Category:Working Within the Spiritualist Tradition

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The sanctuary at Starlight Spiritual Cathedral in Oakland, California, USA

Spiritualism is a religion centered around the belief that spirits of the dead are able to communicate with the living, whether via dreams or other signs, or through the assistance of a gifted spirit medium. Thus, Spiritualism is first and foremost a belief, and then, secondarily, a set of religious traditions. There are several traditions of divination and magical traditions that originate with a Spiritualist philosophy including scrying, psychic reading, mediumship and spiritual cleansing.

As a belief -- and written with a small "s" -- spiritualism embraces a wide variety of indigenous and folkloric practices, such as African and African-Diasporic ancestral traditions and spirit work in general.

As a religion -- and written with a capital "S" -- Spiritualism encompasses a variety of organized bodies of practice and worship.


Diversity of Spiritualist Beliefs

Golden Gate Spiritualist Church of San Francisco, in San Francisco, California, USA
Metropolitan Spiritual Church of Christ, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Saint Martin's Spiritual Church, Washington, DC, 1942; photo by Gordon Parks
Indian Spirit Guides at On-I-Set Spiritualist Camp, Onset, Massachusetts
Canton Spiritualist Church, Roslindale, Massachusetts; the sunflowers on the altar link this organization to the National Spiritualist Association of Churches
Thai wealth goddess Nang Kwak and Hindu wealth goddess Lakshmi at the Prosperity Candle Altar of Missionary-Independent Spiritual Church in Forestville, California, USA
True Holiness Temple Church and Candle Shop in Kansas City, Missouri; this storefront church and its associated hoodoo-style candle shop is non-denominational in orientation
Wimbledon Spiritualist Church in Wimbledon, London, England, was founded in 1913 by means of directions that its founder received via a Ouija board
Church of the Spirit in Chicago, Illinois, USA; founded in 1897 as Bund Der Varheit No. 18 (Band of Truth No. 18), it assumed its present name in 1915 and is Chicago's oldest Spiritualist church.
Horley Spiritualist Association Church in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, founded in 1946; the present building was dedicated in 1972 by the founder, working under the direction of a spirit guide known as The Teacher
A private altar to Jesus and Siva in the home of an Eclectic Spiritualist minister
A bóveda or Spiritualist altar typical of those seen among practitioners of Espiritismo Kardecista, Espiritismo Cruzado, and Santerismo
A bóveda or Spiritualist altar with statues to Catholic saints, folkloric spirit guides, and African orishas at the Puerto Rican Espiritismo Sanse Sociedad de la Rio Tempestuoso in Massachusetts

Spiritualist churches, organizations, and associations do not adhere to a single creed; in fact, some groups specifically renounce the concept of having a creed and prefer that each member understand the truth of spirit contact through personal experience. Even when it comes to the theological question of the after-life, there is no uniformity of belief among Spiritualist churches. Some Spiritualist organizations endorse the concept of the Summer-Land or the Other Side as a place where spirits reside after physical death, while other organizations endorse the idea of ongoing spiritual reincarnation in physical bodies on Earth.

Members of one Spiritualist body are not bound to accept the cosmology, theology, or specific beliefs taught within another body that differs widely from their own, hence these organizations are considered as separate denominations in the over-arching religion of Spiritualism or, in the case of Christian Spiritualism, to be separate denominations comprising a Spiritualist branch of Christianity. However, within the broad scope of religious Spiritualism, there are certain definable sub-groupings or lineages, and many of these groups are aligned into formal associations or denominations.

Modern Spiritualism

The movement known as Modern Spiritualism originated in 1848 when the Fox sisters, living in rural New York state, came into communication with the spirit of a deceased man named Charles Rosna. This phenomenon evolved into the study of spiritual contact and eventually to the movement's development as a religious tradition. Modern Spiritualism is a movement that, like Protestantism before it, can trace its origins to a specific moment in time, and that has subsequently given rise to many independent religious lineages.

The early pioneers of Spiritualism were closely associated with the movements for the abolition of slavery, for female suffrage, and for Native American political rights, and these liberal and justice-driven concerns remain a proud heritage in most Modern Spiritualist churches.

A variety of sources have influenced the development of the many differing Modern Spiritualist denominations. Among these influences, one can often see traces of Protestant Christian, Pentecostal Christian, Catholic Christian, Quaker, New Thought, Deist, Hindu, Buddhist, Theosophical, and Neo-Pagan concepts, beliefs, and customary practices.

Some Spiritualist church denominations -- especially those associated with the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC), which was founded in 1893 in the United States, and the Spiritualist National Union (SNU) in England -- encourage mediumship but find magic, spell casting, and magic spells to be offensive, while other Spiritualist denominations -- especially those associated with the historically African American Spiritual Church Movement -- may, in addition to mediumship, permit, encourage, or even institutionalize the use of other divinatory arts, such as psychic reading, scrying, and crystal ball gazing, and may also lead members in altar work with fixed and prepared candles, and other forms of magical spell casting. For example, the California Spiritualists' Association, founded in 1898, printed a directory in 1903 that included members whse services included mediumship, clairvoyance, clairaudience, psychometry, trance healing, astrology, aura seership, auraological life readings, and psychometric assays of mineral ores.

"Pure" Spiritualistm

The term "Pure" Spiritualism is a catch-all phrase that describes a number of churches that state that Spiritualism is a religion separate from all other religious traditions, and that it is specifically not Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, or a part or portion of any other religion.

"Pure" Spiritualism traces its development in a direct lineage from the Fox Sisters of Hydesville, New York, whose spirit contacts ushered in what is known as the era of "Modern Spiritualism." Some churches within this group have attempted to appropriate the term "Modern Spiritualism" as an exclusive self-definition, but that term actually is far broader in scope and refers to all of the world-wide Spiritualist traditions that arose after the mid-19th century.

Bodies within this group generally offer development classes in mediumship. Healing services for the benefit of parishioners are also held regularly, as are evidentiary demonstrations in which spirit mediums deliver messages from the spirits of the dead. Most of these churches emphatically reject the concept of reincarnation and refer to the afterlife as "Summer-Land." Many of them use the sunflower as their official emblem.

Typical denominations within this group include the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (USA) and the Spiritualists National Union (UK).

Jewish and Christian Spiritualism and the Spiritual Church Movement

Judeo-Christian Spiritualist churches also trace their lineage from the Fox Sisters, but they identify as Christian, Jewish, or, more broadly, as Judeo-Christian, and generally hold the belief that Spiritualism is not only compatible with, but also intimately intermingled with historical Jewish and Christian experiences and with Judeo-Christian faith. Churches within this group tend to use the term "Spiritual" rather than "Spiritualist" when naming their organizations, and the church names themselves are often reminiscent of those found in other Christian denominations, such as Calvary Spiritual Church, Saint Martin's Spiritual Church, or Mount Zion Spiritual Church. Likewise, their buildings may contain typical Judeo-Christian devotional imagery such as crosses, lambs, lions, and crowns. Some use words like "Temple" or "Cathedral" to identify their houses of worship

Within these denominations, there are several forms of Judeo-Christian liturgical style, including elements of Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as a mixture of both. Some hold services in honour of specific non-Christian spirits and spirit guides, such as Black Hawk, who was, in life, a Native American warrior of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Some also include formal recognition of other faiths as well, thus verging upon the multi-culturalism of the Eclectic Spiritual Churches.

Many, but not all of them, include recognizable elements of African and African-Diasporic Ancestral Traditions, spirit mediumship, candle services and candle spells, divination by means of candle reading, and other recognizably hoodoo-derived practices, such as the use of anointing and dressing oils. If they are storefront churches, they may be associated with hoodoo-style candle shops.

In the United States, many Judeo-Christian Spiritualist churches, especially those that are historically African American, are referred to collectively as part of the Spiritual Church Movement. Most of these churches trace their lineage to mainstream 19th century American Spiritualism, as practiced by celebrated African-American mediums and conjure doctors such as Paschal Beverly Randolph, Aunt Caroline Dye, Leafy Anderson, and Mother Catherine Seals. However, in 1922, under a program of racial segregation instituted by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, they were expelled en masse from the NSAC. The Black Spiritualists then formed the Colored Spiritualist Association of Churches (CSAC). According to the writers St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, by 1938 there were 51 black Spiritualist churches in Chicago alone, the largest of which had a membership of more than two thousand congregants. However, over the years the CSAC schismed and became defunct, leaving in its place a loose confederation of denominations collectively referred to as the Spiritual Church Movement.

Current denominations within the Spiritual Church Movement include the Metropolitan Spiritual Churches of Christ (USA) and the Universal Hagar's Spiritual Churches (USA). There are many independent and non-denominational churches within this group as well.

Eclectic Spiritualism

Eclectic Spiritualist churches derive from the 19th century Spiritualism of the Fox Sisters, and they encourage the practice of mediumship. Theologically, they may display beliefs similar to any or all of the churches outlined above, but what sets them apart is that within these eclectic churches, there are usually formal liturgical and iconographic elements derived from a broad variety of world-wide religious and cultural traditions, including New Thought, Theosophical, Hermetic, New Age, Catholic Christian, Protestant Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and/or Neo-Pagan religions. Most of them embrace self-descriptive terms such as "non-denominational" or "inter-faith." In addition, some, but not all, may refer to the deities of various pantheons as spirit teachers or spirit guides.

These churches often hold mediumship training courses, but their programs also may include instruction in psychic reading, scrying, and crystal ball gazing, and their pastors may lead members in prayers, contact with ancestor spirits, candle work at the altar, and even casting spells of beneficial magic that are identical to those found within hoodoo folk-magic. These churches may venerate, contact, or hold services in honour of specific non-Christian spirits and spirit guides, such as the Native American war-leader Black Hawk.

Like Judeo-Christian Spiritualist churches, storefront churches of this type may be associated with hoodoo-style candle shops. Authors who have taught their students to practice eclectic blends of Spiritualism with Protestant Christianity, New Thought, and Hinduism, as well as belief in the efficacy of psychism and mental influence, and the study of divination or fortune telling (particularly crystal ball reading), include William Walker Atkinson, the author of books such as Psychomancy and Crystal Gazing and How to Develop Mediumship; and Claude Alexander Conlin, the founder of the Crystal Silence League.

Eclectic Spiritualist churches tend to have names that evoke general spiritual ideals, such as Living Light Spiritualist Church or Peaceful Kingdom Spiritualist Church, and their buildings may contain non-denominational or inter-faith devotional imagery such as rainbows, angels, and sun-rays. A typical denomination within this group is the Association of Independent Spiritual Churches and its member churches Divine Harmony Spiritual Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Missionary Independent Spiritual Church in Forestville, California. A Spanish language, Afro-Cuban version of Eclectic Spiritualism is known as Espiritismo Cruzado.

Espiritismo or Mexican Spiritualism

Espiritismo, or Mexican Spiritualism was founded in 1866 by Roque Rojas Esparaza, a man of mixed race whose mother was an Otomi Native American from Hidalgo Province, and whose father was of mixed Spanish Sephardic Jewish and Spanish Catholic Christian descent. As Father Elias, he proclaimed himself "the Strong Rock of Israel" and founded the spiritualist Mexican Patriarchal Church of Elijah (IMPE) denomination. Rojas condemned the doctrine of reincarnation and denounced Espiritismo Kardecista or Kardecist Spiritism for promoting it. After his death, IMPE divided, with Father Elias' widow leading the Israelite Regenerated Church and other women forming the Marianist Trinitarian Spiritualists.

The meeting places of Mexican Spiritualists are referred to as Spiritualist temples. Ornamentation within the temples is confined to a seven-stepped pyramid, the image of an eye in a triangle, and fresh flowers. Espiritistas follow a unique order of liturgical services in which "irradiations" (messages from Spirit) are delivered to the congregation 13 times per month, namely, every Sunday and every Thursday, plus the 1st, 7th, 11th, 13th, and 21st days of the month. Development classes in mediumship and healing are conducted regularly. In addition, healing services are held two days each week, at which folk-magical and folk-medicinal herbal preparations are prescribed to parishioners by white-robed temple leaders, many of whom are female. Members mostly belong to Native American tribes in northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

Espiritismo Kardecista or Kardecist Spiritism

The common basis of understanding among the Kardecist denominations is that they are founded upon the five books about Spiritualism and mediumship written by the 19th century French author Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, who published his works under the pseudonym Allan Kardec.

Rivail had been a teacher of mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and other sciences, whose other interests included animal magnetism, somnambulism, trance possession, phrenology, and clairvoyance. The American phenomenon of Spiritualist table rapping attracted him and he established contact with helpful spirits who dictated manuscripts to him for publication. The major Kardecian Spiritist doctrinal difference from the above Spiritualist groups is a solid belief in reincarnation of the soul.

Kardecist Spiritism took hold in France and spread throughout Europe; at the present time, Kardecist denominations of Spiritualism are found widely throughout the Caribbean and in areas of the United States where Caribbean immigrants have settled. A form of Espiritismo Kardecista that has been influenced by Cuban Santeria is popularly known as Santerismo. Members of Kardecist organizations or "Spiritist Societies" do not always refer to their meeting places as "churches" or "temples," preferring to identify them as "Spiritist Centers."

Espiritismo Cruzado or Eclectic Afro-Cuban Spiritualism

Espiritismo Cruzado or Afro-Cuban Spiritualism is a form of Spiritualism that developed in Cuba among the descendents of enslaved Africans who had at least nominally converted to Christianity. The name Espiritismo Cruzado means "Crossed (Blended) Spiritism," referring to the eclectic nature of the tradition, and as such it carries within it traditional Catholic prayers, Catholic saints and iconography as well as African and African Diasporic religious practices adopted from Palo Monte, African and African-Diasporic Ancestral Traditions, and traditional African-American hoodoo folk magic, blended within a Spiritualist ritual framework. In many ways, Espiritismo Cruzado is an Afro-Cuban version of Eclectic Spiritualism.

A variation of Espiritismo Cruzado called Santerismo blends together the practices of Espiritismo Cruzado with the worship of the orishas from the African-Diasporic religion Santeria (La Regla Lukumí).

Espiritismo Cruzado centers its worship around the "bóveda" or Spiritualist altar typically composed of a table covered in white cloth, upon which are placed 7 or 9 glasses of water (to cool and refresh the spirits), lit candles and a crucifix. It is also common for practitioners of Espiritismo Cruzado to add statues of Catholic saints, spirit dolls; bouquets of flowers, offerings of cigars and coffee, and statues representing Indian or Congolese spirit guides at their altars. Practitioners of Espiritismo Cruzado gather for regular meetings called "misas espirituales" (spiritual masses) to commune with the spirits, recite Catholic prayers, practice their mediumship skills, experience possession by their spirits and to be spiritually cleansed with perfumes, plants, and flowers.

The Santeria Church of the Orishas, an affiliate of Missionary Independent Spiritual Church, is an example of a church that works within the tradition of Espiritismo Cruzado. The majority of practitioners who work within Espiritismo Cruzado worship in independent groups or in spiritual lineages associated with Santeria (La Regla Lukumí).


Santerismo is a variation of Espiritismo Cruzado that developed in Puerto Rico and among Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants in New York City after World War Two and has since spread into other Afro-Caribbean communities in America. Other Puerto Rican and Dominican names for Santerismo are Sanse, Zancie, Zance, Sanses, Puerto Rican Vudu, Umbanda Boriqua, and Puerto Rican Espiritismo.

Santerismo blends together the traditional recitation of Catholic prayers and the worship of Catholic saints syncretized with the orishas of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria (La Regla Lukumí) within the ritual framework of Espiritismo Cruzado.

Santerismo worship services are called "misas espirituales" (spiritual masses), a term reflective of Catholic influences, but they also include traditional Spiritualist aspects, such as the receiving of prophecy and[[Category:Psychic Reading|psychic guidance from spirit guides. It is common for Santerismo mediums to experience possession by Catholic saints referring to themselves by their syncretized Santeria orisha names during these Spiritualist ceremonies. Spiritual cleansings, prophetic declarations and offerings to the orishas are often prescribed in misas espirituales.

Followers of Santerismo typically gather in private homes or meeting halls for worship. Santerismo's worship centers around the "bóveda" or Spiritualist altar, which much like that of Espiritismo Cruzado. The altar typically consists of a table covered with white cloth, upon which have been placed 7 or 9 glasses of water (to cool and refresh the spirits), lit candles, a crucifix, rosaries, and images and statues of Catholic saints, spirit guides such as La Madama, or Yoruba orishas along with their traditional offerings of fruits and flowers.


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