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The Fox Sisters Unknowingly Began the Spiritualist Movement

The Fox sisters were Spiritual Mediums that are credited with starting the Spiritualist Movement in 1848. A new fad emerged for communicating with the spirit world. Due to the publicity afforded the Fox sisters, everyone wanted to communicate with spirits. Enthusiasm was so prolific, the mania quickly spread to the British Isles and beyond.

How It All Began

In 1847, the Fox family moved to rural Hydesville, New York. Stories soon circulated about mysterious rapping and banging sounds going on in the Fox home. The Fox parents believed the sounds were made by restless spirits. Soon thereafter, their two younger daughters, Catherine (Kate ) and Margaret, devised a way to talk with the spirits.

On the evening of March 31, 1848, the two youngest daughters, Kate (11) and Margaret (15), got the idea to pose questions to the spirit. They wanted to see if they could get an intelligent response. The girls would snap their fingers a certain number of times. A spirit, the girls called, ‘Mr. Splitfoot’, responded with the same number of raps. Next, the girls asked yes and no questions to find out why the spirit was present. They did this by devising a method of communication by counting the number of raps a spirit made in answer to questions. Each letter of the alphabet had a certain number of raps associated with it which eventually spelled out words and ultimately sentences.

Curious Neighbors Flocked to the Fox Home

Neighbors poured in as the girls continued to interact with Mr. Splitfoot. Mr. Splitfoot, through a series of knocks, tells a chilling tale that he’d been a peddler who was murdered in the house. He went on to say that he was not at rest because his remains were buried in their cellar.

Vintage image of Fox Family two-story farmhouse,

As word spread of the phenomenon, the curious came from far and wide to witness the supernatural demonstrations. Clergymen and layperson alike became convinced the girls were genuinely communicating with a spirit.

Communing with the afterlife continued for several years and in 1850, the young sisters, along with their older sister, Leah, traveled to New York City. They begin holding demonstrations (soon to be called séances) and were an immediate sensation. Of course, a fee was charged for these demonstrations, and the girls started reaping substantial financial gains.

Celebrities in New York

The established elite and well-known literary figures took the sisters seriously. Then renown Horace Greeley, founder and editor or the New York Tribune, was convinced of the authenticity of the séances and stated publicly in his newspaper that he believed in the Fox sisters’ spirit demonstrations.

With this solid endorsement in tow, the three Fox women began touring the country performing in salons and eventually on stage. Subsequently, the movement now called Spiritualism, became the rage. As a consequence, dozens of imitators started giving spirit readings as the movement quickly spread.

The Spiritualist Churches Came Into Being

At the time, the new Spiritualist belief for anyone having the ability to communicate with the dead was virtually unheard of. However, attitudes were changing. The Age of Reason had swept away the superstition and condemnation by the Catholic Church against anyone professing to make contact with the Spirit World. The 18th century heralded a time when it was safe to practice Spiritualism without facing horrific consequences. However, spiritualists soon cloaked their activities under the guise of a church-like setting to silence naysayers and religious institutions fervently against the idea of talking to dead people.

In 1871, Kate Fox visited England where the first Spiritualist Church was established in Keighley, Yorkshire in 18153. Margaret soon traveled to England to be with her sister.

Kate sat for Sir William Crookes, famed psychic-investigator and physicist.

Sir William Crookes writes about one of the seances that he attended:

I was holding the medium’s two hands in one of mine, while her feet rested on my feet. Paper was on the table before us, and my disengaged hand was holding a pencil. A luminous hand came down from the upper part of the room, and hovering near me for several seconds, took the pencil from my hand, rapidly wrote on the sheet of paper, threw the pencil down, rose above our heads, gradually fading into darkness.

Additionally, Kate was tested by a news correspondent. The man wrote that he’d attended a demonstration by Kate. Before the session commenced, he checked that her hands and feet were firmly secured. This would prevent Kate from somehow artificially producing the rapping sounds. The correspondent further stated that he’d  given Kate every test conceivable, but upon examination of her surroundings, no evidence of fraud was detected.

Sadly, Drink Became their Refuge

By the mid-1860s, the stress of publicity and performing had driven both sisters to drink. Kate returned to the United States in 1885. Three years later her children from her marriage to H. D. Jancken, an English Spiritualist, were taken from her because of her excessive drinking. Shortly after that, Margaret, who by this time was also an alcoholic, and in great need of money, publicly admitted that the spirit-rapping had all been a hoax. She and Kate had begun it, she said, as a prank on their parents. She went on to admit that they’d devised a way to crack their toe joints and used other clever means to cause the rapping sounds.

The confession outraged devout Spiritualists and skeptics felt smugly vindicated. However, Margaret, feeling shame and still in need of money, soon retracted the confession claiming it was made under duress. Margaret soon returned to Spiritualism as her only means of making a living. In the end, both sisters struggled with poverty for their remaining years.

The Fox Sisters Literally Changed the World!

When Kate and Margaret Fox devised a way to communicate with their resident spirit friend in 1848, they had no way of knowing the ensuing repercussions that would affect not only the rest of their lives but would change how the Western world viewed communication with the dead. Whether the sisters were authentic or out and out frauds, we’ll never know for sure.

As mentioned, soon after their debut in New York, many more supposed Mediums emerged and began communicating with spirits in ways the Fox sisters could never have dreamed.

It wasn’t long before a new generation of Mediums started going into a trance state. They produced objects out of thin air, music, apparitions of the dead, and much more.

Mediums sprang up everywhere and publicly held séances became a common occurrence. Many homes practiced Spiritualism and spirit communication as commonly as families and friends watch television today. And, Presidents and Queens alike, would quietly engage in séance activities.

In conclusion, the belief that Mediums can contact the spirit world has waxed and waned over the last 150 years. Currently, a new wave of Mediums is enjoying increased status. Additionally, modern paranormal investigators have just recently invented devices which electronically record voices of the dead. Who knows how far we’ll progress with capturing absolute proof of an afterlife in the years to come. And all this because of two obscure young girls.

Encyclopedia Britannica
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Fox-and-Catherine-Fox

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by Carol Nicholson, Ph.D., and Certified Psychic-Medium

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