One of the more persistent paranormal beliefs in human society is spiritualism, which dates back many centuries especially in Western cultures. Spiritualism is essentially a religious belief that spirits of the dead residing their own world have the ability to communicate with those in our world. Such communications can be received by anyone, but certain types of people known as “Mediums” can hold form sessions of communication and convey the wishes and thoughts of those who have passed on from our world.
Spiritualism was rampant in England and the US especially during the pre-Civil War years until the 1920s. At its peak, over 8 million people believed in spiritualism and it was the center of many social events for middle and upper class people. The belief in spiritualism spread throughout Europe and in Latin America was known as Spiritualism. For over 50 years Spiritualism was massively popular even though it had no central organization. Mediums would hold seances in their homes or in traveling shows entertaining hundreds of people at a time during their tours, tent meetings and even as part of missionary trips to other countries.
Part of the popularity of Spiritualism was no doubt due to the inclusion of women who were mostly mediums and their support of causes such as women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery which helped to establish credibility with many people. However, by the late 19th century this loose organization of spiritualists began to dissolve when accusations of fraud began to appear more regularly. This type of event was hardly surprising given the money that spiritualists often made performing their craft. With money generally come those willing to dupe others into believing that they were legitimate mediums and thus spiritualism became more formalized and is now practiced in denominational churches in both the US and the UK.
The teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer are strong influences on the spiritualism movement and helped construct the modern framework for contacting spirits in the afterlife.
Given its rise in predominantly Christian cultures, it’s no surprise that spiritualism shares many common beliefs with Christianity. From the Sunday service, singing of hymns and other rituals there are some comforting similarities that no doubt helped make spiritualism more popular. However, there are some sharp differences as well, most importantly the Christian belief in Heaven and Hell where souls go depending on if they followed the teachings of Jesus Christ is contradicted by the spiritualists who believe that a short life on the Earth is not enough to allocate a soul to either destination. Furthermore, Christians believe that Jesus Christ died for all of humanities’ sins while spiritualists believe that it is up to each person to answer for their sins that they have accumulated during their lifetime and beyond.
Spiritualism never really gained more than just a foothold in Judaism, Islam and Hinduism as their beliefs are more rigid in terms the afterlife and communication than Christianity. However, spiritualism while not nearly as prominent as it was in the early 20th century still holds a strong position in Western cultures.