A brief history of Spiritualism

From its beginnings in the US, to its spread around the world

Communication with the spirit world and many of the various forms of psychic phenomena associated with the Spiritualist movement are as old as man himself. From the earliest days humankind has been conscious of the existence of the spirit, or a power greater than their own with which they feel a bond.

In times past, in many different cultures, there is evidence of communication with God, Spirit or ancestors all of whom were revered and approached to bestow favours, facilitate healing, guide decisions, and support in times of stress. This was usually undertaken by the wise men and women who were sensitive to the energies and would communicate on behalf of their people, in essence, the forebears of modern day mediums.

The Greeks consulted oracles, the Native Americans had their medicine man, the Egyptians, the Assyrians and Romans all practised divination to obtain guidance from the gods. There is nothing new in the concept of a spiritual world or in the use of spiritual power to arrive at spirit communication. Indeed, the early Christian Church was founded on the basis of mediumship. Jesus is accepted to have been an excellent communicator with spirit; he was a speaker, teacher and healer, and appeared after his physical death to prove survival.

However, modern Spiritualism is generally considered to date from the events which occurred in Hydesville, New York, USA, on March 31, 1848. Two sisters, Margaretta and Catherine Fox, established intelligent communication with a spirit entity which had been responsible for noisy knockings in their home. This aroused curiosity and publicity and the numerous investigations carried out by prominent scientists and intellectuals both in America and Britain enabled mediumship to come out into the open and become established.

Within a short space of time many societies of Spiritualists were formed in America and in Britain based not merely upon the psychic phenomena produced but also upon the religious implications and philosophy within the teachings received from spirit through the communications.

Initially the movement in Britain was not structured, or organised, by a central body. However, it became apparent that there was a need to unite the many scattered churches and societies into some kind of association to present a collective front against persecution, win religious recognition and liberty of worship for its followers and mediums.

In 1890 the Spiritualists’ National Federation was created; this was largely just an annual think tank conference. Through discussions and debate it was decided to incorporate under the Companies Acts as a company not-for-profit and limited by guarantee. In July 1902, The Spiritualists National Union came into being, at which point our Seven Principles became the definition and basis of the religion and religious philosophy of the Spiritualists’ National Union.

1. The Fatherhood of God.
2. The Brotherhood of Man.
3. The Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels.
4. The continuous existence of the human soul.
5. Personal responsibility.
6. Compensation and retribution hereafter for all the good and evil deeds done on earth.
7. Eternal progress open to every human soul.

The primary object of the Spiritualists’ National Union is to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of the religion and religious philosophy of Spiritualism on the basis of the Seven Principles. It aims to unite Spiritualist societies and churches into a Spiritualist brotherhood and to secure for them full recognition as religious bodies. It encourages Spiritualist research, the certification and appointment of Ministers, lecturers, exponents and teachers, and the publication and distribution of Spiritualist literature. The Union has taken a leading part in the foundation of the International Spiritualist Federation, which unites Spiritualists of many countries.

Spiritualism is a religion of growth and we are continuing to expand and welcome new opportunities to share the truth and knowledge that we have with all of those who inquire. In recent years, although the media has not always portrayed mediums in the best possible manner, the publicity that we have received has allowed those with curious minds to find their way to our churches, centres and groups where they are always warmly welcomed and their questions answered.

Libby Clark is an Officiant of the Spiritualists National Union who has been a working Spiritualist Medium for 30 years. She is a Course Organiser / Tutor at the Arthur Findlay College, and works worldwide as a Spiritualist medium, teacher, healer, trance healer. www.libbyclark.biz
Getty
Show Hide image

What’s it like to be a human rights activist in post-Pussy Riot Russia?

It is five years since the feminist punk collective crashed Moscow’s Cathedral in a performance that got some of them jailed.

On 21 February 2012, five brightly-dressed members of Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot took to the alter of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to protest links between the Russian Orthodox Church and its “chief saint” Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Virgin birth-giver of God, drive away Putin!” they shouted from beneath now-iconic balaclavas.

The “Punk Prayer” was both a political statement and a powerful feminist message. Six months later, a judge sentenced three of the girls to two years in prison (one was rapidly released) on a conspicuously apolitical conviction of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

These past five years, Russia’s involvement in crises in Syria and Ukraine has cast a dark shadow over relations with an increasingly cleaved-off West. The year 2015 saw opposition politician Boris Nemtsov murdered some 500 metres from the Kremlin walls.

Domestically, society has constricted people challenging the political status quo. However, low-key initiatives retain traction.

“Artists are simply silent,” says Russian curator and gallerist Marat Guelman, who left for Montenegro in early 2015. “It is better not to say anything about politics, it is better to bypass these issues.”

This is a major difference from five years ago. “Despite persecution against Pussy Riot, people were not afraid to defend them,” he says. “It was a better time.”

There are three topics artists and curators now avoid, says artist and feminist activist Mikaela. One is “homosexuality . . . especially if it involves adolescents”, she says, citing a 2015 exhibit about LGBT teens called “Be Yourself”. Authorities closed it and interrogated the galley owner. “Then the war in Ukraine,” she says. “Russian Orthodoxy is the third topic you cannot tackle.”

Marianna Muravyeva, a law professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says that aside from the government completely discarding human rights rhetoric, the most significant legal change is the “gay propaganda” law and “legislation against those who insult the feelings of believers”.

The latter came into force in July 2013. Since then, the Orthodox Church has made deeper societal incursions. Muravyeva says that the secular nature of the Soviet Union led to residual feelings of guilt towards the Church – and now it uses that “capital”.

Mikaela observes a “cultural expansion”, citing a new TV channel, radio station and three new churches in her neighbourhood alone.

Orthodox activist attacks on exhibits have increased. In August 2015, they targeted an exhibit at one of Moscow’s most prominent art galleries. Its perpetrators were found guilty of “petty hooliganism” and handed a 1,000 rouble fine (£14 by today’s rates).

“Any word written in Old Slavonic lettering is spirituality,” says Guelman. “Any work of art by a modern artist . . . depravity, sin, the impact of the West.”

Similar groups are active across Russia, and galleries err on the side of caution. Perpetrators, while self-organised, believe their actions to be state-sanctioned, says Muravyeva. They are influenced by “the kinds of messages” conveyed by the government. 

Nowadays, self-organisation is integral to artistic expression. Mikaela witnessed educational institutions and foreign foundations telling artists “we are with you”, “we know you are smart” but they cannot host political works for fear of closure. Not knowing where the “invisible line” lies foments uncertainty. “It’s self-censorship,” she says.

Dissident artist Petr Pavlensky, notorious for nailing his scrotum to the Red Square in late 2013 (“Fixation”) and setting fire to the doors of the FSB in 2015, advocates personal agency.

“Fixation” was about a sense of helplessness in Russia that must be overcome; he tried to convey the amount of power the castrated have. “Pavlensky says, ‘Look, I have even less than you’,” says Guelman. The artist and his partner Oksana Shalygina are now in France intending to seek asylum after sexual assault accusations.

Some rise to the opportunity, such as Daria Serenko. She rides the Moscow Metro carrying political posters as part of Tikhy Piket or “Silent Protest”. Her 12 February sign depicted a girl with her head in her arms inundated by the comments received if a women alleges rape (“she was probably drunk”, “what was she wearing?”).

However, as a lone individual in a public space, she experienced hostility. “Men, as always, laughed,” she posted on Facebook afterwards. Earlier this month an anonymous group pasted painted plants accompanied by anti-domestic violence messages around Omsk, southwestern Siberia.

Their appearance corresponded with Putin signing legislation on 7 February decriminalising domestic abuse that causes “minor harm”. While it doesn’t specifically mention women, Muravyeva says that the message “women can manage on their own” is a “disaster”.

On 27 January, after Russia’s parliament passed the final draft, pro-Kremlin tabloid Life released a video (“He Beats You Because He Loves You”) showing how to inflict pain without leaving a mark.

Heightened social awareness is aided by online networks. Since “Punk Prayer”, the proportion of people using the internet in Russia has exploded. In 2011, it was 33 per cent, while in 2016 it was 73 per cent, according annual Freedom House reports. Authorities have concurrently exerted stronger controls over it, eg. targeting individual social media users through broadly-worded laws against “extremism”.

Last July, the hashtag #ЯНеБоюсьСказать (“#IamNotAfraidtoSay”) went viral. Women documented experiences of sexual violence. Russian organisation Сёстры (“Sisters”), which helps survivors receive psychological support, receives “250-350” crisis calls annually.

“Over the past year, the number of applications increased,” because of the hashtag, it says. New media platforms Meduza and Wonderzine also emerged as more “socially aware” outlets. Previously “all we had was LiveJournal communities,” Mikaela says.

Bottom-up challenges are partially due to a generational shift. “Nobody bothered before,” says Muravyeva. “Those children who were born after ‘95 . . . they were already born in a very free society – they don’t know what it is to be afraid, they don’t know what it is to be self-censoring, what it is to be really scared of the state.”

Aliide Naylor is a British journalist and former Arts and Ideas Editor of The Moscow Times.

> Now read Anoosh Chakelian’s interview with Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot