Remembering our Heroes and Sheroes

By Geoff Griffiths

Back in the seventies, my wife and I were taking a service on March 24, when I asked the congregation: “What is the special event next Sunday?” “Palm Sunday,” they all murmured as one. “No,” I said, practically stamping my foot, “It’s the 130th anniversary of the Hydesville rappings – the birthday of our movement!” Ah, the impatience of youth!

Well, apart from some noble exceptions, our church congregations have never been that well-educated – it’s really not their fault – and some years later, the SNU did start to promote Hydesville Sunday. Slowly at first, but our congregations are now catching on to it, provided the churches themselves remember! Well, they are certainly more on the case than they were on that Sunday all those years ago.

As most of us know, the Christian churches get their largest congregations at Easter and Christmas. They plan for those days – promote them, create visual aids and build events around them – in order to maximise turnout for those particular festivals. And it works every time. Everybody enjoys the experience and the coffers fill up. You have to acknowledge their professionalism.

On Hydesville Sunday, however, we are lucky if we get much more than a cursory “Well, we all remember that today is Hydesville Sunday, don’t we?” And just when you think you are going to get an address containing some awareness of our heritage, the speaker starts to burble on about peace and love and you realise that he or she has no more of a clue about our history than the congregation is pretending to have. It’s all a bit like the emperor’s new clothes.

Now, with the exception of SNU general meetings, I am not entirely against peace and love, but it has to be earned, and our heritage is too important to be brushed aside like this. We simply do not make it accessible enough to our congregations and then wonder why so few of them ever move on to the deeper aspects of Spiritualism. Our heritage is about people – our pioneers – and it is a given in the communications and marketing industries that “people buy people first”.

For instance, we didn’t buy Flora margarine in the 1980s because of its polyunsaturates – we bought it because Terry Wogan fronted the TV ad. Concepts and principles are all very well, but we absorb them much more easily when we see them in association with people we know and trust.

As well as the Fox sisters, there are numerous heroes and sheroes in the Spiritualist movement’s history, men and women whose lives we should know more about. More of us might then follow their examples. But you can’t follow an example that has never been presented to you.

So how about ‘Britten Sunday’ on the first Sunday in May, marking Emma Hardinge Britten’s May 1 birthday? Andrew Jackson Davis’ August 11 birthday could be celebrated on the second Sunday in that month. Conan Doyle, Ernest Oaten, Arthur Findlay, Stainton Moses, Sir Oliver Lodge, Swedenborg and Helen Duncan are all people we should know more about – heroes and sheroes we should celebrate.

Perhaps our speakers could mug up on these people in the lead-up to these themed Sundays – and the parent bodies could make briefing notes available to them. Now, I know what some will say: “Ah – but we rely on inspiration for our addresses, not a set format.”

I have some sympathy with this view, except that it doesn’t work. How often do we get an inspired address? Not very. How many platform workers are as proficient in the address as they are in the mediumship demonstration? Not many. Most will tell you that the energy either goes into the address or the demonstration, but rarely both. Indeed, how many of our platform mediums have much more than a superficial knowledge of our heroes and sheroes?

Whatever our differences with the orthodox, we have to admit that their congregations know the back-story of Christianity in a way that ours do not. Every week they have a set text, which builds up over the course of each year to a clear knowledge of what they are all about. Then, each January, they start again.

Repetition is the key to learning and we, with a different speaker, a different approach and a different philosophical message every week, have no connected teaching to hang on to. This serves simply to confuse our congregations to the point where they just switch off. Then we complain that most attendees come only for the messages. Many soon cease to come at all, after a short time. Little wonder that the SNU has a fall-out rate of 25-30 per cent each year. This is balanced by an annual new member intake of 20-25 per cent, however.

Not that I am suggesting that we have a rigid liturgy through the year, but by having one pioneer-themed Sunday a month, we could let people know of our amazing pioneers and stop keeping them a secret.

One of the ways in which we are trying, at my church, to broaden the congregation’s awareness of our history and philosophy, is by using pamphlets, re-formatted from articles in the Spiritualist press. They are an A5 format – attributed to the source – with the author’s permission and, where appropriate, with a plug for the book, magazine or website from which they come. We call the series Pioneer of the Month and hand it out free of charge, so that everybody gets a copy. Ideally, these could be synchronised with pioneer-themed Sundays, so that people take something home with them, reinforcing what they have learned in the address.

Our movement makes far too little use of pamphlets and throws away too many great articles, which go unread by the mass of Spiritualists. Such articles deserve a longer life and our congregations deserve to know about the material they contain. They do not get this material from anywhere else, unless they take correspondence courses from the SNU, Greater World, etc, which are less practical options for most people. And they certainly don’t (usually) get it from our platforms.

The ‘Comments’ facility at the end of this article enables you to add your own ideas on the topic of how we get our message across to our congregations. If we cannot do that, how do we expect to get it across to the wider public?

(Readers interested in the Spiritualist pioneers of our history might like to sign up for the FREE monthly journal, ‘PsyPioneer’. For a copy, visit: Click on the ‘PsyPioneer Journals’ link on the sidebar for a free copy. You can sign up at the end of the journal to receive it every month.)

9 responses to “Remembering our Heroes and Sheroes

  1. I fully agree with the comments made by Geoff. However, a couple of years ago I attended a company training day relating to equality and diversity. On our company’s Intranet site each day the company calender is marked with each Religious Day of celebration. All main known religions are represented, including Paganism. I pointed out to the lecturer that Spiritualism was not recognised anywhere on the calender and therefore I for one felt a little disengaged – modern PC spin meaning “left out”. In fairness I was asked to supply the Equality and Diversity Team with relevant Spiritualist celebration dates and they would include those on the calender. I wrote to PN asking fellow Spiritualists for suggestions and ideas. Once more apathy ruled, NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON RESPONDED. Therefore Geoff whilst I agree with your sentiments and would gladly put forward suggested dates in which we as Spiritualists could celebrate and be reminded of those pathfinders to whom we owe so much I for one am not holding my breath on this one.

  2. Leslie Price

    Geoff’s wish to spread knowledge of Spiritualist pioneers is commendable. If it came from central bodies, by briefing notes or other means like DVDs or Powerpoint, that might be efficient. But our experience at Psypioneer has been that there’s a reluctance to let go of traditional versions, though they aren’t in the original records. Even a recent event like the legalisation of mediumship in 1951, for which witnesses are still with us, has generated myths, like the involvement of Churchill who was not even in government and played no part in the Commons debates. As for the Fox sisters, whenever we confidently state their ages, or the existence, a particular name and murder of a peddler, or the discovery of his remains, we are skating on thin historical ice, if not sinking.

    An immediate need is a factual one-volume history which takes account of recent pioneer research, and updates the story told by Conan Doyle in his 1926 “History of Spiritualism”.

  3. Heydesville rappings. The Fox sisters, self -confessed frauds.
    Good choice.
    An event much quoted by mediums writing vanity published books, mainly because it saves having to do proper research.

    God preserve us!

  4. Thanks for that. I would love to learn more about our shared history.
    I am not a great reader of lengthy books due to dyslexia but I have learnt a lot from a Mr Gerald O’Hara (York). He is always ready to impart little nuggets of interesting info. Maybe you two could get together and put a regular “what happened today 10 years 25 year 50 years ago and so on maybe use a shortened version then a link to a more in depth history?

  5. Julie Grist

    Hullo Geoff.,
    Another article to try to get us out of our apathy.
    Full marks for trying.
    Perhaps you could put a copy of your church pamphlets on the web, or a link in PN to them; or one of them as a PN article now and again.
    My suggestion for a good beginning would be to choose a particular Sunday (say the first) in a month (say August) as “Pioneer Day” and every reading/talk/address that was given on that day has to be about one of them. With so many to choose from it would not be difficult at all. You just have to make sure you book a Medium who knows a thing or two….
    Shimple! (You’ll have to imagine I’m a meerkat.)
    My goodness! I am so pleased with that idea I just might put it forward to the SNU AGM.
    Anyway, even if that didn’t happen there is no reason why churches shouldn’t adopt the idea.
    Keep on keeping on.

  6. I strongly agree with and support Leslie’s remark: “An immediate need is a factual one-volume history which takes account of recent pioneer research, and updates the story told by Conan Doyle in his 1926 ‘History of Spiritualism’.”

    As our ability to access the early records, publications and newspaper reports increases, due to the hard work and dedication of those few researchers who are committed to retrieving Spiritualism’s true history, the need for a comprehensive re-writing of the events of the Spiritualist movement, in modern language, and interesting formats, becomes not only possible but of vital importance.

    While I often hear people today say they are not interested in the history aspect of Spiritualism, that it is the present that matters, I am firmly convinced that without a full and comprehensive understanding of our movement’s history, Spiritualism, its fundamental principles and value, will be eroded away, and much that has little to do with what Spiritualism is, may become incorporated into Spiritualist practice and philosophy.

    If we do not know what our history and philosophy actually is, and how it came about, there will be little we can do to prevent the further diluting of it. Our Spiritualist pioneers fought hard to bring the truths of Spiritualism to the world’s attention. They explored and discovered both the range of psychic and spiritual faculties which are inherent within us, they built the bridge between the spirit realms and our physical world through which communication could take place. Not only do they deserve to be acknowledged and honoured, but what they learned and shared with the world needs to be again brought into broader awareness.

  7. Hi Geoff,

    Good article again Geoff,

    I know when I did a talk on the anniversary of the First Public Demonstration of Mediumship , on the 160th Anniversary of the original date which was Nov 14th 1849 people were amazed because so many had only ever heard of Hydesville. Yet that demonstration and the investigatios over the next three days was a crucial step for our movement and explains why history calls them the Rochester Rappings.

    Yes we do need to place some key dates in our calendar, it also gives a chance to talk about it in the churches to remind people of our wonderful history. Woops – would that mean that on some days the inspirational talk would be missed?

  8. Richard Coates

    Leaflets handed out at church sounds a great idea but what we really need is some way to give the message of Spiritualism to a much wider audience. We’re guilty of keeping Spiritualism a closed cult within a very few, poorly attended churches serviced by all too often second rate mediums. We need to break out from the past with some kind of new beginning. The music hall mediums do quite a good job of taking messages to a wider audience and I wonder how many churches hand out leaflets at these functions to recruit interested people to their churches and centres? None that I’ve found although admittedly I’ve only been to two venues.

    How many of the general public have ever heard of Spiritualism? If we don’t tell people about it, we’re depriving them of the opportunity to become Spiritualists. Someone told us at some point in the past, now it’s our turn to tell someone else. But with today’s communications, we really ought to find a way of doing a better job than we have been. Even the SNU has a falling membership (25 – 30% out and only 20 – 25% in, means the SNU is doomed!).

    I’ve done my bit here saying what’s wrong. I’ll leave it for someone else to say how to put things right!

  9. Good ponits Richard, somehow we need to spread the message out.

    Someone described our center here in Adelaide as one of Adelaide’s hidden Gems. To share our knowledge on a broader scale is difficult and something we ponder regularly. We are aware that the celebrity mediums, your wonderfully phrased “music hall mediums”, play to large crowds and say nothing about Spiritualism. Lisa Williams is here next week working a 2,000 seat theatre at $95 a head.

    They have replaced our own Spiritualist mediums who used to do this, the Albert Bests, Doris Stokes etc who could at least talk a bit about our movement. In that respect people like Tony Stockwell are doing a very important job provided they spread some knowledge.

    It should be easier in the UK the SNU has a weight of numbers combined with a relatively compact geography. Over here in Australia with a broad area to cover, no central body and a very large variation in the way Spiritualism is presented it is very hard to spread the word.

    I think Geoff’s idea is one good way. Some of our pioneers and the seminal events in the formation of Modern Spiritualism are fascinating. The stories can be vibrant and draw people in if they are used well on a Sunday instead of the regular “inspired” talk.

    Interestingly one year we ran a “garden party” mid way through the personal readings stopped for a talk about Spiritualism and a Demonstration. People stayed as Lis and our Victorian visitor Michael Cartwright talked and demonstrated to a packed hall with people overflowing out of both doors, around 100 people. It did take a huge effort to put on and required an immense contribution from may volunteers.

    Maybe we need to use Demonstrations of Mediumship, which people love and events like this to draw people to and then share the story with. We probably need to look at doing it outside of the Churches as well to attact people who will not go if its churchy.

    Firstly we need to identify the key events, I already have a list which is too large but following Geoff’s idea I will devote the back of our Church Newsletter to the idea. The Month of March is Hydesville and at the same time I will update the Centre’s Elibrary to cover the contemporary, 1848- 1853, written accounts with a link to the first the EE lewis Booklet at Psypioneer

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