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What is Spiritualism / Spiritism?

Divination attempts to foretell the future, Magick, to change it, while Spiritualism attempts to communicate with the dead, to receive information and help from our 'loved ones' who have departed from this material world to that of the spirit.  The spirit, often called the soul, is the ‘real you’, the essence of what you were, what you are now, and what you always will be.  We all come from somewhere, so for sake of argument let’s call it the world of spirit (although we actually originate from the divine source of our Creator).  When we are conceived our spirit enters what we term our ‘body’.  Once born in our earthly body we soon tend to forget from where we originated and the purpose of our being here.  But we exist for our lifetime to experience events, both good and bad, which are essential for our spirit to evolve, to progress in its search for enlightenment.  So the world of spirit is where we come from when we are born and to where we return when we die, although there is no such thing as spiritual death for it is simply a new beginning.

Spiritualism is often referred to as Necromancy, although this has come to be associated more broadly with black magick and demon-summoning in general.  Many references to necromancy can be found in the Bible, one such example being in Deuteronomy chapter 18, verses 9 – 12, where the Israelites are specifically warned against the Canaanite practice of 'divination using the dead'.  This warning was not always heeded though, for racking my brain I soon discovered that my compulsory Religious Education lessons at school (countless years ago) had not been in vain when I recalled that no lesser person than King Saul (chosen by God to be the first king of Israel), in suitable disguise and anonymously, paid a visit to the Witch of Endor to ask her to invoke the 'shade' of Samuel, despite his having driven all necromancers and magicians from Israel.

Spiritism should be distinguished from Spiritualism, a religion and philosophical doctrine which holds, in general, that there is a spiritual order of beings no less real than in the material world and, in particular, that the soul of man is a spiritual substance.  Spiritualism is the name given to the belief that the living can and do communicate with the spirits of the departed, as well as to the various practices by which such communication is attempted, and is the equivalent of the French spiritisme.  Spiritism, however, is also associated with Allan Kardec's doctrine of reincarnation which does not have a place in spiritualism, although it does have many other points in common with its English counterpart.  Apart from Spiritism's belief in reincarnation, the two terms are virtually interchangeable.

Many people are deterred from visiting a Spiritualist church because Spiritualism is considered a religion, which, in reality, it is.  The major difference is that although Spiritualism does have its religious ceremony or ritual, i.e. hymns and prayers, it has much more to offer its congregation or casual visitor.  It is not a major world faith trying desperately to thrust its doctrines down our throats, to force us to ‘follow our leader’ blindly and without question.  Just try to name any single one of the ‘religious leaders’ in either of the world’s two major religions, evangelism or Islamism, who does not live in opulence whilst their indoctrinated ‘faithful followers’ exist in relative poverty clinging desperately to the dogma of that religion!  Neither does Spiritualism bear any resemblance to other ‘religions’ such as the Jehovah's Witnesses or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as the Mormons).

Instead of adopting attitudes like the faiths mentioned above, Spiritualism is extremely tolerant and attracts a multi-faith congregation.  But what makes Spiritualism so different from any other religion is that during the actual service a medium gives a demonstration of his/her psychic powers in an attempt to provide proof that we survive death and are not committed to a life of eternal suffering if we have 'strayed'.  This philosophy is based on the Seven Principles of Spiritualism (The National Association of Spiritualist Churches in the USA has nine principles which provide more information about Spiritualist beliefs).

The Seven Principles

The concepts and original wording of the Seven Principles came through the mediumship of Emma Hardinge Britten (1823 - 1899), one of Spiritualism’s greatest mediums and speakers.  In 1871, the communicating spirit of Robert Owen (1771 – 1858), a Welsh utopian socialist and social reformer (considered the father of the cooperative movement), inspired her to summarise the philosophy of Spiritualism in principles upon which all Spiritualists would agree.  These are:

  • The Fatherhood of God.
  • The Brotherhood of Man.
  • The Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels.
  • The Continuous Existence of the Human Soul.
  • Personal Responsibility.
  • Compensation and Retribution Hereafter for all the Good and Evil Deeds done on Earth.
  • Eternal Progress open to Every Human Soul.

The Fatherhood of God

Each of us has his or her idea of what or who God is.  To some, He is a stern personality who sits on a throne in heaven, and instils fear in his believers while severely punishing wrongdoers.  To others he is a benign Father who cares for his vast family of individuals, irrespective of colour or creed, and is personified in everything that is beautiful around us.  The latter is the broad Spiritualist viewpoint, as envisaging the one supreme power.  Spiritualists regard God as the creator of a divine plan, the natural law through which He governs the universe He created, but based on love as opposed to fear.  He is the controlling force of all and the Greatest Central Source of all life and love as Andrew Jackson Davis, one of Spiritualism’s pioneers so forcefully proclaimed.  When we transgress these laws we are betraying a trust for which we shall have to pay, either here, or in the life hereafter.  Our relationship with God is thus determined by our obedience to these laws.

The Brotherhood of Man

If we accept the Fatherhood of God, then it naturally follows that we must be his children, i.e. brothers and sisters in one family of all races and colours, which confers upon us a dual responsibility – to our Father and to each other.  This can be summed up in one word – service.  The inequalities in modern society, such as the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the wise and the ignorant, provide an incentive for love and service.  In our daily lives we meet those who need material help, to whom a kind word or small act may work wonders.  If we extend this call to service beyond the confines of our family, our town, our country, into the whole world, pain and suffering, tumult and wars would cease.  In this way we would bring into being ‘that peace which passes all understanding’.  But it goes further than that, for the real meaning of our existence is not only our obligation to our fellow men.  Man, being himself a spirit here on earth, is immortal so the brotherhood of man is extended into the spirit spheres.  Spiritualism therefore gives a new and higher meaning to our mutual interdependence and to the word Brotherhood.

The Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels

This is the key around which Spiritualism’s whole philosophy turns.  Orthodoxy denies the reality of communion with departed spirits, whereas for well over a century Spiritualism has proved conclusively that man not only survives physical death, but is able, through mediums, to commune with those left behind.  But not simply that, for spirits spend a lot of their time giving us help and guidance in various ways with our earthly problems.  There are certain persons among us who are called mediums, who are highly sensitive to ‘spirit vibrations’ so are able to establish contact with those who have passed over and who wish to communicate with us.  Each one of us has a spirit guide or helper – a ‘guardian angel’ if you prefer, who uses the medium as an instrument through whom he can communicate.  Because of this we are able to learn how our loved ones are faring in their new environment and new way of life.  This proof of survival is of tremendous benefit to those who are bereaved.

The Continuous Existence of the Human Soul

There is an effect of the previous principle which serves to highlight how much the Spiritualist philosophy is so diametrically opposed to the materialist conception of life.  All the great religions of the world subscribe to some form of life after death in some ill-defined heavenly existence, but because they have failed to prove it to the satisfaction of modern realists, they have lost their hold on the people.  Spiritualism on the other hand does prove this fact in no uncertain manner and in so doing has profoundly revolutionised our lives in that our behaviour is no longer encompassed within the narrow limits of our earthly lives, but extends into eternity.  Our mode of living here on earth will determine our spiritual status in the life to come.

Personal Responsibility

This is the major doctrinal difference between Spiritualism and orthodox religions.  The basis of the Christian religion rests on the belief that Jesus died on a cross to save us from our sins.  Spiritualism most strongly repudiates this.  Jesus was put to death by crucifixion for political reasons.  Crucifixion was the then normal method of execution for most offences, including robbery.  The Jewish priests were afraid He would seize their power through his teaching and healing, while the Romans felt he might raise a rebellion against them.  Spiritualism asserts that no one but ourselves can save us from our wrong doing.  Man, through his conscience, knows the difference between right and wrong and is given free will to choose which road to take.  No one, be he religious or an atheist, can escape the consequences of his own mistakes.  God does not sit in judgement over us; we have to be our own judges.  What the church calls sin, Spiritualism regards as the violation of God’s divine natural laws, which Paul interpreted when he wrote “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.”  Man alone has to atone for his sins and not avoid his responsibilities.

Compensation and Retribution Hereafter for all the Good and Evil Deeds done on Earth

This follows on from what has been said above.  The Orthodox Church would have us believe that on this awesome Day of Judgement God will sit on his throne and cast each one of us into heaven or hell.  Heaven and hell are simply states of mind of our own creation and not celestial localities.  Our code of life on this earth will determine our spiritual status in the world of spirit.  It is equally wrong to think that because one attends church regularly, or performs evangelical or ‘other good works’ one will automatically be given pride of place in the hereafter.  It will be our everyday deeds and motives for them that will count, and how well we have carried out the precept 'Do unto others…'  Neither is it true that after our passing we will become a saint.  Death does not make us spiritually aware.

Eternal Progress open to Every Human Soul

The idea of eternal progress may seem hard for us to understand in a world where everything has an ending, but in the world to come, where there are neither clocks nor calendars, time is immaterial.  Spiritualism points to the certainty of eternal progress, but the rate of our own particular advancement will depend upon ones desire to do so, remembering that we shall have the same free will as we have here.  We shall by no means be idle in the spirit world, in fact, we shall be very busy pursuing the paths which will lead us toward perfection – and we shall have the rest of eternity in which to do it.  The transition from our earthly world to our new existence in the higher life does not alter our present make-up or character.  We shall be just the same as we were before the passing, retaining our free will to fashion our new life with the sure knowledge that we shall be given the opportunity to make spiritual progress with no limit on time or to the heights we can achieve.  Once again, we come face to face with our personal responsibility, even on the other side.

These seven principles are the crux of Spiritualism's philosophy.  They are inter-dependent and their influence has transformed man's outlook on life (and death).

The Spirit World and Spirit Beings

The Spirit World

Spiritualists teach that the spirit world exists all around and within the material world that human beings inhabit, but in a different dimension, or on a different plane.  They also believe that upon death everyone goes to the spirit world, but that those who have done wrong, i.e. sinned, go to less pleasant parts of that world -- because they will gravitate to spend time with other spirit beings who behave badly.  Spirit beings can work to improve themselves and thus move to a more pleasant level of the spirit world.

Spirit Beings

Spirit beings are people who have physically died and moved to the spirit world.  Spiritualists believe that people do this irrespective of their allegiance to a particular faith on earth, or even their lack of faith.  They also believe that spirit beings can 'show' themselves (or make themselves known in some way) to people in the material world.  Spirit beings can continue to develop and improve in the spirit world, becoming wiser and a 'better person' than they were in the material world.  This enables some spirit-beings to take on the role of guides and teachers to help people in this world.


A medium is a person whom Spiritualists firmly believe is able to see, hear or sense beings in the spirit world, and who carries messages from the spirit world to this world and vice versa.  This ability of mediums is said to be the result of enhanced natural powers as opposed to supernatural gifts.  A medium is especially sensitive to the vibrations of the spirit world.

To become a medium, Spiritualists say you need to develop an extremely high level of sensitivity and understanding, and to some extent be able to control the mind.  Mediums go into a meditative state in order to shut out the everyday world.

Mental mediumship

Mental mediumship occurs when a spirit sends messages through the mind of the medium.  This can produce phenomena such as:
  • Clairvoyance: Seeing spirits
  • Clairaudience: Hearing spirits
  • Clairsentience: Sensing spirits in some other way

Physical mediumship

Physical mediumship occurs when a spirit materialises or speaks through the medium.  This may involve phenomena such as rapping and levitation, spirit voices and the production of ectoplasm.  (Ectoplasm, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is 'A viscous substance which is supposed to emanate from the body of a spiritualistic medium, and to develop into a human form or face.')  A medium may work in a trance state in which a spirit 'takes over' the medium to communicate directly with the people present.

Mediums are not fortune-tellers, but Spiritualists believe that the messages sent by spirit beings may give some idea of the future.  According to the National Association of Spiritualist Churches (NASC), an inhabitant of the Spirit World can, to a certain degree, predict future events with greater or less accuracy, depending upon conditions.  This is done by reasoning based on observation of past and present conditions and events, and is more accurate than is the same process as used by us.  This is because the Spirit reasoner is not hampered by a physical body, nor by the conventional and set ideas that go with the limitations of such a body.

Spiritualism and Christianity

Many Spiritualists believe that Christianity and Spiritualism are compatible but many more Christians would strongly disagree.  However, one way in which Christianity has been combined with Spiritualism is in this code of beliefs from The Greater World Christian Spiritualist Association:
  • I believe in one God who is Love.
  • I accept the Leadership of Jesus the Christ.
  • I believe that God manifests through the illimitable power of holy spirit.
  • I believe in the survival of the soul and its individuality after physical death.
  • I believe in Communion with God, with His angelic ministers, and with souls functioning in conditions other than Earth Life.
  • I believe that all forms of Life created by God intermingle, are interdependent, and evolve until perfection is attained.
  • I believe in perfect justice of the Divine Laws governing all Life.
  • I believe that sins committed can only be rectified by the sinner himself or herself, through the redemptive power of Jesus the Christ, by repentance and service to others.

Spiritualism and Reincarnation

Spiritualism differs from many ideas of reincarnation in that a spirit being can work to improve itself while remaining in the spirit world.  In other words, it doesn't have to return to the material world to improve.


How to Find What You're Looking For on this Page

Apart from the above introduction to and description of Spiritualism, we have broken down this subject into four headings as listed below.  In addition, you will find a short biography of Doris Stokes, the famous English clairaudient medium of the late 20th century, plus two other sections, one relating to the Spiritualists' National Union and the other to the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951 (which incorporates the repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1735).  Click on the link to go directly to the section you wish to read, or simply scroll down the screen until you reach it.

Both here and near the bottom of the page we have provided a link to another page on the site where you can read some True Paranormal Tales, from the archives and personal happenings to visitors to the site.  We could do with many more, so please contribute!

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How Spiritualism/Spiritism Developed Throughout the World

Click on one of the links below to see how spiritualism developed in certain areas throughout the world, or simply scroll down the screen until you reach it.


Spiritualistic practices originated in ancient civilisations, but even though such practices were widespread throughout the world, they were virtually unknown in the modern Western world until March 1848 when strange happenings were reported in the small town of Hydesville, New York State, USA, at the home of a farmer named Fox.  It transpired that previous occupants of the house had been disturbed, usually at night, by unexplained rapping noises.  Kate Fox, the youngest daughter of the household, is reputed to have challenged the supposed spirit to repeat the number of times she snapped her fingers.  Having 'successfully established contact', a code was agreed upon in which the raps given would answer questions posed, one rap meaning 'yes', and two meaning 'no'.  The spirit identified itself as Mr. Splitfoot, a man who had been murdered in the house - a skeleton was dug up in the basement sometime later.

In 1855 Leah and Margaret Fox, sisters of Kate, publicly admitted at the New York Academy of Music that it was they who had caused the rapping noises with their toes, but later retracted this confession, claiming to have been bribed into making it.

The tale of the Fox sisters spurred immediate interest, and the revival of Spiritualism was underway.  The Fox sisters devoted much of their lives to acting as mediums in the USA and Spiritualism began to flourish throughout the world.  In 1852, four years after the rapping sounds were first heard, a Spiritualist Convention was held in Cleveland which caused additional impetus to the movement, by means of assistance from Horace Greeley, editor of the 'New York Tribune'.

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Further to this, in 1854, at the age of 50, Allan Kardec heard of the mysterious paranormal phenomena that were taking America and Europe by storm.  Allan Kardec was the nom de plume of Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, a French educator and philosopher who was born in Lyon on 3 October 1804.  He was an extremely well educated man and spoke several languages.  His intellectual background led to his teaching astronomy, comparative physiology, chemistry and physics in a prestigious scientific school in Paris.  Despite his scepticism, Kardec was convinced by close friends to attend an experimental meeting where he was able to witness such occurrences firsthand.  His intellectual curiosity and scientific instincts told him there had to be a rational explanation for these 'happenings', as a result of which he began to conduct his own stringent investigations.

Using the same logical rigour that he applied to his work in education and science he set out to understand the phenomena, submitting questions to many different mediums in different countries.  The answers he received were then compared, analysed, and organised for inclusion in 'The Spirits’ Book', first published in 1857.  A copy of this eBook along with well over 300 other eBooks and documents relating to most aspects of the occult can now be obtained by purchasing our Aspects of the occult Download.

Two other mediums of special interest in the 19th century were Daniel Dunglas Home (1833 - 1886) and Eusapia Palladino (1854 - 1918).  Daniel Home started demonstrating his psychic powers from the age of thirteen, and continued to amaze people, including the aristocracy, up to his death.  He also healed people and was famous for his feats of levitation, witnessed in good light.  In 1868 one of Home's most legendary feats of levitation occurred.  It was during a séance in London (the address is questionable), when he demonstrated his abilities before a crowd of people, including Lords Adare and Linksay, by effortlessly floating across the room, passing out of an open third story window, and returning the same way.

Eusapia Palladino could move objects with just a glance, her mediumship manifesting itself at about the age of fourteen.  Her mother died in childbirth, and her father when she was twelve, so she went to stay at the house of some friends.  She was persuaded to sit at a table with some others one evening, when after ten minutes the table levitated, chairs began to dance, the curtains in the room began to swell, and glasses and bottles moved around of their own volition.  Each of the sitters was tested in an attempt to discover the person responsible for these movements.  Eventually it was decided that Eusapia was the medium, although she took no particular interest in the proceedings, and only consented to further sittings to please her hosts and thus avoid being sent to a convent.

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Africa/Latin America

  • Lukumí / Macumba

    In Nigeria, the Ju-Ju tribe of the Yorùbá culture has a religion with 600 'gods'.  Since crossing to Cuba and Brazil on slave ships, we now find Lukumí (formerly Santeria), whereas in Brazil its name is 'Macumba'.  Lukumí originated in Cuba and was historically practised by descendants of West African slaves after their 'owners' purposely divided families and mixed members of different African ethnic groups as a way of maintaining control.  Later, in the early 18th century, the Spanish Catholic church allowed for the creation of societies called cabildos to provide means for entertainment and reconstruction of many aspects of ethnic heritage for both sides.  The slaves practised Yorùbá religious ceremonies in these cabildos, along with religious and secular traditions from other parts of Africa, combining their 'masters' Catholic saints with their own Orisha, which came to be known as Lukumí.

    Various explanations of the word Macumba include a 'musical instrument', the name of a Central African deity, and 'magick'.  It was the name used for all Bantu religious practices, mainly in Rio de Janeiro in the 19th Century.  Later, during the 20th century these practices re-aligned themselves into what are now called Umbanda, Quimbanda and Omoloko.  The word Macumba came into common usage throughout Brazil amongst the non-practicing population as a derogatory or sniping word meaning black witchcraft.

  • Voodoo

    The term Voodoo is applied to the branches of the West African Fon-Ewe people of Benin (formerly the Kingdom of Dahomey), where Vodun (Voodoo) is now the national religion of more than 7 million people.  The word Vodun translates into 'spirit'.  Since crossing on slave ships from Dahomey to Cuba and Brazil, we now find 'Voodoo' or 'Vadium' in Haiti, also known as 'Hoodoo' in Mississippi and New Orleans.  Voodoo is a religious system based mainly on Theist-Animist religious traditions which seek assistance and oracles from divine powers, but which now incorporates many other components and has been further developed through time and as circumstances dictated.

  • Umbanda

    Umbanda is a religion based on the worship of Angolan spirits.  It was brought to Brazil during the colonial period by African slaves from the Bantu tribes of Congo,and now incorporates other elements drawn from Brazilian popular culture.  Orixás (Gods), from the Yorùbá culture, are given token rule over the various legions of spirits, and associated with a Catholic saint under whose guidance the spirits work.  This association began during the time when African slaves in Brazil were persecuted by their 'owners' for practicing their religion.  Their solution was to hide the original worshipping objects representing the spiritual entities under different Catholic saints' statues, thus giving the slave owners the false impression that they were worshipping that particular saint, which possessed the same personality or qualities of the worshipped entity.

  • Candomblé

    Candomblé is an African religion, practiced chiefly in Brazil, which came from Africa via African priests and followers who were brought as slaves between 1549 and 1850.  The name Batuque is also used, but that was mainly prior to the 19th century when Candomblé became more common.  Both words are believed to derive from the Bantu language.

    Although originally confined to the slave population, banned by the Catholic church, and even criminalised by some governments, Candomblé thrived for over four centuries, expanding considerably after the end of slavery in the late 1800s.  It is now a major, established religion, with followers from all social classes and tens of thousands of temples.

    For about 2 million Brazilians (1.5% of the population) Candomblé is their established religion, a spiritualist religion worshipping a number of gods or spirits, derived from African deities possessing individual personalities, skills, and ritual preferences, and connected to specific natural phenomena.  Candomblé deities, rituals, and holidays are now an integral part of Brazilian folklore.

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The Society for Psychical Research (SPR)

In the years following the sensation that greeted the Fox sisters, demonstrations of mediumship such as séances and automatic writing, proved to be a profitable venture, and soon became popular forms of entertainment.  The Fox sisters were to earn a living through it and others followed their lead.  Showmanship became an increasingly important part of Spiritualism, the visible, audible, and tangible 'evidence of spirits' escalating as mediums vied for paying audiences.  Fraud was widespread during this period as independent investigating commissions repeatedly established, one of the most notable being the report commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania by the Seybert Commission published in 1887.  Some mediums, of course, were genuine, but what was needed was some kind of recorded scientific investigation either to prove or disprove it.

Frederick Myers, Professor Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Gurney formed an association of people interested in investigating paranormal claims, including Arthur (later to become Prime Minister) Balfour, his wife Eleanor and Lord Rayleigh.  In 1876 one of their first major investigations was of a medium by the name of Henry Slade who was later found guilty of deception.  They continued their investigations over the next six years during which they became associated with several other individuals also involved in investigating claims relating to the paranormal.

In 1882 a committee was formed, resulting in the founding of the SPR with Henry Sidgwick (1838 - 1900) as its president.  The initial membership included friends of the original group such as Lewis Carroll and William Gladstone.  The SPR was the forerunner of many other societies of this nature which were to follow, and is still in existence today, as is its sister society formed in the USA in 1885.  It continues to research and investigate, as well as trying to understand events and/or abilities described as paranormal or psychic.  In addition to Sidgwick, some of its more notable former presidents include Prime Minister A.J. Balfour, F.W.H. Myers, the Nobel Laureate Charles Richet, Sir Alister Hardy and William James.

Other prominent members of the SPR included Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Sir Oliver Lodge, Harry Houdini, Harry Price (see below) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930).  At the age of nine, Doyle was sent to a Jesuit boarding school in England where he remained until he graduated at the age of 17.  Having decided to pursue a medical career, he gained his 'Bachelor of Medicine & Master of Surgery' degree in 1881.  He was introduced to the occult whilst working as a physician in Southsea (adjacent to Portsmouth on the south coast of England) by General Drayson, one of his patients, who invited him to take part in a table turning sitting at his house.  He was amazed by what he saw and heard, so much so that he continued to attend these sittings on a regular basis throughout the years 1885 - 1888.

His sceptical interest was aroused to such a point that he eventually joined the SPR, where he was to begin a series of experiments into telepathy with a lady by the name of Mrs Ball, during which he became totally convinced that her telepathic abilities were genuine.  He continued his investigations into paranormal/psychic phenomena for approximately 30 years before finally associating himself with a belief in Spiritism through his book The New Revelation.  His most famous work on this subject is a two-volume set of books titled The History of Spiritualism, available on my Aspects of the Occult CD.

In 1922 the SPR became involved in a well documented scandal surrounding William Hope (1863 - 1933), a spirit photographer, whom Sir Arthur defended fervently.  His defence of Hope caused deep divisions within the society, which eventually came to a head when the honour of a close friend of Sir Arthur's was compromised by the SPR.  Soon after this event he resigned, as did many other members of the time.

However, this was not the end of his association with Spiritualism, for in 1925 he was nominated honorary president at the International Spiritualist Congress in Paris, and he also became president of the London Spiritualist Alliance.

Harry Price (1881 - 1948) was another renowned member of the SPR.  When he joined in 1920, his career as Britain’s most famous ghost investigator had already begun.  He had spent countless hours at supposed haunted houses, and investigating Spiritualist mediums.  He was also an expert magician and made a name for himself within the SPR for using his magic skills to debunk fraudulent psychics, which at the time seems to have been the main objective of SPR investigations.

One of his most celebrated ‘frauds’ was William Hope, the spirit photographer mentioned above who had been defended by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The relationship between Price and the society became strained after this, and in 1923 he left the SPR and founded the National Laboratory for Psychical Research.  This later became the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation of which he was Honorary Secretary and Editor.  To read the story to the left concerning Harry Price stating that he REALLY SAW A GHOST, simply click on the image to enlarge it.  To return to this page, just click on the enlarged image.  To read more about Harry Price and his many investigations, click HERE to visit a very interesting website dedicated to his memory.

However, despite widespread fraud, the appeal of Spiritualism was strong, particularly for those grieving the death of a loved one.  Perhaps one of the best-known cases is that of Mary Todd Lincoln who, grieving the loss of her son, organised Spiritualist séances in the White House which were attended by her husband, President Abraham Lincoln.  The movement also appealed to some of those who had a materialist orientation and rejected organised religion.

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Extra Sensory Perception (ESP)

Extra Sensory Perception, or ESP, is a collective term describing communication or perception by means of other than our five physical senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, i.e. a sixth sense.  Joseph Banks Rhine (1895-1980), Professor of Psychology at Duke University in the USA, conducted thousands of experiments producing statistical evidence of the existence of a telepathic function in some individuals, and coined the term ESP (also referred to as psi after the 'agent' through which the mind is able to receive the ESP impressions).

Rhine used Zener cards when conducting his experiments, designed in the early 1930s by one of his colleagues, the perceptual psychologist Karl Zener (1903 - 1964).  They consisted of five designs (now generally described as ESP symbols) these being a plus sign, a square, a circle, s set of three wavy lines and a five-pointed star.  The symbols were printed in black ink, on cards similar in size to, and resembling, playing cards.

His experiments were of a simple design in that the subject had to try to guess or call the order of the five symbols when they were arranged at random in a deck of 25 ESP cards.  The chance of calling a card correctly was clearly one in five, which made it possible to calculate how often a particular score was likely to occur by chance in a given number of calls.  Rhine argued that when a subject recorded a high score which could be expected by chance only once in a thousand tries, or once in a million, they displayed extrachance results, or ESP.

In addition to Rhine's experiments, the Ganzfeld (a German word meaning 'complete field') experiments, originated by the German psychologist Wolfgang Metzger (1899 - 1979), are considered to have been the most carefully scrutinised ESP experiments.  Alleged psychics had their eyes covered and ears blocked while a ‘sender’ attempted to transmit messages to them.  Later the psychics would compare the messages received with those sent out.  There was a great deal of excitement and interest at the time but the research failed to produce any convincing results.

Coming more up to date, computer games have increasingly been used to test ESP, the computer being programmed in such a way that a random series determines the targets, while the subjects attempt to 'outguess' the computer.

There are distinct differences between ESP and mediumship, although some do class mediumship as ESP.  One argument against is the fact that ESP is a partial or complete correspondence between the mental patterns of two persons, i.e. the ‘transmitter’ and the ‘receiver’.  In mediumship the information to be received is often unknown by the sitter, but in the absence of a ‘transmitter’ the ESP explanation does not fit what is happening in mediumship – unless we agree that the ‘transmitter’ is in the ‘Spirit World’.

Some people accept and firmly believe in ESP while others are completely sceptical, one of their strongest criticisms against it being that in order for it to exist, the fundamental laws of physics would have to be broken – but the laws of physics as we know them are only those that we know!  Parapsychologists, however, dedicated to scientifically studying claims of this ability, provide credibility to the subject, and have identified four distinct types of ESP:

  • Clairvoyance

    This is a French word meaning ‘clear seeing’.  It is a paranormal mode of perception in which visual images are presented to the conscious mind.  The perception may be of objects, people and/or scenes from the present, past or future.  The clairvoyant experience may be spontaneous or induced through meditation, scrying or other methods of divination.

    Clairaudience falls within this category, another French word meaning ‘clear hearing’ and describing the ability to hear sounds removed from our natural hearing conditions or the environment.  Parapsychology refers to clairaudience as extra-sensory information received as sound.  To someone experiencing this it is as if another person’s voice is being heard orally.  The sound, however, is not audible and the physical ear does not receive it.  It is closely allied to clairvoyance but the impressions are heard rather than seen.  Consequently, it could be likened to hearing with the spiritual ear or mental hearing.

  • Telepathy

    Frederic William Henry Myers (1843–1901), a co-founder of the SPR, coined the term ‘telepathy’ during his research into the possibilities of thought transference.  He defined it as ‘transmission of thought independently of the recognised channels of sense’.

    Telepathy is the communication between minds by means other than normal sensory channels, i.e. the transference of thought without the use of speech, gestures or other physical means.  Telepathy could be described as mind-to-mind communication, a means of obtaining the mental state or thought of another person existing in the 'here' or 'hereafter'.

  • Precognition

    This is the term applied to having knowledge of something that has not yet happened, to see into the future, especially by extra sensory perception (clairvoyance).

    Retrocognition is the opposite of Precognition in that it is the ability to see into the distant past.

  • Psychometry

    This is the ability to glean information about a person or a place just by touching or holding a physical object that is somehow 'linked' to that person or place.

    There is another possible fifth element to ESP - again, some say it is while others dispute it.  Nevertheless, it is certainly worth mentioning:

    Psychokinesis (P.K.)

    This is a term used in parapsychology to describe the ability to influence an inanimate physical object just by thinking about it, i.e. by exercising psychic powers.

So, ESP is basically a ‘catch-all’ expression for the alleged ability of certain individuals to receive transmitted thoughts from others, and vice versa, to ‘see’ what will happen in the future, or to be able to move objects from one place to another without physical contact.  These especially gifted people are called psychics or sensitives.  It is supposed that we all possess this ability to some degree but that without the proper development, it remains ‘hidden’.

Human beings have always been attracted to the whole spectrum of supernatural phenomena, and thus ESP will always continue to fascinate us.  This becomes patently obvious when we see just how much of the media is dedicated to the topic; magazines, journals, web sites, television and radio programmes.  Some of the most successful films in recent years have fuelled an interest amongst the younger generations who are starting to ask the same questions and to look for explanations for the same phenomena as their parents and grandparents before them.

One day we might just find these answers because one thing we can be sure of is the truth is out there somewhere!  (To coin a phrase from a well-known TV series).

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The Ouija Board

Prior to the Ouija board, a small basket with a pencil attached to one end was the means used to get 'written answers' from the spirit world.  The medium would touch the basket to establish contact, at which stage the 'spirit' took over and wrote the message.  The 'pencil basket' soon evolved into a heart-shaped planchette; this had two rotating casters as legs, plus a pencil at its tip which formed the third leg.

Not long after the planchette's appearance, an astonishing new development known as the 'talking board' arrived on the scene, the first patent for which was filed on 28 May 1890.  It was eventually granted on 10 February 1891 showing Elijah J. Bond as the inventor, with the assignees as Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin, all from Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Charles Kennard called the new board 'Ouija' (pronounced wE-ja) supposedly after the Egyptian word for good luck.  Unfortunately for Kennard, Ouija is not Egyptian for good luck.  It is thought that the name more likely derived from the Moroccan city Oujda (also spelled Oujida and Oudjda), but even non-linguists are aware that the word ouija is also a concatenation of the French and German words for 'yes' - 'oui' and 'ja' (short for 'jawohl').

Resurgence in sales of Ouija boards came about in the 1960s with a revival of interest in all things occult and metaphysical.  Consequently, they were sold in many countries as a board game.  Still very popular today, Ouija boards are small boards, simple in design, on which the letters of the alphabet are inscribed along with the numbers 0 to 9; some may also bear the words 'YES', 'NO', 'GOOD BYE' and 'MAYBE'.  The Ouija board is used to try to establish contact with the souls of the departed.  Participants sit around a table, the focal point being the board in the centre of the table.  They place their hands on a 'pointer' or 'inverted glass', then should contact be made the pointer or glass will move around the board spelling out answers to questions put to the spirit.  Persons of a nervous disposition can be easily frightened when using a Ouija board, so it is suggested they avoid them.

Some users are firmly convinced that a paranormal or supernatural force is at work when spelling out the answers.  Sceptics, on the other hand, believe that it is the participants themselves who, either consciously or unconsciously, move the pointer or glass to the appropriate letters to ensure they get the answer they want.  Only those actually involved know the truth.

There is supposedly ‘evidence’ to suggest that using a Ouija board can open one up in terms of sensitivity, but bear in mind that if using a Ouija board is equivalent to opening a door into the unknown, then it should be understood that whoever is using the board has no control as to who might walk through that door and into his or her life.  Instead of a kind and helpful spirit it just might be a malevolent one.

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Some Definitions

Astral Plane.  This is considered to be ‘somewhere’ which exists at a level just beyond the scope of normal human perception where the spiritual self, freed from its physical body, may exist.

Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP).  This is the term applied to the supposed communication by spirits via a tape recorder or other electronic device.  Sceptics feel there is a more natural explanation for such phenomena, e.g. interference from radio transmissions and the like, whereas, based on the recordings they have made, those involved in investigating the paranormal are convinced that it really is the departed making contact.

Materialisation is the appearance of a spirit as 'matter', i.e. in bodily form.

Medium, now often called a 'channeler'.  He/she is someone who is sensitive to vibrations from the spirit world, and is able to convey messages between that world and this, analogous to a human telephone connecting the +living world to the spirit world.  The medium often began a routine with 'ectoplasm' exuding as an umbilical cord from his/her mouth, although this is very rare these days.  Ectoplasm is a foul-smelling, milky-white substance considered to be an energy form that only functions properly in darkness.  The medium may sometimes be taken over by a spirit guide, usually a departed person who speaks through the medium.  This may be in a language completely unknown to the medium, a phenomenon known as xenoglossy.

Out of Body Experience (OBE).  An OBE is probably one of the most reported and documented forms of astral projection, and thought to be when a person's 'consciousness' leaves the physical body.  It typically involves a sensation of floating outside of one's body and may actually involve seeing one's physical body from that plane (autoscopy).  In September 2005, the BBC website showed a report by Marnie Chesterton stating that approximately one in ten people claim to have experienced an OBE at some time in their lives.

Paranormal relates to phenomena beyond the range of normal human experience or scientific explanation.

Parapsychology is the investigation and study of the evidence for psychological phenomena, such as telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis that are inexplicable by natural laws.  See Society for Psychological Research above.

Poltergeist is a German word which translates into ‘noisy or mischievous ghost’.  It is a term for a supposed spirit or ghost that manifests by moving and influencing inanimate objects other than through visible means or vocalisation, normally in the presence of a child or adolescent.

Séance.  This is a gathering of spiritualists hoping to receive messages from the spirit world.  The participants sit quietly in a circle, usually in dimly lit surroundings.  During the séance, lights may appear, raps and other sounds may be heard, and the movement of objects such as tables, chairs, curtains, glasses etc., may occur without physical contact, or even with it, but contact insufficient to explain the movement.  Objects could levitate, a trumpet could convey a message from 'the other side,' spirits may materialise and so on.

Supernatural is a term which pertains to those phenomena above or beyond what is natural or explainable by natural law.

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Doris Stokes

Doris Stokes was England's most renowned clairaudient medium during the 1980s.  Born Doris Sutton in Grantham, Lincolnshire on 6 January 1920, Doris May Fisher Stokes claimed in her memoirs to have started seeing spirits and hearing disembodied voices in childhood, and was able to develop these abilities further after joining a local spiritualist church.  In 1949 the Spiritualists' National Union recognised her as a practicing clairaudient medium, but she was a controversial figure, some believing her to possess genuine psychic abilities, while sceptics argued that her performances amounted to nothing more than 'cold reading', a technique used by mentalists to create an illusion of clairvoyance.

After suffering a crisis of confidence in 1962, she gave up working as a medium to retrain as a psychiatric nurse.  However she was forced to retire from this profession some five years later following an attack by a patient, and returned to psychic work, becoming the resident medium at the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain in 1975.

She first came to the general public's attention in 1978 during a visit to Australia, where she appeared on The Don Lane (an American-born Australian entertainer, talk show host and singer) Show.  The wave of interest generated following her appearance on this show saw her playing to three capacity audiences at the Sydney Opera House.  She was also the first medium to appear at the London Palladium, with tickets selling out within two hours.  Naturally she received much condemnation from the Church of England and other Christian denominations (as did anyone remotely connected to occult practices), which objected to spirit communication as an offence against God.

She was often accused of using various forms of deception to achieve the effect of communicating with the dead, including cold reading, ‘eavesdropping’, and ‘planting accomplices in the audience’.  Simon Hoggart, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper, claimed that her husband, John Stokes, would gather information from those who called requesting a sitting.  He would offer them free tickets for public performances, and pass on the information to his wife to be used during that particular show.

In her book Voices in my Ear, Doris Stokes claimed to have solved two murder cases in England.  This claim was disputed by Detective Chief Superintendent William Brooks of the Lancashire Constabulary who stated that she had contributed nothing whatsoever to the detection of either murder.  Similarly, in Beverly Hills, L.A., she claimed to have been in contact with a local murder victim, Vic Weiss, who had provided her with details of his murder.  However, a former magician and high-profile sceptic, James Randi, contacted the Los Angeles Police Department, who informed him that all of the information supplied by her had been freely available to the media at the time, and she had been unable to provide any new information – the case remains unsolved.

Her seven volumes of autobiography document the various tests she underwent to determine the source of her information, including being subject to a lie detector test, and undergoing hypnosis to be questioned about her methods.

Her health had been poor throughout her life.  She underwent approximately thirteen cancer operations, including a mastectomy, and in April 1987, the removal of a brain tumour, from which she never regained consciousness.  She died in Lewisham on 8 May 1987, supposedly leaving the princely sum of £15,291.

At the end of her last memoir, completed before that final operation but not published until after her death, she reported hearing a disembodied voice saying to her, "Your life on Earth is over, your life in spirit has begun."

Doris Stokes was described in various ways: 'an individual of great personal warmth', 'the Gracie Fields of the psychic world', and 'a ruthless moneymaking confidence artist'.  But despite this, her memoirs, public performances, and television appearances helped to raise the profile of spiritualism and promoted a resurgence of interest in psychic phenomena in the 1980s.

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Spiritualists' National Union (SNU)

What is the SNU?  The SNU invites Spiritualists to join in its aims to help bring Spiritualism, as based on the Seven Principles, to the awareness of millions of people.  Working together, the SNU has gained legal recognition for Spiritualism and helped to turn spirit communication away from an illegal activity into one acceptable in the eyes of the law.  Day by day Spiritualism and spirit communication is helping to remove the fear of death and opening up new understanding to the people.  But there is still much work to do.  For more information, logon to the SNU Website, or contact them:

Stansted Hall
CM24 8UD

Tel: 01279 816363 or 0845 4580768 (local rate call)
Fax: 01279 812034
Email: snu@snu.org.uk

Certified Mediums and Approved Healers

Private Sittings are where a medium attempts Spirit Communication for the sitter, as it suggests, in private.  Results can never be guaranteed but most people are normally very happy with their sitting.  However, should you be dissatisfied you should ask for your fee to be refunded.  A Private Sitting should be evidential in nature as well as an enjoyable experience.  A full list of SNU certified mediums can be found on the SNU Website.

Certain people called Spiritualist Healers are able to channel spiritual healing energies to help those who are sick.  The SNU's healers work with the help of spirit healing guides and spirit helpers.  At Spiritualist churches and centres throughout the country, services of healing are offered which are open to the public.  A list of SNU approved Spiritualist Healers can also be found on the SNU Website.

Spiritualist Churches

At Spiritualist church services, a portion of the time is spent with mediums linking with the spirit world and communicating with spirit people.  This aims to prove that those you used to love, and obviously still do, i.e. close friends and family, do live on albeit in another dimension, and that they are still connected to you by a bond of friendship and love.  Most major towns in the UK have a Spiritualist Church, a full list of which can be found on the SNU Website (a specific search 'by country' in Google or any other recognised search engine will show other Spiritualist Churches throughout the world).  You do not have to join a Spiritualist Church or make prior arrangements to attend its Sunday service, normally at 6.30 p.m.

Beware of Cold Reading

Cold reading is a technique used by psychics, interrogators, hypnotists, graphologists, palmists, astrologers etc., to convince another person that they know much more about them than they actually do.  The 'cold reader' will make several vague statements and observe the subject's reactions.  He/she will then refine the original statements according to those reactions.

I have attended several 'evenings of clairvoyance' at Spiritualist Churches.  The speaker, or clairvoyant, will sit on the stage observing the audience for mannerisms, and obvious aches and pains etc., while hymns are sung and prayers said, before commencing his/her performance.  On the few occasions when I have been 'chosen' I have deliberately led the speaker on simply to observe cold reading firsthand, agreeing with almost everything I have been told.  Names, occurrences etc., are completely ambiguous and could apply to anyone, and when it is established they are 'not related to you' will be turned around and 'related to someone you know or knew', or even to 'someone you know or knew' who knows or knew whatever it was.  Then when a dog or a cat or some other unnamed pet from the past is 'brought in' try not to fall asleep; after all, who didn't have a dog or a cat at some time or other in their life?

A cold reader is patently obvious and anything you are told should be taken with a 'pinch of salt', otherwise some of what you hear could be worrying, even frightening for those of a lesser disposition.  Even so, many people gain solace from what they are told, which in itself is probably harmless and may even help to overcome whatever barrier is obstructing them.

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Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951

The passing of the Fraudulent Mediums' Act in 1951 removed genuine mediums from the previous provisions of the Witchcraft Act 1735 and from s.4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824, thereby enabling Spiritualists to practice their religion openly and legally.

The Act

(14 and 15 Geo 6 c 33)

An Act to repeal the Witchcraft Act 1735 and to make, in substitution for certain provisions of section four of the Vagrancy Act 1824, express provision for the punishment of persons who fraudulently purport to act as spiritualistic mediums or to exercise powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers (22 June 1951).

  1. Punishment of fraudulent mediums, etc.
    1. Subject to the provisions of this section, any person who:
      1. with intent to deceive purports to act as a spiritualistic medium or to exercise any powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers, or
      2. in purporting to act as a spiritualistic medium or to exercise such powers as aforesaid, uses any fraudulent device, shall be guilty of an offence.

    2. A person shall not be convicted of an offence under the foregoing subsection unless it is proved that he acted for reward; and for the purposes of this section a person shall be deemed to act for reward if any money is paid, or other valuable thing given, in respect of what he does, whether to him or to any other person.
    3. A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding (the prescribed sum) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months or to both such fine and such imprisonment, or on conviction on indictment to a fine ... or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
    4. No proceedings for an offence under this section shall be brought in England or Wales except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
    5. Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall apply to anything done solely for the purpose of entertainment.

  2. Repeals

    The following enactments are hereby repealed, that is to say:

    1. the Witchcraft Act 1735, so far as still in force, and
    2. section four of the Vagrancy Act 1824 so far as it extends to persons purporting to act as spiritualistic mediums or to exercise any powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers, or to persons who, in purporting so to act or to exercise such powers, use fraudulent devices.

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Paranormal Tales

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