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The modern Spiritualist movement, we believe, began on April 1, 1848, in the village of Hydesville, New York, when two teenaged sisters, Margaret and Kate Fox, claimed that they had contacted the ghost of a man murdered at the house years before their family moved in. Reports of this event first appeared in the New York Tribune and subsequently in other newspapers in America and Europe. The core belief of Spiritualism was that the living could communicate with the dead through the help of a medium endowed with a supernatural gift during mysterious and entertaining séance phenomen. Soon a number of women and men achieved an air of importance as skilled mediums. The occult was often practiced without qualification. Astrology, palmistry, tarot reading, crystal gazing, sorcery, and black magic, Ouija boards, table tipping and other practices became popular parlour games amongst women especially. Middle class housewives in particular considered clairvoyance and mediumship that were as a domesticated skill and to be able to communicate with the dead would be as feminine an art as embroidery or music. Women perhaps formed a strong connection with the

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paranormal world, because just as it suggests a world beyond that of our immediate senses, it appealed to women as it represented a potential beyond those manifested in their usual roles. Spiritualism also gave women opportunities which orthodox religion could not provide in those times, as women were not permitted to be ordained as priests. The Church along with politics, was male dominated. Women at the same time could not vote, or work in many roles so an interest in the paranormal certainly played a role in encouraging early feminism. The most gifted could earn a living, make progress up the class-ladder and even achieve a certain amount of celebrity.

One of the most famous Victorian mediums was Florence Cook (1856-1904), who during her séances claimed to manifest as Katie King, the spirit-world daughter of a spirit called John King, (a seventeenthcentury buccaneer). Cook practiced table turning, automatic writing and levitation. Once when she was in a trance, she was levitated above the heads of the sitters and her clothes fell off down on the floor, which provided additional excitement to the audience. As Katie King, she also flirted with her sitters, touched and kissed them. She was invited to many respectable Victorian drawing rooms. Her séances were reported in detail in Spiritualist journals.

There were several successful male mediums of course, but for many, women were seen as having the edge when it came to communing with those beyond the veil. The supposed ‘passivity’ of women allowed them to be more receptive towards spirit communication. Men who visited on a regular basis were regarded by their peers as effeminate, although many ex soldiers and miners did wish to contact those who had been killed in the pit. Miners would sit holding their lamps, anxious and curious, but keep quiet about it.

In 1882, a change came about when The Society for Psychical Research was formed. This resulted in the numbers of mediums producing ectoplasm going down, and the numbers being prosecuted for fraud going up! All the leading mediums were, at one time, accused of fraud, and many rightly so, however, only one of them escaped a prison sentence. One key case was one of a Sir William Henry Weldon, whose estranged wife was a Georgina Weldon. She

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was an amateur soprano of the Victorian era, and also an active campaigner against the lunacy laws, but more notably she had an interest in spiritualism. The couple were childless and separated; Weldon gave his wife the lease to Tavistock House and £1000 a year as a financial settlement. By 1878 he wanted to reduce or stop this payment, and tried to use Georgina’s interest in spiritualism to prove that she was insane in an attempt to have her confined in a lunatic asylum. Georgina was seen by the necessary two (male) doctors, who obtained an interview with her under false pretenses, and they signed the lunacy order. Georgina realised that something was wrong and, when people from the asylum, arrived to take her away by force, she escaped and hid for the seven days that the order remained valid. She then went to Bow Street Magistrates’ Court to press charges for assault against her husband and the doctors. The magistrate sympathised with her, and was certain that she was sane, but, under Victorian law, a married woman could not instigate a civil suit against her husband. However, having proved her point, Mrs Weldon publicised her story by giving interviews

Haunted Magazine #16 - Women in Paranormal Special  

Women, women, women, you can't live with them but you can get them to write the features for Haunted Magazine Issue 16, and like a female ve...

Haunted Magazine #16 - Women in Paranormal Special  

Women, women, women, you can't live with them but you can get them to write the features for Haunted Magazine Issue 16, and like a female ve...