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Spiritualism is based on the idea that the spirits of the dead exist and are capable of communicating with the living.

Spiritualists view the afterlife (spirit world) as a place where the spirits of the dead are not only conscious but continue to evolve. Because of this, the spirits are more advanced than the living, and are capable of providing useful information, or guidance on moral issues or the nature of God.

Although Spiritualist concepts are found in several Eastern religions, spiritualism in the West developed in the mid-1800s, and reached its peak in the 1920s, and was most popular among the middle and upper classes.

As a movement, Spiritualism had its start in upstate New York during the 1840s. An area that had seen several religious revivals during the Second Great Awakening, the region was one in which many believed that direct communication with God or the angels was possible.

The 18th-century teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer were precursors to the development of Spiritualism. Swedenborg claimed to have communicated with spirits, describing them as intermediates between God and humans. Although he warned against attempting to contact spirits, his writings inspired others to do so. Mesmer used hypnotism to induce trances that would allow subjects to make contact with supernatural beings.

Many Spiritualists date the beginning of their movement at March of 1848, which is when Kate and Margaret Fox reported that they had made contact with a spirit that later claimed to be the that of a person who had been murdered in the house. The spirit reportedly communicated through rapping noises, which witnesses could hear. The two sisters became celebrities.

In 1888, the sisters admitted that their spirit contacts had been a hoax, although they recanted this admission shortly afterward.

Many of the early participants in Spiritualism were Quakers or socialists. Many of them were also women.

Early Spiritualists included Cora L.V. Scott, Achsa W. Sprague, and Paschal Beverly Randolph.

Spiritualism also included a great deal of showmanship and fraud. The promise of being able to contact the dead appealed to those who were grieving the loss of a loved one, and this included many widows of soldiers who had lost their lives during the American Civil War. Mary Todd Lincoln is said to have organized seances in the White House while grieving the loss of her son, and some of these events were attended by her husband, President Abraham Lincoln.

Several scientists, and others seeking to prove that Spiritualism was a fraud, became converts.

Founded in London, the Ghost Club, which is still in operation, included as members, Charles Babbage, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Julian Huxley, and William Butler Yeats.

The movement quickly spread throughout the world, but was most popular in the United States and the United Kingdom, particularly among middle- and upper-class women. Spiritualists would meet in private homes for seances, in rental halls for lectures, at state or national conventions, and in summer camps. Among the most significant of the camp meetings was Camp Etna, in Etna, Maine.

Several Spiritualist magazines appeared in the 19th century, and newspapers treated accounts of ghosts and hauntings like any other news story.

Organization was slow to come about, however. The movement remained largely individualistic, and most of those who believed in Spiritualism attended Christian churches, particularly the Universalist denomination.

Spiritualist church organizations were established, however. Among those that are still in operation are the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, Camp Chesterfield, National Spiritualist Association of Churches, Spiritualists' National Union, Universal Church of the Master, International Spiritualist Federation, White Eagle Lodge, and Agasha Temple of Wisdom.

Spiritualist beliefs and practices also found their way into several of the Christian churches, institutionally and through individual members.

A form of Spiritualism, the practice of Spiritism suggests that human beings are immortal agents who temporarily inhabit physical bodies, and are reincarnated as necessary to achieve moral and intellectual improvement. Spiritism also holds that spirits, acting through mediums, can have either beneficial or malevolent influences on the world. Today, Spiritists are largely represented by the International Spiritist Council.

Topics related to Spiritualism or Spiritism are the focus of this category or its subcategories. Appropriate topics will include the organizations mentioned above, as well as others that may not have been specifically noted. In most cases, Christian Spiritualist sites should be submitted to the appropriate Christianity category.





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