Spiritualism

Spiritualism

In the nineteenth century America, people were fascinated by the possibility of rendering unseen forces visible, seen in such diverse fields as electricity, magnetism, mesmerism, and spiritualism. Spiritualism rested on the core belief that the soul continued to exist after the death of the physical body, and that the immaterial soul could be rendered material, or visible, by individuals known as mediums. Those blessed with the gifts of a medium were able to channel messages from the spirit world, and thus served as communication bridges between the dead and the living. One of the most popular manifestations of spiritualism was the practice of “table-turning,” wherein a medium placed their hands on a table, asked questions of a particular spirit, perhaps a departed loved one, and the spirit responded by turning the table to the left or right or rapping the table legs against the floor. In an era when science had just begun to develop as a distinct and coherent discipline defined by precise methodologies, direct observation, and experimentation, the delineation between the popular or pseudosciences and the “true” sciences became increasingly polarized. This was especially apparent in the controversies that surrounded popular practices such as table-turning.

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