While the idea of Spirit Communication has been present since primordial man’s initial credence in the afterlife, formal séances are relatively contemporary, only dating back a few hundred years. The recognized denotation of a séance in English is a gathering of spiritualist individuals in attempt to communicate with the spirits of humans who have passed from the physical world. In French, however, séance is a common word meaning ‘session’ or ‘sitting’, though it can also be used to refer to the English definition of the word.
The first modern séances occurred in the United States and Europe around the middle of the 18th century, and was popularized with the rise of Spiritualism a century later. In the cases in which religious groups hold regular assembly for the purpose of Spirit Communication, the word séance itself essentially loses meaning. Thus, though Native American tribes have held what many might consider to be a séance for over a millennium to receive a message from their ancestors, this would not necessarily fall into the same category as modern séances. The same is true for modern religions including Spiritists and Espiritismos of South America that usually hold communication sessions at the end of each service.
The séances that became widespread in the 1800’s were essentially attempts to contact a certain individual on the other side, rather than receive spiritual messages as in the séances of the religious groups. Most scholars on the subject agree that modern séances were first developed in the events leading up to George, First Baron Littleton’s 1760 publishing of Communication with the Other Side. In his school days, George had made a wager with a classmate that he could prove that Saul of Tatarus was actually never converted to Christianity. A firm believer, George turned to Spirit Communication in pursuit of the truth. In a gathering of classmates, George set out to speak directly to Saul on the other side. Legend holds that he succeeded, only to discover from Saul himself that he was indeed converted. George had also claimed to speak with William Penn and Peter the Great amongst others.
Following this and other significant events of the era, a wave of Spiritualism hit the United States and Europe. The enthusiasm would only last less than a century for most, but no doubt a great change in the status quo. Spirit Communication through séances became very popular, and lucrative for mediums. One of the most famous mediums of the mid-1800s was Paschal Beverly Randolph who would stand in front of a group of people, relaying messages from past celebrities and passed relatives. Randolph was basically the predecessor to John Edwards and other stage mediums today. Mary Todd Lincoln even held séances regularly in the White House to try and communicate with her son.
However, as it does so often, greed got in the way. As true mediums were sought for these séances, illusionists and con men stepped in. Some, most famously the Davenport Brothers, went as far as to develop tricks such as shaking objects and opening cabinets to convince others. In 1887 the Seybert Commission in the United States exposed these fraudulent mediums, and following this large scandal, skepticism prevailed. Some leader-assisted séances are still held today, in which groups meet in a residence and communicate with the other side via a medium. If this sounds appealing to you – make”
“sure you find a legitimate medium.
J. Roslyn Antle
High Priestess, 7Witches Coven