Why am I doing this? Well, it actually has something to do with the novel I am currently writing. In it, the main character is an expert on the subject of Modern Spiritualism ("modern" in this case referring to the late 19th century) and has written a book on the subject which does just what I plan to do: profile prominent mediums and other practitioners who were famous in their own time.
Were they legitimate or were they fraudsters? Many were exposed during their lifetime to be charlatans, others were self-confessed hoaxers. Some were suspected of fraud but defied detection. True believers in spiritualism, even today, still ask, did they successfully contact that other world that may exist in "the undiscovered country," as Shakespeare called death.
Now modern (21st century) readers are too sophisticated to believe in spiritualism, right? Wrong, that is, if you take note of the fact that there are currently on television more than three dozen shows about ghosts, haunted houses, and mediums!
Here is a partial list of shows that are currently or have recently been available for your viewing pleasure--if you subscribe to basic cable:
|The notorious Fox sisters who are widely credited |
with founding the movement called spiritualism in 1848
Celebrity Ghost Stories
Ghosts Caught On Tape
Ghosts: Fact or Fiction
Living with the Dead
Long Island Medium
My Ghost Story
Scariest Places On Earth
What does this astoundingly long list tell us? That Americans in the 21st century believe in ghosts as much as their 19th century ancestors? I don't know if this is true, but I am certain that we love the possibility of ghosts.
Why? Well, for one thing, it's fun. It's fun to imagine that ghosts might exist. And it's scary and Americans love to be scared. (Just look at Stephen King's sales figures, if you don't believe this.)
A fascination with ghosts speaks to a deep and profound yearning in the human soul to know what happens after death. Most religions are grounded on this very basic fear and longing for an explanation. Plus the possibility of contacting or interacting in some way with the departed answers another kind of longing in the hearts of all grieving people.
Of course, grief stricken people tend to be easier to exploit than more emotionally objective individuals and less-than-scrupulous 19th-century mediums were quick to capitalize on this fact. I tackled this issue in my recent novel, Seance in Sepia, when I explored the world of spirit photography. (Several posts in my blog archive on this subject can be found here. ) My current work in progress also poses the question of whether a spiritualist is committing fraud or not.
Stay tuned for weekly supernatural profiles in upcoming posts here at The Victorian West. First up will be the little girls who started it all: The Fox Sisters.