Spiritualism is a system of belief based on communication with the spirits of the dead, especially through mediums. It got its start in the 1780’s when Emanuel Swedenborg began writing about his experiences in the world of spirit. After Swedenborg, Spiritualism gained slowly in popularity over the next hundred years, but got a big boost in 1848 when the family of Kate and Margaret Fox of Hydesville, NY (see chapter 24) made headlines because of a spectacular poltergeist haunting. The family established communication with the spirit of a murdered peddler by asking questions and receiving answers through audible rapping that could be heard throughout their house.
This kicked off a worldwide craze in Spiritualistic belief, and people of every stripe, all over the western world, began indulging in séances and parties in which trance and mental mediums, automatic writing, “spirit boards” (today called Ouija boards) and “table tipping” figured prominently. Table tipping is a way of communicating with spirits using the séance table itself as a means of communication. Participants would ask the spirits a question and the spirits would answer by tilting the table and causing one of the legs to tap on the floor. Using this method, the spirits could tap out a yes or no to a question, or even tap out an answer using the alphabet. As a result, thousands of people discovered that they were psychic sensitives and some expanded their horizons and began to engage in mediumship or automatic writing.