Before American Spiritualism

by WQ Judge @ Theosophy Trust


SO many persons have come to suppose that Spiritualism took its rise through the rappings at Rochester under the mediumship of the Fox sisters, it may be profitable to reprint a few descriptions of spiritualistic séances which had place a hundred years ago in France, Germany, and other European countries. At that time there were very many inquiring minds looking for the truth. They lived at a time when the Church had complete power, except perhaps in France, as in the latter country the Revolution was in the air. Much of the inquiry was tinctured with prevailing religious thought, and at the same time séances were held very privately. But enough leaked out and was recorded in various ways to indicate that much more of the same kind must have gone on. These extracts are taken from the Theosophical Correspondence between Count Saint Martin and Baron Liebistorf, beginning in 1792.

Nevertheless, as I believe I speak to a man of moderation, calm and discreet, I will not withhold from you that in the school through which I passed, more than twenty-five years ago, communications of all kinds were numerous and frequent, in which I had my share, like many others; and that, in this share, every sign indicative of the Repairer was present. Now you know the Repairer, and active Cause, are one. Nevertheless, as I was introduced by an initiation, and the danger of all initiations is lest we should be delivered over to the violent spirits of the world, as happened to Adam when he initiated himself in his imagination ( Incarnation, 3d part, vi. I), and his desire was not all of God, I cannot answer that the forms which showed themselves to me may not have been assumed forms, for the door is open to all initiations, and this is what makes these ways so faulty and suspicious. I know that Germany is full of these initiations; I know that the Cabinet of Berlin is guided, and leads its King by their means - and, hitherto, without much profit to boast of; I know, in short, that the whole earth is full of these prodigies; but, I repeat, unless things come from the centre itself I do not give them my confidence. I can assure you I have received by the inward way truths and joys a thousand times higher than those I have received from without.

* * *

A remarkable instance of this kind, which I heard of about two years ago, is what occurred at the consecration of the Egyptian Masonic Lodge at Lyons, 27th July, 5556 [Masonic chronology], according to their reckoning - which I believe to be incorrect. The labors lasted three days, and the prayers fifty-four hours; there were twenty-seven in the meeting. While the members were praying to the Eternal to manifest His approbation by a visible sign, and the Master was in the middle of his ceremonies, the Repairer appeared and blessed the members assembled. He came down on a blue cloud, which served for vehicle to this apparition; gradually he ascended again on this cloud, which, from the moment of his descent from heaven to earth, acquired a splendor so dazzling that a young girl, C., who was present could not bear its light. The two great prophets and the lawgiver of Israel also gave signs of their benevolence and approval. Who could reasonably doubt the fervor and piety of those twenty-seven members? ... I repeat my question: do you believe in physical communications, emanating from or produced in the centre? I call centre, in the poverty of my nomenclature, the interior of our souls; but I know not whether perception of any sort can penetrate to it; yes or no?

* * *

I found some old acquaintances at Bale, who, to my surprise, were very advanced in the theory and practice of communications. They told me of an event which had just occurred to a celebrated ecclesiastic of Zurich whom I formerly knew; his name is Lavater. He has received an invitation to go to see some persons of the highest rank in a northern court; not the one you mentioned in one of your letters, whose Cabinet would not move a step without physical consultations [Berlin - Tr.]; the one in question is farther north [Copenhagen - Tr.]. Lavater arrived there last summer; he met with men of education engaged in public business and living in the world, occupying high positions - men of acknowledged probity, who, in inviting him, could have no motive but one of goodness, for they even defrayed the expense of his journey. These men assure him that they have immediate communications with the active intelligent Cause; they assure him that one of his friends, dead some time ago, will, through his medium, enter their society. These men promise to enlighten him on subjects upon which he had prayed for light for a long while - on the doctrine of the heavenly food, the great mystery... They tell him also, what is very remarkable, that whenever they are together they have a most intimate experience of the truth of the promise. "When two or three are met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them"; since then a cloud, white as snow, descends, and for about half an hour rest upon them. They were convinced that these manifestations were signs and emanations of the active and intelligent Cause:

(I) Because these communications were always had after prayer had been offered to that Cause, and the answers came immediately after the petitions.

(2) Because these manifestations enjoined their love for that Cause.

(3) Because the manifestation which they called Lord, Spirit of the Lord, Image, and Symbol of the Lord, received their adoration, which no good virtue would have dared to do.

(4) Because the answers were given at the same time, in many places, to different persons, and in the same manner.

(5) Because it judged them with severity, and on their sincere repentance it immediately blessed them, and that visibly.

(6) Because whenever they asked it "Art thou the active intelligent Cause?" they were answered "Yes," which no power good or bad, would have dared to say.

(7) Because they were quite able to distinguish him from the good and evil intermediate beings which surrounded him.

I thank you for elucidating the new branch of intercourse going on in the North. The great difficulty remains as to the conclusions of our Zuricher: "Art thou the active intelligent Cause?" They answered ""Yes", which no intermediate power, good or bad, would have dared to say." Is this conclusion right or not? - that's the question.

The father, notwithstanding his attachment to these subaltern initiations, has been gradually led round to my way of thinking by his daughters. What completely gained me the confidence of these young ladies, who may yet open all their soul to the truth, was reading the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of I Corinthians, which the eldest of them opened accidentally. But with the other men, members of this society, and who are men of a certain age, nothing of consequence can be done. They are infected with the idea of the prerogative of having this direct intercourse with the powers.

* * *

I have received a quire-full of details of the experiences at Copenhagen. They still glorify themselves in the belief that the light, which, after their questions, gives out the sign "yes" or "no," is a whitish phosphoric color, and not red, because red, or the color of fire, would be a bad species... Just as if it was not as easy to ape a whitish color as a fiery color.

Sometimes they see a star by the side of the light which is their oracle: they know this star represents a virtue. Then they ask: "Dare it remain there?" According to the answer "Yes" or "No," the scholars order, the star obeys.

They sometimes put questions on points of doctrine; for instance, they ask:

"Is there a passage in Scripture which indisputably proves the metempsychosis?"

"Yes and no."

Some understand this to mean that such passages may be found in the Old Testament, and they again ask:

"Is there any in the New Testament?"


"In the four Evangelists?"


"In St. Matthew?"


"In the first chapter?"


"In the second?"


"In the fourth?"


"In the eleventh?"


"In the four first verses?"


"In the four next?"


"In the fourteenth?"


* * *

In this record we find support for certain conclusions. First, that the modus operandi was the same then as it now is in American spiritualism. Second, the alleged spirits showed at that time the same ignorance and want of progress which they have given evidence of ever since. There the communicating spirits of 1792, including the "Great First Cause," spoke in line with the philosophic and religious views of the believers, going no further and knowing no more about God, Nature, or Man than the questioners. This is exactly what is proved by the record of forty years of American Spiritualism. If to this we add the fact, so well known, that the old Greek spiritualists obtained from their mediums at the Temples of the Oracles precise answers to their questions, confirming their own views, we must admit that spiritualism of no matter what kind, in every time, and among all nations, will gain from the unseen powers giving reports and communications no more in respect to philosophy, religion, and the laws of nature and man's constitution than corresponds with the most advanced thought of living believers. In other words, man's true teacher and initiator is himself in the body, and not any intelligence devoid of a body.

William Brehon

Path, October, 1893