What is Spiritualism? Here’s a Simple Explanation

Spiritualism is the belief that spirits of the dead can communicate with the living, usually through a medium or during spiritualist meetings.

Spiritualists believe that human beings survive physical death and can evolve spiritually. They seek to connect with spirits for healing, guidance and to uncover information about the afterlife.

Defining Spiritualism

Spiritualism is a religious movement based on the belief that human beings survive physical death. Followers believe that properly trained mediums can communicate with spirits on behalf of the living and allow spirits to use their bodies to convey messages.

The key principles of spiritualism include:

  • Belief in the continuity of life after death
  • Communication with the spirits of dead people is possible
  • Personal responsibility for life’s circumstances
  • Individual evolution through many lifetimes and experiences
  • Acceptance of others’ beliefs

Therefore, spiritualism revolves around the concept that spirits live on after physical death and communicate messages from the afterlife through select living persons, or mediums. By communicating with spirits, spiritualists seek to understand life, death and humanity’s overall purpose.

Spiritualism vs Religion

While Spiritualism has similarities to some formal religions, there are a few key differences:

  • Spiritualism does not adhere to rigid doctrines, dogmas or hierarchies like most major religions.
  • It does not formally prescribe morals, conducts or lifestyles beyond the universal principles it espouses.
  • Spiritualism accepts and incorporates viewpoints from all religions and spiritual practices.

However, Spiritualism still shares some aspects with religions like having gathering places for believers, moral foundations and life guidance rooted in faith-based tenets.

Concepts of the Afterlife

Spiritualists hold a dynamic view of life after death. They believe spirits progress through different spheres or planes in the spirit world throughout eternity by accumulating knowledge, wisdom and integrity across lifetimes.

Spirits advance into higher states of spiritual consciousness in which they take on responsibilities to guide less progressed souls still focused on earthly ideas and desires. The afterlife therefore is an eternal journey of learning and service to others.

History and Origins of Spiritualism

The origins of spiritualism as a modern religious movement start with the Fox sisters – Margaretta, Leah and Catherine Fox of Hydesville, New York. In 1848, the sisters reported they could communicate with a spirit haunting their house through a special knocking code the spirit would make in response to questions.

As word spread, the Fox sisters demonstrated their communication with spirits in nearby Rochester. Interest grew rapidly and similar phenomena and claims started occurring around the northeast United States among groups of people seeking communication with deceased relatives.

By 1853, Spiritualist meetings and newspapers promoting the movement began appearing across the country. Spiritualist gatherings and seances grew in popularity for people attempting to contact dead loved ones during the hardship and grief caused by the U.S. Civil War.

Eventually, Spiritualism spread across the Atlantic. By 1852, Spiritualist societies emerged in England, and later spread to other European countries as well. Famous scientists and philosophers partook in seances and tested spirits’ claims, though some proved to be fraudulent.

Prominent People Influenced by Spiritualism

Well known people who seriously delved into Spiritualism or influenced its growth include:

  • Social reformer Robert Owen who converted after receiving spirit messages through mediums.
  • Physicist Sir William Crookes who tested mediums and invented devices to verify psychic phenomena.
  • Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who lost loved ones explored communication through mediums as a source of comfort and proof of an afterlife.
  • First self-proclaimed psychic and medium Daniel Dunglas Home who amazed people with uncanny knowledge about their families and his ability to float in the air.

Such prominent interest and spectacle fueled public curiosity and acceptance of Spiritualist ideas.

Nonetheless, over the next few decades millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic, ranging from nobility, clergy and scientists to farmers and tradespeople, were involved with Spiritualism and a belief that spirits spoke from beyond the mortal realm.

Core Beliefs and Practices

Beyond communicating with the deceased, Spiritualists embrace some core beliefs that drive their faith and practices:

  • Continuous Existence: When the physical body ceases, the spirit lives on and evolves in the spirit world.
  • Personal Responsibility: Individuals shape their own lives and realities either before, during or after earthly existence through free will and self-determination.
  • Reciprocal Influence: The actions and thoughts of living or deceased individuals can influence others for good or ill.

Spiritualists put these principles into practice by:

  • Holding gatherings and seances to receive messages from spirits
  • Offering psychic readings and mediumship for individuals to connect with spirits
  • Praying and meditating to receive inspiration and guidance
  • Practicing spiritual healing using divine or spirit guidance
  • Having faith that spirits support personal responsibility to improve life on earth

Adherents also seek to apply spiritual virtues – principles like truth, love and hope – more broadly in their own lives and communities.

Ethics and Values

Some ethical values Spiritualism promotes include:

  • Brotherly love towards all humanity regardless of race, gender or creed.
  • Development of personal talents and place in the world.
  • Cultivation of spiritual growth and wisdom.
  • Attainment of bodily health, strength and wellbeing.
  • Happiness through spiritual contemplation, awareness and serving others.

Practicing these ethics is seen as necessary for spiritual evolution in life and the afterlife.

Types of Spiritualism

There are a few main types or branches of Spiritualism to be aware of:

  • Organized Spiritualism: Joining a Spiritualist church or society that meets regularly, practices a set doctrine and effort to tell others about Spiritualist tenets.
  • Nonconformist Spiritualism: Holding Spiritualist beliefs independently or in small groups, but not part of an official organization or formal congregation.
  • Psychic Spiritualism: Focusing mainly on developing and using mediumship abilities or obtaining insights about the spirit world and afterlife.
  • Scientific Spiritualism: Approaching Spiritualist belief and phenomena more analytically, seeking objective evidence regarding life after death and capabilities of mediums.

But in all variations, the notion that spirits of the departed can communicate messages to benefit the living unifies Spiritualists everywhere.

Today, the Spiritualist tradition continues globally, represented by churches and centers mostly in North American and Europe. Mediumship and spiritual healing remain integral practices by which adherents affirm their faith by seeing spirit influence in their lives.

And the belief that consciousness survives bodily death continues, upheld by accounts from modern mediums and researchers investigating near-death phenomena and afterlife realms. Spiritualism therefore remains an active path for communicating with spirits and discovering personal spirituality.