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ODOLOGY: Strong Delusion;

or Modern Spiritualism

in the Light of Science and Scripture

The Ambassador of the Coming Age, July 1, 1868 - Vol. 5

Part 1 of 2



We have two correspondents who are troubled to know the nature and origin of the phenomena upon which the modern and rapidly spreading system of spiritualism is based. They cannot believe in their genuineness in the face of the Bible, and yet they cannot satisfactorily explain them. One of them says:

"I have till now been quite content to ascribe the 'manifestations' partly to cupidity, partly to deception, and, perhaps, in a measure to a kind of mental aberration under certain circumstances; but if any credence is to be given to persons of well-known character in private life, there is more fact than I have been wont to believe, and if what they relate be true, our doctrine of the unconscious state is not true. There are many here, though not caring to talk much on the subject, who have witnessed the rappings and moving of tables and chairs; but one person in particular with whom I have conversed, somewhat reluctantly told me how far he had gone, and what he had met with. He is a consistent professor of the orthodox belief, and a man of good general capacity. His experience just lands him in wonder and surprise, without satisfaction. He has elicited replies of various characters, by which it would seem that the real earth character is preserved and manifested. 'He that is holy, let him be holy still; he that is unjust, let him be unjust still,' appears to have its verification. This person, while sitting with others when a certain person was present, Cardinal Wolsey was sure to come, his name being announced by raps, when the right letters of the alphabet were pointed to, spelling his name, and after many sittings they came to know who was coming by a peculiar motion of the table; but his communications were not at all dignified or courteous. Once he gave some information which the next post proved to be true; but he also told what was proved to be false, and generally concluded by telling my informant that he was to go to hell, and sometimes that he was to go to Rome. When asked if he could fetch anyone he liked, he said Yes, and often brought those asked for, and spelt out their names. Now these things were done without a 'medium,' through whom you may find room for many doubts, but simply take the fact that pieces of heavy furniture behave themselves in a way anything but consistent with their usual gravity, moving to many yards' distance out of the room, and there for a time being immovable, then sporting about the room. I have been invited to witness some of these things by a family who have often produced these manifestations, but I stand too much in doubt of the propriety of such things to consent, much less adopt, 'spiritualism' as a religion, which thousands are doing, especially in America. But if we cannot take the Bible as a basis for our faith and practice, what foundation can there be in the misty jargon of the new faith? They say they have visions of unearthly splendour revealed to and through their 'medium;' that the Bible is an allegory, no more inspired than, nor so much, as the utterances of their clairvoyant seers, etc., etc. Again I revert to the main inquiry; clear away all that might be deemed of doubtful character, and all the rubbish, and still there are a few startling facts left. What do they mean, and what use can be made of them?"

Another writes:

May I ask "your opinion on what has already appeared to my mind the miracle of this age-- 'spiritualism.' My children are powerful mediums, whatever this word may mean. Certainly future events by the 'Electric Table Telegram' are known and told; some things are misty; some apparently never did come true; others did. I copy one message, taken letter for letter, and so to words, with young children.

"Telegram Message- - 'I am your Christian guide and King of kings--father, mother, husband, sister, brother--I am God of the fatherless and widow, friend of dear children, and of virtuous men, and of women who love my word. -- Signed, Jesus.'

"What can it be which moves the table to such a result? In passing your finger over the alphabet, it moves strongly at each letter, which letters give the words which constitute the sentence. If you are wrong, the indication is given, and you return to the wrong spelling. The clergy say it is the unclean spirits working miracles to deceive, under the sixth seal, with signs and lying miracles: and this is the devil which your appendix at once beheads. Can you help as many as are running about with their candles half lit, and their lamps scarcely burning. What was sorcery? Some say this is it; but the messages are so beautiful. The fruit is so good, can it come from a corrupt tree? Napoleon is, as they say, a confirmed spiritualist."

The doubts and enquiries contained in the foregoing communications, will doubtless occur to most minds, at the stage of only partial acquaintance with the subject. A close examination will dispel misgiving, and replace the Bible in the position of glorious pre-eminence from which it is sought by the system in question, to be driven. Spiritualism is a joint product of natural ignorance and religious superstition. This may be a harsh verdict; but it is justified by the evidence which we propose to submit, in the shape of an article republished from the Herald of the Kingdom and the Age to Come, (July number, 1852), edited by Dr. Thomas. Immortal soulism is its great parent. If men had not believed in the existence of disembodied human ghosts, they would have asked and found some other explanation of table-rappings, etc., than the one embodied in spiritualism. If there are immortal souls, it is only natural to suppose that after death, they would make some attempt to communicate with surviving relatives. Orthodoxy can make no reasonable objection to spiritualism in this aspect of the question. It is rather strange than not that deceased persons, if still alive, should make no sign after the method invented by spiritualism. Spiritualism is only orthodoxy made consistent: the one leads to the other. There would have been no spiritualism if there had been no immortal soulism; and when immortal soulism, stripped of its pretensions and exhibited in its naked deformity as a speculation of Pagan thinkers, whose wisdom Paul declares to have been foolishness with God--(1 Cor. 3:19), spiritualism takes rank among the degrading superstitions that have marked the history of human ignorance.

Scripturally, the system is at once and for ever annihilated by the divine rule supplied to Israel for the test of all such pretenders in ancient days: "Seek not unto wizards that peep and mutter; should not a nation seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." - -(Isaiah 8:20). The modern "spirits," as our readers have evidence in the first of our correspondent's letters, not only speak not according to the law and the testimony, but they actually speak against them, declaring them to be a human fiction! It is as well to see the issue. The choice lies between the oracles of God, historically verified in a hundred ways, and the ambiguous nonsense decocted from inanimate furniture by the electrical fluid of the misguided people who assemble in dark chambers, to worship at the shrine of their own hearts. The fact that the majority choose the latter in preference to the former, is easily accounted for. That which appeals to the senses is easier to apprehend, and pleasanter to receive, than that which requires an act of the understanding; and when the views or lessons accompanying those appeals to sense, are in harmony with the natural likings, which the teachings of wisdom run counter to, the dead weight of natural bias is thrown into the scale, and the result is inevitable. This is the case with the question before us. The "manifestations" of spiritualism are to be seen and heard; while the Bible only sets forth a record of what has been, and what God declares shall be, leaving us to decide, by intellectual process, whether in view of the state of affairs in the world, its historical record is true; whether, in the light of its own composition it is not worthy to be received, and whether, in view of all things, it is reasonable to put faith in the promises of God. Now with the low state of mental organization that prevails, this is a very difficult and unrelishable task for the majority, while the other is easy and exciting. Then, the teaching of the Bible is distasteful to the fleshly mind. It places God first, obedience next, and human welfare in subordination to both. Spiritualism, on the other hand, inculcates doctrine highly agreeable to the fleshly palate. It discards God, enthrones pleasure, clears the universe for the creature, and opens a boundless prospect of progress on the democratic basis. The popularity of spiritualism is no mystery, in view of these facts.


Scientifically, spiritualism, like its mother orthodoxy, begins by begging the question. The table moves: it does not ask the cause of its motion; it affirms it is attributable to the presence of "spirits." Symptoms of intelligence are exhibited; it does not ask, as a scientific question to be pursued scientifically, what is the source of this intelligence-living brains in the "circle?" living brains elsewhere en rappart with the circle, through the conducting medium of the atmosphere, or any property in the apparatus? It affirms that the intelligence proceeds from disembodied spirits, presumed to enter the room at the bidding of the "medium." Everything is assumed. The whole theory is an assumption from beginning to end. The facts, in most cases, are undoubted; but the question is, what is the explanation of the facts? This question was proposed for discussion, some years ago, between two of the most capable of living men (one since dead) to discuss such a question, viz., Mr. Faraday, the great experimental philosopher and electrician, and Mr. Home, a leader among the spiritualists, whose name has recently been prominent in our law courts in connection with a case that has not brought him any increase of reputation. The origin and upshot of the proposal will best be learned from the following cutting from the Morning Star, of May 12th, 1868.

"In 1861, it seems Sir Emerson Tennent was anxious that Mr. Faraday should investigate personally, certain of the phenomena reported to have occurred in the presence of Mr. Home. Mr. Faraday had long before, as we all know, expressed his opinion on the general subject, and declared his conviction that the 'phenomena' were due to involuntary muscular action. He felt a profound contempt for the whole thing, for which we are by no means inclined to blame him; and he seems to have been a little annoyed at the attempt to draw him again into what he considered ridiculous and futile investigations. It is likely that if Professor Owen were invited to lecture on and dissect Barnum's Woolly Horse, he might reply somewhat tartly; it is not improbable that Sir John Herschel would chafe at being invited gravely to investigate Parallax's theories about the shape of the earth and its relations to the planetary system. Mr. Faraday did reply, in language which was not encouraging. He prescribed certain conditions which it would have been utterly impossible for Mr. Home, whether that gentleman be the apostle of a new science, or a mere pretender and humbug, to accept. In fact, Mr. Home was invited, as a condition precedent to Faraday's entering on the investigation, to acknowledge that the phenomena, however produced, were ridiculous and contemptible. He was also required to pledge himself to the most entire, open, and complete examination--a condition which, of course, Mr. Faraday knew quite well Mr. Home could never accept. So the gentleman who was apparently acting for Mr. Home-we believe, the late Mr. Robert Bell--declined going any further; and it does not appear that Mr. Home was particularly consulted in the matter at all. At the present moment, Mr. Tyndall offers to investigate the phenomena, but he offers to do so 'in the spirit of Mr. Faraday's letter;' and, of course, Mr. Home replies that 'as such spirit not that of logic, nor according to the true scientific method,' he declines to lend any aid to the enquiry. And there the matter ends, as it always has ended and always must end.

"We confess we think the scientific men look rather foolish when they get into such controversies at all. Does Mr. Tyndall really suppose there is the faintest chance of his being allowed to investigate Mr. Home's 'phenomena' as he would inquire into a new astronomical or chemical discovery? If Mr. Home be not the sincere and supernaturally endowed personage he claims to be, then, of course, the idea would be out of the question. But if he be, it is hardly more reasonable. The manifestations, according to him will not take place, cannot anyhow be got to take place, under the conditions, which are absolutely essential to ordinary scientific inquiry. If somebody claims to have discovered a new planet, how does he go about establishing the genuineness of his claim? He says, 'Here is my telescope, look through it--here are my calculations, take them and test them in any way you will--here is my note of the perturbations the planet's presence produces, of the orbit in which it moves. You have, besides the evidence of the glass, a hundred different ways of putting my claim to the proof. I only beg of you to be patient, and try them all.' So of everything else that science can inquire into.....

"But Mr. Home's revelation is something quite different. He does not even profess to know anything about it. The manifestations may come or they may not; they generally come in the dark; they rather often don't come when any sceptical people are present; there is no way of telling beforehand whether they are likely to come or not. Now it is obvious, or ought to be, that such manifestations, whatever they come from, may defy scientific inquiry. Science had much better let them alone. You might as well start a scientific inquiry into the probable purpose of Mr. Home's dreams the night after tomorrow. As yet, the spiritual manifestations have not added much to the world's stock of knowledge on any subject relating to the here or the hereafter. If ever they do come to tell us anything worth knowing, we may be sure they will by that time offer themselves in a manner which will bear the most rigid investigation. Till then we would have the scientific men go their own way, mind their own business, and trouble themselves not with spiritualism."

The following is the letter by Mr. Faraday, referred to in the foregoing remarks; it is republished in the Morning Advertiser, of May 12, from the Pall Mall Gazette:

"Folkestone, June 14, 1861.

My dear Sir Emerson,-I cannot help feeling that you are indiscreet in your desire to bring me into contact with the occult phenomena which it is said are made manifest in Mr. Home's presence. I have investigated such in former times, during some years, and as much as I thought consistent with the self-respect that an experimental philosopher owes to himself. It would be a condescension on my part to pay any more attention to them now; and I can only do so under the persuasion that all concerned wish to have the phenomena unraveled and understood, and will do all they can to aid in such a result. To settle whether I can go or not, I wish to put to you the following points: (1) Who wishes me to go? --to whose house? --for what purpose? (2) Does Mr. Home wish me to go? (3) Is he willing to investigate as a philosopher, and as such, to have no concealments, no darkness, to be open in communication, and to aid inquiry all that he can? (4) Does he make himself responsible for the effects, and identify himself more or less with their cause? (5) Would he be glad if their delusive character were established or exposed, and would he gladly help to expose it, or would he be annoyed and personally offended? (6) Does he consider the effects natural or supernatural? If natural, what are the laws which govern them? or does he think they are not subject to laws? If supernatural, does he suppose them to be miracles, or the work of spirits? If the work of spirits, would an insult to the spirits be considered as an insult to himself? (7) If the effects are miracles, or the work of spirits, does he admit the utterly contemptible character, both of them and their results, up to the present time, in respect either of yielding information or instruction, or supplying any force or action of the least value to mankind? (8) If they be natural effects without natural law, can they be of any use or value to mankind? (9) If they be the glimpses of natural action not yet reduced to law, ought it not to be the duty of every one who has the least influence in such actions personally to develop them, and aid others in their development by the utmost openness and assistance, and by the application of every critical method, either mental or experimental, which the mind of man can devise? I do not wish to give offense to any one, or to meddle with this subject again. I lost much time about it formerly, in hopes of developing some new force or power, but found nothing worthy of attention. I can only look at it now, as a natural philosopher; and, because of the respect due to myself, will not enter upon any further attention or investigation, unless those who profess to have a hold upon the effects, agree to aid to the uttermost. To this purpose they must consent (and desire) to be as critical upon the matter and full of test investigation in regard to the subject as any natural philosopher is in respect of the germs of his discoveries. How could electricity--that universal spirit of matter-ever have been developed in its relations to chemical action, to magnetic action, to its application in the explosion of mines, the weaving of silk, the extension of printing, the electro-telegraph, the illumination of lighthouses, etc., except by rigid investigation, grounded on the strictest critical reasoning, and the most exact and open experiment? and if these so-called occult manifestations are not utterly worthless, they must and will pass through a like ordeal. As I do not want to debate this matter with those who have already made up their minds in a direction contrary to my own, but (if I see sufficient reason) only to work it out with such a desire to find incontrovertible proofs, independent of opinion or assertion, so I wish you would show this letter to Mr. Home, and those who want me to meet him on his own ground; after which you will know whether you should persevere in asking me. You will understand that I decline to meet any whose minds are not at liberty to investigate according to the general principles I have here expressed. Ever, my dear Sir Emerson, your very faithful servant, M. Faraday."

We now propose to introduce our readers to an article by Dr. Thomas, published, as already stated, sixteen years ago, in the Herald of the Kingdom and the Age to Come, in which spiritualism is exposed, with the relentless acumen of a mind well exercised in the discernment of things new and old. Both the scriptural and scientific aspects of the question are exhibited with a clearness and a fullness that leaves nothing to be done, and that, we should imagine, will speedily put to flight any lingering uneasiness that may be felt by those who, notwithstanding their acceptance of the truth, are perplexed with the signs and lying wonders of the great delusion. The following is the article, which from the exigencies of space, we shall have to divide into two parts: Odology; or Theological Mesmerism, Witchcraft Revived Anew.

Go to: Part 2