The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

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The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by Admin on Sat Dec 08, 2012 7:21 am

In 2011 I wrote this talk to present on March 31st, the 163rd anniversary of the beginnings of Modern Spiritualism. A Hydesville talk is mandatory but this was triggered by an “accident”. Amongst research materials I was filing, an article published on June 24th 1943 in “Light, the weekly journal of Spiritualism”, titled “THE FOX SISTERS: SOME UNSOLVED PROBLEMS.”

One may wonder how there could be problems then, 95 years after the event but, of course, like any story of the past time had elapsed, certain facts had been either been forgotten or misrepresented and the original publications detailing the actual events were virtually unavailable. So what were the questions involved in the “Light” article?

The first was that a lack of a properly researched history of the Fox family given their importance in initiating Spirit Communication. Secondly that there was a wide variation in the recorded age of the girls at the time of the event Margaret could be 15, 14, 13 or 12, Kate 12, 11 or 9. Attempts to trace the family history seemed not to even establish where they actually came from. It also appears that, in 1943, there was uncertainty about whether Kate had one or two children.

The other issue that concerned the writer was whether there was any validity to their confessions that it had “been humbuggery from first to last” and “an absolute falsehood”. These admissions led to the writing of “A Death Blow to Spiritualism” by Reuben Briggs Davenport , published in 1888.

The writer of the Light article did conclude that Spiritualism did not “stand or fall on genuineness or otherwise of the Hydesville phenomena. However the writer then said that it was desirable that any uncertainty be cleared away because it created skepticism.

Taking this point first it is important o understand that in the earliest years the work of the Fox Sisters certainly drew the attention of many influential people to the reality of Spirit Contact. Looking at the initial years highlights the impact that they had.

After the rappings at Hydesville, Leah, who had been at her home in Rochester travelled to see the family as soon as she heard of the events. They were then residing at the house of their brother David in the nearby hamlet of Arcadia. Leah took Katie back to Rochester where they were subsequently joined by Mrs Fox and Margaret. It was Leah who took charge of events from that point and began to arrange their Spiritualist Activities. She arranged séances and collected money for them, providing an income for the family. However, there were also private séances with a relatively influential band of friends who were drawn to the phenomena.

It was one of the friends; EW Capron who persuaded the Fox’s to let Katy move to live with his family at Auburn, during 1849, to remove her from the ongoing Spirit contact.

In Katie’s absence the first demonstration of mediumship took place in Rochester, November 1849, involving only Margaret and Leah. This resulted in 3 consecutive days of detailed investigations of the phenomena which vindicated the truth of Spirit Communication.

With the family back together the girls then travelled on, reaching New York in 1850, where they generated considerable interest in their work. Interestingly they stayed at the hotel of A S Barnum, which has resulted in some wonderful historical inaccuracies, when people confuse this with the much more famous PT Barnum’s circus, the “American Museum”.

Most important to the impact they were able to make in the City was the support they received from Horace Greeley the editor of the New York Tribune. The publicity received from his coverage saw many people attend séances, including those in a position of influence who left impressed by the information they had received. After they left New York the New York Tribune of September 30th 1850 carried a report praising “their integrity and good faith”.

Despite many people claiming they knew how the fraud was being perpetuated the girls continues their travels visiting many other cities. For every claim made against them Leah, with the support of their close friends, ensured the family was tested by other people, to vouch for their authenticity and she ensured these findings were publicized.

Then late in 1852 Margaret met Elisha K Kane, an Arctic Explorer. He became enamored with her but not with Spiritualism, which he felt was an improper way of life. Through 1853 he worked to convince her that if she was to marry him she needed to give up the Spirits and take up schooling. Finally in the latter half of 1853 she stopped her work and commenced her schooling moving away from her family.

By this stage the Fox family was movimg away from the main stream of people who were to take the fledgling knowledge of Spirit contact and turn it into the movement it became. Clearly they kept contacts but were not active in influencing its direction. Other mediums and Speakers were appearing almost daily to help in its development.

In the Fox family the way their lives were moving highlights how difficult research into their history would be. Additionally some of these events would be influential in explaining the “confessions” they were later to make.

Margaret claimed that she and Elisha Kane were married in secret in September 1856. Despite moving back with her family, while he was away on his travels, she did not return to spirit work to honour his wishes. Sadly Kane was to die from a stroke suffered on one of his exploratory journeys on December 20th 1856 passing away while his ship was in Havana, Cuba. His family refused to provide for Margaret who was in great distress both financially and emotionally. She still did not return to spirit work but spent years trying to get money from the family. It was this period, with its levels of emotional distress, bouts of anger and depression that saw her become an alcoholic.

After 1853 Leah and Kate were working separately. Leah was to become friends with notable members of the movement like Robert Dale Owen and Emma Hardinge Britten. Leah married the well to do Daniel Underhill which drew her into a new way of life with new interesting and intellectual companions

Kate began to work for herself, holding séances and doing readings. Initially she worked in the offices of the Society for The Diffusion of Spiritual Knowledge in the Broadway New York where Emma Hardinge Britten also worked. However she is described as a person who seldom embraced life joyously, which may be unsurprising given the way her life had developed. As a result, when her sister Maggie’s life descended an alcoholic spiral from 1861, she was pulled into this as well.

In December 1864 their friends discovered the state they were in and it was arranged that the sisters go into the treatment centre of a George Taylor, paid for by Leah and Daniel Underhill. However the death of their father John Fox on Jan 5th 1865 delayed the treatment.

Subsequently Katy accepted treatment but Maggie refused help. Maggie then took a legal suit against Kane’s family but the absence of witnesses caused it to be dismissed.

On August 3rd 1865 Mrs Fox passed away, leaving Maggie effectively alone, given the very mixed feelings she had for Leah Fox. As a result she was persuaded to release the book “The Love Life of Doctor Kane” created from all of the letters she had received from him. The financial failure of this was to drive her back to working as a Medium.

Despite treatment Katie was too easily drawn back to alcohol by her sister, so a subterfuge was worked whereby she was invited to London to work. This trip was successful because her mediumship emerged to a new level, during which she was able to perform in strict test conditions, particularly for Sir William Crookes. On a personal level she also benefitted marrying the Barrister Henry Jencken on 14th December 1872 forming a very happy partnership leading to the birth of two children

Sadly on November 26th 1881 Jencken died leaving his affairs in a state that made it difficult for Katie. She was finally able to return to New York in 1885. The return coincided with the release of Leah’s book the “Missing Link in Spiritualism” which added to the disharmony between the sisters.

Sadly the return saw a shared relapse into alcoholism for Maggie and Katie.

So it is these disparate events that have led to a fractured account of the real history of the Fox Family. Many accounts have softened the history, others have changed it in many ways. Probably, given the sad way the lives of Katie and Margaret played out, it is not surprising their lives have been inadequately reported, especially given the gaps in the records.

Particularly relevant to the errors was the way that Leah Fox Underhill embellished the accounts as illustrated both in her 1885 book “The Missing Link in Modern Spiritualism” and in the story she passed on to Dale Owen, who then reported this version in his 1860 book “Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World”. In these versions the two young girls become younger. It is Kate not Margaret who asks “Mr. Splitfoot” to do as I do not the true story that it was Margaret and the name Splifoot did not exist. Indeed it is even suggested the girls established the name Rosna for the peddlar whereas at Hydeville no name was established just initials. There is strong evidence the name Rosna, that appeared later, is actually incorrect.

There are other books of the period, like Margaret’s 1866 book “The Love Life of Dr. Kane”, that add confusion to the issue. Sadly most of the books written subsequently, all the way up to the article in Light, perpetuate these errors because they rely more on these accounts than on the original records which, were hard to find even by 1860.

Fortunately many modern researchers have devoted much time and effort to establishing the real facts behind the story. The SNU historian Paul Gaunt traced a copy of the original account of the happenings at Hydesville. He most kindly had this scanned into a special edition of Psypioneer, to be available to all researchers. This book was written by EE Lewis, a lawyer and journalist. He started interviewing all the adults involved just 11 days after the event, on 11th April 1848, compiling these in “A REPORT OF THE MYSTERIOUS NOISES, HEARD IN THE HOUSE OF MR. JOHN D. FOX,” published by the end of April 1848.

The issue of the ages of the sisters has been researched by our own Lis, through historical books, periodicals and genealogical research. These findings, also published in Psypioneer, confirm Margaret as 15 and Kate as 12. They also reveal a distinct lack of candour about their ongoing ages as in later life they all, especially Leah, grew much younger.

As to their confessions, as I have already written, at the time it occurred both sisters were in a sorry state, short of money and almost certainly alcoholics. Margaret was extremely angry at the book Leah had published, carried grievances at the control Leah had exercised in their younger life and envied her lifetime success. Margaret was the first to confess and it is believed that she received a sum of money for this

In Oct 12 1888 Chicago Tribune published an article which shows that Katie was furious with sister Leah and her spiritualist friends. She believed they were responsible for having her two children taken away by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children because her drinking made her incapable of looking after them. This fuelled her rage to confess and damage her sister by denying Spiritualism.

Subsequent to their confessions Margaret recanted and as she died on March 9th 1893 records show that raps were occurring all around her bedchamber. Kate apparently performed no more séances and died on July 2nd 1892

Oh yes on November 24th, 1904 the New York times reported the finding of a headless skeleton in the foundations of the Fox Cottage corroborating the rapping's. However that is another story.
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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by Left Behind on Sun Mar 29, 2015 3:05 am

The 167th Anniversary is just 3 days hence. Smile

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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by mac on Sun Mar 29, 2015 9:15 am

The same anniversary of the birth, and death, of our baby son, the event that triggered the start of a process that saw me become the person I am now AND a firmly committed Spiritualist.


Last edited by mac on Sun Mar 29, 2015 5:25 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : change of emphasis)

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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by Left Behind on Sun Mar 29, 2015 4:33 pm

I have come to believe, Mac, that the things that happen to us in this life are not so much good or bad in themselves, but in terms of where they lead us. The same thing happened to me when my wife died.

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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by mac on Sun Mar 29, 2015 5:32 pm

Left Behind wrote:I have come to believe, Mac, that the things that happen to us in this life are not so much good or bad in themselves, but in terms of where they lead us. The same thing happened to me when my wife died.

I have often wondered if an awareness/understanding of life beyond corporeal death comes from such personal events. We cab never know for sure but maybe that's one reason Spiritualism doesn't have general appeal - something personal, perhaps bereavement, is needed to 'open the door'.

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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by hiorta on Sun Mar 29, 2015 8:27 pm

Exactly my thoughts too, mac - and the precise time in our life when the upheaval (usually) occurs.
For me it underlines the immaculate wisdom encapsulated in the saying: "When the pupil is ready, the Teacher appears". The Teacher can take any of several forms, but is often an event.
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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by Left Behind on Mon Mar 30, 2015 3:43 am

And yet. . . I wonder at times whether events, in themselves are the cause. Clearly, they are often the triggering agent. But: how many of us in our lifetimes will suffer the loss of someone very close to them? Practically all of us will, I daresay. How many of us will take this loss very hard? A great number of us will. But how many of us will become Spiritualists as a result? Only a very few.

Why is this, do you think? Were we prepared for it in some other way or place? In the spirit world or in another corporeal life, perhaps? Or have some of us just been called, in some way, for some purpose? Suspect

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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by mac on Mon Mar 30, 2015 8:17 am

Left Behind wrote:And yet. . . I wonder at times whether events, in themselves are the cause. Clearly, they are often the triggering agent. But: how many of us in our lifetimes will suffer the loss of someone very close to them? Practically all of us will, I daresay. How many of us will take this loss very hard? A great number of us will. But how many of us will become Spiritualists as a result? Only a very few.

Why is this, do you think? Were we prepared for it in some other way or place? In the spirit world or in another corporeal life, perhaps? Or have some of us just been called, in some way, for some purpose? Suspect

I strenuously avoid making things fit - it would be easy to ascribe a grand purpose to a tragic event. But sometimes it seems to make sense based on the outcome.... I also ponder whether it was planned before we came here or whether the outcome was somehow used to best advantage, making virtue of necessity so to speak.

I can make equally strong cases for each scenario but have no idea whether any of them is right.

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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by Wes on Mon Mar 30, 2015 12:01 pm

It's a pity we aren't more naturally attuned to spiritual growth.
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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by mac on Mon Mar 30, 2015 4:20 pm

Wes wrote:It's a pity we aren't more naturally attuned to spiritual growth.

Perhaps we are but in ways we don't recognise?

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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by hiorta on Mon Mar 30, 2015 7:29 pm

Indeed, mac. How could we know?
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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by synaxis on Tue Mar 31, 2015 4:19 am

mac wrote:I strenuously avoid making things fit - it would be easy to ascribe a grand purpose to a tragic event.  But sometimes it seems to make sense based on the outcome....  I also ponder whether it was planned before we came here or whether the outcome was somehow used to best advantage, making virtue of necessity so to speak.

Looking back at the history of spiritualism, I think undoubtedly there were bereavements that served a larger purpose in the development of the movement: Sir Oliver Lodge’s loss of his son Raymond, which became the occasion for the communications received through the mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard.

Another would be Florence White’s profoundly painful loss of her beloved husband, Gwyther White (age 38), which became the occasion for the communications compiled by Lodge’s secretary, Nea Walker in The Bridge: A Case for Survival (1927). I am currently reading the latter and have to appreciate the high standard of evidence that is the constant aim.

A recent example of a compilation of communications initiated by bereavement would be Trevor Hamilton's Tell My Mother I'm Not Dead: A Case Study in Mediumship Research (2012).  

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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by Admin on Tue Mar 31, 2015 4:28 am

Hi Synaxis,

I agree it is also what makes the proof of survival by mediumship such an important feature, one that done well brings healing and a sense of release. It really means that anyone who starts this pathway should remember it is a continual path of unfoldment and improvement to ensure we deliver the best information and remembrances that we can.

There is another side to this, just how much the personal circumstances and trials of individuals lead them to the path of mediumship (there is some considerable correlation to specific events either triggering or providing the release to these abilities) . These experience often help the medium to be better able to link the messages to the essential emotional as well as factual evidence for the recipient.
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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by Admin on Tue Mar 31, 2015 4:38 am

Interesting this started from a talk I gave, in 2011, for the Hydesville Sunday. This Sunday just gone we ran a Hydesville circle commencing with a talk by EE Lewis (1848 aka me) about why he rushed to Hydesville and different people in the circle reading some of the witness statements to the events, extracted from the 1848 pamphlet.

We went on to some old fashioned mediumship of the era with groups on tables seeking raps or movement. No raps but one table after much creaking moved a little and the planchette also moved but did not write.

People realised much more clearly,from the statements, why Hydesville was so important especially as the crucial communications happened mainly after the girls had left the house much more clearly. They also enjoyed the phenomena because they felt they were all part of the mediumship, as in the earlier days when, quite often, no one knew who the mediums were.

Repeated the tables in my Monday open group last night same impacts one table nearly shivering itself apart, a face appearing on it, even a brief energy build up as if a figure may appear atop it, and the planchette, untouched on the surface of the table, moving at the end to give us a little tick.

Just think how simple in those days, no religious intent, just a realisation that those of us in Spirit could communicate with those in this physical life.
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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by mac on Tue Mar 31, 2015 11:07 am

synaxis wrote:
mac wrote:I strenuously avoid making things fit - it would be easy to ascribe a grand purpose to a tragic event.  But sometimes it seems to make sense based on the outcome....  I also ponder whether it was planned before we came here or whether the outcome was somehow used to best advantage, making virtue of necessity so to speak.

Looking back at the history of spiritualism, I think undoubtedly there were bereavements that served a larger purpose in the development of the movement: Sir Oliver Lodge’s loss of his son Raymond, which became the occasion for the communications received through the mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard.

Another would be Florence White’s profoundly painful loss of her beloved husband, Gwyther White (age 38), which became the occasion for the communications compiled by Lodge’s secretary, Nea Walker in The Bridge: A Case for Survival (1927). I am currently reading the latter and have to appreciate the high standard of evidence that is the constant aim.

A recent example of a compilation of communications initiated by bereavement would be Trevor Hamilton's Tell My Mother I'm Not Dead: A Case Study in Mediumship Research (2012).  

synaxis

I wasn't thinking in terms of anything quite so grand as those individuals... Wink

I was thinking about my own situation where there might have been some 'higher purpose' or perhaps I just responded to our loss in a way that subsequently was used to help not just me but a few others in small ways - who knows?

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Re: The Raps that brought us Spiritualism

Post by Wes on Tue Mar 31, 2015 11:29 am

“Suffering is necessary until you realize it is unnecessary.”

Eckhart Tolle
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