I was doing a little research on Victorian spiritualism a few weeks ago when I came across something called “spirit rapping.” Curious, I ran a search on the subject and found Spirit Rapping Unveiled! published in 1855 and written by Hiram Mattison, a rather sexist skeptic of Victorian occult practices. Since we are approaching Halloween, I thought I would share an excerpt and some creepy old images that I found on Flickr.
The “rapping process” is in some respects the most important of all. It was by mere ” raps,” heard in ” the Fox family,” that this “new era” of ghosts was introduced. But it was not long before the spirits “called for the alphabet.” By what rap or raps they signified “alphabet” to the young misses, we know not. Indeed, it would be very difficult for a dumb man, or one who could not speak a word of English, to make known by sounds a wish to have the alphabet called over. His only mode would be to get a spelling-book, and point to the letters. But these very tractable “Foxes” could tell at once, by mere raps, that the spirits wanted the alphabet called over. And the same intuition enabled them to understand that, with the spirits, one rap meant no, and three raps yes.
*When the spirits went to Philadelphia, “arrangement was made with them that one rap should signify no, three yes, and two a medium between yes and no.”—History of Recent Development, &c., in Philadelphia, by “a Member of the first circle,” p. 22.
To arrange for the rappings, the following conditions must be observed:
1. There should be twelve persons in the circle:
“As there are twelve elements and attributes in every human soul, abstractly considered, so should there be twelve persons constituting a circle; the twelve consisting of six males and six females.”—Spirit of J. R. Fulmer—Telegraph, No. 26.
2. One of the circle, at least, must be a ” medium.”
“Jn order to have spiritual manifestations, it is necessary that a medium be present.”—Phil. Hist., p. 11.
“Though the presence of a medium is necessary for the production of the sounds, he or she cannot control them. Sounds cannot always be produced in the presence of a medium; there are other conations required. But all the other conditions may be as favorable as possible, yet the sounds cannot be produced without a medium.”—Ibid., 13.
3. We are told that “positive and negative persons must be placed alternately in arranging the circle.”*
“There is A peculiar electrical condition that is necessary for the production of sounds or raps.”—Phil Hist., p. 11.
“It is essential that circles be always organized upon positive and negative principles. Let the person whose electrical temperament is usually indicated by cold hands, and who possesses a mild and loving disposition, take his or her place on the immediate right of the medium or clairvoyant, upon whose immediate left should be seated one of a magnetic or warm physical temperament, being a positive and intellectual individual,” &e.—Tel., No. 26.
*It is impossible for two persons to be one positive, and the other negative, unless they are separated by a non-conductor. As positive means simply having more electricity, and negative less, and bodies are positive and negative in reference to each other relatively; and inasmuch, also, as electrical equilibrium is produced the instant the two bodies of different electrical states are connected by any conducting substance, it follows that two persons standing upon a floor, or the earth, or anything but glass, cannot be the one positive, and the other negative. However, such philosophy will do to help keep up appearances, and cover the deception and trickery of the spirit-rappers.
4. To succeed well in getting raps, &c., the room in which the circle are in session should be made dark. “Put out the lights.”
“I am impressed to further direct that the rooms where the circles meet should, as much as possible, be retired from noise and interruption; that they should also be darkened, so that the persons present, not having their minds attracted and diverted by external things, may the more easily concentrate their thoughts upon the object for which they have met together.”—Spirit of J.Ji. Fulmer—Tel. 26.
5. There is an intimate connection, it seems, between the character and “condition” of the ” medium,” and the character of the communications:
“The character of the communications depends very much on the condition of the medium. A high order of communication cannot be obtained through, or in the presence of a low medium; neither can low communications be received in the presence of a high medium. It is the physical condition of the medium that favors the production of sounds or raps; but it is the intellectual and moral conditions that give character to the intelligence connected with the sounds, manifestations, or communications.”—Phil. Hist., p. 11.
6. The “medium” must give herself entirely up to the control of the spirits; that is, abandon herself to her imagination, if not to anything else that may occur. This “giving up wholly to the control of the spirits,” is so universally insisted upon that it is scarcely necessary to cite authorities.
“In order to prepare a medium, the person must give up all self-control, all resistance, and resign him or herself to the entire direction and control of the spirits. Sometimes the process of preparation or development is easy and quick, at other times it is protracted and difficult; but it is always rendered more easy and quicker of accomplishment, by perfect resignation and entire non-resistance.”—Phil. Hist., p. 11.
7. It is quite important that no “materialists” or “skeptics” be present. “None but the candid, honest, truth-seeking inquirers should be admitted.” “The captious and sneering should be excluded” (Phil. Hist., p. 28); that is, let no person be admitted who has any doubts, or who will be likely to detect and expose the deception. This is probably the most important “condition” of all.
*What a beautiful “philosophy” this is, and how congenial with the views and practices of a certain class. It not only mingles males and females, “positives and negatives,” in the same circle; but excludes the “skeptics,” inculcates “entire non-resistance,”and then puts out the lights.
8. Although we believe it is not always regarded, yet the direction of the “spirits” is, that in all cases the “medium” should repeat the alphabet.
“Always let the medium repeat the alphabet.”—Spirits to circle in Phil. Hist, p. 26.
Everything being arranged, the “circle” take their seats at the table, darken the room, and in due time the “rappings” begin.
In the cut, the lady “medium” sits on the right, with her “secretary” behind her in the background. The members of the circle look (as they should) very “impressible;” and quite “negative,” both as to “electricity” and common sense. And the gentleman who has just paid his admission fee, and is about to enter the circle, is obviously sufficiently ” honest” and “truth seeking” for all practical purposes.
The raps being heard, the medium inquires if the spirit of such a one is present. Rap, rap, rap, (yes). “Will the spirit of communicate with us?” Rap, rap, rap. “Shall we call over the alphabet?” Rap, rap, rap. The medium then begins, “a, b, c, d,” &c., till she comes to the first letter of the first word wanted by the spirit, when a “rap” is heard, and that first letter is recorded by the “secretary.” The medium then goes back to “a” again, and proceeds down the list till she comes to the next letter wanted, when another rap is heard, and this second letter is recorded; and so on, letter after letter, and word after word, till the whole communication is obtained.
“A member of the first circle” in Philadelphia, describes this process as follows:
“The first mode is performed by having the alphabet repeated by some person (the medium is preferred); this should be done slowly and distinctly, with a pause between each letter; and when the letter is arrived at which the spirit communicating desires, there will be heard a rap, more or less distinctly, the letter responded to; it must be set down, and the alphabet again commenced and repeated, and in like manner will the desired letter be responded to. This process is repeated again and again, until words are formed, and from these sentences are constructed. The sentence when finished will usually conclude with the word ‘done.’ These sentences will give what the spirit wishes to communicate. This mode of communication is very slow, tedious, imperfect,” &c—History, p. 47.
To ascertain precisely how ” slow” and ” tedious” this method of spirit telegraphing is, the following plan was adopted: The writer requested a friend (Rev. Mr. Avars, of the New Jersey Conference) to act as “medium” in calling over the alphabet, while he (the writer) acted the part of the “spirits” by rapping at the letter desired; and the following was first written out and then communicated from the writer to Mr. Ayars by spirit-rapping:
“My Dear Friends: I am glad of an opportunity of communicating with you.” Mr. Ayars began, “a—b—c—d—e— f—g—h—i—j—k—1—m” (rap). Again: “a—b—c—d—e —f—g—h—i—j—k—1—m—n—o—p—q—r—s—t—u—v w—x—y” (rap). We had then the word “My;” and in this way we proceeded through the sentence.
Now this short sentence, of only thirteen words, or fifty-six letters, took us full fifteen minutes to get it rapped out, even with the message written out beforehand, so that the “spirit” could see the letter desired, and rap as soon as it was named. And there was scarcely any “pause between each letter,” as the rappers say there should be, and as is very necessary in order that the “rap” may be made at the right letter; so that it was got through faster than ordinary spirit messages can be telegraphed by rapping. But even this rapid process gives us only 240 letters per hour. If any man thinks he can rap out messages letter by letter at a faster rate, let him try the experiment, and he will be convinced of his mistake.
Now let us apply this fact to the communications that it is said have been rapped out by the spirit? on various occasions, and it will be found that instead of being given at a “sitting,” as they profess to have been, many of them must have required from five to thirty hours! They must, therefore, have been obtained or composed in some other way than by being rapped out letter by letter, as the rappers pretend.
Another fact worthy of note, is, that the rapping media, have up to this time been, and still are, nearly all ladies. A gentleman “rapping medium” has seldom, if ever been heard of. No Mr. “Foxes,” or Mr. ” Fishes,” but in all cases ladies. Why is this? Have the spirits a stronger “electrical affinity” for ladies than for gentlemen? Or is it because ladies would, for certain reasons, be less liable to detection and exposure? Whether the “spirits” think of it or not, we mortals know that their sex and costume is a fine security against detection. And may not this be the reason why most of the raps are made through lady mediums?
It is also somewhat remarkable that all the “spirits,” Hebrew, Greek, Roman, French, German, and Irish, rap in English. The second number of the Mountain Cove Journal contains a message said to have been received August 5th, 1852, from the spirit of the man healed by Peter and John, Acts iii. 1-9; and yet, though nothing is more certain than that this “spirit” never heard a word of English in all his life, he now raps out his thoughts in English. In a few instances only have the spirits intimated that they understood other languages than that of the mediums. On one occasion a spirit gave a message in Hebrew, by raps, Prof. Bush calling over the alphabet (which message for some cause was carefully suppressed), and in another case, where a departed “spirit” in New York had made four grand mistakes, in regard to his age, when he died, and the time, place, and circumstances of his death, the lady medium said the error arose from the fact that the spirit responding to the inquiries was the spirit of an Indian, who did not understand the English language! But with a few exceptions the spirits all rap in English—a very significant circumstance in regard to the real origin of the “intelligence.”
Now admitting that we know not the origin of the sounds, any further than it is indicated by circumstances, we have enough already before us to show beyond a doubt, that they originate in the medium herself. There must be one medium, i. e., one person who knows how to rap, and has no conscientious scruples upon the subject. She must be a lady, to prevent scrutiny and detection. The room must be darkened and “skeptics” excluded for the same reason. The alphabet must be called over by the medium, because she knows what she wishes to “communicate,” and when she names the letter she wants, can the more easily rap at the right letter. And the “spirits” know no language except that of the medium, and the “messages” are just as sensible as the medium is, and no more so. A high order of communications cannot be obtained through a low (i. e., an ignorant) medium; and to this we may add the fact, which any one can demonstrate for himself, that many of the communications are of such a length that they could not have been rapped out letter by letter, in the time specified. It is certain, therefore, that many of them, at least, were written by the media at their leisure, without even a “rap” from any spirit embodied or disembodied.