Robert Scott, the Pandora Society’s leading expert on Victorian Spirtualism, offered an extensive presentation on the subject during this year’s International Steampunk Symposium. The top highlights and most useful information for those interested in further research continue below.
Books on the subject are few and far between, but after much research, the best books on the subject are: The Table Rappers, and The History of Spiritualism by Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Fox sisters, Margaret and Kate, as teenagers in 1848, claimed to communicate with spirits by knocking and rapping. This developed into more elaborate tapping , and then table tipping. Mediums and seances during the age became more complex and dramatic, constantly upping each other and improving the show. Ultimately, becoming too dramatic was their undoing. Gimmicks of making objects materialize, ectoplasm, and speaking in voices on behalf of the deceased became common for the sake of showmanship.
Houdini, and others, disproved many hoaxes. In 1888 the Fox sisters publicly confessed their method was a hoax. That said, many Spiritualists are sincere in their beliefs, and Christian Spiritualist churches still exist, albeit in few numbers. Today, they most closely represent a form of the Protestant Church.
There are distinct differences between the Spiritualist movement, other forms of spirit communication, and other forms of occultism. For example, a Tarot reader isn’t a Medium, and a Medium isn’t an astrologer, etc. It is very rare that a practitioner is very skilled in more than one area.
Robert Scott described the difference between a ghost – as a lingering impression – as opposed to a spirit – which is more knowing and communicative. He shared personal stories of how he felt he has communicated with family members, as well as the Medium who delivered to him a heartfelt message from his still-living mother. Communication with the deceased comes through strongest between family members, and can be anything from their words, to a feeling, to a familiar smell.
It is advised to perform any kind of spirit communication in a sober and respectful manner, in earnest, and with purpose. Spirit communication should be treated as a spiritual or religious practice, with care, and not as entertainment or a game.
Robert expresses his humble appreciation to those who attentively attended.