Spiritualism

Left, Andrew Jackson Davis

    Both Swedenborg and Mesmer influenced the man who came to be known variously as the Ploughkeepsie Seer and the John the Baptist of spiritualism. Born in Orange County, New York, in 1826, Andrew Jackson Davis was a sickly and unhappy child. His mother was illiterate and rigidly religious; his father was a part-time cobbler and full-time drunk who abused the boy. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Davis began to hear disembodied voices when he was still a child. Some years later, after attending a lecture on animal magnetism, he found that he was easily mesmerized. He took to falling in trances in which he apparently became clairvoyant and had visions. In 1844, Davis said, he was visited by the spirits of Swedenborg and the Greek physician Galen. Galen gave him a magic staff and advised him to become a clairvoyant healer. There followed a successful career in which he diagnosed diseases and prescribed cures, much the same as a man named Edgar Cayce would do about a century later.

    With hardly any schooling, Davis also became a ubiquitous lecturer and prolific writer. In 1847, when he was only twenty-one, his masterwork was published with the lengthy title, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind, By and Through Andrew Jackson Davis, the 'Ploughkeepsie Seer' and 'Clairvoyant.' Davis claimed never to have read Swendenborg, but Revelations was replete with the Swedish mystic's concepts. The controversial book won a wide audience that included many spiritualists-to-be. Davis would largely fail in his efforts to give spiritualism a more philosophical cast and turn it away from a sole preoccupation with spirit communication. Nevertheless, what little dogma the movement did accrue - teachings about spirit spheres and the like - was largely his doing.

    Davis's most memorable contribution to spiritualism, however, was his uncanny foretelling of its advent. In the 1840s, he declared: "It is a truth that spirits commune with one another while one is in the body and the other in the higher spheres." Davis went on to add, "About daylight this morning a warm breathing passed over my face and I heard a voice, tender and strong, saying: "Brother, the good work has begun - behold a living demonstration is born.' "

    March 31, 1848 - the exact date on which little Kate Fox asked a mysterious rapper to answer some questions.


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