During the Victorian Era, death was everywhere. The infant mortality rate was alarmingly high, countless lives were lost to industrial equipment, and all the while a single disease could take an entire family. With such an abundance of death, survivors were left full of anguish. Thus Spiritualism – the belief that ghosts exist and we can communicate with them – came into existence.
A key component of spiritualism is séances. A séance is a meeting centred on a medium who seeks to communicate with spirits of the dead. One usually takes place in darkness, and it generally involves six or eight persons, who form a circle and hold hands.
Three American sisters: Leah, Margaret and Kate Fox were the world’s first mediums. The trio hit the headlines when they claimed to communicate with a spirit haunting their home. The girls used a series of knocks – one for ‘yes’, two for ‘no’ – to communicate with the apparition.
Spiritualism was the answer many Victorians were seeking. An official religion, the Spiritualists’ National Federation, was started in the UK in 1890. Known today as the Spiritualists’ National Union, the organisation has 350 affiliated churches with almost 16,000 full members and over 2,000 associate members in England.