Spirit Communication: Legitimate Practice or Fraudulent Hoax?
Spiritualism was embraced not only because of its philosophical aspects and the comfort and stability it provided (namely, the hope that there was life after death), but also because it combined empirical scientific methods and discoveries of the time, with the religious afterlife.
While the Roman Catholic Church decreed the practice be condemned, it did approve the scientific investigation of related psychic phenomena. By the end of the 19th Century, spiritualism inspired physic research into the various claims made by mediums and supporters, such as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, and spirit contact. The practice became a way to provide evidence to support the religious beliefs in life after death, and the existence of the soul.
Spiritualism gained credibility with the support of distinguished members of society, including the New York Tribune editor, Horace Greeley, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote, in The New Revelation (1918):
The conclusion, then, of my long search after truth, is that in spite of occasional fraud, which Spiritualists deplore, and in spite of wild imaginings, which they discourage, there remains a great solid core in this movement which is infinitely nearer to positive proof than any other religious development with which I am acquainted.
Research at the time proved the existence of clairvoyance and the legitimacy of spirit contact. Sir William Crookes, president of the Royal Society, which is the national scientific organization of Great Britain, investigated and pronounced as genuine, phenomena produced by at least one medium, Florence Cook.
Of course, not all mediums are created equal. This can be said about people in any profession or vocation. There were some mediums exposed as frauds. In the 20th Century, famous magicians like Harry Houdini, Milbourne Christopher, and James Randi joined efforts to expose their practices. This somewhat damaged spiritualism’s reputation and pushed it to the fringes of society, but it was revisited and reborn in full force in the 1970s.
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