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the Occult => Communicating with the Dead => Topic started by: Trent on January 19, 2008, 03:25:25 pm

Title: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Trent on January 19, 2008, 03:25:25 pm
The Fox Sisters

and the

Spiritualism Movement


Margaretta and Kate Fox

The Spiritualism movement began with what Allen Kardec termed typtology. Typtology is a mode of spirit communication in which spirits lift and tilt a table during a seance to produce rapping sounds. In organized seances, a number of people would sit around a table, hold hands, concentrate, and ask questions of the spirits. The spirits would then answer their questions through a series of raps, or knocks, similar to someone knocking on a door. In order to question the spirits, sometimes a simple yes or no would be indicated by a prescribed number of knocks. In another method, called alphabetical typtology, letters of the alphabet were recited and when the letter that the spirit wanted to draw attention to was called, a rap could be heard; thus spelling out words, sentences, and so on. Using this method, it was possible to hold lengthy, detailed conversations with the mysterious entities responsible for spirit-rapping.

The first recorded spirit-rapping began in America in 1848 with the playful efforts of Margaretta and Kate Fox to communicate with the spirits of the dead. Much to their astonishment, they succeeded in establishing a ghostly dialogue with the spirit of Charles Haynes. Using rapping noises as its means of communication, Hayne's spirit conveyed the message that he had been killed and buried in the basement of their home. When bones were found in their basement, what had begun as innocent fun became a sensation. From these humble beginnings, what came to be known as the Spiritualism movement took root and grew to international proportions. As a result of their spiritualistic activities, the Fox sisters were condemned and lived in constant danger. They were attacked by religious fanatics in their community, and besieged by angry mobs several times. They were also exploited, and eventually betrayed by their own sister, Leah, who was said to have been the beneficiary of most of the donations collected from those who came to the Fox sisters for spiritual counseling.

As the spiritualism movement got underway in America and Europe, the strange but well-documented manifestations of spirit communication such as spirit-rapping and seance channeling were regarded as weird and unexplainable events. The great majority of Americans and Europeans viewed it as nothing more than a bizarre form of entertainment. For those who took the spirit communications seriously, however, it quickly became apparent that something more was happening. Many of the messages received from the spirits were discovered to be quite accurate. In addition to the messages, other phenomena were being witnessed and verified by many of the most credible individuals in American and European society. By 1854, spirit-directed paranormal phenomenon had reached the level of an intradimensional invasion. Leading spiritualists in the United States decided that it was time to undertake an official investigation. The erudite and well-respected spiritualists petitioned Congress to appoint a scientific commission to investigate the perplexing paranormal phenomenon that had been witnessed by so many people.

The petition entitled 'A Memorial' described the phenomenon produced by the spirits in great detail. The object of the investigation was described in the petition as: 1) an occult force, exhibited in sliding, raising, arresting, holding, suspending, and otherwise disturbing, numerous ponderable bodies, apparently in direct opposition to the acknowledged laws of matter, and altogether transcending the accredited powers of the human mind; 2) lights of various forms and colors, and of different degrees of intensity, which appear in dark rooms, where no substances exist, which are liable to develop a chemical action or phosphorescent illumination, and in the absence of all the means and instruments whereby electricity is generated or combustion produced; 3) sounds which are extremely frequent in their occurrence, widely diversified in their character, and more or less significant in their import; and 4) how the functions of the human body and mind are often and strangely influenced in what appear to be certain abnormal states of the system, and by causes which are neither adequately defined nor understood.

This document was delivered by the former governor of Wisconsin, Nathaniel Tallmadge, to Senator James Shields to be presented before Congress. Much to the consternation of the petitioners, Shields scorned the spiritualists by saying, "the prevalence of this delusion at this age of the world, among any considerable portion of our citizens, must originate, in my opinion, in a defective system of education, or in a partial derangement of the mental faculties, produced by a diseased condition of the physical organization. I cannot, therefore, believe that it prevails to the extent indicated in this petition." Responding to Shield's criticism, Eliab Capron, a chronicler of the spiritualism movement, wrote, "It is not probable that any of the Memorialists expected more favorable treatment than they received. The carpenters and fishermen of this world are the ones to investigate new truths, and make senates and crowns believe and respect them. It is in vain to look for the reception or respect of new truths by men in high places." The widely documented and verified invasion of the spirits described above never received a plausible explanation and is still regarded as a mystery.

In the fifty years that elapsed between the publication of Kardec's books and the incorporation of the Union, the spiritualism movement declined in the United States and Europe. Numerous scandals undermined the credibility of some of its foremost proponents. By 1888, both of the Fox sisters confessed that they were cheats. In fact, both sisters had developed serious drinking problems over the years. At the behest of her sister Leah, Kate Fox's children were taken from her by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and placed in foster care. This act led to a great deal of bitterness and anger against Leah by both Margaretta and Kate. Feeling exploited and betrayed by their sister Leah, who had collected and spent the great majority of the money paid to them...Margaretta and Kate appeared publicly at the New York Academy of Music. Margaretta confessed that she had made all the rapping noises that fostered the movement by means of a double-jointed big toe. Kate remained silent and would neither confirm nor deny the confession of her sister. It was later learned that a reporter had offered $1,500 to them if they would confess and give him an exclusive on the story. Desperate for money and liquor, the sisters apparently agreed, and then proceeded to drink their earnings away. Margaretta recanted her confession in writing shortly before she died in 1895. Kate never recanted, and died shortly afterwards. Both sisters were buried in pauper's graves.

Copyright 1999 - All Rights Reserved - Church of Living Truth

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Bianca on August 14, 2009, 02:17:17 pm


Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Trent on August 23, 2009, 11:06:58 pm
I wonder how many people here have ever heard of the Fox Sisters and what they did to draw attention to themselves?

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 12:56:59 am

The Fox Sisters. From left to right: Margaret, Kate, and Leah

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 12:57:16 am
The Fox sisters were three women from New York who played an important role in the creation of Spiritualism, the religious movement. The three sisters were Kate Fox (1837–1892), Leah Fox (1814–1890) and Margaret Fox (also called Maggie) (1833–1893).

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 12:57:45 am
Hydesville events

In 1848, the two younger sisters – Kate and Margaret – were living in a house in Hydesville, New York with their parents. Hydesville was a hamlet which no longer exists but was part of the township of Arcadia in Wayne County.[1] The house had some prior reputation for being haunted, but it wasn't until late March that the family began to be frightened by unexplained sounds that at times sounded like knocking, and at other times like the moving of furniture.

In 1888, Margaret told her story of the origins of the mysterious "rappings"[2]:

    "When we went to bed at night we 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. Mother listened to this for a time. She would not understand it and did not suspect us as being capable of a trick because we were so young."

During the night of March 31, Kate challenged the invisible noise-maker, presumed to be a "spirit", to repeat the snaps of her fingers. "It" did.[3] "It" was asked to rap out the ages of the girls. "It" did.[4] The neighbours were called in, and over the course of the next few days a type of code was developed where raps could signify yes or no in response to a question, or be used to indicate a letter of the alphabet.[5]

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 12:58:12 am
The girls initially addressed the spirit as "Mr. Splitfoot" which is a nickname for the Devil. Later, the alleged "entity" creating the sounds claimed to be the spirit of a peddler named Charles B. Rosma,[6] who had been murdered five years earlier and buried in the cellar. Doyle claims the neighbors dug up the cellar and found a few pieces of bone, but it wasn't until 1904 that a skeleton was found, buried in the cellar wall. No missing person named Charles B. Rosma was ever identified.[7]

Margaret Fox, in her later years noted:

    "They [the neighbors] were convinced that some one had been murdered in the house. They asked the spirits through us about it and we would rap one for the spirit answer 'yes,' not three as we did afterwards. The murder they concluded must have been committed in the house. They went over the whole surrounding country trying to get the names of people who had formerly lived in the house. Finally they found a man by the name of Bell, and they said that this poor innocent man had committed a murder in the house and that the noises had come from the spirit of the murdered person. Poor Bell was shunned and looked upon by the whole community as a murderer."[8]

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 12:58:32 am
Emergence as mediums

Kate and Margaret were sent away to nearby Rochester during the excitement — Kate to the house of her sister Leah, and Margaret to the home of her brother David — and it was found that the rappings followed them.[9] Amy and Isaac Post, a radical Quaker couple and long-standing friends of the Fox family, invited the girls into their Rochester home. Immediately convinced of the genuineness of the phenomena, they helped to spread the word among their radical Quaker friends, who became the early core of Spiritualists. In this way appeared the association between Spiritualism and radical political causes, such as abolition, temperance, and equal rights for women.[10]

The Fox girls became famous and their public séances in New York in 1850 attracted notable people including William Cullen Bryant, George Bancroft, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Parker Willis, Horace Greeley, Sojourner Truth and William Lloyd Garrison.[11] They also attracted imitators, or perhaps encouraged people who previously had hidden their gifts. At any rate, during the following few years, hundreds of persons would claim the ability to communicate with spirits. Both Kate and Margaret became well-known mediums, giving séances for hundreds of "investigators," as persons interested in these phenomena liked to call themselves. Many of these early séances were entirely frivolous, where sitters sought insight into "the state of railway stocks or the issue of love affairs,"[12] but the religious significance of communication with the deceased soon became apparent. Horace Greeley, the prominent publisher and politician, became a kind of protector for the girls, enabling their movement in higher social circles. But the lack of parental supervision was pernicious, as both of the young girls began to drink wine.[13]

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 12:58:52 am
Mature lives

Leah, on the death of her first husband, married a successful Wall Street banker. Margaret met Elisha Kane, the Arctic explorer, in 1852. Kane was convinced that Margaret and Kate were engaged in fraud, under the direction of their sister Leah, and he sought to break Margaret from the milieu. The two married, and Margaret converted to the Roman Catholic faith, but Kane died in 1857, and Margaret eventually returned to her activities as a medium.[14] In 1876 she joined her sister Kate, who was living in England.

Kate traveled to England in 1871, the trip paid for by a wealthy New York banker, so that she would not be compelled to accept payment for her services as a medium. The trip was apparently considered missionary work, since Kate sat only for prominent persons, who would let their names be printed as witnesses to a séance. In 1872, Kate married H.D. Jencken, a London barrister, legal scholar, and enthusiastic Spiritualist. Jencken died in 1881, leaving Kate with two sons.[15]

Kate Fox was considered to be a powerful medium, capable of producing not only raps, but "spirit lights, direct writing, and the appearance of materialized hands," as well as the movement of objects at a distance.[16] She was one of three mediums examined by William Crookes, the prominent scientist, between 1871 and 1874, who said of her ability to produce raps:

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 12:59:08 am
"These sounds are noticed with almost every medium... but for power and certainty I have met with no one who at all approached Miss Kate Fox. For several months I enjoyed almost unlimited opportunity of testing the various phenomena occurring in the presence of this lady, and I especially examined the phenomena of these sounds. With mediums, generally it is necessary to sit for a formal séance before anything is heard; but in the case of Miss Fox it seems only necessary for her to place her hand on any substance for loud thuds to be heard in it, like a triple pulsation, sometimes loud enough to be heard several rooms off. In this manner I have heard them in a living tree - on a sheet of glass - on a stretched iron wire - on a stretched membrane - a tambourine - on the roof of a cab - and on the floor of a theatre. Moreover, actual contact is not always necessary; I have had these sounds proceeding from the floor, walls, etc., when the medium's hands and feet were held - when she was standing on a chair-when she was suspended in a swing from the ceiling- when she was enclosed in a wire cage - and when she had fallen fainting on a sofa. I have heard them on a glass harmonicon - I have felt them on my own shoulder and under my own hands. I have heard them on a sheet of paper, held between the fingers by a piece of thread passed through one corner. With a full knowledge of the numerous theories which have been started, chiefly in America, to explain these sounds, I have tested them in every way that I could devise, until there has been no escape from the conviction that they were true objective occurrences not produced by trickery or mechanical means."[17]

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 12:59:27 am
Later Years

Over the years, sisters Kate and Margaret had developed serious drinking problems. Around 1888 they became embroiled in a quarrel with their sister Leah and other leading Spiritualists, who were concerned that Kate was drinking too much to care properly for her children. At the same time, Margaret, contemplating a return to the Roman Catholic faith, became convinced that her powers were diabolical.

Eager to harm Leah as much as possible, the two sisters traveled to New York City, where a reporter offered $1,500 if they would "expose" their methods and give him an exclusive on the story. Margaret appeared publicly at the New York Academy of Music on October 21, 1888, with Kate present.[18] Before an audience of 2,000, Margaret demonstrated how she could produce – at will – raps audible throughout the theater. Doctors from the audience came on stage to verify that the cracking of her toe joints was the source of the sound.[19]

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 12:59:47 am

Margaret told her story of the origins of the mysterious "rappings" in a signed confession given to the press and published in New York World, October 21, 1888.[20] In it, she explained the Hydesville Events.

She also expanded on her career as a medium after leaving the homestead to begin her Spiritualist travels with her older sister, Mrs. Underhill:

    "Mrs. Underhill, my eldest sister, took Katie and me to Rochester. There it was that we discovered a new way to make the raps. My sister Katie was the first to observe that by swishing her fingers she could produce certain noises with her knuckles and joints, and that the same effect could be made with the toes. Finding that we could make raps with our feet - first with one foot and then with both - we practiced until we could do this easily when the room was dark. Like most perplexing things when made clear, it is astonishing how easily it is done. The rapping are simply the result of a perfect control of the muscles of the leg below the knee, which govern the tendons of the foot and allow action of the toe and ankle bones that is not commonly known. Such perfect control is only possible when the child is taken at an early age and carefully and continually taught to practice the muscles, which grow stiffer in later years. ... This, then, is the simple explanation of the whole method of the knocks and raps."[21]

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:00:04 am
She also notes:

    "A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them. It is a very common delusion. Some very wealthy people came to see me some years ago when I lived in Forty-second Street and I did some rappings for them. I made the spirit rap on the chair and one of the ladies cried out: "I feel the spirit tapping me on the shoulder." Of course that was pure imagination."[22]

The cracking of joints was the theory skeptics most favored to explain the rappings, a theory dating back to 1851.[23] Spiritualists familiar with the wide range of raps produced by the sisters, as well as the fact that raps could emanate from any part of a room, were not much impressed by the fact that raps could emanate from Margaret's toe. Much more damaging was the realization that Margaret could produce raps at will, when the raps were supposedly produced by spirits. But Spiritualists such as Arthur Conan Doyle were soon able to accept that, up to a point, the medium's own will could influence the preternatural phenomena of the séance.[24]

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:00:42 am
Harry Houdini, a man who devoted a large part of his life to debunking Spiritualist claims, provides this insight:

    "As to the delusion of sound. Sound waves are deflected just as light waves are reflected by the intervention of a proper medium and under certain conditions it is a difficult thing to locate their source. Stuart Cumberland told me that an interesting test to prove the inability of a blindfolded person to trace sound to its source. It is exceedingly simple; merely clicking two coins over the head of the blindfolded person." [25]

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:00:56 am
Tragic end

Margaret recanted her confession in writing in November, 1889, about a year after her toe-cracking exhibition. Kate's first letters back to London after Margaret's exhibition express shock and dismay at her sister's attack on Spiritualism, but she did not publicly take issue with Margaret. [26] Within five years, both sisters died in poverty, shunned by former friends, and were buried in pauper's graves.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:01:20 am

   1. ^ Weisberg, Barbara. Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004: 12–13. ISBN 0-06-075060X
   2. ^ Houdini, Harry. A Magician Among the Spirits, pg. 5. Arno Press, A New York Times Company, New York, 1972. Original printing, 1924. ISBN 0-405-02801-6
   3. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, chapter 4
   4. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, chapter 4
   5. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, chapter 4
   6. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, chapter 4
   7. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, chapter 4
   8. ^ Houdini, Harry. A Magician Among the Spirits, pg. 7. Arno Press, A New York Times Company, New York, 1972. Original printing, 1924. ISBN 0-405-02801-6
   9. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 89
  10. ^ Braude 2001
  11. ^ Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. ISBN 0679767096. p. 263
  12. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 89
  13. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 88-89
  14. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 89-94
  15. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 94-100
  16. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 98
  17. ^ Crookes 1874
  18. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 103-105
  19. ^ Davenport 1888
  20. ^ Houdini, Harry. A Magician Among the Spirits, pg. 5. Arno Press, A New York Times Company, New York, 1972. Original printing, 1924. ISBN 0-405-02801-6
  21. ^ Houdini, Harry. A Magician Among the Spirits, pg. 7-8. Arno Press, A New York Times Company, New York, 1972. Original printing, 1924. ISBN 0-405-02801-6
  22. ^ Houdini, Harry. A Magician Among the Spirits, pg. 8. Arno Press, A New York Times Company, New York, 1972. Original printing, 1924. ISBN 0-405-02801-6
  23. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 85
  24. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 247
  25. ^ Houdini, Harry. A Magician Among the Spirits, pg. 7-8. Arno Press, A New York Times Company, New York, 1972. Original printing, 1924. ISBN 0-405-02801-6
  26. ^ Doyle 1926: volume 1, 105-111

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:03:10 am
Boston Journal
November 22, 1904

  ROCHESTER, N.Y., 1904: The skeleton of the man supposed to have caused the rappings first heard by the Fox sisters in 1848 has been found in the walls of the house occupied by the sisters, and clears them from the only shadow of doubt held concerning their sincerity in the discovery of spirit communication.
    The discovery was made by school children playing in the cellar of the building in Hydesville known as the "Spook House," where the Fox sisters heard the wonderful rappings. William H. Hyde, a reputable citizen of Clyde, who owns the house, made an investigation and found an almost entire human skeleton between the earth and crumbling cellar walls, undoubtably that of the wandering pedlar who it was claimed was murdered in the east room of the house, and whose body was hidden in the cellar.
    Mr. Hyde has notified relatives of the Fox sisters, and the notice of the discovery will be sent to the National Order of Spiritualists, many of whom remember having made pilgrimage to the "Spook House," as it is commonly called. The finding of the bones practically corroborates the sworn statement made by Margaret Fox, April 11, 1848.
"There was discovered a pedlars tin box as well as the bones, and this box is now preserved at Lillydale, the central country head-quarters of the American Spiritualists, to which also the old Hydesville house has been transported."
    from The History of Spiritualism by Arthur Conan Doyle

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:06:50 am
Saints, Sinners and Reformers
The Burned-Over District Re-Visited

John H. Martin
Table of Contents of Saints, Sinners and Reformers
Chapter 10
The Fox Sisters
Communicating with the Beyond:
Spiritualism and the Lily Dale Community

The year 1848 was an eventful one in western New York. That year the first Women's Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York; John Humphrey Noyes began his community in Oneida, New York, based on Bible communism and "Complex Marriage;" and Orson Fowler issued his book on octagon houses and built his sixty-room octagonal mansion in Fishkill, New York. That same year a new semi-religious experience welled up in Hydesville, New York, when spiritualism became of major interest to a number of Americans. The "ouija board" of later times grew out of this new spiritualist movement which began in the Burned-Over District of New York since spiritualism and the use of the ouija board purportedly granted one the ability to converse with the spirits of another world.

Spiritualism was not really a new phenomena, since from times immemorial there have been claims that one could converse with those who were no longer alive, and even with angels and other supernatural entities, as various saints and even Jemima Wilkinson had done. Jemima in America was not alone, for in 1827 Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by the angel Moroni who indicated the location of some inscribed golden tablets which Smith then said he had deciphered by means of magic spectacles given to him by the angel Moroni, who thereafter removed the tablets from this world. Not to be outdone, in 1837 in Niskayuna, just outside of Albany, New York, certain adolescent girls in the Shaker community there took to shaking and whirling and claiming to have taken spiritual journeys to Heaven and to have talked with angels. The following year the Shaker community at New Lebanon, New York, also reported contacts with spiritual beings, ranging from Jesus to Mother Ann, the founder of American Shakerism, to the Biblical apostles, as well as Alexander the Great, George Washington, Napoleon, and William Penn among others.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:07:11 am
In a small town, word quickly spread concerning the mysterious happenings in the Fox household. Soon the girls were being asked by their neighbors to communicate with the spirits in order to obtain answers to various questions. Then, when the revelation of the spirit of the murdered man became known, excitement overwhelmed the community. Their older sister, Leah Fish, hastened from Rochester to act as manager for her sisters and the new phenomenon. Her Yankee sensibilities soon envisioned an opportunity to turn the spirits to pecuniary advantage. Not everyone was convinced that communications with spirits was at work since, as they noted, that the spirits always appeared only at the public meetings which the older sister had arranged, and never on other public occasions. The sister replied, with a great deal of haughtiness, that such public meetings were held only at the insistence of the spirits who wished to communicate with the world but only through her sisters.

The invocation of the spirits had become a good thing, but it could be made better. Therefore the family turned to E.W. Capron of Auburn, New York, a spiritualist and a medium. Maggie and Kate were now trained as professional mediums, individuals who could receive messages from a world beyond this one. Public meetings were organized to introduce the phenomenon to a wider audience, and fees were charged for such occasions. The gullible flocked in—as did the money. Naturally, the skeptics among New York Yankees began an attack on what they considered to be irrationality. Let no one think that the Burned-Over District was filled with devout religious seekers alone since skeptics as well as the credulous as well as religious devotees formed the populace of western New York. Verbal attacks by unbelievers were soon followed by investigations of the phenomena. While such attacks may have convinced many people of the spuriousness of the sessions, the attendant publicity helped the business of spiritualism no end.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:08:46 am
It is an old adage that one cannot have too much of a good thing, and thus other mediums sprang up throughout the country. Spiritualist circles formed in every village and town, and contact with another world flourished. No doubt competition leads to improvement of one's business or product, for that is the basic law of the American economic spirit, and this rule seems to have applied in this realm of spiritualist religion as well. New techniques developed rapidly for the Fox girls under the tutelage of their sister, Mrs. Fish. Soon the spirits were responding in small paid sessions called séances, and before long the spirits were demanding darkness during séances since they could manifest themselves more readily when freed from light.

When other spiritualists discovered the virtue of darkness, the Fox sisters proceeded to uncover the depth of the innovative abilities of the spirits who now worked by means of the mysterious moving of the séance table around which were seated those wishing to communicate with the spirits. Then spirit writing, and, to the thrill of the participants, cold, ghostly hands moved into the charmed circle of seekers about the table. Soon speaking in tongues developed among some of the participants, and even the involuntary operation of musical instruments became commonplace.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:09:09 am
Mesmerism was another aspect which crept into spiritualism since mesmerism, or hypnotism, according to its proponents, enabled one spiritually to divest the body of its material elements. While in a trance, one was in touch with the spiritual nature which inhabits the body free of the corporeal matter of one's physical being. Thus this spiritual nature can be in touch with other spiritual natures in the universe, even spirits of the past. As a result, the spirits of the past were soon offering sermons, a favorite intellectual form for many individuals who had been converted to spiritualism. It seems that among those wishing to be heard were Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish mystic; George Fox, the Quaker leader of the seventeenth century; and even George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, deists who were not normally given to offering sermons.

By 1857, sixty-seven spiritualist journals were on the market and making money. Camp meetings, such as were previously used by revivalists, were occurring among spiritualists from the Atlantic to the Ohio. It is estimated that there were one to two million believers in spiritualism by 1855. After the disappointment over the failure of the Millennium to arrive on time some dozen years previously, this communication with the dead was more sensational and perhaps even more satisfying than the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. Interestingly, there were twice as many adherents to spiritualism in New York State than elsewhere, and the movement flourished in stable communities rather than in isolated areas of recent settlement.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:09:33 am
The following for spiritualism soon numbered eminent men among the believers. Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune took the Fox girls into his house on one of their tours, and he was soon defending them and spiritualism in the columns of his newspaper. Judge Edmonds of the New York Supreme Court investigated the movement, and was won over. In 1853 he published a treatise on spiritualism, and the popularity of the movement increased. Respectability was totally insured when ex-Governor Talmadge of Wisconsin, and then an elderly scientist by the name of Professor Hare, joined the band wagon. Soon a group of Christian ministers were converted to the movement and thereby gave it religious significance, turning it into a cult, if not another branch of Christianity. Prior to the Civil War, however, no solid spiritualist organization developed despite the hundreds of mediums and spiritualist circles which flourished between 1848 and 1865. No doubt the spirits were far too individualistic and too busy to agree upon a constitution and by-laws, let alone have time to develop a theology.

Eventually the Fox sisters fell to quarreling, as often happens in any flourishing family business. By 1853 a petition to Congress with fifteen thousand signatures asked for a Federal investigation of the spiritualists' claims. Then a committee came from Buffalo to investigate the phenomenon, and Katie recanted and admitted that spiritualism was a fraud. The rappings were caused by the cracking of the joints of the girls' big toes and knees, she averred. Once a religion begins, however, it seldom fades away. The confession of the Fox sisters had little detrimental effect on spiritualism. Those who believed in the spirits were completely convinced that the recantation, not the toe cracking, was the fraud. Both sisters before their deaths re-iterated that it all had been a hoax which they had perpetrated, in part at first merely to arouse their excitable mother.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:09:50 am
The heritage of the Fox sisters lives on in Spiritual Circles still. Lily Dale, New York, sixty miles below Buffalo and not too far north of Jamestown, New York, and Lake Chautauqua, remains the center of organized spiritualism in the United States as it has been ever since its founding in 1878. It boasts allegiance from Canadian spiritualist groups as well. There is even a Florida community to which the spiritualists migrate in winter. As Rome has its tomb of St. Peter, and London has the Stone of Scone to verify their claims to their respective traditions, Lily Dale had the Fox's family home which was moved here from Hydesville. New York, a town which obviously lacked the respect due to the farmhouse. There the house still stands, albeit it did burn to the ground in 1955. There is an inspirational garden next to it, with the appropriate plaque to identify the sacred unit.

The village of Lily Dale, which is at heart a camp ground rather than a village, boasts two hotels, tourist homes with bed and breakfast, a cafeteria, a shop, several spiritualist churches, as well as summer and year-round cottages for resident mediums whose shingles hang from their houses announcing their availability. There is a trailer camp for peregrinating spiritualists and these can also house mediums in temporary residence. Visiting mediums by town decree, however, may not operate from their hotel rooms. Many of the cottages at Lily Dale rent rooms to visitors, and one can always choose between those which have a plaque in the window and those which do not. Those with a plaque indicate that "This is a house protected by angels." It is obviously a better protection than anything guaranteed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company or the local constabulary. Such plaques are also available in the camp-ground's shop should one have trouble with one's local home insurance coverage.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:10:05 am
Since the Fox sisters' day, contact with the Beyond can be made through mediums as well as through various innovative techniques not known to the Fox girls. These include: dowsing (using a rod, such as when searching for water); "other than conscious communication"; the use of parables and metaphor for personal transformation; the use of gems or crystal for spiritual evolution and healing; aromathy through natural perfumes; the use of touch in healing; and the use of healing breath and hypnosis for personal transformation. While Lily Dale as an organization attaches a disclaimer to these techniques, they are all listed in a pamphlet freely available on the camp grounds, together with information for those who wish to pursue a particular selection from the possibilities available.

The School of Spiritual Healing and Philosophy on the grounds offers brochures on the above techniques for Spiritual Realization, and it provides programs which can lead to certification in spiritual healing, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and clairsentience. One can obtain certification and an option for an Associate Minister's Ordination, and this can lead to full Ministerial Ordination. There are also graduate programs for Advance Mediumship and Prophecy where Psychic and Kything skills (a form of spiritual communication) can be honed. One can also experience the "100th Monkey" effect through the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, the Upanishads, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, and the Christian mystics. There is even instruction in the unlocking of mystical and metaphysical meanings in the Christian and Jewish scriptures.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:10:23 am
A few words should be said about Andrew Jackson Davis for whom the Lyceum (meeting hall) at Lily Dale is named. He was known as the "Poughkeepsie Seer" who was born in 1825 in Poughkeepsie, New York, and grew up with little education. In 1843 a lecturer hypnotized him, and Davis decided to become a professional medium since he realized that he had clairvoyant abilities and could diagnose and prescribe for disease. He is said to have wandered off in a self-induced trance, and after one year he returned claiming to have spoken with Emanuel Swedenborg, long deceased, who had instructed him as to how to contact the supernatural. Soon a doctor and a minister helped to guide his talents, and he produced a book with their help entitled Harmonial Philosophy which went through thirty-four editions in thirty years. Thus it is only appropriate that a Lyceum or meeting hall for educational lectures would be named after him.

Each summer there is the yearly "Lily Dale Assembly" at which speakers provide instruction and inspiration in the Andrew Jackson Davis Assembly Hall and in the sacred wooded grove. Such sessions often begin with a hymn whose words state, "We are waiting, we are waiting for words of wisdom from the Great Beyond." There are some forty to one hundred and fifty mediums present each summer, many of whom go into a trance in order to communicate with the Great Beyond. A theology has developed in which God is not be seen as created in man's image, despite what Michelangelo and other noted depicters of religious individuals and scenes have created, especially the Victorians whose sentimental images of Jesus are still very popular. God, for the Spiritualists, is infinite intelligence, and intelligence continues both in life and in death, since life and death are but one. There are variations of belief among the converted, but all would agree that human personality is a passing manifestation of an ongoing spirit that goes through many transformations and partakes of the divine. Thus death is but a transformation back to the original Spirit, not the end of existence. A medium can therefore put one in touch with the dead who continue to live, but in an altered state.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:10:43 am
The summer assembly meets in the tree-girt camp with its two hundred buildings on one hundred and seventy-two acres at the side of Lake Cassadaga, the village's narrow streets lined with houses of a vintage of the late nineteenth century. As with camps of a revivalist past, there is a Forest Temple set among the trees, a path leading through a small forest of majestic birch and hemlock trees, some more than one hundred feet tall. The path leads to a clearing in a glade where benches face a huge stump, the Inspiration Stump, which speakers can mount by means of steps to provide inspirational talks near the healing tree in the Leolyn Woods. Later in straight-backed chairs in the sprawling timber Assembly Hall, it is possible to listen to Psychics whose lectures offer information on altered states of consciousness and other esoterica concerned with Spiritual Intelligence. Later, after lectures, healings are ministered in the Healing Temple to those with spiritual or physical ailments while hands are placed on the afflicted one's head, face, back, and chest to the sound of gentle organ music.

Christianity centuries ago split into various major units, and the same is true at Lily Dale. In 1977 a group broke off from the parent "National Spiritual Association" which has its headquarters here, and the new group formed the "Christian Order of Spiritualist" reputed to have some one hundred members.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:11:00 am
What historically was the importance of the rise of Spiritualism? Spiritualism was the last great religious excitement before the American Civil War. Thereafter the United States became industrialized and more materialistic in its outlook, and religious and spiritual outbreaks no longer took place with the energy and excitement with which such occasions had previously been marked. Changes were to occur within the Burned-Over District as well, since it was no longer purely Protestant after 1865. Now, with a small Jewish and a much larger Roman Catholic population, and with a more materialistic outlook on life, the fires have gone out in the Burned-Over District.

Revivalism continues, of course, but in a much weaker form than in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It does not attract the mass of the population, no matter what the more conservative religious leaders would have one believe today. If nothing else, the revivals did lead to a fracturing of American Christianity and to the creation of hundreds of new units calling themselves Christian. Does this proclivity of churches and faiths to split and to increase mean that the revivals of the Burned-Over era made America more religious? That is one of the questions impossible to answer, although most non-denominational surveys seem to indicate that only between 30% to 40% of Americans faithfully go to church today, despite the overt nature of public religiousness in American life.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:11:17 am
On the other hand, the revivals of the past did accomplish one thing. The revivals washed out the differences in Christian theology. Few Presbyterians are any longer Calvinists believing in pre-destination. The washing out of theology as a major concern in life can be seen in the fact that those who do go to church often change denominations when they move to another town, the choice often based on social rather than theological reasons. Spiritualism continues to exist as a religious option, with some four hundred such churches alive today, but, along with Christian Science, there is not the growth for these two nineteenth-century faiths which their expectations once engendered.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:11:43 am
Further Reading

Barkun, Michael. Crucible of the Millenium: The Burned-Over District of New York in the 1840s. Syracuse University Press. Syracuse, New York. 1986.

Cross, Whitney R. The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiatic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, New York. 1950.

Sweet, William Warren. Revivalism in America It Origin, Growth, and Decline. Scribner. New York. 1944.

Sweet, William Warren. The Story of Religion in America. Harpers. New York. 1950.

Tyler, Alice. Freedom's Ferment: Phases of American Social History until 1860. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, Minnisota. 1944. (The fullest account of the Fox sisters.)

Weisberg, Barbara. Talking to the Dead. Harper Collins, New York, 2004.

Wicker, Christine. Lily Dale: The Story of the Town That Talks With the Dead. Harper Collins. New York. 2003. (Accounts of interviews with individuals at Lily Dale today.)
Table of Contents of Saints, Sinners and Reformers
© 2005, John H. Martin

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:14:05 am

  Victorian Magic

The Rochester Rappers

The United States Democratic Review, April 1853

We are perfectly aware that to the mass of those persons now laboring under the spiritual delusion, all that we can do to open their eyes will be fruitless. We are at this moment acquainted with numbers whose belief in the imposture has become absolute monomania. It is not to these that we address ourselves, but to the stronger minded ones, whose aid we would enlist in exposing and checking a system of fraud and jugglery, which has sent so many unfortunate victims to the lunatic asylum.

We consider these absurd exhibitions of human credulity, called spiritual manifestations, to originate from three causes:

1. Common money-making imposture.
2. Deception practiced without other motive than the pleasure of showing superior cunning.
3. Self-delusion, and the natural love of the marvelous.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:15:35 am
Evidently the first cause started the whole affair. We, ourselves, paid a visit and a dollar to the women known as the Rochester rappers. We were greatly amused - not by the jugglery itself; which was not to be compared to the tricks of a professed wizard - but by the sublime gravity of our companions, of whom there were six; we, ourselves, being the seventh. Of these seven, four were gentlemen connected with influential journals, one was a celebrated artist and an occasional writer, and all present were more or less versed in the natural sciences. All were moreover usually regarded as shrewd men of the world.

We have been thus careful in specifying these facts; because the circumstance that only one other gentleman of the party unequivocally sided with us in our opinion, expressed as soon as we were out of the "haunted" house, is to our mind a strong proof of the facility with which even the higher order of intellects may be deluded in such cases.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:15:59 am
But was it a delusion?

In order to solve this question, we shall minutely describe our experience, merely premising that the mediums in question are generally admitted to be genuine cases.

We arrived later than the rest of our friends, and found the spiritual manifestations in full blast, and the whole party seated round and close to an oblong table with the gravest possible faces. Indeed we observed in two or perhaps three of the countenances an expression of superstitions awe, which at once told us that all hope of free critical judgment was for the time over with them. With corresponding gravity, although intensely tickled by the latent humor of the whole proceeding, we took our place at one end of the table facing the three mediums.

And here - to avoid being mistaken for mere matter of fact skeptics - we think it as well to state that apart from long and grave labors in the domain of what is called mental science, metaphysics, and the most abstract transcendental philosophy, we were probably the only one of the party who had seen and tried an elaborate course of experiments in animal magnetism, the effect of narcotic stimulants and kindred subjects. It is also possible that we were as well versed in the facts of physical science, most useful for purposes of deception, as any of our companions. We were, therefore, fully prepared to believe in spiritual agency the moment that material agency should appear to us impossible, and were furthermore ready to suspend our judgment in the event of even extreme improbability of possible means being employed.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:16:25 am
On taking our seats we first quietly scanned the countenances of the pretended mediums. Of these we saw four, although at our first entrance three only were present. One was an elderly woman of a very peculiar aspect, with a thin face, somewhat cadaverous of complexion, and we do not remember to have heard her speak during the whole sitting, which lasted for an hour. Next to her sat a fat lady of some thirty to forty years of age… Next to her sat a pretty little dark-eyed girl…The fourth medium was a juvenile counterpart of the stout lady, and we gave her the least share of our attention.

The stout lady was the woman of business, and the speaker of the party, although the girls answered freely when spoken to. Their remarks showed great cunning as if they had caught a smattering from some magnetizer and physiologist, and well conned their lesson. What they said was very judicious and non-committing.

We heard, for the first time, raps purporting to be made by spiritual agency.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:16:35 am
We had been told beforehand, by enthusiastic believers, that the raps were peculiar -unlike any other noises, etc. Such, however, was not the fact. They were very ordinary raps, such as we have produced ourselves since, and such as anybody can readily imitate. How they were produced is a matter of little importance, whether by cracking joints, (as in the case of a lady we know who can imitate them to perfection by her power over the joints of her toes,) whether by pieces of wood fastened to the knees, by tapping the heels together…or by simply touching the leg of the table with the toe, which appears as feasible a plan as any other. Of course, under different circumstances, raps are produced in different and suitable ways. What makes this really unimportant, though apparently the most difficult of explanation, is a fact in acoustics of which the majority of persons are utterly ignorant. This fact, which ignorance invariably denies, until conquered by experimental demonstration, is, that the human ear is totally unable to distinguish the origin of a sound apart from all other suggestive influence. It is almost impertinent to repeat what is now so well known, that the vulgar notion, formerly prevalent, of a ventriloquist throwing his voice to a distance, is mere fable. Everybody now knows that all ventriloquism can do, is to modify the sound so as to resemble one heard from a distance, and that as to the direction from which he pretends that it comes, the delusion is solely an effect upon the imagination of his audience, produced by calling their attention to a given point.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:16:47 am
Our knowledge of this simple fact caused us to smile at the statements of some of our friends as to the sounds evidently coming from this or that part of the table, from the floor, etc. As to their production by electricity when there was no necessity for any such complication, we need not discuss its improbability. We see no doubt why the supernatural sounds should not have been common raps produced by the concussion of two hard substances, and that, for the present, is all we need say on that head.

But when it was proposed that we, in our turn, should put questions unknown to the mediums, and receive answers, the case assumed a widely different aspect. Here might be, if the answers were correct, evidence of a power equal, at least, to the loftiest pretension of magnetic clairvoyance, and certainly out of the course of everyday phenomena.

This was the system. One rap signified "No." Three raps represented "Yes;" and two meant "dubious," that is, had no meaning at all. More elaborate queries were to be rapped out by calling the alphabet. But as my questions were, with one exception, all answered incorrectly, I did not care to pursue further investigations.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:17:02 am
It may strike the reader as curious that six out of seven questions, each requiring a negative or affirmative answer, should have been answered wrongly, even by chance. But the fact is, we reflected beforehand that, after giving the one rap (negative), it would be quite possible for a practiced observer's eye to detect in the expression of a person's face whether or not he or she expected anything more. To guard against this contingency, we assumed an impenetrable mask, looked satisfaction at no, when yes was the real answer; and all expectation, when it was really sufficient. By thus meeting spiritual mediums with Yankee cuteness, we succeeded in obtaining what to us appeared the most conclusive evidence of the imposture. By the way, in the one instance in which the "spirits" were right, it was not a mere yes or no query, but the name of a friend which was to be guessed. We wrote the words Mary Jane and Ellen without answer, but at the name Eliza, which was the correct name, the affirmative raps were given. Doubtless our manner in writing this name, and the fact that we then paused, (in itself conclusive,) determined the answer of the "medium."

Of the answers given to our friends, some were right and some were wrong, and we lost much time in vain attempts to disabuse them of the species of superstition which seemed partially to have possessed them. We have since been intimate with numbers of highly educated and intelligent men infected with this epidemic delusion. But in all such cases they were enthusiastic to a degree, and more apt to be guided by the passions than the intellect. We regard the superstition itself as a mental disease…

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:17:38 am
"You shall now hear," said the fat lady, by way of winding up the exhibition, "all the noises at once."

Immediately the spirits thus familiarly made to rap to order set up such a rapping, that we are persuaded all the four mediums must have been at work simultaneously, whatever might have been the precise modus operandi. We could hardly restrain a burst of laughter at this preposterous finale, which, to an unprejudiced mind, was itself an admission of imposture, and we certainly gave the little dark-eyed medium so significant a look that she could neither restrain a slight smile, (and we fancied a blush - but mediums never blush,) nor restrain herself from turning aside her head. In so doing she exchanged a look with "Fatima," as we had mentally baptized the stout medium, a look which would have told us all - had we not been perfectly satisfied already. This united rapping was repeated by the mediums standing in various parts of the room, and decided our belief that the cause of the noises was about the persons of the mediums, and not underneath the floor or in the table itself.

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:17:49 am
A little general conversation ensued, but instead of joining our friends in listening to the non-committal philosophy of the profound "Fatima," we employed ourselves more agreeably in a little playful badinage with little Dark-eyes.

"How on earth do you manage to sleep," said we, "with all these troublesome fellows of spirits rapping about your room?"

"Oh!" said she, smiling, "of course they never rap when I am in bed!"

"Why not - of course?" thought we, but as it is neither polite nor politic to "corner" a young lady, we contented ourselves with stating the very unexpected fact that we ourselves were mediums!

"Indeed!" said Dark-eyes, looking puzzled.

"Yes," we continued gravely, "and what most annoys us is the fact that the raps come when we are alone at night and in bed!"

Title: Re: The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism Movement
Post by: Sandra on October 14, 2009, 01:18:17 am
"When you are alone?" said the medium, with unequivocal astonishment in her tone.

"Does it appear to you so incredible?" said we, laughing; but we added with courteous irony – "Of course no one can believe more devoutly in spiritual manifestations than a medium!"

"Are you satisfied, gentlemen?" said "Fatima."

"Perfectly!" we replied; and though very much in the humor to stop and have a little more fun with the amiable mediums, as a ten-dollar party was waiting to communicate with the spirits of the celestial spheres, we departed, after many sincere protestations on both sides, of a desire to meet again and try some further experiments. Since that day, however, the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, have choked up our spiritual aspirations, and caused all our spare dollars to melt away in purely material channels. Yet, we sometimes flatter ourselves that little Dark-eyes may occasionally dream of us, and even "Fatima" call to mind the devout gravity with which we gazed on the paper with the wrong answers, and assured her - so sincerely - of our perfect and complete satisfaction. Never was a dollar more profitably invested than in that brief course of occult science!