By Sean Casteel
At one point in the history of America the belief in spiritualism was as strong – and as controversial – as the belief in UFOs is today. And a demonstrable parallel can be drawn between the two topics, which even seem to attract some of the same people across the various paranormal research fields – more so in recent years as increasing numbers come to accept the reality of UFOs as being at least partially of a paranormal or supernatural nature.
Spiritualism flourished beginning in the mid-19th century and for many decades held a fascinated general public in its thrall. Whether one was a believer or a determined skeptic, everyone had an opinion as to the reality of contacting the dead, with many others devoting their energies to the tireless debunking of fraudulent mediums who the skeptics thought were scamming the public and taking their hard earned money deceitfully.
What is Spiritualism? The most fundamental belief of the Spiritualists is that the soul survives physical death and that certain departed souls can communicate with the living. This communication is achieved through the agency of a medium, a man or woman who claims the distinct ability to speak with those who have passed away.
Mediumship traces its roots back to the ancient shamanistic traditions and is an extension of many priestly traditions as well. Most Native American tribes had at least one shaman or “medicine man” among them who would go into a specially prepared teepee and enter into a trance state (sometimes in a drug-induced state) in order to contact the ancestors of the tribe. Those standing outside the teepee could see mysterious shadows and figures moving about inside the lodge which could not have been the shaman. His hands were often bound and his posture secure – much like in a séance off the reservation.
A true medium can be a conduit for numerous Spiritualist phenomena, including prophecy (i.e., the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece). He or she may also be capable of clairvoyance and clairaudience, possess the gift of speaking in tongues and of healing by the laying on of hands. They may see visions and enter easily into a trance. A medium can also summon spirits and guides from the world of the dead and even cause the voices of the departed to speak aloud to a gathering of the living at a séance.
A distinguished British physicist and chemist, Sir William Crookes, around the turn of the 20th century categorized certain physical manifestations of spiritualistic activities. These include:
*** The movement of heavy bodies with contact but without mechanical exertion.
*** The phenomena of percussive and other similar sounds.
*** Movements of heavy substances when at a distance from the medium.
*** The rising of tables and chairs off the ground, without contact with any person.
*** The levitation of human beings.
*** The movement of various small articles without contact with any person.
*** Luminous appearances.
*** The appearance of hands, either self-luminous or visible by ordinary light.
*** Direct (automatic) writing.
*** Phantom forms and faces.
*** There is also the possibility of special instances that seem to point to the agency of a superior intelligence as well as miscellaneous occurrences of a complex character.
All of which sounds like a motherlode of the strange and bizarre and calls to mind many of the claims made by UFO abductees. This relationship between Spiritualism and UFOlogy has often been noted by Timothy Green Beckley, the CEO of the publishing houses Global Communications and Inner Light Publications. While Beckley is widely known as Mr. UFO, he has also long been interested in spiritualistic and occult matters and has republished classic works in the field.
The latest such offering from Beckley is “We Can Awaken the Dead: Evidence of an Afterlife Now!” It consists mainly of the personal journey to Spiritualist truth made by Vice Admiral W. Usborne Moore, a British naval officer who publicly advocated the notion that we can communicate with our departed loved ones.
Moore began as a skeptic. He talks of reading a book, at the recommendation of an acquaintance, by the aforementioned William Crookes called “Researches into the Phenomena of Modern Spiritualism,” which Moore said had led many people to the subject. Readers marveled that Crookes’ credentials as a scientist did not deter him from expounding at length on the existence of “forces exercised by invisible intelligences.”
Moore decided to test the waters himself and went to visit a clairvoyant named Mrs. Crompton, in Portsmouth, England, in 1904.
“She clairvoyantly saw a spirit form near me,” Moore writes, “that answered very nearly to ‘Iola’ as I remember her.”
Another medium, a Mr. Vango, described Iola to Moore two or three times, giving her name.
“These were the first intimations I received,” Moore explains, “of the desire of my relative to get in touch with me.”
As time passed and Moore visited other mediums, Iola continued to reach out to Moore.
“To be brief,” Moore writes, “I found that the deeper I went into the study of Spiritism, the more apparent it became that, whether he wished it or not, man’s individuality was not extinguished at death. I read books, visited clairvoyants, and attended séances for materialization. Through all of this I was constantly reminded of the existence of a near and dear relative, older than myself, who passed away thirty-seven years ago in the prime of her life. Her continued reappearances could only lead me to one conclusion: I was being guided to a reconsideration of the problem of immortality.
“At last, I have come to the absolute conviction,” he continues, “that what we call ‘death’ is a mere incident, a door to a higher life that is, in reality, more substantial to the senses we shall hereafter possess than the one we set so much store upon here. The near relative who had proved to me this valuable truth is called in this volume ‘Iola,’ a spirit name which she herself adopted to avoid the unpleasant complications that may arise as to her identity among those of her friends and relatives who are not educated in Spiritism.”
Thus Moore was drawn to the subject by his lost relative reaching out to him and not the other way around. Iola seemed to reenter his life from the world of the dead completely unbidden and without prompting on Moore’s part.
Along with his heartfelt belief in the genuineness of Spiritualism, Moore also took aim at the debunkers.
“Nothing they write has tallied with what I’ve seen,” he declares. “For a concrete instance of the foolish suggestions put forward by these ignorant ‘know-it-alls,’ I would point to a recent work in which there is a description of how slate-writing is performed.”
Slate-writing falls into the category of “physical” spiritualist phenomena in which a spirit takes chalk in hand and write messages from beyond on a small slate.
“The writer says the sitter brings his own double slate,” Moore writes, “and the psychic deftly inserts a small piece of chalk previously prepared by being mixed with steel filings. While the slate is being held under the table or elsewhere, the psychic moves the chalk by means of a magnet concealed up his sleeve and does it as in mirror writing.”
The debunking writer unequivocally says the deceiving medium’s use of this method is unassailable fact, but Moore quite pointedly differs.
“This statement of ‘fact’ is untrue,” Moore argues. “Such a thing cannot be done. Even with an electromagnet in open sight it would be impossible to write twenty legible words. With a man sitting near you and watching you it is not possible to write five legible words without detection.”
Nevertheless, Moore admits, books by debunking authors sold well and perhaps helped the naysayers to climb the social ladder of the time.
“For the majority of educated people are anxious not to be disturbed in their amiable doctrines of a Day of Judgment,” Moore reasons, “and a fiery material hell in store for those who do not agree with them.”
Readers at this juncture will observe that the way the skeptics behaved during the heyday of spiritualism is similar to the debunkers today who go out of their way to discredit many UFO experiencers, be they abductees or the much more tainted contactees of the late 40s and 1950s.
Early on in his book, Moore describes other physical phenomena he had personally witnessed, which included the materialization of heads and busts of discarnate entities, spirit singing, whispers and the flight of a musical instrument around the room and over the heads of the sitters, all the while playing a definite tune.
“I saw and heard a number of things,” Moore writes, “that could not be explained by any system of juggling or deception of any sort.”
THE DAVENPORT BROTHERS – THE GREATEST PHYSICAL MEDIUMS OF ALL TIME?
Such physical manifestations as Moore described were an everyday occurrence for the Davenport Brothers, a duo of American spiritualists whose talents were celebrated by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the immortal detective Sherlock Holmes. Doyle had manufactured a character whose skills as a logician solved many crimes, but Doyle himself was given to more mystical beliefs. His struggle against the magician and escape artist Harry Houdini over the veracity of Spiritualist claims – including that of the Davenports – is well-known. Beckley has published a book [see the Suggested Reading list at the end of this article] dealing with their very public conflict as well as other strange theories about Houdini’s “hidden powers.”
Beckley has also published “Dark Séance: The Fabulous Davenport Brothers,” which is in part a reprint of a detailed account of their careers written in the early part of the 20th century. Their story began in 1846, when the Davenport family was disturbed by what they described as “raps, thumps, loud noises, snaps, cracking noises, in the dead of night.” Not knowing how to respond, they simply did nothing.
A few years later, when the famous Fox Sisters began making headlines for experiencing similar things, ten-year-old Elizabeth Davenport declared that if such things happened to anybody, they might as well happen to them. The Davenports gathered around their table, placed their hands upon it, as they had read the Fox Sisters had done, and waited to see what would happen. After a few moments a movement as of swelling or bulging was felt in the table, then crackling noises, tippings, raps, and, finally, very loud and violent noises.
Ira Davenport, five years older than his sister, Elizabeth, was “taken with a violent propensity to write, his hand becoming subject to extraordinary gyrations. These messages were believed to be quite beyond both his mental or physical powers, and contained matters known only to the persons to whom they were addressed, and quite beyond his personal knowledge.”
Another incident in this early stage of the Davenports’ development involved the knives, forks and dishes on the breakfast table beginning “to dance around as if suddenly imbued with vitality. In a few moments the table began to move, tipping up sideways, balancing itself on one leg and finally rising clear from the floor, floating in the air without the least support and moving in such a way that it was wonderful that the dishes upon it did not slide off and come crashing upon the floor.”
Meanwhile, Ira’s younger brother, William, had begun to communicate with an entity who said he was not of this Earth. The entity warned them to procure a large table for the better accommodation of those who would be coming from far and near to see these wonders for themselves. The family began to hold regular séances during which the physical manifestations were repeated in front of witnesses. Loud raps were heard; the table answered questions; spectral forms were seen in the flash of a pistol; lights appeared in the upper parts of the room; and musical instruments floated in the air while being played upon above the heads of the company.
The spirits somehow communicated to the Davenports that Ira and William should take their show on the road. They began by touring in Maine and obligingly permitted debunkers to thoroughly examine their equipment and to bind the brothers hand and foot so that no sleight of hand could be perpetrated. In spite of these conditions, the brothers were nevertheless able to conjure mysterious arms and hands that would play musical instruments.
While appearing in Philadelphia, the brothers were met with “violent opposition” from “philosophers,” religious bigots, other spiritualists and people spoiling for a fight in general. It required fifty policeman to keep order. In spite of this, the brothers still produced the most extraordinary manifestations even before hostile crowds.
They continued to amaze observers and moved on to tour England and Scotland, appearing not only in theaters but also in private homes. In exclusive drawing rooms in London, they performed before not the “ignorant or the credulous,” but a select company that included some of the sharpest minds in England, none of whom could see any method of deception on the part of the Davenport Brothers.
A writer for a London newspaper, The Morning Post, who was present for one such private séance, reported – somewhat bewilderedly – that, “Possibly they may be [clever conjurers] or it is possible that some new physical force can be engendered at will to account for what appears on the face of it absolutely unaccountable. All that can be asserted is that the displays to which we have referred took place on the present occasion under conditions and circumstances that preclude the presumption of fraud. Here is a field for the investigation of the scientific world.”
Beckley’s “Dark Séance: The Fabulous Davenport Brothers” also includes his own musings on the brothers and Spiritualism in general, with particular attention given to the similarities between Spiritualism and UFOs. It is certainly true that both fields cry out for serious study by the scientific community, as The Morning Post writer urged in his account of the London séance.
This has been but a brief overview of “Dark Séance,” but the book itself is rich in fascinating detail. Ira died in 1911 and his brother William died tragically young at age 36 in 1877. Whatever the secret to their apparent miraculous powers was, it has never been disclosed or discovered.
THIRTY YEARS AMONG THE DEAD
While one reads Vice Admiral W. Usborne Moore and the Davenport Brothers in large part because they deal with physical manifestations of Spiritualistic workings, there is also another avenue explored in a book from Inner Light/Global Communications called “Thirty Years Among the Dead,” first published in 1924. The book is still available in older, more expensive editions, but Beckley’s version is the only one that can truly be called “complete and unabridged.”
“Thirty Years” is not, as the title may suggest to some, a dull account of hanging around a morgue somewhere. It offers instead a still vitally relevant approach to abnormal psychology that is based on the idea that extreme mental illness is caused – not by a harsh environment or muddled brain chemistry – but by the encroachment upon the innocent by the discarnate spirits of the evil dead.
You may already be thinking that therein lies the stuff of a great horror movie, but you will be intrigued to learn that “Thirty Years Among the Dead” is a factual, well-documented account of treating and actually curing the mentally ill by contacting the oppressing spirits within the sufferer and convincing those spirits to leave.
To carry out this form of therapeutic spiritualism, a physician named Dr. Carl A. Wickland worked alongside his wife, Anna, an accredited medium who voluntarily allowed herself to be temporarily possessed by these wicked spirits in order to better understand their tormented motivations. The Wicklands would then use this information to treat the victims who so grievously suffered under these destructive otherworldly influences. Along with the mediumistic coercion of spirits conducted by his wife, Dr. Wickland would administer low voltage electric shocks to the patient’s neck and spine with a device called a “Wimhurst generator,” a wand-like instrument that worked to “dislodge” the wicked spirit of the dead.
In his introduction to the new edition, Beckley explains that the Wicklands felt they had absolute evidence that these demented spirits of the dead liked to hang around the living in order to continue their evil ways even from the afterlife. In essence, they would leech onto those who were prone to similar fits of debauchery or were well on their way to a life of unabated revelry and eventual damnation.
“The influence of these discarnate entities,” Dr. Wickland writes, “is the cause of many of the inexplicable and obscure events of earth life and of a large part of the world’s misery. A recognition of this fact accounts for a great portion of unbidden thoughts, emotions, strange forebodings, gloomy moods, irritabilities, unreasonable impulses, irrational outbursts of temper, uncontrollable infatuations, and countless other mental vagaries.”
Dr. Wickland points out that “records of spirit obsession and possession extend from the remotest antiquity to modern times,” including the Old and New Testaments and the Homeric legends. The Wicklands’ work stands as an example of the power of certain Spiritualist practices to heal deep psychological and emotional wounds, something science is still groping in the dark to accomplish through medication and simple talk therapy.
And while it is true that Spiritualism cannot today claim the many millions of followers and believers it had in the years between 1850 and the early decades of the 20th century, Timothy Green Beckley is part of the process of keeping the movement in front of the reading public and demonstrating its continued relevance to many fields of the occult sciences and to the pursuit of the truth underlying UFOs and alien abduction. Beckley’s publishing efforts may one day help the world to arrive at a kind of paranormal “Theory of Everything” where all the mysteries fit in their proper places – to the enlightenment of us all.
“We Can Awaken the Dead: Evidence of an Afterlife Now”
“Dark Séance: The Fabulous Davenport Brothers”
“Revealing the Amazing Powers of Harry Houdini”
VIDEO/AUDIO – MR. UFO’S SECRET FILES
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