1848 the Fox sisters claimed to have made contact with a spirit entity. Unlike many such contacts before, those with the Fox sisters were accompanied by various table-tappings and other physical forms of communication such as automatic writing. It was these phenomena that really caught the imagination and formed the basis of many of the trappings associated with spiritualism today.

The Fox sisters became a public sensation and spiritualism spread quickly with mediums cropping up all over the place producing ever more spectacular examples of transcommunicaction in an attempt to outdo each other.


Interest in spiritualism began to wane around the 1920s when many mediums were exposed as frauds. Magicians such as Houdini used to visit various seances and expose the fraudulent methods in use. Some of these were crude, others highly sophisticated.

It must be remembered that becasue many - or even most - of the mediums were frauds it does not necessarily follow that they all were. Spiritualism today still has many followers, many of whom are intelligent people well aware of the fraudulent methods used in the nineteenth century.