The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


II. Fox Cottage in Hydesville-Cradle of Modern Spiritualism

Strange things began to happen on March 31, 1848, in the secluded village of Hydesville, New York, in the humble cottage home of the teen-age Fox sisters. These became known as the “Raps of Hydesville.” Methodist John and Margaret Fox and two of their younger daughters, Margaretta (fifteen) and Katie (twelve), were living at the time in this cottage while their own home was under construction. That particular night they were awakened by mysterious sounds-distinct rappings, or knockings-that could be heard all over the house. CFF2 1053.2

Picture 1: A.J. Davis, Katie Fox
Statuettes of A. J. Davis and Katie Fox, adopted by National Spiritualist Association as Appropriate Souvenirs, to Memorialize the Two Individuals Who Introduced, Respectively, Intellectual and Phenomenal Modern Spiritualism.
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The children quickly imitated the raps by clapping their hands, Katie calling out, “Mr. Splitfoot do as I do.” For every clap there was an answering rap. She then held up her fingers —a different number each time—asking “Splitfoot” to tell the number of fingers indicated. As correct answers were rapped out Katie observed, “It can see as well as hear.” Margaretta said, “Count 1, 2, 3, 4,” and the raps responded correctly. They had discovered that the cause of the mysterious rappings was intelligent, and would respond with raps as requested. They were sobered. CFF2 1054.1

Mrs. Fox then asked the “noise” to tell how many children she had (six living and one dead) and their ages. These were given, including the one who had died. So a “code of communication” was developed. The unseen intelligence then indicated that it was the “spirit” of a murdered peddler whose body had been buried in the cellar. It was seeking a human instrument through whom to acquaint the world with the facts of the man’s mysterious disappearance-and to prove that his spirit still lived. Such was the beginning of Modern Spiritualism in America. CFF2 1055.1


It should be stated, however, that a century or more before the modern American phase of Spiritualism appeared, Germany and Switzerland witnessed a similar outbreak of spiritistic phenomena, with spirit writing and alleged intercourse with spirits. Although according to one writer the roots of Spiritualism “are found in primitive animism,” George Whitehead maintains that Spiritualism really received its modern impetus from Emanuel Swedenborg (d. 1772). And Galvani and Volta, with their emphasis on “animal magnetism,” paved the way for the acceptance of Spiritualism. This magnetism was believed to perform wonders, and became the subject of investigation all over Europe. This, he says, was the forerunner of an “epidemic of table turning,” which “spread from the Continent to England, becoming particularly acute about 1847,” 1 just about the time of the Fox sisters. CFF2 1055.2

However, in America about this same time Andrew Jackson Davis (d. 1910), of Poughkeepsie, New York, had published a book entitled Nature’s Divine Revelation, which set forth the fundamentals and the philosophy of the incipient Spiritualism. The seances of the Fox sisters merely substantiated his writings. 2 All this, Whitehead maintains, prepared the way for the news that “uncanny raps” had been heard in Hydesville, New York, in the spring of 1848, followed by the establishment of a “code of communication” with the “spirits.” Then followed a “veritable contagion of rappings,” which spread all over New York State within a few months. 3 CFF2 1055.3

Picture 2: Emmanuel Swedenborg—spearhead of modern spiritualism
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These crude communications were at first generally regarded by the public largely as fraud or a trick, a humbug and delusion, that would soon die out and quickly be forgotten. At the time, Spiritualism was regarded by churchmen with aversion, and had no semblance of a religion, much less any form or organization as a church. Though given hostile reception at first—for mobs gathered, violence was threatened, and the Fox family was castigated as “sensational fakers” seeking notoriety —tremendous changes soon took place. By 1854, in six short years, Spiritualism had extended to every part of the United States and was active in Europe. 4 CFF2 1056.1

The spread was indeed phenomenal. At the close of another decade the claimed number of mediums practicing in the United States was thirty thousand. Judge J. W. Edmonds, of the New York Supreme Court, who became a Spiritualist in 1853, computed the number of American followers to be some three million. By the 1880’s Spiritualism had reputedly “spread over the entire surface of the earth.” 5 Erelong it excited the wonder of many jurists, scientists, philosophers, physicians, editors, poets, clergymen, statesmen, and educators. Such was its American inception and spread. CFF2 1057.1

Spiritualists claimed that never in the history of the race had any movement of a “religious” character gained so wide and so deep a foothold among men and women of so many classes in so many lands, bringing about such a revolution of thought, as had Modern Spiritualism within the span of half a century. 6 Even the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica states that Spiritualism has “spread like an epidemic.” 7 CFF2 1057.2


Algernon J. Pollock, commenting on the amazing number of adherents of Modern Spiritualism in Germany, North America, and the world by 1910, says that Dr. F. Maack, of Hamburg, then reported ten thousand Spiritualists in Berlin alone, with four hundred mediums and perhaps twenty societies. He estimated sixteen million in North America, and said that even in 1894 Spiritualists claimed sixty million adherents in the world, with two hundred journals propagating their teachings. There are, of course, no precise figures. 8 CFF2 1057.3

The yellow pages of nearly every city telephone directory today will yield the names of various practitioners of the occult art, listed in one form or another, to answer inquiries or to create curiosity. CFF2 1057.4


In 1918 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote enthusiastically about the potentialities of Spiritualism, and considered it the coming world marvel: CFF2 1058.1

“The lowly manifestations of Hydesville have ripened into results which have engaged the finest group of intellects in this country during the last twenty years, and which are destined, in my opinion, to bring about far the greatest development of human experience which the world has ever seen.” 9 CFF2 1058.2