Maidenhead Spiritualist Church


Spiritualism, where did it start as we know it?

By Trevor Davey

When did Spiritualism become known, to all sectors of society as a philosophy and an understanding that communication with the Spirit Dimension was for all? Previously, Spirit communication with Higher Energies was treated (or had been understood) as something only possible through a special few, such as Jesus of Nazareth, The Buddha, Moses and many others where religions have developed from the teachings received from “Spirit Mentors”. Mainly these teachings were handed down verbally and transcribed at a later date; and then, translated from ancient languages to today’s languages, perhaps with a certain amount of poetic licence.

The writings of Emanuel Swendenborg on his experiences with Spirit Communication, especially “Heaven and Hell” published in 1758, were probably the earliest literature with first-hand provenance. He was a well-respected, Mining Engineer, Anatomist, Astronomer and Theologian from Stockholm with links to the Swedish aristocracy.

(Painting depicting Emanuel Swendenborg)

Then, there were the rappings in 1716/7 heard and recorded in journals of the time at Epworth Rectory home of the Wesley family, later to be founders of the Methodist Church. However, unlike the Fox Sisters in 1848, the rappings were not decoded and therefore, a meaningful communication was not established.

(Epworth Rectory) 

Andrew Jackson Davis, as a person with mediumistic abilities, wrote The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations and Voice to Mankind in 1845, which he had dictated (while in a trance) to his scribe. He wrote some 30 books on spiritual matters including the “The Great Harmonia” (1850–1861) an encyclopaedia in six volumes which influenced the establishment of the Lyceum movement worldwide with an understanding of how young souls developed in the Spirit Dimension.

(Andrew Jackson Davis)

The development of Spiritualism in a way revolves around the published word that was able to be read and purchased by a large percentage of the general public, together with interested philosophers, academics, clergy and the like. Spiritualist magazines can be traced back to The Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph, and British Harmonial Advocate appeared c1855 together with the Banner of Light first published in the USA in 1857. The word “Spiritualism” is generally considered to come from the Latin word Spiritus; it was coined in the early 1899’s in North America and published in various books and journals as a general term for the accepted ability to communicate with the Spirit Dimension.

The first Spiritualist Church in England was established in Keighley Yorkshire in 1853 and still continues today. American churches developed from public demonstrations of mediumship rather than religious services.

(Keighley “Mother” SNU Church)

The investigations of Alfred Russel Wallace (8 January 1823 – 7 November 1913) who was a contemporary of Charles Darwin, records his investigations into Spiritualism and his acceptance of the ability of Spirit to communicate in a meaningful way. He, as a scientist, lectured on the subject to the professional societies of the day.

(Alfred Russel Wallace)

The innate knowledge that links with the Higher Life was accepted since time immorally, and supported by the written word, signs or handed down accounts. These records reflect the accepted criteria of the time.

The general openness of acceptance of the paranormal from the 1850’s relates to the general media be them publications, photographs, open debates, lectures and demonstrations. How we arrived at the way we conduct services is open to debate, but in many ways follow the Christian Church with hymns, prayers, readings, healing thoughts and addresses. When the current format for our services in Spiritualist churches started is another matter, for things changed over the years. We are told that in times past, there was a question and answer session, as part of the divine service, on philosophy.

A thought: As a Spiritualist or “SPIRIT YOU LIST” – the word list meaning to register (with poetic licence), for the word listen as found in the children’s hymn Joy-Bells, written by Josephine Pollard 1834-1892 of New York City. I know that our Spirit friends listen to our requests which may be a long list!

We know from our observations that it’s not only the human beings who can be aware of Spirit energies but also our pets, in some circumstances, can sense the nearness of Spirit Energies. Of course, the Ancient Egyptians had a great affinity with certain animals that were considered to have special abilities.

Although there is a link between the communications with Spirit Energies and the philosophy given by Spirit, various explanations and words given do vary, even if the basic truth is there. Perhaps it is all about what is acceptable to the physical existence and can be comprehended correctly with our limitations of vocabulary and background knowledge.