I’m sure many of us have seen the image on television or portrayed on radio and comic books of the atypical ‘mystic’ calling out ‘is there anybody there?’, and although this Mysticism has been widely lampooned in general media for entertainment purposes, it is indeed a practice that goes back traverses thousands of years of human history.
Lisa Morton in Calling the Spirits A History of Seances leads us through this history of communicating with spirits, a practice that has spanned back to before the times of our ancient civilisations. This communing with spirits, or Necromancy, has not been something that has just been confined to history, now remembered in much of our classical literature, it is a field that is alive and well today (pardon the pun) and has, for many, become a lucrative business.
However, Calling the Spirits A History of Seances explores more than just the history of what we now consider as Mediumship, Morton’s in-depth exploration into the subject reveals not just a movement, which has since become a religion, but also the animosity and violence that has been dealt towards those in the past who practised necromancy, being tortured and killed under the auspices of those in the Inquisition and the infamous Witch trials undertaken by such notorious figures as Mathew Hopkins, culminating with the trials at Salem.
To say things improved really is a test of time, Morton’s in-depth analysis of channelling spirits is centred around the largest part of the book focusing on the origin of modern seances and mediumship, in all its guises. Providing a history of some of the well-known characters, such as the Fox sisters, and the ensuing scientific research that was undertaken in an attempt o prove the existence of life after death, Calling the Spirits A History of Seances is a concise history and examination of this rather unique movement.
Exploring the more modern period did provide much pause for thought, having visited Spiritualist services I am aware of the format, and although Spiritualism and the ‘psychic world’ is often open to ridicule, much of the time from those within other religious practices, it highlights a great level of sanctimoniousness from other parties who have employed many of the same practices to promote their particular movements.
Morton’s treatment of the subject is as unbiased as any treatment I’ve read on the subject (surprisingly more than I realised looking back at some of my old University papers) and it’s very clear there is a genuine understanding and appreciation of the subject taking previous works into consideration. In Calling the Spirits A History of Seances Lisa Morton has provided the immediate turn to a book on the subject of Mediums and seances.
• Calling the Spirits A History of Seances by Lisa Morton is published by Reaktion Books (£15.99). To order a copy go to www.reaktionbooks.co.uk
Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently undertaking a research degree at Bangor University and working on a book on Folklore and early Welsh Christianity. Tom’s other work on music, poetry, health along other writings and images can be found at tomasstanger.com