As we have already seen in P.1 American Spiritualism as a Metaphysical Religion initially was rooted in the export of Mesmerism and the practices of Swedenborg, however N.America would soon make more of it.
Initially in 1836, Charles Poyen, the French follower of the Marquis de Puysegur, was greeted with disdain in the US. But when he illustrated the somnambulic/hypnotic state by actual demonstrations with a professional somnambule and then with audience volunteers, the American public was captivated. The Poyen brand of education-entertainment fit the lyceum model of the day, as the entranced, before the eyes of relatives, friends, and neighbors, refused to be revived from magnetic sleep by pins, prods, or sharp and clamorous noises. Meanwhile, Poyen's plan to fashion the American people through mesmerism into "the most perfect nation on earth" struck an answering chord. He was addressing, after all, a society in which Calvinism was dying, Arminianism flourishing, mechanical marvels like the steamboat and the railroad promising earthly miracles, Jacksonian democracy proclaiming the "common man," and some-like Joseph Smith-were beginning to think that humans could be "as gods."
Thus Freemasons, Mormons, Universalists, and Transcendentalists had heard of the spirits-and, the events to which Americans were most responding were linked to the mysterious rapping’s that Margaret and Kate Fox-the one a teenager and the other not yet twelve-claimed to hear at their ramshackle home in upstate New York in 1848. In the fabled "burned-over district," the two kindled a new fire when they announced that the raps were communications from a murdered peddler, whose body had been interred in their cellar. With a spate of publicity from intrigued neighbors and others who flocked to the house and with little peace from the rapping’s, the Fox family left, and their two daughters went to Rochester to live with their older sister, Ann Leah Fish. Here their story and their practice of contacting spirits were embraced by a community of Quaker activists, including especially Isaac and Amy Post. With the Posts involved in the Underground Railroad to aid the escape of fugitive slaves from the South, the incipient spiritualist movement was already being connected to the cutting edge of the period's reform movement.
The Foxes had linked themselves, among the Friends, to the Quaker radical edge. With Amy Post a cousin to Elias Hicks, the Posts had joined with the Hicksite faction of 1827, which-discontent with changes in the nineteenth-century Society of Friends-aimed to restore the original practice of cultivating the "truth" that revealed itself in and through the inner light. Such cultivation meant, at least theoretically, freedom in the social world to express and enact the truth that individual Quakers believed the light was mediating. When, however, the hierarchically organized Hicksites rebuked the Posts for their antislavery work because it involved their presence in societies with non-Quakers, the couple withdrew to form the Congregational Friends. By 1850, the small Quaker congregation based in Waterloo, New York, used language that echoed the Freemasonic ethos of the classic American Enlightenment to find in each person "a limited transcript of the perfect Architect." The Friends also thought that "between the Infinite and all beings" there existed "an unbroken chain of communication." (Waterloo Congregational Friends, Proceedings (1850), as quoted in Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, 2d ed., Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001, 13.)
Clearly, they had set their theological compass in a direction that could point comfortably toward spirit communication. So it was that, from the first, the American séance spiritualism that became a major phenomenon at mid century, and for the next decade at least, came attached to a quasi-Quaker theology of inner light, inner truth, and outer action to reform society according to spirit principles of grand connection. Spiritualism, however, had flourished in America long before the séances of the Fox sisters drew the "hundreds of thousands of sentient beings" whom New York State Supreme Court judge and convinced spiritualist John Edmonds cited in the New York Herald in 1853-9 Early American reports of the activity of Indian powwows already conduct us into a spiritualist landscape; indeed, the perceived link between Indians and spirits became a pervasive motif in the ritualized séances that evolved in the major Anglo-American spiritualist movement. Before the reported communications of the Fox sisters catalyzed this major spiritualist presence, however, Anglo-American Shakers were convinced that they were contacting spirits, including a large number of Indians who, the Shakers reported, were "taken in." Still more, developments within American mesmerism and its linkage, for some, to Swedenborgian themes mediated a thought world that pointed ever more comfortably toward a spiritualist cosmology. And at least a year or more before the Fox sisters announced the spirit rapping’s, a more speculative Anglo-American spiritualism was emerging through the trance productions of Andrew Jackson Davis and the harmonial metaphysic that he elaborated to explain them.
And there was Robert H. Collyer who offered readers a history of mesmerism that lauded, among others, Cornelius Agrippa, "the famous astrologer, chemist, and magician," citing Agrippa's conviction that it was possible "to communicate ... thoughts to another, even at a great distance." He found in Jan Baptista Van Helmont (1577-1644), the mystically inclined Flemish physician, chemist, and physicist, even more to be praised. It was Van Helmont, Collyer insisted, who had anticipated Mesmer's notion of "occult influence" between bodies at a distance and had designated the "vehicle of this influence" to be the "magnate magnum," seemingly considering it "an universal fluid pervading all nature." Collyer's Van Helmont "occasionally" called the influence "ecstatic and magical, using the latter word in its more favorable signification." For him, a magical power lay sleeping within humans, and - in an inversion of the familiar magnetic sleep of the mid-nineteenth century-the magnetic operator awakened the magic that the magnetic subject inherently possessed through the power of imagination.1
Already Americans had been prepared for these leaps and connections. In the 1820S and 183os, German Romantics had come to see a link between magnetism and a mystical religiosity replete with clairvoyant insight and psychic powers. Against this backdrop, Swedenborgian and Boehmian understandings were being shaped into a magnetism of the spirit in the writings of Heinrich JungStilling and Justinus Kerner. Jung-Stilling had been drawn to the theme of the psychic body, which he associated with the concept of a "luminiferous ether" then gaining acceptance within scientific ranks. Moreover, he argued his case for this spiritualized body and its powers from the anecdotal evidence of somnambules. Although he was himself exceedingly wary of somnambules and their entranced communications, he thought that "Animal Magnetism undeniably proves that we have an inward man, a soul" and that the soul was "constituted of the divine spark" as well as of a "luminous body." He thought, too, that the soul divested of the body in the magnetic sleep was freer and more powerful, and he posited likewise the existence of a danger zone for the magnetized soul in the "boundless ether that fills the space of our solar system." This was "the element of spirits in which they live and move:' and it was "the abode of fallen angels, and of such human souls as die..in an unconverted state."2
These speculations about magnetism, the soul, and the luminous ether, based on the experience of mesmerized subjects, formed the basis, too, of the writing still more well-known in America - of Justinus Kerner. A poet and physician, he aimed to work therapeutically with somnambules, and, in this context, in 1826 he met the remarkable Frau Frederica Hauffe, known more widely as the Seeress of Prevorst. When she died three years later, in 1829, Kerner felt free to publish an account of her life. Weak and convulsive, she did not respond to the drugs Kerner initially prescribed, and so he turned to something she had already experienced (sometimes with benefit), magnetism. The Seeress was so receptive that, according to Kerner's report, she spent most of her time entranced, and her acute clairvoyance was only part of a catalog of wonders and miracles. In fact, she spent much of her time in conversation with the spirits of the dead, to whom she freely offered guidance and advice.3
Stories of the Seeress and her mysticizing magnetism appeared familiarly in mid-nineteenth-century American newspapers and periodicals (an abridged English edition of Kerner's work appeared in London as early as 1845),4 and they were to be taken up by the new spiritualizing magnetizers of the time. In this decidedly Hermetic milieu with its anticipation of seance spiritualism, Robert Collyer's phrenological past and his mesmeric present came together, even as phrenology and mesmerism, more widely, were being perceived as partners. Apparently in 1842, Collyer and several others began to stimulate the skulls-the well-known bumps-of their mesmerized clients and to produce what they believed to be remarkable results. And so phrenomagnetism was born-a much vaunted vehicle for transcribing the Romantic Hermeticism of the past into a seeming science and tool in a new technology of the spirit.5
Andrew Jackson Davis
One of the commanding voices among early spiritualism by then, as indicated above- belonged to Andrew Jackson Davis. The famous spiritualist historian and later co-founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875, Emma Hardinge hailed him as "John Baptist" to the mass spiritualist movement (a designation that, she also applied to the Shakers). Davis, for her, presided over an "interregnum" between the "two great movements" of mesmerism and (seance) spiritualism, movements that she saw as intimately connected. "Many of the best mediums - especially the trance speakers and magnetic operators," she declared, "have taken their first degree in Spiritualism, as experimentalists in the phenomena of mesmerism." If so, Davis was certainly one of them. She extolled him, however, as "standing alone," as "unrivalled in the marvelous character of his occult endowments, and the irresistible nature of the influence he has exercised on humanity." Communing with the "supra-mundane," at home in the world of spirits, he stood as "the culminating marvel of modern ages"; in relation to him a hodge-podge of itinerant magnetizers and their kind had heard the "divine command to 'prepare the way of the Lord.'''6
Davis himself, on the other hand, was cautious in his turn toward seance spiritualism and measured in his endorsements in the 1850Ss and 1860s. Still more, by the 1870s, he was repudiating its excesses and surgically separating harmonialism from any connection to the mass movement. Bret Carroll aptly characterizes the relationship between the Davis movement and seance spiritualism as a "tensionfilled union between the cause of harmonialism and that of the spirit rappings." Still, as Carroll acknowledges echoing Hardinge, Davis and other harmonialists prepared the way for what was to come.7
Davis initially seemed an unlikely candidate for the powerful role that he assumed. Born in 1826 in Orange County, New York, in a poor and - in the language of the twenty-first century-dysfunctional family, Davis was named by a heavy-drinking uncle after the hero of the battle of New Orleans and soon-to be president of the United States. With only a smattering of formal educational matter of five months at a Lancaster school where the children taught each other-he became an impressive autodidact, although he repeatedly disclaimed any intimacy with books. As important, from 1838 he displayed an aptitude for altered states of consciousness and claimed receipt of a message that helped persuade his family to move with him to Poughkeepsie. There by 1843 he was introduced to mesmerism when J. Stanley Grimes lectured in the town. In the wake of the Grimes visit, Davis, who had been working as a shoemaker's apprentice, discovered through the mesmeric experiments of local tailor William Levingston that he was an easy magnetic subject. For nearly two years, under Levingston's magnetic control, he gained area fame and a growing reputation as a medical clairvoyant, traveling in New York and neighboring New England. A brief connection with Universalist minister Gibson Smith at this time yielded the first collection of Davis's trance utterances when Smith, in early 1845, produced Clair-mativeness. Davis would later disown the pamphlet.8
The year before, in March 1844, according to his own report Davis had undergone an experience that would change his relation to magnetism and magnetic operators radically. Unable to shake off the results of earlier magnetic work with Levingston, Davis returned to his boarding house, fell into a deep sleep, and experienced a quasi-shamanic initiatory dream-vision. A voice summoned him to dress and follow; the somnambulic Davis proceeded to Poughkeepsie's Mill and Hamilton Streets and beheld, in vision, sheep and a shepherd. Subsequently he fell unconscious; awoke and ran across the icy Hudson River; after further adventures ended up in a cemetery; and there met the spirits of the ancient Greek physician Galen and the decidedly more recent Emanuel Swedenborg. Galen presented him with a magical staff, which was by the end of the evening withheld from Davis after an angry outburst. (He finally received it considerably later.) Swedenborg gave no tangible gifts but offered special instruction, telling of visits to "this and other earths" and calling the youthful Davis "an appropriate vessel for the influx and perception of truth and wisdom." Predicting that "the things thou shalt bring forth will surprise and confound those of the land who are considered deeply versed in science and metaphysics," he told the young visionary that through him a "new light" would appear. Swedenborg himself would be the instructor of Davis's "interior understanding" and teach him the "laws" that would make him a fit communicant with "the interior realities of all subordinate and elevated things."9
Now, as an emerging trance physician and revisionary Swedenborgian, Davis lived the Levingston years as prelude. Then, on a trip to Bridgeport, Connecticut, he met a group of Universalists, including the physician Silas Smith Lyon and two ministers, William Fishbough and Samuel Byron Brittan. Persuaded by Lyon, Davis severed his ties with Levingston and set out for New York City to begin, with the Connecticut physician, a new venture in clairvoyant healing. Fishbough soon followed - to transcribe the entranced lectures that Davis began to deliver beginning in November 1845. Lyon would magnetize the "Seer," Davis would speak, and Fishbough would act as scribe. Notables in the radical religious and social culture of the day appeared at lecture sessions, among them the Reverend George Bush, a professor of Hebrew at New York University and a prominent Swedenborgian, and Albert Brisbane, Charles Fourier's foremost American disciple. Significantly, when Davis's 157 lectures appeared in 1847 as The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind, Swedenborgianism and Fourierism functioned as major interpretive tropes. Alongside these constructs came Enlightenment rationalism and a natural-history discourse that evoked Robert Chambers's Vestiges of Creation (1844) and similar works.1077 The lectures, taken as a whole, were also decidedly anticlerical, and they sounded a note that would continue in Davis's relationship to organized and orthodox forms of Christianity.
Estimates of the Davis corpus varied widely in his time and in the work of subsequent commentators and critics. George Bush, who published his Mesmer and Swedenborg the same year, initially functioned as an ardent and enthusiastic champion but then cooled his heels-probably because of dismay expressed by co-religionists in the official (Swedenborgian) New Church at Davis's jaundiced views of organized religion. Fourierist Parke Godwin supported the book -with its nearly eight hundred pages in its first printing-and so did historian John Bartlett. Transcendentalist George Ripley reviewed it in the Harbinger and took more than seven pages to enthuse over "the most surpassing prodigy of literary history." But less sanguine reviewers targeted the Davis opus as a plagiarized hodge-podge of largely Swedenborgian and Fourierist material coming not from the spirits but from his own memory. As late as the 1860s, John Humphrey Noyes quoted a hostile C. W. Webber, who wondered in print why Albert Brisbane and George Bush had failed to notice that Davis's work was "merely a sympathetic reflex of their own derived systems." Still, Noyes also quoted an Oneida Community circular that called Davis, on the basis of The Principles of Nature, the "great American Swedenborg" (even if he added that Davis was "more flippant and superficial than Swedenborg, and less respectful toward the Bible and the past, and in these respects he suits his customers)." In the early twentieth century, Frank Podmore - hardly an uncritical friend to spiritualist themes and doctrines-pointed to the book's glaring faults but still told readers that "at its best" there was "a certain stately rhythm and grandiloquence" about it. Even more, he thought that, although "obviously the work of an imperfectly educated man;' the book's "qualities" were "more remarkable than its defects."10
Davis's protests that up until that time he had read only one book in his life and that a romance-did nothing to improve his credibility for critics. Indeed, the "Scribe's Introduction" to the book providing damning evidence to the contrary. The "scribe" printed a March 1847 letter from the Reverend A. R. Bartlett, formerly of Poughkeepsie, with the recollection that Davis "loved books, especially controversial religious works, which he always preferred, whenever he could borrow them and obtain leisure for their perusal." Beyond suspicions of Davis's greater intimacy with books than he was telling came the theory that Davis had prodigiously committed The Principles of Nature to memory. Others speculated that he clairvoyantly read the minds of those present so that his lectures were shaped by the expertise of his listeners (a Swedenborgian lecture with Bush present; a Fourierist one with Brisbane; a combined lecture with both). Meanwhile, closer to our own time historian Slater Brown by 1970 pointed to the possibility that Davis "picked up a good part of his information, not from books, but from newspapers," citing evidence for his avid interest in the daily press.11
Whatever its sources - and they seem assuredly human and unspiritual- The Principles of Nature was a complexly combinative work, proclaiming a version of nature religion and inflecting it in emphatically metaphysical directions. Moreover, even with its sources in trance dictation and sententious prose, it possessed a logic and coherence that were, in structural terms, clear. After introductory materials including Davis's brief and ambitiously titled "Address to the World;' the huge book proceeded in three parts. First came a relatively short (n6-page) philosophical "Key" to what followed. Then, Davis lingered over a long (more than 55o-page) Swedenborgian-plus-"popular-science" section called "Nature's Divine Revelatiom" (which Davis considered the "soul or basis of the whole superstructure"). Finally' a third section, just over a hundred pages in length and called "The Application; or, A Voice to Mankind," invoked a Fourierist vision.12
In its first paragraph, Davis's "Address to the World" enjoined readers to "exercise" their "choicest gift, which is Reason-and fear no corruption from truth, though new." Later the "Address" declared that there were "no possible limits to social progress and spiritual attainment and elevation." This because "man" was a "microcosm, or a combined expression of all the perfections contained in the Divine essence that animates and preserves the harmony of the Universe." In like fashion, the "Key" echoed Enlightenment platitudes even as it shifted them onto more obscure terrain. "REASON is a principle belonging to man alone," began the "Key." "The mind can not be chained!" "Man has rights founded in principles of Nature. These rights have been perverted, crushed, and prostrated." Reason, however, led to considerations of body and brain and inexorably on to themes of magnetism and clairvoyance, so that the entranced Davis could astutely establish his credentials for what was to come. All worked according to laws of "Nature," which operated with "a steady and unchangeable progression," and ultimately this law-bound universe led to a God who was no longer an eighteenth-century Grand Architect but instead a Grand Magnet and Mind in a thoroughly magnetized universe. Natural laws had been "established by one great Positive Power and Mind." This power filled "all negative substances. Worlds, their forces, their physical existences, with their life and forces," were "all negative to this Positive Mind," and "all subordinate existence" was "negative."13
The Enlightenment faded even more when Davis explained that "one sympathetic chain, encircling all spheres of this existence, can receive impressions instantaneously of all things desired,-and with its spiritual senses, communicate with spiritual substances." He himself received "impressions" not directly from the "Great Positive Mind" but from what he called the "second sphere, focus, or medium, which legitimately belongs to this globe alone." In the second sphere, Davis confided, he had left the world of phenomena in which only effects were present and had come to the abode of spirit, where he could perceive both cause and effect. Still more, the word from the second sphere was that spirit was actually refined matter: "To me this all is known as matter become rare and unparticled-as the ultimate of matter, to which is applied the word spirit." Matter, for Davis, produced mind, and mind produced spirit. Nature was all in all, and the "revelation" that would follow claimed nature as its "foundation." To open that revelation, Davis announced, he would progress beyond the second sphere, moving "onward and upward" through succeeding spheres until he reached the "ultimate" seventh sphere, in which he would be "able to comprehend all others."14
Davis's Swedenborgian and naturalized myth of origins ("Part II; or, Nature's Divine Revelations") began with a cataclysmic vision of liquid fire. IN THE BEGINNING, the Univercoelum was one boundless, undefinable, and unimaginable ocean of LIQUID FIRE! The most vigorous and ambitious imagination is not capable of forming an adequate conception of the height, and depth, and length, and breadth thereof. There was one vast expanse of liquid substance. It was without bounds - inconceivable - and with qualities and essences incomprehensible. This was the original condition of MATTER. It was without forms; for it was but one Form. It had not motions; but it was an eternity of Motion. It was without parts; for it was a Whole. Particles did not exist; but the Whole was as one Particle. There were not suns, but it was one Eternal sun. It had no beginning, and it was without end. It had not length; for it was a Vortex of one Eternity. It had not circles; for it was one infinite Circle. It had not disconnected power; but it was the very essence of all Power.
That power, according to Davis was the "GREAT POSITIVE MIND;' and he went on to detail the formation of a vast and spectacular universe. Always, for him, there was the "Great CENTRE from which all of these systems and Systems of systems emanated an exhaustless Fountain .... a magnificent and glorious Sun .... a Vortex an everlasting and unchangeable Parent of all things .... an Ocean of undulated and undefinable fire, the holy emblem of Perfection."15
The fiery mystical vision, however, dissolved, first, into a popular-science series of lectures describing the formation of the solar system. It dissolved again into a Swedenborgian travelogue, as Davis, emulating the Swedish seer, visited the planets (he predicted an eighth - in a lecture delivered six months before the discovery of Neptune), described their flora and fauna in detail, and also learnedly discussed their inhabitants. The Martians, for example, who were "divided into associated families" (a Fourierist aside) displayed "a peculiar prominence of the top of the head, indicative [in phrenological terms] of high veneration." They were "not large;' the upper part of their faces was yellowish, and the lower part "of a different color, being rather dark."1984
Moreover, Davis was not shy about admitting that Swedenborg had been there before or claiming that he, Davis, had further and better insights than his mentor. He looked to the day when "spiritual communion" would be "established such as is now being enjoyed by the inhabitants of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, because of their superior refinement," confiding to readers that they could learn more on these matters "by perusing the relations made by Swedenborg during the period of his mental illumination." But the American Swedenborg also cheerfully corrected the Swedish one, explaining that he was wrong in describing "the first three Spheres as three hells, inhalated by lower spirits and angels: while the three higher Spheres were the three heavens in which the higher spirits and angels dwelt." Rather, according to the post universalist theology of Davis, the hellish designation was "true, not in the absolute", but rather in the comparative sense." Indeed, he had proved in his lectures that the "highest" was "an unfolded representative of what the lowest [had] in substance, undeveloped." Similarly, the spirits who inhabited different planets in the solar system were "in different stages of refinement," but "spirits from any sphere" might "by permission, descend to any earth in the Universe, and breathe sentiments in the minds of others." This could happen even when "the person in the body" was "unconscious of the influx."16
Once Davis left the solar system to return to earth, he grew even more confident and expansive, declaiming on the vast eras of gradual development through which the planet passed. Here Genesis was played out in another key when humanity was created "from the dust of the earth" and as a "receptacle of one of the spontaneous breathings of the Great Positive Mind." Davis duly metaphysicalized the biblical story, reading it allegorically to reflect his own naturalistic synthesis and proceeding to an account of progressive human development. He went on to declaim at length on the Old Testament and the New, reading both in comparative terms that looked to other religious systems. The Bible represented but "partial knowledge," and its narrowness contrasted unfavorably with the knowledge of nature. New Testament miracles were "entirely void of all that high and celestial dignity which they would naturally be expected to possess if they were of Divine origin." Organized religion fared even worse, as Davis lamented that "the whole world, physically, morally, and spiritually" appeared to him then "as being immersed in the dark and turbid waters of sectarianism, into which the light of reason and of divine truth scarcely casts one relieving ray."17
Whether or not Davis thought he was delivering a new Bible of Nature, his publishers, as late as the post-Civil War "thirty-fourth" edition (which was actually more likely the seventeenth), evidently did. Conveniently interspersed between the "Revelations" and the "Application," they supplied a section of unnumbered and otherwise blank pages titled "Family Record" and subtitled serially "Births," "Marriages," "Departures" (evidently deaths), and "Memoranda." The Bible of Nature, however, was a working edition, and it provided now an application for the hundreds of pages of sermon that had preceded. At this juncture, Davis's "impressions" turned Fourierist, and "association" reigned. Beginning with a basic sociology lesson on the class structure of society, he offered a catalog of its present organization in terms of trades and professions and identified the lack of commitment and abundance of self-serving that attended all. The clergy stood asa collective target-for special indictment. "Of all professions and situations occupied by men," Davis declared emphatically, "none is absolutely more unenviable and more corrupting than that sustained by CLERGYMEN." It was, indeed, a "deplorable fact that all the miseries, the conflicts, the wars, the devastations, and the hostile prejudices, existing in the world" had come "owing to the corrupting situation and influence of clergymen."18
Readers were not to worry, however, for Davis held the solution to the world's ills, and it was Fourierist. Podmore thought the Davis answer was perhaps based on Albert Brisbane's Social Destiny of Man. The suspicion seems likely. Brisbane had argued in Fourierist terms for the formation of cooperative communities that would undercut the competition that produced human miseries. "Association" provided the key to true reform and unity, and it was the natural system for social organization. Davis, for his part, followed the party line, transmuting it even as he did so into a practical metaphysic that presaged the discourse of early New Thought. "Homage;' he insisted, was "done to the Divine Mind, not in prayer and unmeaning supplication, but in harmonious industry and universal ACTION." The "misdirected passion" of prayer needed to be redirected, instead, toward the "constitutional and mutual affection manifested between every particle and compound in being." This was the "law of association," the "rudimental principle of Nature established by God," who was "Love." Each individual was, in fact, "but an organ of the great human Body," and harmony, as the soul of music-which was the "representation of divine Order" -must be established among them. Thus each had to be "well instructed and properly situated;' so that the movements of each person might "accord with the movements of the whole" and all would exist "in concert."19 The details for the formation of separate trade and professional associations followed, and in them the ghost of the phalanx was seemingly everywhere.
Always there was love. The "agricultural, mechanical, and manufacturing" associations, indeed, constituted "the body of Love, or of reciprocal movement." And in a Hermetic echo, love was met and linked to wisdom in the Davis rendition. The legal, medical, and clerical associations, he explained, were "a trinity forming one Whole, which corresponds to Wisdom." Thus Swedenborg stood corrected once again. His system, so "practicable and serviceable to every mind," could "not now be understood or applied so extensively as when the superior Association [was] formed." Still more, Jesus emerged from the shadows of a corrupt Christianity with reformist teachings that were "descriptions of effects to flow legitimately from such a social organization."20
Davis's appeal to love was more than theoretical, as his later career as a marriage and divorce reformer suggests. On a more intimate level, too, he had taken to heart Swedenborg's insistence on "conjugial" love-the existence for each person of a spiritual mate so perfectly shaped to the soul that the two together constituted one enduring and heaven-bound whole. Davis dropped the "i" and remained preoccupied, throughout his life, with "conjugal" love. With the passing years, his theoretical references to God and Nature became progressively more gendered, and more erotically so, in a mystical sexuality of Father-God and Mother-Nature. In his personal life, his growing relationship with Catherine DeWolf Dodge, perhaps twenty years his senior, had brought him the funds to produce The Principles of Nature. The Dodge connection began his private search for his true and abiding soulmate, she whose "celestial copulations" with him would resonate, according to the law of correspondence, with the marriage of God and Nature. Davis eventually married Dodge, who divorced her husband (after a claimed vision by Davis) to become his wife-but not before the two were involved in scandal regarding their relationship before their official union.21
The relationship with Dodge both assisted and nearly derailed Davis's next venture with his friends. This was the publication of The Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosopher, a weekly newspaper that appeared in New York City to advance Davis's views, beginning in December 1847. Standing as its creator and editor was Samuel B. Brittan-the other Universalist minister whom Davis had met in Bridgeport, Connecticut, along with the Reverend Fishbaugh and Dr. Lyon. Thomas Lake Harris, another ex-Universalist minister and a poet - who would go on to found the spiritualist Mountain Cove community-also joined the group. Dodge had once again helped financially, but - in that both she and Davis were living at the editor's house-the evidence that her bedroom was empty at night created consternation among the group. When Davis and Dodge married, the rift was officially healed, but relationships among the men were never the same as before.
At this juncture, Davis was hardly the sexual radical that he would become. Nonetheless, his ideas were already attracting a following of individuals who were comeouters from the churches in the Northeast and Midwest. They were interested in the paranormal or the "supernatural" but desirous of reinscribing it as natural, and their views on love and marriage exhibited the antinomian side of metaphysics. It is this group to whom, by the 1840s, the harmoniallabel was ascribed - harmonial because, as John Spurlock has noted, they stressed "harmony among people and between the spiritual and the carnal." Spurning the Calvinism of their past and even the Christian perfectionism of their present, proponents of the new heterodoxy proclaimed "harmony rather than sinlessness as the key to remaking the world." They spurned middle-class morals as well when they attacked the venerable institution of marriage. In contrast to the mass-movement spiritualism that was about to blossom into a culture of female mediums and trance physicians, harmonialism was, as Spurlock remarks, "a thoroughly male business, a network of 'brotherhoods.''' Embracjng mesmeric experiment, Swedenborgian theology, and Fourierist notions of association, harmonial men were middle class or better, financially affluent as a group, and elitist in their notions and values. The spirit voices that attracted them, according to Spurlock, "spoke in foreign accents and recondite English."22
Free-love radicals that they tended to be, the harmonialists preoccupied themselves with a series of other issues that linked an emerging metaphysical religion to themes of utopian progress and reform. They adopted Davis as their spiritual leader, and they became eager subscribers to the new Univercoelum. There, for the nearly two years of its existence (it folded in July 1849), the paper extolled Fourierist socialism amid millennialist rhetoric of a new age dawning. It excerpted Transcendentalists (Theodore Parker was a favorite) and admired William Ellery Channing; it championed mesmerism, phrenomagnetism, and Swedenborgianism; it advanced the cause of health reform; and it assiduously recorded the theology of Andrew Jackson Davis with its homegrown species of nature religion and its anticlerical disdain for the churches. Moving beyond the earlier universalism of its editors, it found in Jesus the metaphysical leader that after the Civil War he would become, and it proclaimed the immanence of God in the world and the living Christ presence in exalted individuals. A change in the "religious systems of the world" was both "necessary" and "inevitable," editor Samuel Byron Brittan authoritatively announced in the first number: "The old ideas in which we were educated; the dark mysteries and unfounded superstitions of a corrupt and fabulous theology, must pass away." In its place, Brittan celebrated the new theology of the harmonial movement: "We believe that the Supreme Divinity is essentially in all his works. The material universe is the Body of which he is the animating Principle .... We view the Deity as an allpervading presence; as the Positive Intelligence whose volitions govern the revolving spheres."23
Among the spheres, it was the second that occupied immediate attention, and, in fact, the paper was unafraid to tell readers that "transition to the second or higher sphere" defined the "process of dying." If this sounds decidedly like Davis, the Univercoelum, as we might expect, had been unabashed in its exaltation of the Poughkeepsie Seer, whom, by 1852, the spiritualist periodical Shekinah would hail as "the youthful Swedenborg of our day." In the first number of the Univercoelum, the editors together proclaimed their belief that "the eternal laws of Nature, as unfolded and explained through the medium" (who was Davis) constituted "the only true and desirable social condition" and formed "a sufficient and only reliable ground for the highest and holiest hopes of man, for time and for eternity." The new' Periodical continued to emphasize that it was "a fearless advocate of the theology of Nature, irrespective of the sectarian dogmas of men." Josiah Johnson, in one article, succinctly summarized harmonial dogma, evoking Emersonian, mesmeric, and Swedenborgian language at once, even as he echoed the Enlightenment and hinted of Fourier: "MAN being a Microcosm, or Unity of all things existing below him, cannot therefore live harmoniously with himself, or with Nature, unless the streams that supply his existence are allowed to flow naturally into his being. Neither can his social relations become perfected, unless his natural rights are allowed to flow in their direct and proper channel."24
"Mind" was supreme in this world of nature and unity. But Mind never severed its connection to the body, which - following the law of correspondence obeyed physical precepts of health that brought clarity to the mental function. One typical editorial by Thomas Lake Harris stated flatly that the "only way" to "Knowledge" was "Obedience to the Laws of Nature." These were the "laws of our being, the laws of God," and obedience, therefore, so quickened "spiritual sight" and unfolded the "spiritual Nature" that individuals were "placed in a position to see the Truth, to follow it-to be guided by it into all light and all happiness." So there was Mind, and there was Truth, its object. But as reflection on the life of Jesus- "an exceedingly great, good, and spiritually exalted MAN" suggested to William Fishbough, within each person resided an "intangible spiritual essence" that was "immediately associated with the intellectual principle itself." This "organized imponderable essence" was the spirit. It could survive death, and-as it did in the person of Jesus (and Mesmer, Davis, and others)-it could see clairvoyantly and operate magnetically. Put another way, it could exert its will in the world, so that one way that Jesus could heal came "by a concentration of his thoughts upon the patient." The lesson for Fishbough and his readers was one of democratic elation. "All men possess intrinsically the same elements which in Jesus were so harmoniously organized and so highly developed;' Fishbough affirmed. He continued in language that hinted already at how soon the discourse community was organizing from which, by the 1890s, New Thought congealed. "In showing, thus that there is a Christ in the interior nature of every man," Fishbough wrote, he aimed to "induce everyone to strive to develop that which is within him, and to live and act like a Christ."25 The Jesus who could be separated from "the Christ" to become the "living Christ Presence" in humans had already been conceived in his formula.
As Fishbough's essay and so many others showed, the Univercoelum recognized spirits familiar to Andrew Jackson Davis-spirits who, as Ernest Isaacs has remarked, were "generalized" inhabitants of the second sphere rather than the "individual, identifiable spirits" of seance spiritualism whom later mediums questioned. But the Univercoelum was slow to recognize the spirits who, enthusiasts claimed, were rapping in American parlors after the Fox family happenings at Hydesville. This, even though the publication continued for over a year after the spring of 1848. One brief article under the title "Strange Manifestations" appeared in the third volume, promising to investigate occurrences in Auburn, New York, and drawing no conclusions. Still, without the Fox sisters Davis's harmonialism would have had a far different trajectory, and Davis himself became convinced of the truth of the new manifestations by the spring of 1850. According to Ann Braude, during the same year he invited the Fox sisters to his New York City home. By 1853, in The Philosophy of Spiritual Intercourse, he produced his own explanation for the now widespread mediumistic work.26
"It is a great truth," Davis wrote, "that the inhabitants of the second sphere can, and do, at times, communicate their thoughts and sentiments to the inhabitants of the earth." Any spirit who communicated was "no immaterial substance." Rather, the "spiritual organization" was "composed of matter-such as we see, feel, eat, smell, and inhale-in a very high state of refinement and attenuation." How did the refined matter that was spirit manage to communicate with the gross world of matter in which humans, in their bodies, dwelled? The answer, for Davis, had nothing whatsoever to do with "a good moral or intellectual state" in the medium, but instead with the ground rules for "electrical" transmission. "Electrical vibrations" in the seance circle generated spirit communication. In one circle about which Davis commented, "an emanation of vital electricity from the physical systems of the young ladies, (who were the medium,) and the intense interest experienced by the entire circle, caused each person present to contribute largely to the general electric atmosphere." When the brain was quiet, the "electrical elements" could flow "down from the brain into the nerves, and into all the infinite ramifications of the nerves, and thence into the atmosphere which we breathe." Hence the spirits answered humans according to "conditions and principles" that were "simple and physical, philosophical and rational." "Those conditions," Davis averred, were "no more complicated or wonderful than the principles upon which the magnetic telegraph is daily operating along our great commercial avenues."27
It had been less than a decade before, in May 1844, that Samuel F. B. Morse had sent wire messages from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate to Congress the practicality of his invention. Davis's spirits operated at the cutting edge of a new America. In their modernity and materiality, they provided a smooth transition into the new age of seance spiritualism. Thus, by positioning harmonialism to take advantage of mass spiritualism and by grandfathering it, Davis gave the movement that Robert S. Cox calls a "robust theory of spiritual action that backed the tangible, empirically verifiable phenomena of the Foxes with a thick description of the structure of the spirit world and of spiritual cause and effect." Indeed, "Davis's mesmeric visions of the afterlife dovetailed so neatly into the early Spiritualism that most commentators saw only continuity." 28
Davis in the end remained ambivalent. By 1859 at least, he was quite distinctly separating his own "philosophical" spiritualism from the (inferior) "phenomenal" spiritualism of the seances. Many who investigated phenomenal spiritualism were "illogical in their thoughts; therefore, also, in their actions and character." Whatever moral value phenomenal spiritualism had, he judged, was "chiefly exhibited in the demonstration of individual post-mortem existence." By contrast, "in the great work of human culture and redemption, all intelligent minds" depended on his brand of philosophical spiritualism. Using the "laws of cause and effect;' "clairvoyance in the thinking faculties," and "reasonings intuitive and correspondential;' philosophical spiritualism, or harmonialism, stood ready to usher in a great new age of the spirit-what Davis would later call a "REPUBLIC OF SPIRIT embosomed and gestating in the dominant political organism." By this time-in 1885 when he hailed America as the "true" and "coming spiritual Republic" - he had already denounced seance spiritualism and severed his connection with it in the context of the flamboyance and fraudulence of postbellum spiritualism.29
Davis continued to write prodigiously - over thirty books in his long life, with his five-volume Great Harmonia (1850-1859) an especially ambitious and integrated testimonial to his abiding rejection of the notion of sin and his consistent invocation of nature and its law.30 If the title and theme of his work evoke Fourier, Davis had also made the material his own. He likewise continued to speak energetically on the "woman" question and marriage and divorce themes, even as he practiced as a trance physician. He had long learned to magnetize himself and, in his writings, he often referred to his "impressions," material he received from deep intuition that, for him, bordered the magnetic state. Dodge, his first wife with whom, he later declared, he had enjoyed a "fraternal" but not spiritually "conjugal" marriage-died in 1853. The next year Davis encouraged Mary Fenn (Robinson) Love of western New York in her divorce from her own husband-in continuing and complicated proceedings that involved two states. In Mary Love, Davis believed, he had found the one whom his spirit guide had been willing to show him as his "true companion," and he owned to the same love in his heart as that "between Father-God and Mother-Nature." The two married in 1855, in a union that at the time Davis thought "conjugal." But twenty-nine years later he disagreed (stating then that he almost from the first knew that he had erred).31
Fenn Davis was a devoted spiritualist and an ardent feminist, already in 1853 helping to call the first New York State Woman's Rights Convention. According to Ann Braude, she "quickly outstripped her husband as a public spokesperson in both movements." She saw marriage as the cause of female oppression and spoke publicly to that effect at a spiritualist convention the following year. As Davis's faithful wife, many years later, however, when Davis believed that he had discovered in Della E. Markham (a New York City magnetist and eclectic physician) his true conjugal mate, Fenn Davis-although terminally ill-agreed amicably to a divorce. Even so, the New York spiritualist community was not so amicable. Davis and his new wife of 1885 moved to Watertown, outside of Boston, where, as a trance physician, he ended his days.32
Davis believed he was standing on principle and advancing the union to which all were called. A conjugal marriage was evidence that "human interests are not intrinsically conflicting, but one, and only one!" In the mysticism of his absolute vision, "all members must suffer when one suffers. The happiness of one is the happiness of all!" The revised Swedenborgianism of his vision blended cordially into spiritualism-and, after the heightened spiritualist moment, into the continuing metaphysical religion of the late nineteenth century. The God who was an eternal Magnet bestowed an erotic quality on the mystical content of the Davis theology. Meanwhile, what Bret Carroll calls Davis's "spiritual republicanism" brought the Enlightenment ideology, in democratized form, into the spiritualist mainstream, and his reform commitments blended with those of other spiritualists in a social concern that was powerful and continuing (more on this in the next chapter). For Davis, even mediums must be rational and exhibit active minds.33 For them and for all other humans, the divinity of the self abided. All of nature tended to "the development of MAN; the grand consummation of the Material Structure." Like a seed in the earth reproducing "its kind," so did the "Deity, as the spiritual germ, unfold, through the ten thousand processes of Nature, its own image and likeness in the moral characteristics of the human type!" The spirit in each person was "the invisible presence of the Divine in the visible human;' and-in a bash at orthodox Christian theology-it was "the only and all-sufficient Incarnation." More than that, the divinity of the self meant that, in practical matters of health and disease, the "soul principle" was involved, and the human mind needed to address the "predetermining cause," which it was "the moral duty of every mind to fully comprehend and promptly overcome."34 Davis, in short, was nailing together major planks of the metaphysical platform that continued through the nineteenth century. It is probably not too much, in fact, to call him a founder of the late-century efflorescence that emerged.
Davis's "republic of spirit;' however, had to make way for a republic of spirits. After 1848, the hints and small presences of spiritualism gave way before a collective movement that brought public excitement and impassioned debate to happenings in darkened Victorian parlors. Seances became new vehicles for intimate spiritual contact among strangers and friends. There was, indeed, a communion of spirits in the seance circles-so much so that, by 1869, Emma Hardinge could define the movement as religion. "Spiritualism, with a large majority of its American adherents," she wrote, "is a religion, separate in all respects from any existing sect, because it bases its affirmations purely upon the demonstrations of fact, science, and natural law, and admits of no creed or denominational boundary." This, of course, should have been a definition to delight the heart of Davis and countless others of his ilk, but by that time Davis and company found spiritualism to be no religion at all.35
Most who called themselves spiritualists during the years of mass spiritualism's early heyday would have agreed, as Ann Taves argues, with Hardinge. Moreover, although spiritualist authors probably exaggerated numbers, believers and practitioners were certainly a numerous lot. The "hundreds of thousands of sentient beings" that Judge Edmonds wrote about in 1853 had become, in Hardinge's estimate (based, she declared, on the "last statistical accounts" that had been supplied in 1867 by "opponents" of spiritualism) "eleven millions of persons on the American continent." Later in her narrative she reminded readers that "Spiritualism numbers one-fourth at least of the population of the United States in its ranks;' a percentage that she bumped upward to one-third when she cited Roman Catholic testimony at a convention in Baltimore. "Eleven millions," said the Catholics, equaled "one-third of the population of the United States." A decade earlier, however, when the movement was younger, the communitarian and spiritualist Robert Dale Owen quoted the author William Howitt in a late-1850s estimate of "three millions of people in America alone." Meanwhile, Eliab W. Capron parenthetically declared for two million by 1854. For New York City, at roughly the same time, former United States senator and governor of Wisconsin Nathaniel P. Tallmadge quoted an anti-spiritualist publication that claimed "at the least calculation, forty thousand sincere believers in spiritual rappings," with, for the country as a whole, a number "immense, and far greater than the public generally imagine." The came, the writer added, from "every class in society, from the highest to the lowest, and among minds of every degree of capacity and cultivation, from the most accomplished scholar to the most ignorant of the ignorant."36
Summarizing the situation for the mid-1850s, Frank Podmore admitted rapid growth but offered "no statistics;' with difficulty finding estimates "even professedly based on anything but conjecture." He explained: "[Charles] Hammond speaks of two thousand writing mediums alone in 1852; [Charles] Partridge, writing in 1854, says that Spiritualists in America numbered over a million; [Nathaniel P] Tallmadge, a few weeks later, says two millions; [Joel] Tiffany, in 1855, writes, 'they now number millions.''' By 1983, historian Ernest Isaacs apparently agreed with Charles Partridge, at least for the dozen or so years before Hardinge's huge claim. "By 1855;' he wrote, "probably one million Americans-out of a population of twenty-eight million-identified themselves with the new religion." Even in this pared-down version for the mid-1850s, the figure is still impressive. Meanwhile, the numbers of mediums multiplied and grew. Eliab Capron, whose home was in Auburn, New York, not far from Rochester, alleged that in Auburn in the summer of 1850 there could be found "from fifty to one hundred" mediums "in different stages of development." In Providence, Rhode Island, the same year, almost forty mediums were said to be practicing, many of _ them from among the elite. A Cincinnati editor claimed twelve hundred in his city in 1851, of whom he could personally name more than three hundred. For roughly the same time, Hardinge, on the basis of a report from a local minister and spiritualist editor, was telling her readers that in Springfield, Massachusetts, "the number of mediums, public and private, was believed already to exceed two hundred." Jesse Hutchinson of the renowned (at the time) Hutchinson Family Singers declared that in 1852 twenty "good" mediums were practicing in San Francisco. The same year, in Woodstock, Vermont, one spiritualist found eight or ten practiced mediums and fifty who were developing their skills. And in 1859, according to John Spurlock, seventy-one could be counted in the state of New York, while there were fifty-five in Massachusetts and twenty-seven in Ohio.37
These anecdotal reports about mediums are especially important. If spiritualism was, in fact, a religion, then mediums were its officiants and priests, presiding in the small circles in which spiritualist communities were constituted. As Bret Carroll has reminded students of the phenomenon, the seances provided the "structure of spiritualist practice." Evidence as to size is scattered, and -like so much of the other evidence regarding spiritualist numbers - incomplete. But mediums meant circles. Still more, Carroll cites claims regarding seance circles from contemporaries-in the mid-1850s three hundred "magnetic circles" in New York City; between fifty and sixty in Philadelphia; "quite numerous" circles in Boston; "regularly constituted societies" in nearly all of the cities and towns in the Providence, Rhode Island, area; fifty-nine seance circles nightly in Cincinnati and hundreds of occasional circles there, too.38
Circles had come early to the mass spiritualist movement. The Fox sisters in Rochester engaged in the sittings, and Kate Fox did also when she lived for several months before that at the Capron family home in Auburn. Here there were rappings aplenty, even as furniture moved seemingly of its own accord; a guitar sailed above the heads of seance sitters on several evenings, mysteriously being played by nobody visible; spirit hands were felt on sitters' arms or shoulders or heads; hair combs were snitched from some of the women and placed on the heads of others. With Eliab Capron, investigator-turned-believer in the lead, Rochester's Corinthian Hall was rented in November 1849 for public lecture demonstrations. Two weeks later, Leah Fox Fish accepted payment-not just a free-will offering-for a seance.39 Then, after Capron and George Willets, another convinced spiritualist, succeeded in getting their account published in Horace Greeley's New York Weekly Tribune, the western New York happenings became national news. By June of 1850, the three Fox sisters, with their mother, arrived in New York City, where the sisters began holding public seances for a fee of one dollar per sitter. A national movement had been launched. Even as the Fox sisters were apparently adored by an eager public - over the next several years they demonstrated their mediumistic abilities beyond New York City in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and the state of Ohio-mass spiritualism became an engine in its own right. When, as time passed, the younger two sisters, Kate and Margaret, led more and more tawdry lives, becoming addicted to alcohol and confessing to fraud (they had made the rapping noises with their big toes by throwing them out of joint), it really did not matter.40 Spiritualism belonged to American vernacular culture, and with its blend of Davis's revised Swedenborgianism, mesmeric explanation, universalism, Transcendentalist themes of nature and intuition, and the rest of the metaphysical synthesis then available, it was there to stay. It would wax and wane as a mass movement, but its vision of reality, both ultimate and intimate, would move on, infusing not only a continuing spiritualist movement but also Theosophy, Christian Science (although Mary Baker Eddy would adamantly deny that), New Thought, and in our own time-the New Age movement.
In the seance circles, meetings were sometimes regular, with sitters -like members of very small churches-arriving for weekly and even more frequent sessions. They were also sometimes irregular. John Edmonds and George Dexter provided examples of both. Their circle of six met twice weekly at Dexter's home, but in between whenever Dexter visited Edmonds at the judge's residence, seance phenomena occurred. Moreover, as the chronicle of the Fox sisters already suggests, commodification proceeded apace. The services of mediums were, quite definitely, for sale; reports told that the Fox sisters earned one hundred dollars a day. Likewise, performance-often flamboyant and even outrageous-also characterized the gatherings. Juxtaposed against a background of the loss of loved ones, the yearning for experiential knowledge of an afterworld, or even plain and simple curiosity, the antics of spirits-as the early seances of the Fox sisters already suggest-transformed revelation in many cases into slapstick and entertainment.41
As time passed, the repertoire of spirit protocols amplified and increased. Spirits seemed to learn from other spirits. The original rappings of Hydesville became, in Rochester, an intricate system for spelling out letters of the alphabet on the newly acclaimed "spiritual telegraph." By the mid-1850s, Nathaniel Tallmadge supplied a catalog of spirit phenomena that is instructive. Besides table moving and the movement of other "ponderables;' rapping and tipping of tables and the like were widespread. There were drawing and writing mediums (whose hands were moved to produce automatic art or script) as well as trance speakers (who spoke under what was described as spirit control) and other mediums skilled at music, dancing, and singing in the trance state. Meanwhile, "seeing" mediums gave precise descriptions of spirits thought to be present, and healing mediums accomplished their work under claimed spirit guidance. Andrew Jackson Davis himself, ambitiously supplying a conceptual map of "the field occupied by the torch-bearers of the new dispensation," provided a table of some twenty-four types of mediums neatly and logically divided into groups of six, labeled respectively "outward;' "inward;' "onward," and "upward." A clear hierarchy of value characterized the Davis "progressive" labels, which began with the "vibratory" medium, whose body, but not mind, was partially controlled by "invisible powers," and ended with the "impressional" medium, whose mind, he declared, was totally possessed by a controlling spirit. In between came the full display of mediumistic styles and talents from table tippers, who unnerved sitters, to psychometric readers, who could disclose the contents of sealed letters. Although Davis invoked a "beautiful harmony" rather than chaos in the kinds and qualities of mediums, he was also wary of the spirit energy that visited humans through mediumistic means. The impressional medium-who most resembled himself-could be the conduit for whatever the controlling spirit desired. As he opined, "From this source, there is now flowing into the world a mass of literature-a strange combination of prose and so-called poetic verbiage-which, it seems to me, the world might easily progress without receiving." 42
The spirits who could totally control grew, seemingly, ever more raucous and shrill. Soon they were levitating the bodies of mediums or of sitters. By the post civil War period, purported photographs of spirits came into vogue, and so did the materialization of the bodies of spirits out of cabinets in the seance rooms. It is easy to be dismissive of all of this and to read it as vernacular vaudeville of the spirit to distract and titillate mid-and late-nineteenth-century Americans and on a smaller scale-their twentieth-century and continuing progeny. A deeper reading, however, points to its connections to social, economic, and religious dislocation as the nation moved inexorably into a future in which old verities no longer held and traditional communities dissolved under the impact of serious social change. For all the less-than-divine comedy of the spirits, the mediumistic prowess of many American women (more women than men were mediums see the next section) and men points toward pervasive mystical and even perhaps shamanistic experience, as Bret Carroll has noticed. American quasi-shamanistic mediums, to be sure, were distinctly urban. To borrow language from Robert S. Ellwood, each of them functioned as a "shaman-in-civilization," a "modern magus" whose job description included aspects of ecstasy and performance, myth and sometime fraud, seamlessly connected.43 However, what distinguished these American mediums from many other modern magi was the public character of their work, its democratic ethos, and its cultivation of personal religious experience for all- with American revivalism on its cultural horizon to show how. Mediumistic mysticism shared a pragmatic cast with the rest of American metaphysical religion. It was shaped to this-worldly concerns, providing temporary respite - not permanent escape - so that sitters who claimed they had talked to spirits went home again to claim, as well, their space as people in a workaday world.
"The circle reinforced the premium which evangelicals had placed on inner spirituality, personal experience, and direct contact with the divine," Carroll writes. He insists, too, that the circles "had an unequivocally religious function that went far beyond an interest in the phenomena of mediums hip, scientific evidence of immortality, and conversation with lost loved ones." Arguably, it was the ritual of the seance that ordered space and time in ways that mediated what an evangelical might call "saving grace." Carroll has pointed to the elements of structure governing the circles. The very adoption, by contemporaries, of the term circle linked practice to cosmology (even when, in large groups, some participants might not have gathered around the table but sat elsewhere in the room), and prominence was accorded to the home as temporary sacred space. Spiritualist practice in the seances involved orderly procedures. Practitioners early produced numerous sets of instructions to govern their home-grown liturgies and to provide good order in the face of what might seem, from sensationalized reports, the chaos and confusion generated by spirit performances.
Seating arrangements were thought out; hymn singing became a regular feature, and often, so did prayer; qualities of meditative quiet in a group setting preceded spirit phenomena. Indeed; what Carroll calls the "centrality of emotional restraint" pervaded these ritual settings.44 It may have been that the spirits behaved outrageously, but seance sitters who brought private grief and anomie to the public table did not, typically, act out their emotional states. Moreover, the continuing rhetoric of science that pervaded the sittings (more on that in the next part) and the analytic mindset-the critical scrutiny-that accompanied them undercut a demonstrative spirituality of excess.
Andrew Jackson Davis, for all his ambivalence toward "phenomenal" spiritualism as distinct from the philosophical version of his own practice, was interested enough to provide one set of instructions for success. The circles always needed to incorporate positive and negative elements, he thought, and - in keeping with the twelve "elements and attributes" he found in human souls - they should consist of twelve individuals, six of them male and six female (providing the positive and negative elements respectively). Distinguishing between a medium-an instrument for the sounds the spirits were said to make-and a clairvoyant who could "discern spirits," Davis situated both at the head of the seance table. To their right he called for someone whose "electrical temperament" was signaled by "cold hands" and "a mild and loving disposition"; to their left, another individual "of a magnetic or warm physical temperament," who was "positive and intellectual." In fact, in the Davis liturgy, actual gender was less important for seating arrangements and seance success than the presence of so-called "masculine" and "feminine" traits of character. Cold hands and loving hearts were feminine; warmth and intellectual prowess male. Circles should not meet more than twice a week, Davis warned, "because those things which become too familiar are thereby deprived of their sanctity, and hence also of their power." Rooms should be quiet and also darkened so that people could more easily concentrate.45
In the most dramatic element of his protocol, Davis advised a "magnetic cord." His directions were explicit- "five yards of a three quarter inch rope," covered in "silk or cotton velvet," and wound round by two parallel wires, one of steel and one of silver or copper, placed an inch and a half apart, and wound "about a quarter of an inch apart." Sitters would assemble around the table with the magnetic cord in their laps, "their hands upon or grasping it, and the one which is constitutionally most susceptible to spiritual influx of emotion and influence, will feel a throbbing in the hands; and ultimately, by repeated experiments, some one among the company may be rendered clairvoyant." Mediums should not hold the cord because they were the "substances or needles" that "the magnetism and electricity" of the sitters were to act upon. After an hour, the cord could be discarded and the members of the circle, instead, hold hands.46
Always, for Davis, it was the "vital electricity" of the seance circle that was important. By the time he produced The Present Age and Inner Life, he was offering readers a "new arrangement." Now the "positive and negative principles" (the men and women or those with strong masculine and feminine energy respectively) were to be placed alternately around the table "as so many zinc and copper plates in the construction of magnetic batteries." The rope's two ends were to be crossed between the two mediums who ideally would be present, and the ends were to terminate "each in a pail or jar of cold water." Meanwhile, the conductivity of the rope would now be enhanced by attaching its copper wire to a zinc plate, even as its steel wire would be joined to a copper plate. The plates themselves should be "cut with twelve angles or sides;' because, Davis explained, the points would greatly increase "the volume of terrestrial electricity." This was necessary for "a rudimental aura (or atmosphere) through which spirits can approach and act upon material bodies."47
Davis spoke only of magnetism and electricity, but by this time some seance spiritualists had also incorporated into their explanations talk of "odyle;' or "odic force," a concept derived from the work of the German chemist and metallurgist Karl, Baron von Reichenbach. In the mid-1840s, Reichenbach began arguing for a new universal force, or "effluence;' possessing neither weight nor extension but having real physical effects. Odic force was, for Reichenbach and those who agreed, distinct from electricity and magnetism and produced on sensitive individuals various sensations that could be documented and explored.48 Whether theoretically explained by the odyle, or by magnetism and electricity, the felt experience of spiritualists translated as religion. As a version of nature religion articulated now in a borderline scientific discourse-spiritualist seance sitting was about revelation and revelations. Those who witnessed the physical manifestations in darkened rooms also heard voices and read messages that they believed had come from the spirits. In a Protestant culture of the biblical Word, even those who were seeking religion elsewhere found it in a ritually invested Word and words. Here, as in the religious experience of American blacks and Indians and in the Latter-day pronouncements of Joseph Smith, revelation was continuous, and the authority of inner experience commanded assent from sympathetically minded believers. Mind had become the minds of spirits and the answering imaginistic work of devotees.
When the seance sitters went home, they could read, and what they could read -or at least revere-were texts that, in the twenty-first century, would be called "channeled" works. At the head of the list were three books that apparently inspired the most abiding devotion. The first of these was the familiar Davis gospel in The Principles of Nature. The second was a two-volume collection of messages purportedly from "Sweedenborg" and Sir Francis Bacon, produced as Spiritualism by Judge John Edmonds and George Dexter, the first volume appearing in 1853 with long and separate introductions by each of them and a series of appendices, one of them from Governor Nathaniel Tallmadge. The third, in 1855, was a work entitled The Healing of the Nations, written under "spiritual influence" by the unknown Charles Linton and promoted by Governor Tallmadge with his own lengthy introduction to head the volume and, again, a copious series of appendices, one of them from Tallmadge.49 The success of these works generated a series of similar volumes of purported spirit communications. Selling spirits was evidently easy, and a thriving market arose for messages from the afterworld.
The (first) Edmonds-Dexter volume of 1853 appeared toward the end of the year but still went through at least five editions before the year was out. It was this volume that, apparently, captured the public mind, since there is evidence of multiple editions of the volume standing alone. The work cost Edmonds his place as a judge and forced his retirement to private practice in the context of what Slater Brown termed his "incontinent credulity." Edmonds was convinced that he was being visited not merely by friends and relatives but by Francis "Lord" Bacon and Emanuel Swedenborg. In their preface to the book, Edmonds and Dexter explained how the communications came. Dexter, pencil ready, received a good many of the messages by automatic writing. When a Mrs. S. functioned as medium, the judge took down what she said in shorthand, and when Edmonds himself was the recipient, either Dexter or Owen G. Warren took notes. After each session, Judge Edmonds edited and wrote the material out in full. In the second part of the volume, too, some forty visions that came to Judge Edmonds in seance settings appeared, some of them quite lengthy, combining description of the spirit world with opinion and moral teaching. For a twenty-first-century reader, the volume seems thoroughly sententious, and it is easy to join Slater Brown in lambasting its "pontifical discourses" as "pompous, declamatory, artificial, slightly condescending in tone." Nor was Brown wrong in noticing that the communications "sound like neither Bacon nor Swedenborg but resemble the judge himself orating on the floor of the state legislature or pontificating from the bench of the supreme court."50 Even more, the spirit messages frequently leap from their pages with all the banality of so many platitudes printed on drugstore greeting cards.
Still, for all that, the received content of the revelations claimed by Edmonds and Dexter bears further scrutiny. Set in the context of a nation still ambivalently attached to a prominently calvinist past, the universalist teachings of "Sweedenborg" and "Lord Bacon" and the visualizations reported in the latter part of the volume would have seemed to many nineteenth-century seekers at once liberating and reassuring. Gone were hellfire and damnation. Manifestly present were a Christian discourse of amelioration and love and a free-will teaching anchoring personality in moral habit. From one perspective, the rhetorical world of the work echoes the anti-orthodox declamations found everywhere in Davis. In his separate introduction, for example, Judge Edmonds went out of his way to resurrect numbers from the 1850 national census and to link them to figures regarding the number of professing Christians in the land. The population stood in 1850 at 23,191,918, he declared, and the American Almanac counted but 4,731,639 as Christian-a figure that left 18,460,279 as nonbelievers. Then, in a display of sociological acumen, he analyzed numbers of churches, how many people they held, how often they were filled, and the like, in order to argue that "a vast majority of the population of our country, professing as it did to be a Christian nation, were not, to say the least, professed believers in the religion of the day, and perhaps not of any religion." He clearly deplored the divisions between "numerous sects," and he affirmed a free investigation of nature without "fear of finding a contradiction between the works and the word of God." Edmonds thought the manifestations were inspired vehicles for assuaging the needs of the unchurched and for creating a harmony that had eluded the churches. Like Davis, too, he understood them to be "the result of human progress" and meant to teach "the grand doctrine of PROGRESSION," even as he read them in terms of electricity, magnetism, and Reichenbach's odic force.51
Even with the antichurch rhetoric, the volume exuded a connection to liberal Christianity that is hard to gainsay. The lessons of the spirits, if they detoured around the churches, were repetitive in their insistence on a God of love and on a Christ who was ever available as teacher and way shower. The language of the book was, we might say, friendly to Jesus and gospel teaching. Yet the message pushed the received gospel in directions that must be acknowledged as thoroughly metaphysical, prefiguring the formulations that would become part of New Thought teaching, as one case, at the end of the nineteenth century. How else, for example, can we understand this message purported to be delivered by Lord Bacon? "Jesus was a reformer. By him the first true idea of what belonged to man as of himself, and to God as the Creator, was given to the world. Christ taught nothing of himself. He called for no belief that of himself he could accomplish anything. But he taught that man was a part of God, that in his spirit existed the elements of eternal progression, and that all that was required of him was to believe in Goel, to love one another, and to develop the powers and faculties with which that God had gifted him." After a brief interval, this Lord Bacon added: "One word I will say in final illustration of my views of the religion Christ taught. It is, that God is love."52
The Christian envelope, however, was clearly being discarded in favor of a universalism that repositioned aspects of the "simple religion of Jesus" in order to enter a cosmological stratosphere. Here a lay theology of the absolute was being written into being. God, for example, became distinctly nonlocal in ways that presage the New Age language of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. And ever, the message announced humans as minor deities, divinities in the making. Said "Sweedenborg": "God has no locality. His presence fills the whole universe .... Say what men may, teach what men may teach, still the soul of man is a part of God himself. It lives for ever, and has lived since ere the morning stars recognized the glory of the Godhead." God had destined the "body of man" to "be the dwelling-place of a portion of himself;' he reiterated.55 There was, it is true, the occasional reference to sin - but in an emerging context that charged it to "error" in ways that hint of a Christian Science to come and a doctrine of progress and gnostic self-redemption already present. Sweedenborg, for instance, cautioned that "a soul here bowed down by error, can not rise ascendingly toward the point of its ultimate and eternal home, until it shall have purged itself by its own efforts of the sin that besets it." Nor did Sweedenborg fail to allude to his planetary knowledge and travels. The spirit spheres that less spiritually advanced mediums had described in the earlier days of the manifestations, he testified, were actually other planets: "Now, I know that spirits do go to other planets. The soul is a COSMOPOLITE AMID THE ETERNITY OF WORLDS. And is it strange that it should select an abiding-place where it can be most happy?"53
In or out of that abiding-place, the magnetic metaphor was opening out in directions that underline historian Robert S. Cox's reading of "sympathy" and that also suggest a New Thought and New Age future in which the "energies" of spirit reigned. Lord Bacon, for example, enjoined Edmonds and Dexter to "let the electric bond which connects life with death vibrate with emotions of love, of truth, of good and noble aspirations, and the returning current shall bring back to your consciousness the certainty that you are surrounded by those whose thoughts accord with your thoughts." Sweedenborg apparently agreed - in language that is clearly magnetic and opaquely redolent of "conjugial" love. When a departing spirit passed through the spheres, he averred, it retained earthly connections "intact." Just as a magnet attracted minerals and pointed in one direction, the spirit would "attract those whose feeling and sentiments" accorded with its own on earth and keep them always. Thus, when there were "affections formed on earth," they were neither altered nor changed by death. Rather, "the soul in the spheres" developed "more extensively the love it first recognized on earth" and was "drawn to meet the spirit for whom that love was formed."54
One evening in June 1853, after recorded visits by Lord Bacon and Sweedenborg, Edmonds claimed a vision in which a "presiding spirit" spoke. The statement will serve as a summary of the spiritualist faith expressed through the Edmonds-Dexter volume. Bombastic and grandiose it is- but it is also a consistent statement of American metaphysical religion, echoing Hermeticism, conflating Enlightenment categories with Romance, not intrinsically unfriendly to Christianity but still existing in a theological hinterland of the spirit:
I am that I am. Pervading all space, in every particle of matter, from its merest atom to the soul that lives forever, in the universe of worlds that roll far beyond where the human imagination can reach, the spirit of God exists. He has spoken into being this immensity of worlds. At His command laws were instituted that govern them, and through His ministering spirits those laws are executed. Vast as eternity, limitless as space, omnipotent over all created things, all-wise to design, all-powerful to achieve, God was, and is, and ever shall be. How miserable the conception that limits Him to place! How awful the error that clothes Him with the attributes of weak and unprogressing man! Love is His very existence, and it is as vast, as eternal, and immutable as is His very nature.55
Charles Linton's Healing of the Nations, sponsored and endorsed by Governor Tallmadge, stayed closer to Christian language. Linton himself, according to Tallmadge's introduction, was a Bucks County, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia), native, about twenty-six years old as the book was going to press. Tallmadge described him as being "of good natural capacity, of limited education, having only had the advantages of a common district school in Pennsylvania, and that, too, at a time when the common schools of that State were not as far advanced as they now are." Linton did not like school; he worked as a blacksmith, then as a dry-goods clerk, and after that as a bookkeeper for lumber merchants. It was while working for the lumber company that he developed his mediumistic abilities and felt compelled, by spirit instruction, to write a book. So he bought a notebook and transcribed according to purported spirit dictates. From November 1853 to early April 1854, the work went on, with Tallmadge present, he testified, for a large part of it. Here, however, no historical worthies showed up to identify themselves as they spoke. Instead, there came "influence;' with its "holy sweetness." Like Davis, Linton insisted that he never consulted books, and more than Davis he conflated the plurality of spirits so characteristic of American spiritualism into one single speaking source that hinted of a direct line to divinity.56
"I have never felt but one Presence and but one Power," Linton confided, "which is to me as distinct as my own animal feelings." The "one-Presence-one Power" formula as a linguistic trope, already suggests a New Thought future. Moreover, the aphoristic nature of Linton's work points clearly toward the New Thought world. Written in succeeding chapters, all of which were divided into numbered verses, or affirmations, the book took shape as a series of platitudes generously supplied with biblical-style language- "giveth," "enjoyeth," "acteth." As the text progressed, Linton moved, Fourier-like, from one occupation or profession to the next, suggesting a harmony of the whole even as he offered spirit instruction for each. "It has truly healed my spirit," he remarked concerning the work in its entirety, "and I may add that one other spirit, as dear unto mine as its own existence, hath found in the words flowing from my pen a balm most healing." This and the allusion to healing in the volume's title again point toward the post-Civil War era of mind cure.57
Tallmadge himself saw the Linton material in terms of the larger spiritualist movement, and he read both in biblical terms. He agreed, apparently wholeheartedly, with the protests of those spiritualists who insisted that "the manifestations prove the Bible, and that the Bible proves the manifestations." More than that, while he was willing to accept the instrumentality of electricity and magnetism in rendering the manifestations possible, he wanted to move beyond means to acknowledge "an intelligence to direct the force thus applied, which can only be accounted for on the spiritual theory" What was the source of the intelligence so conceived? "In answer it is mind," he declared. The trajectory was clear. Magnetism led to spirits, and spirits (prefiguring a New Thought future) meant mind out of the body This mind was not subject to natural law, according to Tallmadge, but its maker.56
"I believe that all the truths necessary for salvation are contained in the Bible," professed Tallmadge. The Healing of the Nations reaffirmed and elucidated "the great truths of the Bible" and sustained "the pure doctrines which Christ preached and practiced, instead of the sectarianism established by the creeds of men." But his youthful spiritualist prodigy was receiving a different, more agnostic message. "Man is his own savior, his own redeemer;' Linton transcribed. "He is in his own independent circle of existence, which, completed in all its parts, is as perfect as his Father in Heaven; for is not the circle of an atom as perfect as the boundary of the Universe? and is not God the perfect center of all things?"
Still more, there was an antinomian edge to the message: "God created thy spirit from within his own, and surely the Creator of law is above it; the Creator of essences must be above all essence created. And if thou hast what may be, or might be termed laws, they are always subservient unto thy spirit." 57
That announced, Linton's spirit source was hardly being consistent, and as the-text unfolded the .• traces of a dualism more compatible with orthodox Christianity could be detected;· If each person's spirit was "God within ... manifested;' something else also resided in the territory. That was matter. "Man" was "a result of Spirit and Matter;' and the residual effects of what traditional Christians would call original sin would not simply go away. "It is a pitiable sight to see an immortal spirit chained, as it were/to a load of error and ignorance, the fruit of unholy seed planted by corrupt passions;' Linton's spirit lamented. "Thy mind being the battle-ground in which spirit and matter contend for sway, as the one succeeds, the other must fail." The deified individual of the theology of immanence had vanished, and a new, inferior spectacle stood present instead. "Behold the difference between God and man;' the spirit source chastised. "The one gave existence, and therein gave all that could be given; the other, inheritor of this great gift, contracts and concentrates this existence into a thing within its own selfishness gratified!" Still more, the path of passion seemed a headlong descent into a Calvinist hell. "When by Passion the outside man becomes deadened in feeling, the spiritual power is proportionately weakened; and thence the downward course, once entered, is frequently fearfully rapid unto its darkened close." And again: "Every successive erroneous step makes the next step easier." "In the descent, the spirit checks and warns, the reason shows the hideous deformity of the debasing passions; but as the hold slips again and again, the strides become longer and more fearful, until all is extinguished in the last dying resolve!" 58
Reading Linton's text with its juxtaposed visions, in fact, simultaneously points the twenty-first-century reader in two directions. An orthodox Christian past haunted the spirit declamations like a persistent and stubborn ghost, even as with his language of mind and of error to be vanquished - something very much like a Christian Science future seems to beckon. "Error hath entered the Household; flesh hath encroached upon Spirit;' Linton wrote. "Man was not God. Within his being was the lower creation condensed." "Reason connects spirit with matter;' and, then, "they all unite and form Mind, which is but a name for the whole." Meanwhile, the Law of Progression-that byword of Davis's harmonial philosophy-turned out to be, after all, a toiling pilgrim's progress from an old-fashioned religious world. "Cease to love the Earth. Cease to covet the fruits of darkness. Cease to hinder thyself from progressing. Elevate thyself toward Heaven." m The healing of the nations, in the end, was the healing of so many selves by means of true moral grit, when passional beings waged their fights against the flesh in the interests of spirit. The entranced and their spirit informants could exhort a generation of seance seekers to go back to their former stations and to begin to climb Jacob's ladder.
In sum, the anti-Christian reputation of spiritualism seems overblown. For all the hostility. toward organized churches, the spirit messages were ambiguous-and decidedly combinative. Uncritical to be sure, they mixed and matched past with present-a little orthodoxy could pepper the postuniversalism of the God who was unending love and the humans who were minor divinities in their own right; a mix of Hermeticism, Swedenborgianism, Fourierism, and Transcendentalism could sit well with solicitous Christian spirits.
In fact in P.3 we will research the religious rhetoric in medium self-representation including, martyrology.